HE HASN’T GOT A CLUE
Some weeks ago, I sent an email to a group of cop friends asking them to provide examples of real-world examples of “Chief Idiocy.”
One of the replies was quite an accusation. It claimed that I was showing a clear bias against chiefs. The writer would be glad to contribute whenever I would write on Lunatic Behavior of Patrolmen.
“That will be a while. There’s an abundance of material about chiefs behaving badly and oh-so-very-little such stuff to discuss about street cops,” was my response. (Hey, there are more of us than there are of them.)
Many of us have found ourselves working in an environment where the leadership was/is horribly bad. In this article, I want to share some short stories that will make you go, “hmmmmm” along with ideas about how you might handle the situation if/when you are there.
Stories of bad leadership grab our attention because the chief is in a role that is highly visible. Bad decisions tend to affect lots of people, i.e. the department sworn crew and sometimes the elected officials and/or the public at large.
HOW DOES THIS HAPPEN?
Police departments are paramilitary organizations. With rank comes authority.
However, there is a widely-held belief that with each promotion, officers must surrender their memory, their common sense, their testicles, and ultimately, their backbone.
Unfortunately, there is much empirical evidence in support of that theory.
The situation grows exponentially worse when it is driven by an ego that has become larger than the person’s brain. Unfortunately, there is broad evidence of this happening on a widespread basis, as well.
I believe that a Good Chief is like your stomach. When you have a really good one, you don’t even notice that he’s there.
The general level of awareness of his presence in the agency is inversely related to how well he does his job. The worse job he does the more of a pain in the ass he is to everyone in the area.
CHARACTERISTICS OF AN IDIOT
The past twenty years have provided me access to a wide variety of law enforcement agencies across the country. The early years I worked as a management consultant, grant writer, technology specialist, process engineer, and trainer. In recent times, I have been more focused on officer training.
In addition, I have formed working relationships with other people who have worked in similar areas. Together, we have identified traits that are often found in the idiot chief.
- His top concern is that the primary focus of everyone in the agency must be acting in a manner that is politically correct. He places more emphasis on ensuring that no one is offended than he does in ensuring that all of his officers make it home at the end of their shift.
- His awareness of current patrol activities is nearly zero. If asked, he would be hard-pressed to reveal how many years it has been since he actively worked the street as a patrolman.
- Buffoon Factor is high. That is: nearly every person he encounters recognizes him as a windbag, His mouth works much better than his ears.
- He insists on micro-managing activities with little understanding and less concern about the effect his plundering will have on the troops.
- Unpredictable loyalty is a real problem. When the shit hits the fan, the only thing his troops can know for sure is that he will do his best to ensure that he remains clean.
The rest of the crew can fend for itself with the media and the public – so long as it doesn’t make HIM look bad.
Please remember that many of my contacts with agencies have centered around the introduction of new technology into patrol cars. Therefore, most of the examples come from that forum.
The chief directed that patrol officers stand outside the patrol vehicle, on the passenger side while writing a traffic ticket.
When confronted with the facts that the most dangerous place to be on a traffic stop was anywhere outside of the patrol car, he wouldn’t budge.
His reason: he had watched video tape and found that officers would complete a ticket 1-2 minutes faster when outside the car. Enough time saved like this would allow more traffic stops. The added risk didn’t seem to matter to him.
The chief was disappointed in the crew that there were fewer DUI (drunk driving) arrests than he wanted. He let it be known that when he worked the road, a DUI could be handled from end-to-end in 45 minutes.
Therefore, he believed it quite reasonable to expect 3 – 4 such arrests on every shift. In this chief’s opinion, taking longer to process a drunk only meant that the officer is lazy.
The chief said “NO” to in-car computers. Not for lack of funding. Rather, it was because he didn’t want the crew to become overly dependent on the computer when doing their work.
When faced with the risk reduction associated with the cop knowing if the car is stolen or its owner wanted, he was not impressed and stood by his decision.
I spent many months training at a reasonably large Midwestern agency on the use of their first in-car computers. Shortly after my arrival, a training bulletin was released advising officers to run the vehicle tag/owner through the car computer prior to effecting the stop.
The rationale was that this would allow backup to be present when the stop occurred.
The very next day, said chief released a change to the General Order which advised officers not to use the computer at anytime the patrol vehicle is in motion.
A chief in the great lakes region demanded that Field Training Officers were not allowed to fraternize on or off duty with a rook while that rook remained in the FTO training phase.
They could not even eat lunch together on-shift.
An FTO was disciplined for being in the same bar (though in different groups) while off-duty.
On the brink of installing in-car cameras and GPS equipment, a chief asked if the wiring and equipment could be installed in the patrol car in such a way that the cops who drove the car would be unable to find it.
Let’s see: cops who’ve been trained to investigate and uncover information will spend many shifts in a car without being able to find the camera or GPS gear?
Some kinds of in-car computer systems allow the officer to pre-fill common fields, i.e. city, state, etc.
The chief in question didn’t want his officers using that feature because he wanted them to carefully examine every person and document before completing the report.
The fact that the officer would be exposed to danger for a shorter period of time didn’t seem to matter.
The chief of a mid-sized department located in the same city as the headquarters of one of the three American auto companies seems to take great pleasure in showing up unexpectedly on traffic stops.
He dispatches himself from home after hearing the officer call out the stop on the radio and often does so after he has been drinking.
Yes, these things are true, unfortunately.
WHAT DO YOU DO?
Start by keeping good records for yourself of what you have done that was exceptionally good, or bad — as the case may be. Be honest and be fair in order to be credible. It is especially important to document critical incidents in your career and how you’ve handled them.
The records you keep should be about you, not the chief. If the chief is truly an idiot, you’re not the only person who has noticed.
If those who hired him don’t care, chances are, you’re not going to change their minds. Keeping track of the bad shit a boss is doing is nothing more than a written form of whining.
You are not required to follow an order that is either illegal or places you at unnecessary risk. If you refuse on either of these grounds, make it clear to your supervisor why and then include it in your documentation.
Occasionally, there is a person in the organization has an opportunity to bring the chief around – make him leave, gracefully. (Like a deputy chief)
Unfortunately, the chief’s comrade loses his own credibility. Said comrade becomes a buffoon, too thus rendering him useless.
The comrade becomes so emotionally overwrought that others lose their confidence in him. If you are ‘that guy,’ stay level-headed, stay calm, stay focused, stay on message, and don’t become a buffoon, too. Others are depending on you to right-the-ship.
If you have a union, take your concerns there. If the chief’s idiocy is putting you at undue risk, be prepared to make your case and ask the union to protect you.
If the chief is just a pain-in-the-ass, you’ll probably have to live with it as an inconvenience that comes with his rank.
Stay on top of your game. Use periodicals (like CopBlue, Law Officer, etc.), on-line resources, in-service training, peer mentoring, whatever works for you to stay abreast of late breaking changes in the law enforcement community.
In short, when you’re in that uniform, be the best cop you can be.
Be the guy that others seek for help or an opinion.
Earn the respect of your peers and the people you deal with on the street through your actions and work style.
Be squared up physically, emotionally, and mentally.
Do you have an idiot on your hands? Maybe a war story of survival? Please use the COMMENTS below to share with the rest of us.
“Above all, it’s about going home at the end of the shift … “
We couldn’t agree more.
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