As a Lieutenant within the New York City Police Department, I had the unique privilege of supervising and working with hundreds of police officers. Each one of them had a vital aspect of their talents to offer. It was my job, and the function of all lower, middle, and upper managers, to bring out those talents and utilize them to the fullest.
You’ve heard the saying, “It takes all kinds to make up the world.” Well, that’s true of today’s police departments, both large and small. We are not comprised of robots or plastic molds. We consist of different personalities, traits, and God-given talent.
All police and law enforcement officers have something good to offer their department or agency. Give each one the opportunity to prove themselves.
Years ago, beginning as a Sergeant and first-line supervisor, I created within myself a policy of the following: “Don’t play on personalities or favorites.” It is management’s responsibility to use all of their subordinates, not some. The easy way is to push aside the weakest and allow the strongest to accomplish all. This is a sure ticket to failure.
For example, a grossly underutilized segment of our police departments today is our senior tenured officers. How often have we discarded these members and unknowingly sent them to an unproductive, low morale, reclusive finish to their careers?
Do not push them into far corners of the precinct station houses and allow them to deteriorate. These people are our strength, our knowledge, and our courage. They have seen it all before. Use them as your advisors, ask for their opinions, and include them in your daily operations as a necessary part of your organization.
The challenge is to not only improve the performance of competent, super-efficient officers but also to start both the older and the younger, less aggressive officer on a path of achievement and productivity. Find their strong points and capabilities. Develop them into self-motivated and contributing members of your team.
Clog up the holes, strengthen the weaker ranks, and you will have a well-balanced, productive agency with high morale.
You may, at this point, ask yourself, “How and where do I begin?” That’s easy. Training and leadership. The level of proficiency in subordinates is directly related to the amount of training they receive.
A large portion of the supervisor’s time must be allotted for teaching. Artful instruction must override inefficient, careless methods. Sink or swim, trial and error modes should be avoided. Common sense, imagination, and independent job knowledge must be used.
Training should also be achieved through repetition and the completion of everyday tasks and functions. Teach one-on-one, or by group sessions. Participation is of the utmost importance. An officer’s feeling of accomplishment after successfully completing an assignment that the officer was properly trained for is refreshing and rewarding to both the officer and you, the officer’s supervisor.
Another, and probably most important, aspect of subordinate development is accomplished through leadership. Leadership is the guiding, directing, and influencing of police personnel into the achievement of a common goal or objective.
This is an art or skill that is not an automatic grant of authority through a promotional process, but a right and privilege that is earned through respect. Stripes or bars are the distinction of a boss, but not necessarily of a leader. A true leader must possess and maintain certain traits.
A true leader must have a friendly attitude, moral and physical courage, personal integrity, honor, insight, a strong desire for truth, a desire to teach, and the ability to listen. The most effective and efficient supervisors motivate their subordinates through a unique system of positive incentives.
They almost always deliver appropriate recognition and praise when it is merited and deserved. They also provide opportunities for personal development, advancement, and promotion. A good supervisor will try to avoid negative factors that induce performance through fear and intimidation.
Another outlet for the career enhancement of senior officers that is frequently practiced within New York City is selective assignments. With this method, the experience and skills of the tenured officer are not forgotten or wasted, but instead, renewed by the proper placement of such personnel.
One such assignment is a field training officer. Here, the senior member can assume the responsibility for supervising and training police recruits (“rookies”) while on patrol. The value of such instruction is invaluable. Certain “street-wise” training can never be taught in a classroom. Violence-prone situations may only be absorbed through actual experience.
The handling of the many different ethnic, racial, and religious groups takes expertise that can only develop from participation. A good tenured officer has already made mistakes and learned from them. Keep in mind that books alone are not the only essential tools for the making of a well-rounded police officer.
Other selective assignments for the senior officer would be categorized under the heading of administrative tasks such as planning, training, crime prevention, or community relations. These officers develop innovative plans in the areas of crime prevention, traffic enforcement, patrol, investigative techniques, community affairs, and other operating functions of their commands.
They will devise methods for the measurement of performance and conduct analyses of operations, including workload, functions, and personnel allocation and utilization. Their experience will allow them to make recommendations concerning the use of available resources to achieve objectives.
They have the ability to study specific problems within their command, such as crime patterns and incidence, personnel activity, and the methods or type of patrol techniques being deployed. They will prepare projections of future resource requirements and may develop or evaluate pilot projects.
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These tenured officers may be called upon to attend civic meetings representing their commanding officers. They can develop mutual respect and understanding between the police and the people they serve, and promote an atmosphere conducive to greater public cooperation and police effectiveness.
As staff training officers, they would conduct research, prepare daily lesson outlines, and teach the younger officers before going on patrol. The younger officers could relate to them far better than they could relate to any inexperienced classroom instructor.
Actual incidents that may befall the younger officers while handling routine assignments would be portrayed so as to allow possible avenues of recourse to be discussed. These confrontations allow for only split-second decision-making.
There would be no turning back. Life-or-death situations can calmly be discussed informally before they actually occur. Younger officers could be reassured as to a proper course of action that might one day save their lives.
As you may now visualize, such administrative tasks should not be placed into the hands of inexperienced or young officers. These are positions outlined purely for a person who has an astute knowledge of police work that has been accumulated over many years of service.
Remember, the supervisor’s number one objective is to motivate all subordinates, including marginal and senior members. Placing them back into the mainstream of effective police work and participation will be your triumph. Share in their happiness and success. Bask in their glory from achievements, and derive pleasure from this new outlook on their profession and daily lives.
Not until you have absorbed this meaning of supervision through leadership, training, understanding, compassion, and job development; turned less capable officers into highly productive ones; and rekindled and rechanneled the expertise of one with so many years of experience to offer, will you have properly attained the management concept of personnel utilization. Now you may rightfully call yourself a superior officer.
Author Peter Pranzo is a retired New York City Police Department Lieutenant, with over 21 years of service, receiving over 60 awards, department commendations, and community awards, including some of the Police Department’s highest: the Police Combat Cross, the Award for Valor, and the Honor Legion Medal for Valor. He has written for many law enforcement newspapers and magazines across America and authored three books: “Stress Management for Law Enforcement” (Gould Publications: 1999), which has been placed into the FBI Library; “Behind the Shield: A Journey through the NYPD;” and his latest work, “Harlem Raiders.”
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