The most important thing new sergeants can learn—and experienced supervisors should remember—is the old acronym KISS. Keep It Simple, Stupid or in this case, Keep It Simple, Sarge. There are five rules that all supervisors, no matter what rank, should keep in mind, 1) know when to take charge, 2) your badge is gold, not broken, 3) stay true to your people, 4) remember that you have a home and the department isn’t it and 5) never forget you were once one of them. We covered the first two in the September issue. Now the last three:
Staying true to your people sounds simple, doesn’t it? Sometimes this can be hard. Officers, like everyone else, make mistakes. Some officers make more mistakes than others. Most mistakes are not earth shattering in their repercussions, but some will require that punishment be meted out.
Discipline can range from loss of privileges loss of employment. Oftentimes, the discipline is handed out by those so far up the chain of command from the officer that there is no way that the two could know one another, and there is no way that the punishment can be tailored to fit the specific offense.
However, in most departments across our country, department size is such that there may be personal animus between the superior and the subordinate. Or there may be a personal agenda, either good or bad, being pushed. As sergeants, it is important that your officers know that you will stand your ground, that you are not afraid to make your feelings known and that you will always be out for their welfare first.
Keep in mind, however, there may be competing needs among your officers. Some people become police officers who should not be, and it may be necessary for you to look to the welfare of the group by culling an inappropriate hire rather than diving into save a sinking swimmer who needs to be removed for everyone’s good. Praise when they do well, council when they screw up, but always be honest, fair, and open to reason.
Remember Your Home
Patrol officers are noted for sinking themselves so far into their work that their family and friends suffer. Supervisors are worse. And supervisors in smaller departments are worse than those from major municipalities because these sergeants are often given multiple responsibilities.
It is not uncommon in smaller departments to have supervisors overseeing multiple projects or groups such as SWAT or K9 units, field training units and crowd-control teams. Each of these will mandate that more time be spent on departmental concerns and less on family and friends. This can be destructive if the supervisor does not realize what these responsibilities can be taking away from his family and that everyone will suffer for it.
The support base of family and friends make everything so much easier. This support allows for you to absorb the blows and take the punishment, both emotional and physical, that police work at our level demands. If the home life is not good, the work life will most certainly suffer.
Remember that your base needs to be firmly in place as you ascend the ladder of success or you will fall, and in the process, you may drag a lot of other people down with you. No one benefits from that. Establish a firm base, no matter whether it is family, friends, religion or hobbies to make sure that you are centered away from the department where you can retain perspective. By having one immovable anchor in your life you will be able to do the best job for the department and for your people.
You Were Them
Try to think back, “How did I feel when I was on patrol?” When you were running a district, you, of course, had all the answers. But now that you are in charge, things just are not as clear, are they?
As sergeants, our job is to oversee the day-to-day management of the department. Everything will turn on what and how you do your job. If you run a sloppy shift, mistakes will be made. If you run a dictatorial regime, revolution will be in the offing. Remember where you came from and what you thought at the time. Perceptions do change with time and position, but valuable insight can be gained by a hard, honest look back.
There is more to being a supervisor than what a lot of people believe. In truth, there is more to being a good supervisor than what some are capable of becoming. It will take patience, it will take intuition, and it will take a healthy serving of humble pie on occasion.
Keep it simple, keep it rational, and hopefully, you won’t come off as stupid as you occasionally feel.
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.