This month, I'm offering suggestions for improving your department without spending a lot of money. Many of you are already putting these concepts into practice, but a little refresher never hurts.
- Walk a mile in their shoes. Every once in a while, climb into a patrol car and spend a busy Saturday night running calls with the line, or a slow Sunday morning finding things to do in a dead zone. Your officers will appreciate you and you'll have a better feel for what they're up against.
- Be as open as possible with both police personnel and the community. Sure, there are times when you can't tell all, but if you establish a policy of honesty and integrity, not only will people be more tolerant when you can't talk, they'll be more forgiving when an officer makes a mistake.
- Do your crime scene investigators a favor and have standing orders to post officers at the entry and exit points of major scenes and keep out people who don't belong there — including supervisors and other cops. They contaminate scenes and it's difficult to work around spectators — even when they're officers.
- Officers who are happy at home are more stable employees. But if they're never given time to see their spouses or kids, then expect problems. Don't preach the importance of family to men and women who can never watch their kids perform in the school play or pitch the winning game. Find a way to include spouses and children in the officers' lives and you'll put happier — and better — cops in the field.
- Review the review process. Just as a criminal suspect should be innocent until proven guilty, so should a police officer who is accused of professional misconduct. People make mistakes, and while those mistakes are not always excusable, the investigation and handling of such incidents should be accomplished fairly.
- Make sure every officer in your department knows the legal definition of probable cause and can explain it on the witness stand while under oath.
- Retain your best people by rewarding their loyalty. Instead of hiring the hot young applicant with the cybercrime experience, train officers who are cops first, computer experts second. Although this doesn't guarantee they'll stay behind the badge, it makes more sense to water the garden you have than to focus your resources on one not yet planted.
- Find ways to connect with local youths. Many kids need role models, some simply need to know someone cares. Get your department involved in programs that allow kids and cops to interact away from the streets.
- Cut the paperwork. Study the paperwork and forms required by your department. Obviously, state or federal forms can't be relegated to the circular file, but take a look at the forms and procedures your department implements. Whenever possible, keep it simple. The more complicated something is, the more opportunities for mistakes exist.
- Keep an eye on how many hours your officers spend in court. Many times they remain on standby without good reason, or are scheduled for court when assigned to work nights. It was my experience cases were continued by defense attorneys to days when officers worked midnights or had a day off, and that multiple, inconvenient continuations were deliberate, made in the hopes the officer simply wouldn't show up. A well-run prosecutor's office won't let this happen. If you see it, step in. No one should lose a case because the defense plays dirty.
Although these ideas aren't new, they bear repeating once in a while. But with all the responsibilities on police supervisors these days, it's understandable some of the simplest solutions can fall by the wayside.
Have more? Send them to me. I'll run them in a future column.
A 12-year veteran of police work, Carole Moore has served in patrol, forensics, crime prevention and criminal investigations, and has extensive training in many law enforcement disciplines. She welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.