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Managing Your Non-Sworn Staff

Written by Steve Albrecht

As a police supervisor, it can be easy to get and stay caught up in the sagas, stressors, and turmoil of your uniformed and investigative personnel. After all, they are the backbone of your agency, the public face of your department, and the collection of people who do the real work in the field.

But what about your non-sworn, civilian employees? Shouldn’t they count too? Are they not worthy of similar attention, because even though they may be small in numbers, their efforts can have just as much impact on the success of your agency?

They keep the office running smoothly, collect evidence at crime scenes, cite and tow cars, serve the transportation needs, answer phones and questions at the front counter, and otherwise work behind the scenes, usually for less pay and way less glory. They need the same things as your sworn employees: praise, direction, support, coaching, feedback, daily contact, and when necessary, discipline.

They can feel more than a little disconnected, since they don't have squad meetings, daily lineups, or briefings. And they may feel out of the loop when it comes to information and appreciation, since they aren’t always privy to interdepartmental memos, all-hands e-mails, or other communications that may benefit them to know, but are often directed at sworn personnel.

You may directly supervise sworn employees and indirectly supervise non-sworn staff, or directly control both. You probably need to make yourself more available to non-sworn than you do now. You may directly supervise a non-sworn civilian supervisor or manager, who has several civilians under his or her domain. This arrangement can lead to an environment where you assume the civilian supervisor has things under control and therefore, you don’t need to get involved in the day-to-day operations unless there is a major discipline problem.

The key is to balance the needs of both sets of sworn and non-sworn supervisors – who each have their own needs and ways of handling their own people – by not getting too over-involved or staying too under-involved. Including the civilian supervisors in your regular meetings with your sworn supervisors is a good way to continually interconnect both groups, encourage communications about station or departmental issues, and remind them that we’re all on the same team.

Civilian employee discipline problems may be a bit easier to handle, since their union or MOU issues may not be as complex as cops, who may have Peace Officers Bill of Rights protections and other long-standing POA / PBA agreements.

Consider that there may be some professional jealousies from non-sworn staff, of the cops around them, who may brush past them in the office or in the field, since they aren't real "crime fighters." This treatment is selfish and wrong, since the support roles they play and the information they provide can make field and administrative officers look smart or dumb.

Although many departments have well-defined organizational charts on paper, with easily viewed dashed line and direct line reporting relationships, in reality, the boxes and titles don’t always sort out so nicely. It’s important for everyone to know who reports to whom and who can discipline whom.

In your agency, does a civilian department head hold the same rank as a Captain? Are frontline civilian supervisors treated at the same level as field or administrative sergeants? Can a sworn supervisor discipline a civilian employee? These protocols may have been put in place a long time ago, but if there are concerns about who really works for whom and who can and cannot authorize discipline, then it can create unhealthy and ambiguous leadership situations, where employees from both groups “supervisor shop,” until they find a boss who is on their side.

Just like in the military, where uniformed personnel work with civilian employees, it helps to remember that while there are supervisory boundaries and discipline protocols, all employee want to be recognized, appreciated, and supported for what they do.

Steve Albrecht worked for the San Diego Police Department from 1984 to 1999. His police books include Streetwork, Surviving Street Patrol, One-Strike-Stopping Power, Contact and Cover, and Tactical Perfection for Street Cops. He can be reached at steve@contactandcover.com.

Published in Law and Order, Jan 2012

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