For the new or old first line supervisors, here are highlights from police supervision courses, interviews of road sergeants, and opinions from criminal justice professors – ideas for first line supervisors in patrol.
Keep abreast of current events, read more than your local newspaper. It is essential to be aware of local events in the town you patrol. Become an avid reader to improve your knowledge and increase your communication skills. Read biographies of successful persons and military leaders. Develop your game plan. Accept and be pleased that you are now part of the bigger picture. Write down your goals in your plan and refer to them. Be enthusiastic.
Start Each Day “Squared Away”
Plan and participate in a physical exercise regimen. Leaders are generally considered to be in good physical condition. This will boost your confidence and improve your inner self. Upgrade or clean your gear, uniform, shoes. They should at least be above average in appearance. You don’t have to be “spit and polish.” Keep reports and logs up to date.
Advance Your Education
Go back to school to refresh or obtain a higher degree. Learn a foreign language. Volunteer for any training that will increase or renew skills. Be an enthusiastic learner.
Base of Knowledge
Review and be knowledgeable of the following: Department rules and regulations, labor contracts, especially the grievance and discipline processes, criminal and motor vehicle laws, emergency management protocols. Talk with other supervisors on how they handle discipline and grievances.
Know Your Officers
Get to know the officers who will be in your squad or unit. Review your officers’ backgrounds regarding education, years of service, special citations, work record. Plan an individual interview with each officer in your charge, ask about goals, family, hobbies, and training they received, areas of expertise they might have, but above all, listen to what they say. They will appreciate an opportunity to be heard.
Let them know you will have to evaluate each officer and let them know you will be fair and unbiased. They should be told what you expect for performance. Never discipline or criticize an officer in front of other officers. Show empathy when an officer comes to you with a personal problem.
Keep a Daily Log
Each day you are on duty you should make notes of all significant activities and any important involvement with the officers, positive or negative. The log is an important source to recall performances by the officers for the quarterly or annual evaluations. Don’t use the log for trivia matters such as coffee breaks, etc.
Don’t write anything in the log that will embarrass you or your officers. Officers may have the right to see those comments in a formal disciplinary hearing. The log is a tool, not to be used for personal vendettas or micro managing officers.
Don’t Be a Micro-Manager
Let your officers know you have confidence in them, don’t ride in on every job or demand an explanation for every activity an officer completes on the tour. Know the difference between minor and major situations. If you ride in on a job, you can be considered as the officer in charge and have responsibility for the assignment.
You can be tied into a knot if you assume responsibility for minor jobs. Let your officers handle them. If you do ride in on a minor job, keep quiet and observe from the “sidelines.” Evaluate with the officers after. Step in, only when the job is handled poorly or can become a major incident.
Improve Your Writing Skills
Keep a pocket dictionary and Thesaurus in your briefcase and use them. Learn the difference between Active and Passive Voices and write in the active voice. The Active voice is clearer and more direct. Learn more of Active and Passive voice on the Internet.
Improve your skills with the computer.
Seek a Mentor
Listen to the advice of senior officers, respect their experiences. Use a mentor to self-evaluate your performance as a supervisor. Become a coach-mentor to your newer officers or any officer seeking assistance. Be a good listener. Be patient with officers questioning procedures or orders.
Make your roll calls interesting and worthwhile. Try some of the following ideas: Before roll calls, check with your detective bureau or detectives for case updates, persons wanted or “of interest.” Believe it or not, detectives are really glad to share the information, especially when you show an interest. You can even ask the detective or detective commander to come to the roll call to address the officers.
Use roll call for short training or review sessions, especially in the area of rules and regulations, report writing or constitutional law. When asked a question to which you don’t know the answer, answer honestly, and promise to get the correct answer.
Develop Leadership Traits
While hard to define, a good leader usually has the following traits: is physically strong, has empathy, is intelligent and knowledgeable, is honest and impartial, is courageous, is imaginative, has strong faith and strong family ties, and is involved in the community.
Albert J. Varga is a retired Deputy Chief of Police with the Hamilton, N.J. Police, and a past Police Director of the Lambertville, N.J. Police. He is a Senior Manager Consultant for Jersey Professional Management, Cranford, N.J.