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Young Command Mistakes

I was listening to a story about a newly appointed commander and some of the new leader mistakes that he has already made. Now first of all, I have made my share of mistakes, have been a supervisor, commander and chief for a few decades and have my fair share. So I am not putting rocks in anyone else’s row boat. My objective here is to help the future ones and learn from my and other’s mistakes.

Mentors are good and if you do not have one, seek one out. I was fortunate to have a mentor chief. He gave me vast insights into what to expect. There were times I called or emailed and his advice was like manna from heaven. He did tell me one thing that is very important. It is not how many officers you have nor how large the budget but it is how many young chiefs you have groomed or created. I am fortunate that I have a few former students and staff members that are successfully directing departments, so I too have a few. True leaders create more leaders; pass on the excitement of being a leader.

Within your department you have Field Training Officers. Consider a mentoring program for newly appointed promotions. There are some Field Training Officer programs for detectives and sergeants but not for executive staff and chiefs. So, the mentor program offers these staff members a life line when needed.

Observe before you act. You have been taught that no two police calls are exactly the same. One frequent mistake I hear constantly is the young supervisor is listening on the radio and already sized-up the event and finding fault before arrival.

The acronym or code word I want you to avoid being labeled with is CHAOS or Command has arrived on scene. The first things that you are taught in incident or scene management is do not create an incident within an incident. If you are an incident creator or magnifier you are heading down a treacherous pathway. Your staff will do all that they can do to keep you away, they will use the cell phones, radio signals to down play the incident just so they do not have to clean up after your tumultuous arrival. Two things will now occur. One is that you are setting up your staff to fail, they will work outside of the protocols & SOP’s, therefore if anything happens they will be wrong from the start for not contacting you. Secondly what will happen is when you are actually required, you will not have that working relationship you need to have a successful mission. If you must ask a question, make it what can I do to make this a successful outcome? You must get the support to them. 

High paid Officer

One of the worst monikers you can have placed on you is that you are just a high paid patrol officer. If a young chief or commander shows up and performs the calls and pushes the primary officers back, turn in your brass and be a recruit again. I tell supervisors that they are there to get things done and answer the tough questions. Trust your officers first of all, if they have to call a supervisor or watch commander it is because of protocols to get things moving. The next higher rung on the ladder has to be the one to request detectives or other investigative support services. You are a problem solver for them. They might not have the rank or authority to request a particular support, you do; make things happen for them. For the commanders and chiefs, trust in your staff. If you are there it is for two things, one it is expected behavior that the chief is there for incident command should this evolve into something bigger. Secondly, you are a solution provider. There are times that only the authorizations can come from the top. If the questions are about the on scene commander’s ability, this is where your knowledge, skills and abilities come into play. Be a solution provider and leader, not a meddler.

Feedback is the breakfast of champions. Solicit feedback from your staff on how you can improve overall performance and always include tactics and safety! It is difficult to get troops to open up to the new leader, it often takes time. Spend some time with them in conversation, buy the coffee. Listen to what they need in a leader, not what they want. My old command sergeant major once told me supervision is 10% telling and 90% checking. Check on their progress, what is needed to complete the mission and how to learn from it effectively so that this call serves as the learning experience for the next one. Leadership is hard work, but the most rewarding if done correctly. Learn from other’s mistakes and successes. Be a mentor and not a monster. Go out and help make your officers successful today!


About The Author:

William L. "Bill" Harvey is a native Virginian. He served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army Military Police Corps. He has a BA in criminology from St. Leo University and is a graduate of the Southern Police Institute of the University of Louisville (103rd AOC). Harvey served for over 23 years with the Savannah (GA) Police Department. He served in field operations, investigations and support services, and completed his career there as the director of training. He has published several articles in professional periodicals and has lectured nationwide. He is serving as a chief of police in central Pennsylvania area; a duty he’s performed for the past nine years. He is on the advisory board of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association and other professional associations.