Ramblings by Hal

Ramblings, Supervisors part 1 of 3

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

Ramblings by Hal

Partners, part 2 — the good ones

By Hal Collier

In my last Ramblings, I described the bad partners I worked with. Most were probationers and you might think that I didn’t like newbies. Actually, it was just the opposite.


St Cloud Police
St Cloud Police

Training a probationer was a lot like watching your own child grow up. You nurse them, teach them, and often laugh at the mistakes they make. Some learned to walk faster than others. Some days you’re frustrated and ready to give up, then you see the light come on in their head and you know they’ll be ok. Think potty training. You coax them along then send them out into the real world hoping for the best. When you really care, you worry.


As I have said, I probably trained over 100 probationers and most made it through an entire career, a few resigned in lieu of being fired. There were ones who became your boss. You bragged how you trained them. Thank goodness they didn’t hate me. If I named each good partner I worked with, it would take up pages.


What is a good partner? That’s a loaded question! Is it someone you have a lot in common with? Now, I loved partners who had nothing in common with my interests. He/She didn’t like sports, He/She didn’t like hunting, He/She was a Democrat or Republican. Some came from rich families and others lived paycheck to paycheck. And yes, some even had a lot of education.


Bill Barren (RIP) was a good partner. He loved Ohio State, I loved USC; he hated the outdoors, I loved camping and fishing; but when we pinned on those badges, we were as close as twins. Dale Hickerson another great partner. We have fished, hunted, and watched each other’s kids grow up. At times, it was as if we were an old married couple. Dave Balleweg another great partner wasn’t into playing sports like I was, but we have remained close even when he moved to Oklahoma. There are dozens more I could name including supervisors but I don’t have enough space.


UC Davis Police Department
UC Davis Police Department


Good supervisors:  I had many and I often tried to copy them when I became a supervisor. So, what does a patrol cop look for in a good supervisor? A supervisor who cares more about his officers than his next promotion; a supervisor who shows up at your call and lets you handle it. They’ll save you from making career ending-decisions. They’ll offer advice when asked but don’t butt in and screw up the situation you had calmed down. I once had a neighbor dispute almost handled. My sergeant showed up and escalated the incident which later found me in civil court on the wrong side of a lawsuit. I won but what a headache.


Some of my favorite sergeants, Gil Jones, Terry Seagraves and Roger Jackson would show up stand back and let me handle the incident. They offered advice based on their extensive field experience. These sergeants were more concerned with doing good police work than impressing the chief. Some days, when I was the Watch Commander and I was ready to retire, I would walk into Mike Diaz’ office and close the door. Mike would let me vent, pat me on the back, and then send me back into battle.


I had other supervisors who had no field experience; we called them “Building Boys.” Some had trouble finding Hollywood Boulevard even though you could see it from the front door of the police station. I had one brand new sergeant show up at one of my calls and when confronted with a decision, requested another sergeant to decide how to proceed. Jeez.


Some partners you just bond with. There’s a chemistry, somewhat like being married. You can finish each other’s sentences, know what he/she is thinking and spend hours together and never be at a loss for words. Craig Bushy knew when his partner, Randy Walker, was losing patience. He would take off his glasses and set them on the hood of the police car. Luckily, when you divorce from these partners, you don’t lose half your pension.


A good partner is someone you put your trust in, even more importantly–your life. Often, before going to your family, you confide in a good partner and listen to his/her advice. A good partner is someone who can make you laugh, even when you ready to cry and believe me there are times you’re ready to give it all up. The stress can kill you if you don’t laugh.


OB-policemen-0022So, what’s the clue? Hell, I don’t know. But when you spend a few hours together, you’ll know. I had many good partners who I hunted and fished with and a few who (outside of police work) I had nothing in common with. When working with a good partner, you looked forward to going to work. Even if you got all the crap calls that night, you still had fun. You just knew that it was going to be good shift.


The good partners let you forget the bad partners and allowed me to spend 35 years on the LAPD. Good partners were gold and made the job fun; I miss the good ones and still have nightmares about the bad ones.


FYI more than half the people who I sent this to were considered good partners. Thanks-Hal

[editor’s note: this last paragraph refers to those on Hal’s email list. This is how he first disseminated his Ramblings. You know who you are and you should be proud–Thonie] 


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