Be Careful out There
Be Careful out There
With most departments, agencies, and units there is some sort of roll call held at the beginning of each tour of duty. If you are not in law enforcement you have seen it on TV many times. Often the officers line up for inspection. Supervisors look for uniforms that need attention, hair that needs cutting, mustaches that need trimming and holsters that need guns.
In many smaller units, the officers might sit around at desks or on benches. The idea is for the supervisor to make sure everyone is present for duty, hand out assignments and pass out information on crimes that have occurred. There might be some roll call training or discussion. If done well, the officers pay attention and information is handed out that will make the officers more efficient and safe. Often, it’s done as a formality only.
As a new sergeant in front of a group of experienced police officers, it can be intimidating. You want to make a good impression and you need to come across as competent and knowledgeable. It’s a fine line. Putting on sergeant stripes and holding a clipboard at the podium doesn’t command respect.
If it were real and not fiction I’m sure Sgt. Phil Esterhaus of the Hill Street station worried his first time at the podium. The old timers would have paid him little attention and the guys with five to ten years would have been feeling too cocky to listen. How did he handle it? Well, he spoke with a firm voice, made eye contact, and ended it with something that set his style. It showed he cared and had the officers first in his mind. “Let’s be careful out there.” That line set the tone for his character. It was a great part of what made him so popular.
After ten years, you’ve heard all kinds of endings to roll calls. Get to work, Hit the street, Get out there, and of course Stay safe. New supervisors will try some, always afraid of sounding corny. It’s a time of testing. The officers are testing the new boss. The boss is learning a new role.
My first roll call as a new sergeant went well I thought. I dismissed the officers and as they filed out of the room one came up to me. He worked an unmarked rapid response car in civilian dress. He was a popular young officer. He worked hard and he played hard. He’d served a hitch in the Army and wasn’t going to let himself be intimidated by a wet behind the ears sergeant. So, he had decided to test me. Here is how it went.
“Sarge, welcome. I have a question for you.”
“Go ahead,” I responded
“How do you feel about police shootings?” he asked.
I knew he was trying to bust my stones. How I played it could impact the way the officers reacted to me. Several were standing near listening for my response. Well, I got lucky that afternoon. I responded with “As long as you get it in by 8 pm, I have no problems with it.”
He looked puzzled at my response so I continued. “Every police shooting, I’ve ever worked on, took at least eight hours. We get off at midnight and I don’t mind putting in 4 hours of OT but anything after that and you’re pushing it. Understand?”
With that, I turned and walked out of the room leaving him a little startled by my response.
Perhaps our little talk tempted fate, but at 8:30 pm I could hear him on the radio announcing shots fired by the police. I raced to the scene and as I exited my car he approached me. His head down in a contrite manner, he looked at me and said, “I’m sorry it’s so late.”
I asked him if there were any officers injured. Thankfully there were none. As a matter of fact, no one was shot. The bad guy had turned towards him with a pistol in his hand pointed at the officer. My officer was quick on the draw but not accurate. His shot missed. The bad guy dropped the gun without firing and surrendered.
Well true to form we finished up and left the station at 4:30 in the morning, eight hours after he fired the shot. The following day when I saw him across the room I looked at my wristwatch and gave him a hard look. He laughed and I could see his lips say, “I promise nothing after 8.” With him telling his peers the story I became accepted as a good boss. It made my job easier.
After that, I ended my roll calls and left the room, rather than standing around waiting for the officers to leave. I started ending things with what a former boss always said when he ended roll call. “Run low and zig zag.”
– Robert Weisskopf