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Written by Robert Roy Johnson
Most captains are aware of any recent developments in their department. They are able to expound on the latest technological innovations, station improvements and current department policy. To be sure, upper management must be knowledgeable about these details.
But, there is something else about which upper management must be aware, but may be inclined to neglect, until it is too late. Top-line supervisors must have their finger on the pulse of the rank and file heartbeat. What is on the minds of the patrol officers? Are there conflicts among personnel? Is there dissent? Has negativity or cynicism crept into the department psyche? What unsubstantiated, and probably incorrect, rumors are circulating and quite likely exacerbating the dissent?
Upper management can employ two methods to address these issues. Each of them involves an open door policy. First, your door must be open to allow officers to stop in and talk with you. And, second, as long as that door is open, captains need to step out and mingle with their officers. Interpersonal interaction with the rank and file is the key to being accurately informed.
A captain who holes up in the office tending to administrative duties only, soon loses touch. Without the guidance, support, and leadership of upper management, negative attitudes among the rank and file can flourish and destroy morale. Efficiency will suffer and production will decrease. Proactive leaders are accessible, interacting with officers to meet these detractors up front.
Rumors fan the flames of dissent. And, ironically, these rumors are rarely true. The captain who has a personal relationship with personnel will be privy to the latest gossip. This personal relationship, which, ideally, is based on honesty and mutual respect, will provide the captain the opportunity to address the officers, either individually or collectively, to disseminate the facts and quash the misinformation.
Conflict within an agency is not always harmful. Controlling the conflict determines its impact. The involved leader identifies conflict, and then manages it. All parties to the conflict are brought together for an open exchange of ideas. With the captain firmly in charge, acting as the discussion moderator to control escalating emotions, common ground is sought.
All perspectives are vented and then, to the extent possible, validated. The captain then guides all participants to a consensus. On occasion, this meeting of minds results in a fresh perspective acceptable to all. At best, the conflict leads to improved policy. At the very least, participants gain an understanding and, hopefully, a healthy respect, for each other’s point of view.
Also, managed correctly, dissent can have a positive outcome. It is human nature to dissent or find fault. In particular, officers resist change. Consequently, new procedure and misunderstandings about that policy often evolve into dissent. As well, dissent festers when it is perceived that changes are made without regard to the impact on personnel. Head this off. When implementing new policy, prepare the troops.
Address roll call and discuss the new procedures. Solicit input. You might even discover a flaw in the new idea, or perhaps receive a useful suggestion. It will be particularly exhilarating to the officer making a proposal if you are able to incorporate the idea into the new policy. Empowerment is a powerful weapon against dissent.
Finally, upper management must combat cynicism. This is the bane of the law enforcement career. There is often a nagging sense of futility that, despite an officer’s best efforts, man’s inhumanity to man persists. Consequently, burn-out occurs all too often. In these instances, upper management must step up and lead by example. The captain’s attitude will have a huge influence on personnel. The accessible manager who is committed, dedicated and enthusiastic is a role model for the rank and file.
In addition, it does not hurt to remind officers on occasion of the nobility of our profession. Leaders instill pride. Remind your charges that police officers are the backbone of civilized society. The thin blue line stands between peaceful coexistence and anarchy. We protect the weak from the strong. Each and every day, officers make a difference. We make a difference in substantial ways, saving lives, preventing crime, and keeping order.
As likely though, the law enforcement officer’s impact is realized in gestures as seemingly minor as smiling at an awestruck child, or waving at neighbors on the porch as he patrols their neighborhood. A word about this from the captain to remind personnel that their efforts are not for naught, but rather, of the highest service to humanity, engages and diffuses cynicism among the rank and file.
Of course, captain, you are susceptible to this occupational malaise as well. So, in bringing this message to your people, you are yourself reminded that, by your leadership, through and with your officers, you make that difference also.
Robert Roy Johnson is a 35-year veteran of the Chicago Police department, currently at the rank of Captain. A management consultant and speaker, Captain Johnson is an adjunct professor in the Law Enforcement Management Program at Calumet College of Saint Joseph. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in Law and Order, Apr 2006
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