Dealing with a ROAD Officer

After 25 years of supervisory experience, I have a question for fellow supervisors and officers. This is especially applicable to those in fairly large agencies or those with strong unions or employee associations, where "slugs" can hide or be transferred around .

Has your agency ever actually fired a confirmed employee for overall failure to do the job?

Aside from losing fellow officers, one of my most depressing days was when a new, motivated, intelligent young officer spoke with me in the hallway. "Why, Sarge? Why do you (the collective "you"--not me alone) let these lazy guys get away with it? I have to pick up their slack. I have to handle their calls when they take two hours to write a simple report. Why, Sarge?" I had to hang my head in shame. The truth of the matter will be discussed below.

I really want to know if there are any out there that have actually stepped up to the plate to deal with an employee who was simply a "ROAD" officer. In places like Florida they use "road" to refer to those who work the street, rather than jail. Here, a ROAD officer stands for "Retired On Active Duty," a slug, a lazy or maybe incompetent officer.

In all my years as a police sergeant and before, I never saw supervisors anywhere in the chain of command step up to the plate to deal with an unproductive employee. When I ask the question, I am told, "Oh sure, we fired a guy for a DUI. We forced an officer to resign..." But has an agency ever actually fired, terminated, dismissed an employee not for a single act, but for bad overall performance or laziness?

In my agency of 300 sworn (cops), where I did my last 23 years, I never saw it happen once. I saw rookie officers not make probation, and some resigned under pressure, but it was almost always more of a cover up for criminal behavior, and usually criminal behavior that was not prosecuted. I saw possible criminal behavior including a DUI accident involving a police vehicle, where the high ranking officer driving the vehicle was not fired. I saw alleged fraud, domestic battery and similar acts where officers were not fired or prosecuted. The joke was when wrongdoing was reported; the first question from the Chief or Deputy Chief was "Who was it?" Should that matter? It seemed to. I expect to get some e-mails on that issue alone.

As an officer, deputy, agent, or trooper we have an obligation to give the taxpayer their money's worth. We owe it to our community to go out and do a good job on a daily basis. We all have bad days when we are tired, have spent all day in court, are having family trouble or where we just can't get our engines running. That is natural, but overall we should be able to look at ourselves in the mirror and know we did a good overall job for our pay.

As sergeants or other supervisors, we have an obligation to the community to not only do our best, but to ensure that those under our command give 100%. If I had a good troop giving 80%, I'd try to motivate him or her to give me just a little more.

I think the answer on why we don't act to get rid of the lazy and incompetent is simple. It is easier not to. Also, I think we fear being disliked. We worry about not being respected. The truth is, most officers want you to kick these ROAD officers in the tail and get rid of them. Sure, the union or association will fight you--that is their responsibility. Maybe you will win and maybe you will lose, but if this is done properly for the right reasons, the department's morale and productivity will improve. Win, lose or draw, the officer will get the message and perhaps either resign or get his act in gear and improve. One employee who had a supervisor ride him hard and threaten action, told me that it was the best thing that ever happened. He said he was going through a mid-life crisis and appreciated the supervisor getting him out of his slump.

Supervising is an action verb. I urge you, fellow supervisors, step up to the plate or move out of the way. Now for some real stories.

An officer I know is a real nice guy. He is motivated, extremely friendly, a veteran, honest; he never has a bad word to say about anyone. I would be happy to have him as a brother-in-law, but....over the years the officer engaged in a series of "brain farts" ranging from false arrest, vehicle accident, discharge of firearm, and on and on. He was receptive to counseling but it didn't help. His respected sergeant did excellent documentation and recommended termination. It hit a stone wall. I inherited the officer and again submitted well-documented additional cases and recommendation for termination--and again, wham, the stone wall. Both the other sergeant and I are now retired and playing golf or traveling, but the employee is still there. Imagine the liability!

Another officer narrowly avoided termination on what might be considered an on-duty criminal matter. Being reassigned to patrol, his response was to do nothing. This guy came as close to nothing as you can get. The employee's "ROAD" sergeant, another real nice guy, did nothing. Then I inherited him. The officer was deficient in every area. Tickets: zero. Officer initiated activity: zero. DUI arrests on the graveyard shift in one year: zero. On our department you didn't have to look for drunk drivers-- if you stayed in one place for a few minutes, one would run into you. Time spent on reports: doubled that of some of his peers. So, again I take him to task and again, you guessed it--the wall. That officer is also still drawing a paycheck.

So fellow supervisors, I really want to know if this is standard practice, or did I work for the Twilight Zone Police Department? Perhaps I can put together your e-mails for a future article. Do supervisors do their job and deal with slugs? Do you get backing? What do the ROAD employees' peers think? Officers (any sworn cops), sound off too, let me know. I might suggest to you that you add some names and highlight certain parts of the article, then slip it under the door of certain supervisors. But watch those fingerprints!