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The KISS Principle, Part I

Law enforcement is a thinking person’s game. A myriad of laws exist, both black letter and case law, that officers and supervisors will need to apply in the blink of an eye under the worst conditions possible. Officer safety concerns exist, as do department policies and standard operating procedures, which must be followed to the letter or there will be repercussions.

With all this, many supervisors overlook the fact that keeping things as simple as possible is the best prescription for success. They make things more complicated than necessary by implementing more rules, experimental deployments and changing what is working, all in the name of change.

Management theories are just that…theories. Often, these theories are developed by people who are not doing the job. They are ensconced safely behind a desk or in some non-operational division where theories cannot hurt anyone. Field supervision however is different. Lives, careers, and respect are lost in seconds.

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.

Realistically, 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.

Take Charge

This is a dictum that takes time to learn, and there is no shortcut. Supervisors need to learn when it is and is not appropriate and when it is absolutely imperative that the supervisor on the scene run the operation. In the vast majority of the runs and calls for service that supervisors make each day, there is no imperative who we be in charge; the officers will do just fine on their own. Being in charge of absolutely everything is known as micromanagement, and it isn’t a good thing.

Bad as it is, however, micromanagement is not the worst form of supervision that can regularly be seen in play. The worst is the overall lack of supervision that some sergeants and other supervisors demonstrate. These supervisors lack any semblance of command presence. In the end, no one turns to them for leadership when it counts because they have proved many times over that they will not, or cannot, make a decision when it matters.

Critical incidents normally hinge on the actions, or unfortunately the inactions, of the first supervisor on the scene. It is absolutely critical that sergeants make decisions in these incidents. The lack of immediate action is many times worse than anything else. You do not have to solve the situation with one well-placed command.

If nothing else, scene stabilization is an action. You don’t need to run into the maul of blazing guns, but you do have to do something. Have a generic plan in mind for every conceivable scenario; then customize those plans to your particular need at the time.

Gold, Not Broken

When supervisors first get promoted, there is the tendency for them to think that they no longer need to respond to menial calls for service. After all, there is no need for a sergeant to take a theft from vehicle report. There are officers to do that. Besides, you have more important things to do now that you have stripes, right?

The problem with this attitude, though, is where do you draw the line? What is worthy of your time? Is it really necessary for you to respond to accidents? How about domestics without violence? To what degree does a situation need to develop before it is worthy of your attention?

Officers need to respect their supervisors. We can all agree on that. But, if a supervisor was known to be a lazy slug as an officer, he most likely will be a slug as a sergeant, and he will receive just about as much respect from his officers. Stripes don’t make a person. Actions do.

Sergeants need to gain the respect of their officers through work product, not fear. The officers don’t have to like you in a personal sense, but they must respect your abilities, or they will not listen and will not follow. The only way they know that you have the skills is to show them, and the only way to do that is to get out there and do the job.

Do not wait until there are “no other units available” before you take dispatch runs. Jump a call if you are close, take a run for a car that has been swamped all shift and give the guys a break. The time you spend taking a call for them now will save you countless counseling sessions with them later.

The next column… stay true to your people, remember that you have a home and never forget you were once on patrol.

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, Sgt. Mick Williams, provide contract instruction on a wide range of subjects, including tactical and patrol-based skills. He can be reached at

Published in Law and Order, Sep 2006

Rating : 7.8

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