My Chief Can’t See the Forest Through the Trees


Did you ever feel like your chief can’t see the forest through the trees? What causes this universal problem? Or is it my imagination?

Thank goodness there are a few good chiefs out there, but they seem to be rare.

Is there a chemical reaction in the brain that creates stupidity when the stars are pinned in place? Most everything learned during the previous 20-30 years of police work gets tossed out the window when his or her title becomes “Chief of Police.”

Case in point: I serve as the president of the police association at my department. As a result, I get a lot of face time with the boss. With every visit comes the same advice, but it is phrased differently each time. “Son, you need to see the big picture.”

First, I am not his son, so I hate the reference. I have a name but he seems to forget what it is. Furthermore, I’m in my 30s and have been on the job for more than 10 years. So I wish he’d shelve the pandering “Son” business and treat me like a professional cop rather than a juvenile delinquent getting sent to the “principal’s office.”

spiteful leader
(LET Graphics)

All right, enough of that. … Rewind: “Son, you need to see the big picture,” he says.

“Okay, what is it?” I reply.

Once I ask this question, I know I’m about to get “schooled.” He’s going to provide 101 reasons why I need to see things from his perspective, while ignoring the perspective of the “little people.”

Due to this mindset, I’m convinced of this thought; the more police managers see the big picture, the more difficult it is to focus on the pixels which make the department function fluidly.

But I digress.

Actually, if I’m honest, these conversations have opened my eyes to a few things that have helped.

Yet while the chief demands that I see things from the “big picture,” he constantly forgets and disregards what is happening in the trenches. I know because I bait him all the time.

“Chief, are you aware that most of our officers are out of date on the Taser qualification?” (Because the admin. captain pinched pennies and canceled the mandated training.)

Regardless of the question, he usually smirks and then feigns to be aware of the deficiency. This is followed by some lame excuse that he would never accept from a subordinate. However, I know he is unaware of the problem because memos fly from his office after my visits, which is why some of the command staff hate when I take advantage of the chief’s open door policy.

Some things are easily remedied—like Taser qualification. Once the chief is put on notice regarding an element of training that is mandated, he is forced to take action.

It is the philosophical things that grate on cops “in the weeds” as he likes to say. Well, “in the weeds” we are aware of gang and drug activity … where it occurs and who’s who in the zoo. Yet he had the audacity to tell me that we cannot disclose this information to civic groups because it will give them “the wrong impression.”

“Oh, I get it, let’s keep them in the dark and feed them a bunch of B.S.” I replied. “That way they can remain clueless as to why crime is happening and we’ll all be one big happy family … until there is another gang related murder over who ‘owns’ what street corner giving gangbangers wearing certain colors their unencroached territory.”

Yeah, that one earned me a lecture in diplomacy, all the while ignoring gangs and drugs.

So I was challenged to “see the big picture,” while he insisted on ignoring problems that occur in the trenches … urrr, “weeds.”

“Do you wish to promote,” was the first question my predecessor asked when I ran for the presidency of our police association.

“Sure, some day,” I responded.

“Well, you can probably kiss those aspirations goodbye if you take this job,” he replied. “Unless you compromise the role of association president.”

There has been no compromise, and thus my promotability is probably screwed … forever. But hey, at least I can sleep every night because I’m up front with the boss. He tells me that I need to see the big picture while I remind him that he can’t see the forest through the trees … or should I say “weeds.”

Finally, if the boss resorts to ending disagreements with, “Because I’m the chief,” he is simply the holder of a title, but he’s not a leader. And yes, many of our debates end this way. Effective leaders do not use rank as the final straw to win the battle of ideas when they fail to offer concrete counterpoints.

But I’m not the chief, so what do I know?

To all the good chiefs serving their people well, I apologize due to the lump of clay that you’ve been mixed with.

– Sgt. A. Merica

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