By Hal Collier
Promoting! This is a question that every police officer ponders once in a while. By the way, these are my observations and certainly don’t reflect the opinions of the Los Angeles Police Department or officers everywhere. These observations are based on a large city police department. We all have different reasons for wanting to promote. Actually, some think about it all the time and base their police decisions on, will this hurt my next promotion? More on these individuals and my own reasons later.
There are many reasons for wanting to promote. Everyone starts out on the bottom of the police food chain. Some linger on the bottom longer than others. Some of those on the bottom might have made bad decisions, or they just don’t have any ambition to promote. Others planned their climb up the ladder from their first day in the police academy.
I’m going to break down some of the reasons for promoting. Money, ambition, retirement, power and the urge to get out of patrol. Some put off promoting because of the love of what they’re doing. Some recruits in the academy thought they would someday run our department or another department. Only a very few did, none in my academy class, and I was in a good academy group.
We all had ambitions as a young child. I was going to be a professional baseball player until I discovered that I couldn’t hit a curve ball and when running, I was slower than a turtle.
Like a lot of my partners, I wanted to be a street cop. You know–wearing a blue uniform, driving a black and white police car, chases both on foot and in cars, hours of boredom followed by thirty seconds of sheer terror. It gets into your blood, it’s addictive and hard to kick. You make life and death decisions and enjoy the adrenalin rushes. Your chest swells when you put a bad guy in jail due to your superior observations and tactics. Oh yea, luck entered in a lot. In my 35 years on the LAPD I observed a lot of cops who pondered over the decision whether to promote or not.
I worked for a lot of good street cops who promoted too soon. They still wanted to do police work but the LAPD frowned on supervisors being street cops. By the way, the department told sergeants not to even write tickets. I remember one sergeant was told turn in your ticket book or turn on your stripes!! Street cops hated a sergeant who makes an arrest then hands it off. It’s like someone else catching a fish and giving it to you to clean. Whoopee.
I once had a sergeant drive through a dark alley and found a drunk sleeping in a doorway. He called me to come book him downtown, he then had the nerve to tell me he was going to eat. After medical treatment and booking, I had to have my police car checked for crabs, not the Alaska kind. I worked 3 hours overtime, itched for two days and no, I didn’t get to eat that night. See who your friends are when you stand naked in the locker room and ask some cop to look for bugs on you.
Those with aspirations of being the Chief of Police got out of patrol as soon as possible. Patrol produces complaints and complaints slow promotions. Cops couldn’t take a promotional test until they had four years of seniority, but that didn’t stop them from transferring to an inside job. We use to call them “building boys.” The building boys would take a job in Manuals & Orders or Planning & Research, where the biggest danger was a severe paper cut. They took two hour lunches and hobnobbed with the Department brass. Now days, they call it networking. They usually took a promotional test the day after they were eligible and most did very good. Of course, they helped write the test.
I don’t begrudge the building boys for promoting–that’s what they wanted. My only problem was when they promoted they were then sent back to patrol to supervise us street cops. They often made poor tactical field decisions based on very little experience in the field. I once had a new sergeant respond to a scene and when asked to make a decision, he opened the department manual looking for the answer. It wasn’t there! He actually asked for another sergeant to respond and make the decision. I respected any new sergeant or lieutenant who asked the senior officers for advice. It was still their decision to make but at least they asked.
I saw a lot of supervisors who didn’t make a decision at all, for fear that it would stall their next promotion. If the lack of a decision was newsworthy, like during the riots, the supervisor’s career was over and forget about the retirement home in the marina. No more promotions and something they call freeway therapy. That’s where you live in northern LA County and your next assignment is in the southern most division in the city. Nothing like an hour and half drive to and from work to get your mind straight.
I use to think that the LAPD needed a promotion tree with two forks. One fork was for the building boys who promote, they can stay inside and read policy books. The second fork was for street cops who had experience in patrol and knew what worked regardless of what the psychologists said. I once expressed my two forked tree theory and found myself peeing in a cup and taking a Rorschach exam. After that I kept my opinions to myself and the dog.
One of the problems with my theory was that the building boys made policy for us street cops and worse yet, they sat as jury on our discipline boards. Swell, some building boy wearing a uniform that only needs dry cleaning once a month, is going to decide if the decision I made in a split second in a dark alley will determine if I’m employed next month.
Not all supervisors were building boys, thank goodness. I also worked for some of the best street cops who promoted. I remember one sergeant showed up at a scene where the suspect was acting up–ok, he was being an asshole. The sergeant stood back, let me handle the uncooperative miscreant, then turned and walk away, saying, “Good job, Collier.”
I also worked for two of the best captains the LAPD ever produced, Bob Taylor and Garrette Zimmon. On more than one occasion they would take off their captain bars and work a patrol car, handling any radio call that came in. “Walk in my shoes.” That’s leadership. Most captains will ride around with a sergeant for an hour and never get their hands dirty. Those two captains had the respect of the whole division. They also showed up at shooting training days and went through the different scenarios, same as the street cops. They showed the cops that they could shoot just as well as run the division. If they hadn’t promoted, I might still be working Hollywood patrol.
My next Ramblings will deal with my motivation to promote or not to promote.
Next Ramblings will be the “why”–what made Hal want to promote?