If you have ever watched the movie or production of the play Music Man the opening scene in the train car is between the traveling salesmen of yesteryear. The lines of “can ya talk, and ya gotta know the territory” is repeated by the veteran salesmen. But, when the new guy is mentioned, well “He's a fake, and he doesn’t know the territory” and so goes the plot. There is not much difference between these traveling salesmen and cops. Both want a colleague to know the work and know the territory.
New chiefs or new commanders must know their territory as well. What are your local hot buttons? Before the downward economic troubles, it was crime and perception. We are good at fighting crime that is what we do, now it seems to be the budget more than ever. However as a chief or a precinct commander you fight perception. You see, perception is our reality to deal with, what the public sees is more often what we fight rather than real criminality. Several years ago, I fielded a rumor which was swirling. A few of the local ladies had cooped up the idea of street gangs standing on the corner, the city has been overrun with hoodlums. Recalling the sage wisdom of my mentor chief to deal with a small problem today before it becomes a big problem tomorrow, I attempted to head this one off. That very afternoon, off I went with some officers to confront the issue. The large group of ruffians was downtown apartment dwellers, who rented one room flats above downtown storefronts and businesses. It was summer, they did not have air conditioning and standing around outside was their only escape from the sweltering inside temperatures. Few calls the next day to get them squared away and called the little ladies. It seems that their perception of the heathens, which was wrong, then became my reality. Did I know my territory? Not all the way but no chief or sheriff is going to know every square inch of group of their jurisdiction, so you gather up your staff and handle it. You must have the connection to handle these incidents as they crop up and land upon your lap.
Staying in touch with local issues and hot buttons is all dependant upon your style of management. One thing is that you can not stay locked up in the office, you got to know the territory. Years ago there was a concept of management known as Management By Walking Around (MBWA). Here the manager would walk about the area of responsibility to get a handle on the talk, the culture and make themselves more available to staff. This worked for most and is still a great way to get beyond the open door policy and take you to the troops. Key point here is not to interfere but to listen, which is a lost art in itself nowadays. I guess I do the Management by Wandering Around, I get out and wander about the shops, establishments and such. I have always felt that the taxpayers pay good money to see and actually meet their chief or sheriff. I stay amazed at the number of good folks who have never had a conversation with a cop. They will smile, nearly asking permission to speak with you. Most of the time it is pleasant and some times I wished I had stayed in the office. The citizen contact time is great and pays off. For those who know me, I wear a uniform most every working day, again I want to be seen by the public. I recall once where I was asked at a community meeting had the chief been in attendance. In this case I was a commander and the chief had been there in a suit and tie. The old man who asked the question of ‘how am I suppose to know the chief from an insurance salesman if he was wearing a suit’ Made an impression on me. Be seen by the public.
Staying in touch with local issues is one thing but how about evolving global issues before they land on your door steps. Let’s consider terrorism (foreign and domestic) for example and ‘that will not happen here’. Heard that before and more chiefs are now quietly admitting to terrorism based investigations or referrals in their areas. Wandering around in this area doesn’t cut it. Networking will be a great aid. Are you a member of a regional task force, county or regional chief’s association or other regional statewide organizations? These are great to share information and resources. No chief or sheriff can be an isolationist today, it requires collaborative efforts. This is a reality of life, not my perception. It is hard enough to know your own territory and then when traveling criminals come on your turf, it is the help of others that will help you. Today’s demands placed on departments far exceed those of yesteryear. If someone tells you of the days gone by, that is their perception and not the true reality. To be a contender in today’s leadership you have to get out, get moving (wandering) and network. Today’s demands cannot be handled by yesterday’s thinking.
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.