If there were a poll of most street cops, they would likely say that their greatest challenges and burdens come from inside their own police stations - rather than from the knuckle-heads on the street. It is sad, but true. Unfortunately, there are sharks at the top of the tank who got there often times by stepping on others. They are the bad leaders among us.
Why is policing plagued with bad leaders? Why do the good-guys seem so often to get side-tracked in the promotion process? Don't the guys at the top of the food chain have some awareness of the kinds of people that are being promoted?
This is not an article to bash leaders but rather, to express sincere thanks for those leaders who ply their craft so well. This appreciation runs deep because we have all been saddled with leaders who don't care. We cannot understand how they could have ever earned their stripes or bars on their collars.
The only scenario that makes any sense of it all: they test and interview well. They might have been picked in order to meet some kind of quota (of which the city manager denies any existence, but we know better).
I worked under a shift lieutenant once. (Names have been changed to protect the stupid.) Lt. Butter Bar couldn't lead a dying man on the desert to water. His troops despised him. He was unaware of The Brotherhood - much less was his behavior a credit to it. There were multiple serious disciplinary actions over his career that left the troops scratching their collective heads when the chief named him our newest lieutenant.
His self-centered arrogance consumed him. His only concern at work was that none of his underlings would do anything to dim the shine on his star with the chief. He made it clear to the troops that he would take credit for all good ideas and actions that come from below while trying to deflect any responsibility for their errors.
His behavior on a day-to-day basis was repulsive, disgusting and so self-absorbed that few could fathom how it went unnoticed with the upper echelon. He was not a cop out of any sense of patriotism or altruistic desire to help others. His actions made his motives clear: the ability to exert crushing power over others and self-glorification.
What a waste of a man. What a waste of a badge. He embodies everything in a leader that good, hard-working cops fear.
Thankfully, there are other kinds of leaders. There are leaders in our uniform that we admire. They are the kind of people that we would seek out in most places or situations. When on duty, we would gladly follow them anywhere and do anything they asked out of our sincere desire to please them. We are proud to be seen with them and even more so, to be part of their crew.
Last month, I made a trip back to my home state (Michigan). While there, I hooked up for a ride along with a long-time friend named Tony who works in a north-side suburb of Detroit. I am old enough to be Tony's dad - and he took every opportunity to poke fun at my age with others on the crew.
Tony is wise beyond his years. He is a great cop. Maybe it is because Tony was raised by great parents and his dad was the chief of police in his hometown. Tony grew up in the business. We often talk about some of the bigger issues facing cops and law enforcement, in general.
In the early part of that afternoon shift, Tony took pleasure in relaying a recent incident that involved Sgt. Don - whom Tony had come to hold in high esteem. When a critical incident happens, or something goes sideways, Tony feels relieved with Sgt. Don shows up on scene.
That is a far cry from what so many grunt cops (I'm one) feel when the sergeant or lieutenant arrives and starts questioning everyone and flexing his arrogant wings.
"What do you see as the attributes of a good leader like Sgt. Don?" I asked Tony. He knew instinctively and rattled off a list:
- The sergeant knows exactly how to do my job - because he has done it and continues to do it.
- A good leader's style embodies a good mixture of structure and compassion.
- The sergeant has the wisdom to know when it is OK to bend (or break) the rules.
- He teaches us how to be better without being demeaning or making us feel stupid.
- "When he arrives at a scene, I feel relieved," Tony said and continued, "He knows just what I need done, where I need help and is there to share the load."
- When discipline is needed, it is an experience for me with much learning and a little pain - rather than one with much pain and just a dash of learning. Discipline is handed out fairly and when needed.
- The sergeant would never sacrifice one of his troops in the name of political correctness or politics. He has our backs. If we are right, he will fight for us all the way.
Tony said that Sgt. Don is one in a million. Unlike bad leaders, Sgt. Don has not developed a severe case of amnesia, nor has his backbone been removed.
THEN THE CALL CAME ON THE RADIO
It was about 1600 hours on December 20th - a cold winter's day in Michigan - and dusk was not far off. Dispatch called announcing the sudden death of 45 year old male in the condominium he shared with his girlfriend. The mother of the male had been summoned prior to the call to 911. She was already at the scene.
We had been sharing coffee with another young officer when the call came out. He would back us.
Both Tony and his backup were newly married; neither had kids. My mind raced. While dealing with death was common, dealing with a grieving parent under these circumstances at the scene would produce a whole new set of issues. Neither of the assigned cops had children of their own and therefore couldn't fully empathize with the mother's shattered life.
In the course of my police training work, I am frequently on ride alongs. Although I am a certified officer, I respect the "line." I am there to help in any way that I am asked. Yet, I am careful not to cross into territory reserved only for officers of the host agency.
Upon arriving, we found the decedent on the living room couch. The girlfriend was in a bedroom. The mother was bent over her deceased son, sobbing uncontrollably. The two officers took quick control. Mom was gently moved to a chair in the dining area where she answered my partner's questions.
About that time, Sgt. Don showed up. He was a pleasant man. After a short chat with Tony, the sergeant began the needed phone calls: the DB, the evidence technician, the medical examiner, etc. Each of the many perfunctory tasks was handled smoothly and seamlessly.
For my part, I sat with Mom. I listened to her. I tried to console her, knowing all the while that she was suffering the worst pain that a human being can endure. I kept her with me as she frequently wanted to go to hold her son. It was imperative that the scene and evidence not be contaminated.
When the E.T. arrived, I took Mom into a bedroom, explaining that it would do her no good to watch the process.
The sergeant seemed to act as though he was a servant to the two young officers. He made phone calls. He kept dispatch informed. When we needed to reach the man’s regular doctor, the sergeant and I took on that task in order to speed the process.
Interviews were conducted. Pictures were taken. Questions were asked and answered. Prescription medications were gathered and catalogued. The M.E. cleared the death as being natural. It was then time to wait for the funeral director to arrive to transport the body.
The sergeant said that he, the backup officer and I would hold the scene while we waited. Tony could retire to his patrol car to start writing the report.
It was then that I got to know Sgt. Don and why his officers value his leadership so much. Don told me that at 1600 hrs, when the call came out, he was in his POV with the key in the ignition. He had plans with his family for that Saturday evening and he wanted very badly to be with them.
Sgt. Don also knew that the next supervisor to come on duty would not arrive for an hour at 1700. Don made the decision that he would not leave his men in that kind of a situation. So, he went back into the station, got his patrol car and headed to the scene.
We didn't clear the scene that night until about 1900 hours. Sgt. Don was disappointed at the loss of his personal time with his family so close to Christmas. But, to Sgt. Don, those grunts (like me) are his family, too.
LEADING & LOVING
It a recent article titled, Loyalty & Love, I defined love: it is putting the needs of someone else ahead of your own.
We love each other so deeply that each of us would give our own life to save the life of a brother. But, do we love each other enough to do what Sgt. Don did that afternoon when he wanted to go home?
I can write all kinds of lists about the attributes of a good leader - just as I did earlier in this very article. At the core, there is one single attribute of a good leader: A good leader loves the people he leads. He does it day-in and day-out; no matter what. That is unconditional love, i.e. putting the needs of your team ahead of your own.
Each of us has multiple opportunities to show what we are REALLY made of each day. Lt. Butter's behavior (described earlier) is a constant demonstration that he loves only himself. Sgt. Don's actions show his love and concern for those in his command without any wavering.
On which side of the line do you live?
IT IS A NEW YEAR
Every January, we are encouraged to make New Year's Resolutions. 2010 is not only the beginning of a new year, it is a new decade, as well.
I encourage you to consider these two thoughts:
Have you taken the time to recognize the people in your life who love you? No, I do not mean romantically. I mean those who have shown you their love by putting your needs ahead of their own. I mean those who put up with your bad moods, poor choices for places to eat lunch, or always are willing to pick up the tab when you go out for a few pops after work.
Those folks deserve your love in return. They deserve a thank you.
Sentimental words expressed about someone at their funeral are usually well intentioned. But, they mean so much less than similar words coupled with a pat on the back and a thank you while that person is still alive to hear and appreciate them. Give that some thought.
More important: act on your thoughts. Let your actions proclaim your sentiments.
We are in a Brotherhood like no other on earth. Though we may argue, scrap and fight on occasion, the blood that binds us is stronger than any other force known to man. Be thankful that you are part of it.
The Volunteer Law Enforcement Officer Alliance, Inc. (VLEOA), is a national Reserve and Auxiliary police officer advocacy group. VLEOA is sponsoring its Annual Training Conference in Florida on February 18-21, 2010. It will feature a wide range of topics geared to Reserve and Auxiliary Police Officers being taught by experienced and highly qualified instructors. For more information, visit http://www.VLEOA.org.