Dealing with Problem Officers

Okay, so the firing squad option is overboard.

One of the parts of this job that truly is a pain in the lower posterior is when you have to deal with an officer who is no longer just causing problems, but is the problem. More often than not, this officer is one that you might have had doubts about in the hiring process, but they did well enough on the interview and exam process and passed through the academy with no noticeable issues. They most likely got through field training and probation with little fuss or correction. At that point, you probably felt, "Okay, maybe I'm getting old and too suspicious."

Life goes on, days pass and when nothing jumps out at you about the officer, and you turn to other things that need your attention. Then, the officer commits such a monumental error in judgment that you really have no choice but to have them explore options like getting him fired or asking him to resign. After that is done, people from the patrol staff, up to and including some of their supervisors, will come up and tell you they knew that was going to happen because of [fill in reason here] and how glad they are that you got rid of them. My question to them is, "Where the [insert colorful expletive] have you been in not telling someone about this before we had to terminate the officer?"

It is an educational process that we as managers have got to start instilling in our officers and supervisors that you do yourself, your department, and your profession no good when you do not report issues to supervisors when they need to be addressed. If you do not, what happens is that all too often the nuclear bomb of termination must be used. The point must be made loud, clear, and often that letting a problem simmer just prevents any type of progressive discipline from having its desired effect of correcting a problem, rather than getting someone fired. It takes about a year to get an officer into our system, and the considerable cost of testing, physicals, equipment, and 22 weeks of academy really make us want to correct problems early, rather than lose this considerable investment. It's not good for anybody, so it is time to cultivate a culture in which problems are addressed fairly, equitably, and early to prevent these occurrences. It's not easy and the police system, with its closed ranks and code of silence, often make it more difficult. But without managers actively working to develop a atmosphere in which problems and issues can be reported and corrected with an expectation of fairness and evenhandedness, we are going to be faced with firing officers, or worse, getting someone hurt in the process of discovering their hidden faults.

The Stealth Officer

The second problem officer is the one who is the police services version of the stealth fighter. They fly around, undetected and unobserved, generally keeping to the task at hand without much rancor or adverse issues. Most of the time, they are out there being unremarkable and getting by performing adequately, or so it seems. They are taken for granted, because they are not causing issues that are observed, and truth be told, not everyone who gets there is going to be a super cop. At least you don't have any problems with them, so they are forgotten. Well, like any good stealth fighter, they keep their problems off the radar, too. It is possible that this officer will develop their own methods of dealing with problems. Oftentimes, these methods can evolve into issues that can affect their personal life through substance abuse, or other activities that can get you jammed up just as fast. They are doing this primarily to deal with stress of the job. It is usually not until after something happens that bring to light the issues that you find out about them. More often than not, people will come out of the walls to bring up stories of, "I remember when they did this or that but I never said anything..." because? Again, as managers, we need to have a multipronged approach to this. First we must educate our supervisors and training people on how to recognize and deal with these issues and how to refer them to us. Second, we must develop a system within our departments that allows for treatment and solutions to these problems which affect our officer's lives. Last of all, we must insure that these programs are enforced fairly, equitably, and across all ranks.

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