During a COPS television episode some years back, one of the officers from Denver made a very telling comment. “Cops are just standard issue people.” So true. We all seem to think that each day when we come to work, we put on the proverbial cape that completes our uniform, which has the invisible “S” smack in the middle of the chest. But despite this idea, we are not Supermen or Superwomen. You will not be able to leap tall buildings or stop speeding locomotives. You will not have legions of adoring fans. Get used to it, this is the real world.
As most longtime supervisors will tell you, if you end each day feeling as though the entire world and especially all of your people are in love with you, then you are either in dire need of medication or you are just not doing your job. Not to let slip a state secret here, but every officer is not going to like you just because you now have stripes on your arm. Everyone did not like you as an officer, so what exactly makes you think that you have now been somehow changed as a sergeant?
Let’s be honest; you do not like everyone with whom you work, so it would be the height of hubris to think that you were liked by each and every person on the job. It does not happen, and it is not necessary. So why do so many sergeants worry incessantly about it? There are supervisors who spend so much time trying to be everyone’s friend that they wind up becoming so ineffective that those who did personally like them begin to lose respect for them as a superior officer.
The feelings of mutual dislike is familiar to most officers. We experience them all the time. How many times do you wind up dealing with the same suspect/victim/complainant on a regular basis? Admit it to yourself. You have grown to abhor dealing with this person. The same can be true for the officers under your command. You will simply grow to dislike some of them, and some of them will grow to dislike you, often passionately.
We would all like for it to be different, but the facts of life are that there will be those people who will work for you who hate you intensely. Perhaps it is that you disciplined them and they now carry a grudge. Perhaps it is because they felt that they should have been promoted rather than you. Either way, you are going to have to deal with this person in a supervisory capacity at one time or another.
Some supervisors will strive to avoid dealing with them. Some will shirk the responsibility and allow a problem child to slip through the cracks because most of the time, this kind of officer is very difficult to deal with. He goes out of his way to make things just as hard as possible for the supervisor.
There may be issues that come into play such as age, sex, race, sexual orientation or other examples that can give rise to a complaint of discrimination, which the officer will use to try to dissuade his superior from doing what is right. But the questions must be asked…Is what you are doing right? Or is there some truth to his complaint? Are you doing it for the right reason? Or is now simply your opportunity to “get even” for the hatred that you feel toward this person or feel is directed at you?
In any situation involving these officers, serious introspection should take place. As a supervisor, one must learn to control any personal animosity that exists. You may not like an officer based on who he is as a person. You may have a problem with how this person leads his life, or you may not think this person is cut out to be your kind of law enforcement professional based upon any number of factors. However, you must put these things aside. Otherwise, you are worse than those who would try to use a complaint of discrimination as a smoke screen to insulate themselves from personal responsibility.
Are you allowing personal feelings to impede your judgment of the officer’s actions? Are you trying to get even for some perceived grievance or some social snub? After all, you are the one in charge, you are the one who holds the keys, and you are the one who is going to shape how any disciplinary action is going to be handled.
The cards are on the table, and it is time to call. What are you going to do? Are you going to allow your strong dislike for this person to compromise your professional and personal integrity? Are you instead of doing what is right and protecting the officer from groundless complaints or minor infractions going to throw him to the proverbial wolves and allow him to suffer for the same thing that you would shield others from?
Sergeants have a given function in the paramilitary world in which we all exist in law enforcement. It is our job to be sure that business is taken care of in the safest and most efficient manner possible. It is our job to stand up for the officer who is doing what is right and then gets caught up in the world of politics whether those are inter-departmental or external to the job.
It is also our responsibility to mete out punishment for offenses that keep business from being taken care of. It may be through work assignments, it may be through counseling or it may be through any number of other “official channels” that are available to you through the department. But it is your responsibility to take care of the troops in both capacities.
While it is true that cops are “standard issue” people, supervisors must rise above all of the petty emotions that may cloud judgment and become destructive. There is no room for supervisors, or officers for that matter, who cannot put aside personal feelings of dislike and simply do the job.
You will never be able to get them all to like you, but you can give them all a reason to respect you for who you are and the way in which you carry out the business of supervision. Remember, neither professional nor personal integrity ever grows back. Once you expend what you started with, there is no more, so spend it wisely.
Scott Oldham is a supervisory sergeant with the Bloomington, IN Police Department where he is assigned to the Operations Division as patrol supervisor, as well as being one of the team leaders for the department’s Tactical Unit. He and his partner, Sergeant Mick Williams, provide contract instruction on a wide range of subjects, including tactical and patrol-based skills. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.