Just minutes past 0900 this morning and the phone rang. It was Jeff, my best friend. It is always good to hear his voice.
My mind was racing. Life doesn’t give us very many best friends. Most friendships are here and strong for a season. Then, they pass much like fall turns into winter.
Some friendships return periodically for a moment in time.
For me, there has been just one: Jeff. He has been my best friend for about twenty years, now.
Jeff has been there every day of those twenty years, through thick and thin.
Jeff told me that the chief called him into his office. Uh-oh. The chief told Jeff that on Thursday, he needs to wear a freshly ironed shirt with no sergeant’s stripes on the sleeves … so it will be ready for the lieutenant’s bars that he will be receiving.
Pictured above are the newly-promoted officers: Lt. Jack Lengyel (left); Sgt. Jason Skoczylas (back); Lt. Jeff Garrison (right).
“Were you expecting this?” I asked. Jeff told me that he had tested, but there currently are no open lieutenant’s positions. The promotion comes as a complete surprise. He went on to say that he doesn’t know what his job will be, but he is ready for whatever may come.
Needless to say, Jeff is one excited cop.
Jeff and I first crossed paths about twenty years ago. He was a patrolman then in the first department when I was fresh out of the academy.
He was the guy who trained me about working the street and the culture of the department. We hit it off and became friends outside of work, as well.
My first job as a cop was bittersweet. The people and the work were great. However, I learned the hard way that being a rookie reserve officer at the same time I was working as a technology consultant to the chief just wasn’t going to work out. It ended in a little less than a year.
Jeff and I remained friends. He was the guy who really taught me how to shoot well. We often hit the gym together. More than once, we went to Washington D.C. together for Police Week.
We were as close as two guys can be.
The chief of the department at that time had created a group of “golden boys” ordained by the way he treated them. They could do no wrong.
Jeff wasn’t part of that group. At times, it seemed that he couldn’t do anything right.
One night, a suspect tried to run Jeff down with a car. Jeff took the shots that left the bad guy DRT.
The prosecutor cleared him. It was a good shoot. But the department strung him out for a year. Ultimately, an arbitrator ruled in Jeff’s favor and the department grudgingly put him back in service.
The chief retired shortly thereafter.
Jeff and I spent a lot of time together during that year.
A few years later, it was my turn in the barrel. I had moved to Florida. I discovered evidence which indicated the sheriff of my home county had embezzled millions of dollars from the department’s treasury.
When I filed to run against him in an upcoming election, he had me arrested on false charges. That corrupt sheriff put me through hell for a year with the threat of prison hanging over my head. Ultimately, all charges were dismissed as there was no evidence to support them.
Jeff was there for me every day. When others shied away, Jeff never wavered.
For both of us, we persevered and rose to the surface. I don’t know how I would have fared without the strong-as-steel support of Jeff.
Returning to Current Times
As yesterday’s conversation continued, I detected that Jeff was a bit worried because he didn’t know what he will be doing as a lieutenant.
I told Jeff that I have all the confidence in him and his ability to succeed. Jeff has a trait that is most desired in a supervisor by those in his charge. It is very simple, yet it alludes many of today’s leaders.
“You remember where you came from,” says it all. Jeff has been a sergeant for a couple of years and he supervises a shift of patrol officers. With every order, every memo and on every call, Jeff remembers vividly what it was like to be on the receiving end.
Jeff knows what it is like:
- To be a rookie in the FTO program
- To have a partner who is great and anticipates your every move
- To have a partner who is an anchor
- To be stuck on a detail you hate
- To work on a crew with cops who are terrific
- To be unexpectedly held over on a late arrest when you don’t want the overtime
Jeff also knows what it’s like to be suspended for a year and spend every day fighting to get your job back.
Jeff uses those memories to flavor and adjust his leadership style.
That isn’t to say that he is easy or a pushover. What it means is that he knows what it takes to do the job. Occasionally, he pitches in and does it alongside his crew. His empathy is above average.
Jeff is the kind of supervisor any of us would follow to hell and back.
During my days on the street, I was occasionally saddled with a supervisor who was horrible. The kind who made you dread going to work. I suspect you’ve had your share of that kind, too.
Jeff’s Lessons for All of Us
The first lesson: the worst struggles in life can be overcome. You must make the choice to persevere.
You will get the strength and grit necessary to endure if you have these three assets in your life. First, you need a strong faith in God. Second, a supportive wife/spouse is invaluable. Third, you need a brother/friend like Jeff.
But as a wise man once said, if you want to have a great friend, you must first be a great friend.
For us cops, it’s about standing with and by each other, no matter what. We are brothers. We would take a bullet for a brother, without hesitation.
The second lesson: if you are called upon to be a leader/supervisor know that your most important trait is this: remember where you came from.
Continue to regularly practice the skills of those you supervise. You must know how tough those jobs are. Don’t ask a subordinate to do a job that you wouldn’t do, yourself. When you see a subordinate struggling, proactively offer help; don’t wait to be asked.
If you are able to incorporate this trait of remembering your past into your leadership style, the following will likely happen:
- You will inspire others to be their best and achieving great success.
- You will see cops who want to be on your team and will try hard to get there.
- Members of your crew will consistently perform above & beyond the call of duty.
- Your crew will follow you to hell and back without complaining.
- You will motivate your cops to be smart AND safe.
This is not my typical article and I thought frequently as I was writing it: how will my readers respond?
If you have gotten this far, you know that I think very highly of our brother, Jeff. I have tried very hard to reveal what it is that makes him a spectacular cop and a wonderful friend. I have made this effort so that every one of us might find a piece that we can use to improve ourselves.
Philosophically speaking, if you are a cop, your partner knows things about you that no one else knows. Not even your wife. We live and die together. We love and hate one another – at the same time. In many departments, we are naked together (locker room) on a regular basis. You can’t hide anything from your partner.
We have a dramatic effect on one another – both positive and negative.
What comes to mind is the one commandment given to us by Jesus Christ when he walked this earth: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
I encourage every cop, everywhere to internalize that commandment and make it part of your M.O.
Your life will be better. Equally important, the lives of the brothers and sisters who share their existence with you will be better, too.
You will be a light to others when they most need one.
You may never know, but your actions may save just ONE life.
God bless you all.
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