Directions for new sergeants

One of the duties required of a chief is to give direction to newly appointed staff members. Often this is a formal recapitulation of the new job description and the new assignment. Some chiefs write formal letters of encouragement with goals and objectives sprinkled throughout. This is a great idea, as you then have a paper trail to remind the newly promoted of their failings, should they not successfully complete their probation.

Often times this is accompanied by “the talk.” I recall mine. It probably would not pass the political correctness muster of today, but it worked for me. I have since polished it up with several leadership tidbits, plus added a few nuggets from my own experience. I recently learned of a young lad in another department whom I know is soon to be promoted. Since I am not his chief I cannot give him “the talk,” but I can offer him this advice.

First of all, look at your new uniform. You have a lot of stripes now! However a zebra has more stripes than you do...and he is an ass. So now young man, don’t be an ass. The learning point here is that you were selected to be a sergeant for your specific knowledge, skills and abilities. You are raw material that staff feels can be molded into a fine sergeant. You have what it takes to make it. In others words, continue to be yourself. I have seen a few who after getting promoted seemed to have obtained instant intelligence. It was nearly like a changeling had taken over their body. Be your natural self. Should you try to act as the new person, then the course will be doubly hard, and you may be more destined to fail.

Respect the skill sets of your new squad. Each person has something to offer you and the mission. Don’t be a know-it-all. No one likes a know-it-all. If you have skilled officers, then allow their performance to come through.

Never, ever forget these are your officers! I do not care if they did not like you before or after your assignment, they are your officers and you are charged to care for them. Notice I said not "in charge of them," rather you are charged to direct and care for them.

At the end of a long day you should be the last to eat and last out of the door. You should ensure that your officers are cared for and end their tour of duty safely. They might not respect you now. But that will develop if you earn it daily. Someone once asked me, "What is the definition of a police squad?" I was told a police squad is made of 10 to 12 officers out to get you indicted. You will earn the respect of the squad and others, it will come...often piecemeal.

Remember, thousands of others have been promoted to your position before you. It is easy to follow the young sergeant rule of barking at your troops about haircuts, uniforms and unshined boots. Set yourself apart and lead with substance. While these things are important, there are more important things to delve into. Work with your troops on their tactics, improve their skills that make them excel. Hint: if they excel, so will you. Sure appearance is the easy one to spot, but your officers will appreciate you helping to develop their skill levels more.

At this point of your career you are not done learning; now it just gets harder. Not only do you have to stay sharp with your state and departmental courses, but you need to attend supervisory courses as well. Many of these will be new. Take the time to invest in understanding human resources. It is important that when an officer has a problem you may be the first one to observe and assist them. When that happens, know what to do for them and what is available. You now have to be more tactically and technically competent than ever. Your decisions affect the entire unit now, not you alone.

Never be afraid to ask questions. As you receive your orders or directions for a mission or shift, make sure you fully understand what is expected of you and your squad. Go forth with understanding and never, ever lie to your staff. Those men and women hold their trust in you each day. Violate it and it's over.

You will make mistakes and they are not the end of the world. When you do, take responsibility and your lumps. Turn this into a learning experience and drive on.

Most importantly believe in yourself, be confidence and be safe. Drive on and make me proud of you.


William L. Harvey has a BA in criminology from St. Leo University and is a graduate of the Southern Police Institute of the University of Louisville. He served for over 23 years with the Savannah (Ga.) Police Dept. in field operations, investigations and support services, and completed his career there as the director of training. Harvey is currently Chief of Police for the Ephrata (Pa.) Police Dept.