Part 1 of 3
I was recently asked by a close partner to give her some advice for her husband. He was getting close to promoting to sergeant and wanted to know what makes a good sergeant. Now, I’m not an expert and I’m not even sure I was a good sergeant. It would be a tossup between what the brass thought and what the field officers thought. The following opinions are mine and mine alone.
My background: I worked twenty-two years as a street police officer, my choice. I saw too many good cops promote too soon and miss out on all the fun. I promoted to sergeant only thinking of an increase in my pension. You can’t spend fun after retirement. I spent another twelve and a half years as a field sergeant and watch commander.
I’m sure the LAPD has different views but then I didn’t agree with everything they taught either. I attended a lot of leadership classes put on by my department and I actually took some notes. Most of these suggestions are from my own experience and my methods were not always accepted by the brass. The brass thought they were really in charge of the patrol cops.
First, what is the job of a supervisor? What a loaded question, but here goes: Supervise your officers, give the officers advice, but only when they need advice. Keep them out of trouble and that also includes jail. I thought the most important thing was to know your officers. I used to pride myself in knowing the officers on my watch. I knew who the hard workers were, who the slackers were and who had a tendency to take shortcuts or stretch the rules. I learned their first names and some of their backgrounds or hobbies. I was always looking for a common ground for communication.
Before making sergeant I wrote down what I liked about a good supervisor and what I didn’t like about a bad supervisor. An example, 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 in your stripes! Street cops hated a sergeant who made an arrest then handed 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 out of harm’s way. 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. I worked three 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 in the next aisle to look for bugs on you.
I don’t begrudge the building boys, as we called them. They promote early, because they wanted out of patrol. 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 of very little experience on the streets. I once had a new sergeant respond to a scene and when asked to make a decision she opened the department manual looking for the answer. It wasn’t there! She actually asked for another sergeant to respond and make the decision. I did respect the new sergeants and lieutenants who asked the senior officers for advice. It’s the supervisors responsibility but it’s good to have a veterans input. Sometimes the cops can keep the supervisors out of trouble. I was told in a leadership class, “You can delegate everything except responsibility.”
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 news worthy, like during the LA 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 drive or two, to and from work to get your mind straight.
More suggestions in part 2. Hal