Institutional Knowledge Should Be Captured

In my past life as a traveling trainer, I have observed the following countless times, and now have decided to share my observations. We, as "educated nomads," like to believe that we possess all the answers exclusively. Your chief wanted change or new ideas, and it could not take place without professional trainers brought in to "get your minds right." Now in retrospect, how wrong this was sometimes.

Everybody has one old crusty curmudgeon of a sergeant, or as I call him, a "sergeant for life." We all know his story. He has been there 30 years or more. There are more colorful tales about this guy than Hollywood could ever produce, and he may have made and lost his stripes multiple times. When it comes to dealing with the public, city council, your administration, or command staff, he is the last one on the list you want to send. However, in the streets, when it comes down to handling business, he is the one you want. He probably deals well with the recruits and young sergeants and corporals. If there is a mentoring program for young supervisors, he is the model for at least some of it. How do I know this?

When I taught supervision and management courses, one question I always asked of the students was, "Who did you learn your leadership traits from?" This was after I asked the class to come to a consensus of five traits they desire in a particular rank that they are supervising. Almost every department I have ever worked with would always decide that one sergeant probably placed his fingerprint on the design of that department. He may have set the training compass for that entire department. In the way that they taught you to set your work ethic, how you handled officers, how you treated citizens complaints, or whatever, he set yours and others' compasses, via the field training officers program, as a supervisor, as a colleague or as a combination of all.

We are losing institutional knowledge with each and every retirement that occurs. Chiefs normally give the good bye talk, chuck on the shoulder and handshake to retirees, but that is where we go wrong. When a seasoned detective retires, we lose vast institutional knowledge--their informants, other sources of human information, contacts and recollection of past criminality. Veteran officers have immeasurable contacts with the community, other collateral duties, instructorships and so forth. Chief, once you have identified your internal curmudgeon--you know, the one that may have trained and supervised your entire command staff at one time or another--before he retires, try to sit down and pick his brain of what it takes to make a young officer or a supervisor. Just how did he teach them? This may not be pleasant--you could get an ear full. If you can't "man up" to this, find one of your staff who is amenable to the task maybe they can glean the information from them. With the vast years of experience in your agency, in your city, and the hustle it takes--they know something. You may save yourself some time and money. Training consultants may hate me for this column, but you may appreciate me later for it.