Do’s and Don’t for New Commanders

As a young promoted supervisor, who is coming from the lower end of the seniority spectrum and now being "in charge" of those his senior; how do you handle it? Well, this is a frequent theme in police departments nationwide. Let’s take a look at this...


A reader recently sent me this in an email. I would like to see an article about the do's and don’ts for newly promoted sergeants or commanders. As a young promoted supervisor, who is coming from the lower end of the seniority spectrum and now being "in charge" of those his senior; how do you handle it? Well, this is a frequent theme in police departments nationwide. Let’s take a look at this and make a few suggestions. There are several of you are going to deal with in your new journey as the new person in charge of their lives.  

First of all, there are those who believe in seniority. Matters not what you have done for the department. Your departmental track record of taking on hard assignments, collateral duties and such, matter not. Your academic and/or training records do not count. There are a select few who believe that if you are there for the most years, you should be in charge. I counter these dinosaurs with a question. If you sat in a garage on a box and watched for twenty years, would you become a master mechanic? These are the curmudgeons of the department; there is not much you can do for them. Most don’t even bother in taking the test, they are there to gripe, find fault and be a royal pain until they retire or win the lottery. Suggestion is to find out what they are good at, if anything. Capitalize on what skills they have and make them the ‘go to person’ there. Let them think you are smart enough to capitalize on their vast skills (if any). You are not going to win them over but try to work with them.

Sadly enough most of them are the informal leaders or the precinct bosses. They do not have authority (stripes) but have the power (informal leaders). They will be the ones most of the regular ones will follow when without leadership present. They are often old detectives or special units that got bounced back to patrol. Many were old Field Training Officers (FTOs) of the past era. Many have some ranking officers who actually respect them. They came on the department together, one advanced and the other did not. Again, try to work with them. The main thing here is to respect their service and attempt to get them to work with you. Do not ‘pull out your stripes’ on them unless you have to.

Classmates and last week’s co-workers will offer you some problems as well. If you come in blazing stripes and going hard-core rules and order over them, they will resist you. Most will shut down and offer passive resistance. Some may resist and remind you of your past transgression that went undetected and now you are better than thou with them. If you are smart, pace yourself with them, most understood the test, the process and will give you a chance to adjust to your new position. If you have a true pal from the academy, they will respect it and be your supporter, remember respect them back. I had one friend from the academy who offered me insights and perspectives; he was a true pal and I am still grateful to him. With these officers, remember that your first few weeks and decisions will be the ones that they will make your legacy. One thing here is to seek their insights and capitalize on their experience.  If they are on scene and this call requires a boss, listen to them and their recommendations on handling it. You are there for the call’s criticality and not to handle it, do not act like a high paid patrol officer. Should they need resources, request detectives or other staff; it is your position that allows you to do so. You are there to make them and this call a success, not to Bogart the call. You are a team leader, not the shinning star.

The Fabulous New Guys (FNG’s) are the recruits, the yearlings and just so new that their uniforms still fit from the academy. You might just be their first sergeant in their career. They are not that much of a problem; they are young and still need direction. Your role with them is to set their career compass. The Field Training Officer (FTO) did a great job on them, but still they are full of questions. Don’t ever fuss over them coming to you with a question. It is when they don’t come with questions that there can be a problems, be available to them.

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