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Promotions and Starting Over

In my continuing series on advice for freshly promoted sergeants, it is time for the next offering. With most of the larger departments, when you get promoted to sergeant, you will probably be transferred to another division or precinct. Don’t believe me? Underneath your promotion orders is page two which reads transferred. There is some good and bad in this mix, which we will discuss later. But, just when your world is finally getting better it goes into a tail spin. I know you fought hard to achieve this promotion. Your career is starting to move forward and of course the salary increase is appreciated as well. Now you are going to a new precinct, with a new squad and all of this with newly sewn on stripes! Wait a minute, why is this happening to me?

Pro and Cons

If your agency is one that is large enough to transfer fresh promoted sergeants to a new assignment, then count this as a blessing. As a new fresh buck sergeant, you need a fresh canvas to paint with. This is the opportunity. If you are currently in a squad and magically you are promoted the next day, old ghosts could haunt you. For those in medium to small departments, you will have to handle the patrol ghosts, you can’t escape. There will be an instance that you will have to investigate or discipline one of your officers for violation of some regulation. When it comes back to ‘hey, Sarge, remember the time that YOU and I did this and we thought it was fun, now YOU have stripes and busting my stones, what gives here!’ In a perfect world it is great to start over in a new environment without a past. However, I have told you that police departments don’t run off of electricity and gasoline but fuels themselves on rumors. So, if the troops don’t have any scuttlebutt on you, they can make something up! Somebody will know something, rise above it, deal with it and drive on!

You could have a squad where you have not had to work with, then there are no pasts. Now, new sergeant, how do you get to know them and their skill sets? First and foremost, get to know each by their names, memorize them! If they have an ‘official precinct nickname’ I would suggest that you ask if you can refer to them by this name. It may be a bad inside joke and they are trying to outlive this. Try to learn about them, more than their rank, call signs and favorite location for lunch. Speak with other sergeants and command staff. Some may be the precinct’s ‘go to person’ on certain calls, situations or events. Each has a specific skill set, weakness and intangibles. Invest the time in learning them, talk with them and buy the coffee. The time you invest will pay back. Recall they are the home team here and you are the new guy on the block.

Be careful of what I call holding their breath. You know when you had a new supervisor show up, you were on your best behavior for maybe two weeks? Give or take, most of us will ‘hold our breath’ only for so long. If there are any bad habits, dysfunctions or ill tempers, give them about two weeks or so before they come out. I don’t know the catalyst for it, but sooner or later this will happen. Could be night shift rotation, could be a bad special assignment or whatever; someone’s nerve gets tweaked and out it comes. So, the lesson here is after two weeks or so, don’t think all is well in your world. Sooner or later, you will be tested by one of the squad. Be observant, act professional and don’t let’em get under your skin.

Another thing you must learn is the new division or territory. It is not uncommon for a detective to be promoted and get sent to patrol world. No more suits, unmarked cars and cool cases. Now it’s the same uniform, marked car and you have got the run of all of the calls, not just the cool ones. Here you have to know the regular customers, which bars that are problems, the domestics that are every weekend and who are the neighborhood political hot buttons? The key to learning the new turf is be observant. I mean from the 50,000 foot level. Stand back, observe and learn. Often how you handled a situation in one end of the city probably will not work in your new digs. Every neighborhood is different, the players have different names but the game changes slightly.

What matters is that you learn but more important you pace yourself. You are not going to change the world in your first few weeks or months. I know some who have been sergeants for years and still don’t have it. Take your time but always have a purpose of learning something new daily. The key to becoming a great supervisor is remembering that this is a journey towards personal greatness; it is not issued at the quartermaster. Many opportunities take time to manifest themselves, until then learn and train on how to handle them when they come up. Never pass up the opportunity to share a learning moment with your staff. Their growth and personal development is critical to your and the squads success. Foster a learning environment and not one of intimidation. In closing, recall the supervisor or teacher who was willing to help you learn to better yourself. If you were afraid to come to them, then nobody wins. As you and your officers morph or  form into a team, always be there for them. This will occur when you least expect it and builds a form of trust between you. You can’t buy it but when it happens, invest in it.


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.