When an officer is involved in a shooting there is an emotional rollercoaster that typically follows. Adrenaline dump, tunnel vision, maybe some involuntary muscle twitching, and for most officers there is difficulty in recalling how many shots were fired. When you shoot a chair in your office, what you go through mimics none of these emotions.
I was a Commander in the Operations Division of a large urban department. I commanded about 70 officers and sergeants in the 2nd District and was about 13 years into my 26 year career.
In a few short days I was taking my family on our annual vacation and decided I would bring along my “baby” 9mm Glock. I did not carry the “baby” on or off duty. I opted to always have my full size city-issued gun with me. But for vacation on the beach I felt the smaller gun would be less cumbersome.
I had a fairly large office. A desk, 2 visitor chairs, credenza, several cabinets and a 10-person long conference table fit rather comfortably in the office. I also had a locked closet where I kept my off duty weapon on the top shelf. The shelf was rather higher than my moderate height of 5’9”, so I could not see the gun in order to retrieve it.
Probably day dreaming about the sun and surf of Hilton Head awaiting us the following week, I was on auto-pilot. I reached up on the shelf, retrieved the gun and spare mag lying next to it. I groped around trying to find the ejected shell from the chamber that should have been right next to the spare magazine. To my astonishment I could not find it.
Shaking my head in disbelief that I had left the round in the chamber, I did the next logical thing. I racked the round out of the chamber. With the magazine and ejected round in my left hand, I of course pointed the gun down (at the seat of one of my very nice mahogany visitor chairs) and dropped the trigger. What followed can only be described with three letters – WTF!
As I mentioned earlier, there are a variety of responses the body has when there is an OIS. My responses were in three categories, none of which are noted above.
First: son of a biscuit that was friggin loud. Naturally, I assume you can replace the words I actually used, but I can’t print them here. My ears would be ringing for a good 3 days after that.
Second: Damn, I just blew a big butt whole in a really nice chair. Again, insert real words as you see fit.
Third: Firetruck! (figure out what word I really thought) Now I have to call the Rat Squad to investigate an accidental discharge. Who knew IA could respond so fast. They were better than Domino’s, made it in much less than 30 minutes.
Guess who put the gun in his closet with one in the chamber AND a fully loaded magazine? Yep, me. The magazine I picked up off the shelf? It was the extra one we were issued with the gun. So, I resigned myself to take my lumps and knew I had would just have to move on. But, I did have some worries about the whole ordeal.
I was the Commander. What would my Sergeants and Officers think of me? Had a boneheaded move on my part destroyed my credibility as a leader? Would I still have the respect, confidence and loyalty from my folks that I had tried so hard to develop and nurture?
Well, I got my answers the next morning. I was one to always arrive early and leave late. My people knew this and obviously wasted no time in planning and executing their moves.
Posted on my office door was this very pointed warning: “If the LT. invites you into his office and asks you to have a seat, politely decline and remain standing.” I had a good chuckle and even left the warning in place. But what I found IN my office made me burst out laughing.
There were 12 chairs in my office, not counting my desk chair. Taped to EVERY chair was a bulls-eye target. Sitting on my desk was a clear miniature coffin filled with ashes and this note: “Here lie the cremated remains of Lt. Welsh’s chair.”
Next to the coffin was an orange plastic dart gun with this note: “Maybe this will be a little safer for you to take on vacation.” I kept the coffin and dart gun on my desk for several years!
Throughout the day, various officers and sergeants would poke their head into my office and just smile and give me a little wave. Even my secretary had some fun with me over the whole “new look” of my office. In hindsight, I learned a few valuable lessons in leadership that day.
First, you reap what you sow. I had sown my faith, trust, and support of my folks over the previous 14 months or so. They knew what I thought of them, their abilities, and their personalities. They knew I had a sense of humor and would not look down on them if they too made the occasional mistakes on the job. They also knew a little humor would take the sting out of the inevitable discipline I would get for executing a poor defenseless office chair. I reaped the same seeds I had sown and nurtured.
Second, I learned the value of failure. Failing is not the end and does not make you a “failure”. As a friend of mine has always said, “Sometime you win, sometimes you learn.” You only lose if you don’t learn from your failings. I certainly learned a gun safety lesson. But I also learned other lessons.
Third, I learned a lesson in respect. Despite pulling a really boneheaded move by shooting a chair, as the days and months rolled along I noticed I had not lost the respect and loyalty of not only my folks, but also that of my Chief. Several months after this event, I was called to the Chief’s office by his secretary. Normally not a good thing in most departments, he was jumping the chain of command of a Deputy Chief and Major to speak to me directly. You understand we were a nearly 500 man department. Being called directly to see the Chief was cause for concern.
What I learned when I arrived was both surprising and a lesson in leadership. Based on the results my folks had achieved in the almost two years I had been their Commander was being noticed. Their dedication, hard work, and loyalty to the mission and vision of the department had resulted in greater community trust in the department, reduced crime stats, and improved morale.
The Chief called me to his office to tell me I was being transferred to another district and told me to do there what I had done in my current assignment. The mutual respect my folks and I had towards each other produced results. These results could be replicated within the department as a whole.
Now I am not recommending you go out and shoot an office chair. I still had discipline on my record for two years. What I do hope you see is the value of learning from failures. That is one of the greatest lessons in leadership I have learned. By the way, I went on to command not only a new District, but eventually Narcotics and Investigations. Later I was promoted to Major of West Patrol Operations Division, where I retired in 2012. I sincerely credit some of my success to the lessons I learned the day I shot a chair.
Pat Welsh is the Founder and President of PJ Welsh and Associates, LLC. Mr. Welsh retired in April 2012, as Major, West Patrol Operations Division on the Dayton Police Department. He was recognized throughout his 26 year career in Patrol, Narcotics, and Investigations by such groups as the FBI, the United States Secret Service, the National Police Athletic League, and the Dayton Police Department. A graduate of the FBINA and Police Executive Leadership College, Mr. Welsh specializes in law enforcement training, keynote speaking and coaching services. Mr. Welsh is also a Certified Speaker, Teacher and Coach with the John C. Maxwell Team. Visit www.CourtSurvival.com, http://www.JohnMaxwellGroup.com/PatrickWelsh or contact Mr. Welsh at [email protected].