When Police Administrators Drink the Kool-Aid…
Yesterday, I heard from my good buddy, “Colofornia Frank,” who shared words from a former boss, “If I replace you one of three things will happen. (1) Your replacement will do a worse job. (2) Your replacement will do a better job. (3) Your replacement will be no better or no worse than you. The odds are 2-1 in my favor and I’ll take those odds to Vegas anytime.”
I am certain most of us have heard those words or similar tones before. In policing, those beliefs echo in the hallways. Select expressions from our supervisors burn in our minds at inopportune times.
Stop the bus.
Am I working in a factory? Or did the boss just devalue me? Am I worth about as much as a pair of worn out socks? Perhaps it is the company way.
In any case, the words are stupid in police work. Ballsy to say, right? I’ve waited all my adult life to take that stance without insubordination repercussions.
Arguing with your supervisor over your worth is a waste of breath in law enforcement. Those who believe that will not believe otherwise. However, to be fair, not every supervisor believes in “The Replacements.”
Today, veteran officers are priceless commodities in law enforcement.
Staffing levels at police organizations resemble a sucking chest wound. Inexperience outweighs knowledge, craft, and worldliness. Human resources in any form in law enforcement are critically low in many geographic areas.
No one wants to be a cop.
Despite these seemingly actionable emergencies, many police administrators appear stagnant in management theories, reform ideas, and basic modern policing philosophies. They keep doing the same things over and over which drive people away from the job.
Barely floating above water is not acceptable. Status quo budgets and excessive cuts to first responders are failures in governance.
Here are a bazillion (Ok, just a dozen) things police administrators are doing wrong:
1. Relying on the next new guy. For decades, police admins have often discarded their veteran officers as employees who they have “invested enough” in and have retired them on duty. If the officers don’t take the promotional track, they rot in their assignment. The officer loses drive and ambition from lack of opportunities and incentives. Institutional knowledge is worth its weight in gold, but it is treated like a tarnished nickel.
2. Training resources go to favorites. You know the one. The one guy who gets an abundance of schools and brags about doing all the cool stuff. Even in private corporations, this tactic is a bad business decision. Do not put all your eggs in one basket. While you cannot always spread the wealth evenly, several educated officers are worth more than one master.
3. Putting you in your place. How many times have you heard cops are all the same? Those people lied. Police officers are not all the same. Each one is unique. Furthermore, keeping officers stifled in a career path because they are forced to take assignments the department dictates is not always the best course of business. Many officers progress faster in the job track than others or have unique talents. It’s OK. Celebrate that success! Don’t keep a good man or woman down. Individuals should be allowed to grow and develop into the maximum potential they can reach. Doesn’t every department want capable and exceptional officers? Supervisors should also recognize and take note of special skillsets their shift members display, give support, and move them forward.
4. Keep shining that crappy equipment. Decaying tools signify death. It does not mean excessive spending should occur. Let’s not lose our heads. What the public does not realize is that departments have been told to do more with less for decades and now we have come to doing things for free or without. We ask our LEOs to suit up every day with the risk of death and failing tools because there is no money to keep updated. Officers are often forced to buy their own equipment. Only the crazies or dedicated are agreeing to sign up for that. Departments paying mind to being updated with technology, equipment, vehicles, and putting safety first are going to leave your deteriorating organization in the dust.
5. Handing out peanuts. If they are good enough for spectators and elephants, then peanuts are good enough for cops, right? Asking for a friend. “Everyone is lining up to get into uniform,” said no one ever. There are no lines. Why not? There is a deficit of good old-fashioned green goodness for police work. Where is it? It certainly is not going toward salaries to pay for people who daily must prepare for ambushes, mass shootings, violent crimes in progress, dynamic situations, and risk their lives to save another. There are added benefits of giving up a personal life for public service, PTSD, burnout, physical injury, or death. When will the world leaders realize first responders are professionals doing a job most people refuse to do all while knowing they might not come home? Pay them appropriately. Mercy!
6. Being creative policymakers. Do you have policies named after officers? For each screwup, there is a Bill, Bob, Sally, and Tom clause? Sure, policy and procedures are necessary. However, if your policy manual looks like 5 New York City phone books and page 10 contradicts page 489, you have bottle-necked your organization. Equally frustrating is when policies are enforced for certain people and the rules do not apply to everyone. Policies which bend for some and not others are guidelines. They weaken your organization. Too many policies make it impossible to work.
7. Failure to market company greatness. If you have exceptional individuals or teams of officers- why aren’t you making money off of them? Yeah, it sounds like a dirty hooker business. But, it is potentially solid gold waiting for you to monetize. When you have outstanding members of the force, your department can capitalize on their greatness by putting on schools and bringing some much-needed currency to the organization.
8. Ignoring community experts. Do you have expertise in your community? Invite them to instruct a training course. Make some money. Create collaborations. Moreover, you can send many of your own officers for free to get required education hours and certifications.
9. Playing Chicken Little. Administrators are refusing to take advantage of the military surplus because they are afraid of appearances and backlash from the public by looking like an occupying force. Seriously? Have you noticed what the streets are like out there? Some neighborhoods resemble a combat field. Well, maybe not quite. Rifles are part of everyday copping needs. Where does it matter where you get them? Take the free ones. Military vehicles can be useful in crisis scenarios like mass shootings, hostage negotiations, or natural disasters. That doesn’t mean the police should line up with tanks to patrol residential areas. If there is some government handout which can benefit your department, take it. Maybe you could make a cool PR vehicle out of an MRAP. I don’t know. But don’t be shy.
10. Being too politically correct. We all recognize the PC format is running rampant across the country as the “big wigs” try to secure likes. It is not so much about proper procedures and accountability anymore as it is about making sure the most people are happy. Adapting to the new social correctness brigade and catering to this new hysteria is dangerous business. No matter how warm and fuzzy we want to make the world, cops must be cops. They do not always talk eloquently or play nice with disruptive crowds. You might get a direct and brash answer from them. It may or may not be with a smile. When you do not listen, you might get rude responses and raised voices ordering you to comply. You might be answered with physical action. Ultimately, people need to shut their mouths and comply. Disagreements with police decisions are for the courts. When you fight the cops, they will fight back. It isn’t always fair. When administrators become politicians first, forget about their troops, and cave to pressure, then it becomes a slippery slope. How hard is it to get up on the podium and tell the public your officers may not have had the best manners, but they were proper in their response? Stop throwing them under the bus when they are right.
11. Forgetting where they came from. Enough said.
12. Refusing to think outside the box. There is no box. This is not 1974. Be innovative, proactive, reactive, and move administration mountains just as if it were a living organism. Make the mechanisms harmonious in your community.
What is happening all over the country? No money. No people. No budget and equipment resources. Those issues are really at the mercy of city, county, state, and federal management. What battles are being fought at city hall? Where is the passionate fight for public safety?
Failing governance forces those inside police organizations to seek employment elsewhere. This is a snowball deficit which eventually trickles to the community.
Do most police officers leave the department because of the job or because of the administration? I think it would surprise many citizens if they knew the real motives behind lateral transfers or career changes are often because the officers were fed up with administrators and the politics within their organization.
Let’s add fuel to the fire.
City officials still do not seem to comprehend the value of emergency services over event planning and town statue beautification. They fail to see the importance of investing in public safety.
People notice when their departments are not cutting the mustard. Citizens are the first to cry out against ineffective policing. Response times are long, cases are not solved, proactive work is pretty much null, and crime rates escalate. Disadvantaged areas grow as if they had rabbit reproduction abilities. Ineffective policing brings the community at odds with a police department.
No one wants to be a cop right now. Aggressive action toward police officers makes a headline each week. This should alarm the public. Departments need to retain veterans and keep them motivated rather than discarding their worth after about 10 years. Since the supply and demand issue has flipped over the last 5-10 years, officers can pretty much choose where they serve. The grass is always greener on the other side.
You can hear the crickets whistle through the ideas of retention, increased wages, better pensions, and career path development. The halls of justice echo urgencies of minimum staffing and Band-aiding the community problems. Yet, police administrators are not rallying for internal changes to slow the mass exodus.
Having a young force puts your community at risk. They might be good at street survival and combat, but they are lacking in emotional intelligence, complex investigative aspects, and communication skills. Additionally, it takes time for them to form community partnerships and coalitions in patrol areas.
During various times in our police careers, I would bet the swamp that any officer can recall times when their police administrators veered far from common sense policies, told us all cops are replaceable and cowered to public appearances. Look where police organizations are now.
Officers have been telling their superiors these troubling trends for years, but no one listened. Institutional knowledge is invaluable. Quality human resources are critical in public safety.
Dear police administrators: invest wisely. Your officers matter.