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Verbal Skills Are Tools

Written by Robert Roy Johnson

Captains and other police administrators must monitor the use, condition, and appearance of an officer’s equipment and uniform. However, while addressing these administrative responsibilities, middle managers must attend to the interpersonal parallels to equipment and uniform requirements, as well.

An officer is trained to be acutely aware of the formidable responsibility entailed in bearing a deadly weapon. There are limited and strictly proscribed situations in which the use of the weapon is appropriate. In interpersonal interactions with officers, captains should exercise the same restraint. Once spoken, angry words—like a discharged round—cannot be retrieved. An ill-advised snap judgment and intemperate reaction could irreparably damage the relationship between the officer and the captain.

Officers are provided pepper spray or Tasers to control situations requiring less-than-lethal force. Likewise for the captain, extreme measures are not always appropriate. Often, a little shock value goes a long way. A heart to heart, or possibly even a formal counseling session, might be all that is needed to achieve compliance from an errant officer. Do not be hasty with that suspension for a less grievous transgression.

Often, the mere intimation of more serious repercussions will be enough. It’s better to bring the officer back into the fold with a skillful interaction than to alienate the officer forever with overkill.

For the street officer, the flashlight is an indispensable tool. Officers would not step into a dark hallway without first illuminating the area. They are just as reluctant to follow direction without a clear understanding of the policy or purpose. Clarify decisions that will impact your officers. There should be no qualms about explaining why something must be done.

Also, before taking action, captains need to shed as much light as possible on touchy personnel problems brought to them by the rank and file. Encourage discourse and listen carefully to your officers.

No police officer would take the street without his body armor. Captains need an emotional safety vest, too. Providing relevant information as to the efficacy of policy and rendering insight into the rank and file mind set, feedback is essential. So, while captains should promote feedback, they can minimize the emotional impact of well-intentioned critique of the department, or possibly even themselves, by not taking things too seriously or too personally. Of course, vicious attacks must not be tolerated.

Among the uniform items the captain checks at roll call inspection are the shoes. Captains need to take their own patent leathers for a stroll and get out and mingle with the rank and file. Put some wear on those shiny Oxfords, and join the troops out there on the street. As the saying goes, “Don’t judge someone until you have walked a mile in his shoes.” Before making policy, criticizing, or disciplining, remember where you came from and put yourself back in a patrol officer’s shoes. Act with the aid of that perspective.

The cumbersome equipment a police officer carries on the belt requires stays or keepers for support. Captains should try to be the emotional belt keepers for their officers. They need to believe that the middle manager is there to facilitate and affirm their efforts. When circumstances begin to weigh officers down, it is incumbent on the captain to step in and prop them back up. Providing emotional reinforcement in times of stress, personal or professional, is a critical role for the captain. Without it, discomposed police officers can make mistakes that harm or, at the very least, embarrass themselves or the department. In other words, without the keepers’ support, the department can be caught with its pants down.

Finally, as the symbol of vested authority, the star or shield is arguably the most crucial component of the uniform. The captain needs to ensure that officers are ever aware of what else that badge represents. The star is truth and justice and the rule of law. It is service and protection, with fairness, dignity, respect and compassion.

But primarily, the badge is about pride. Remind your officers that what they do is noble and honorable. Each day an officer pins that star to his uniform is a day that officer should make a positive difference in the world.

Robert Roy Johnson is a 35-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department, currently at the rank of captain. A management consultant and speaker, Johnson is an adjunct professor in the Law Enforcement Management Program at Calumet College of Saint Joseph. He can be reached at robroyj@comcast.net


Published in Law and Order, Oct 2006

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