A small but confounding number of officers can reach a point in their careers where they just don’t care as much as they should about their level of professionalism. They can be good cops when they want to, but either lately or for a long while now, they have not demonstrated this to you, their colleagues, or to the public. If the officer was an oil painting, there would be little smudges all over the canvas. The portrait is there, but it’s not the best representation.
And here’s the tough part. It is not big things that they do, that can end their careers or put your agency at risk for liability. It is the little things, which in combination, can make you crazy as a supervisor. It is not their big sword swings that make you so mad at them, but their use of Death by a Thousand Paper Cuts. Some examples of their crazymaking performance or behavior issues may ring true for you below.
They either talk victims out of taking crime reports, or they try to convert actual crime cases into “a civil thing.” They write “Maytag reports,” washing out cases with too little effort, sloppy writing, or the elements of the crime or the probable cause aren’t listed or well-documented. They have a lot of unfinished reports piling up, with detectives, victims, or prosecutors making frequent calls for them, which go unanswered.
They show up for work just a little late most shifts, and then have the nerve to put in a slip for eight minutes of overtime. Their uniforms are dirty and unpressed, with sunfaded patches and scuff marks. They wear rusty name tags and dull badges, strange flags or pins, odd jewelry, the wrong hats, and their hair or facial hair is out of policy.
They hang around the station too much. They miss radio calls or dodge calls that are not exciting or fun. They miss or fail Department shoots, miss court or show up late for it, and blow the case by being unprepared. When they are not sleeping or smoking in their cars, they drive erratically or carelessly, with too many HUA accidents or near-misses, often because they are driving, texting, or spending time on their smartphones.
Their partners either don’t like working with them and request other assignments, or they get paired up with previously good cops, who slowly pick up their bad habits too. When assigned, even temporarily to a front counter or telephone report position, they are rude on the phone and face to face with citizens. Their version of “public service” means punishing the public who come in for service.
There are times in every police supervisor’s career when he or she reaches the “Popeye Point” with an employee: “That’s all I can stands and I can’t stands no more!” The next step should be a “crossroads conversation,” meaning you need to talk and they need to listen. Here is what you can say:
“You need to do more than just show up here. I expect you to be more present in your work, and demonstrate you know how to follow the rules of our organization. You need to improve the way you conduct yourself more professionally with your co-workers and the public, in these specific areas, while in the field, over the phone, and face to face. Here are the things I want you to keep doing, because they are working, stop doing because they are bad for our business, and start doing, because they are what we expect from you. I have made copies of our policies for those areas where you are currently deficient.”
These employees may see this conversation as harassing, retaliatory, or punishing. Be careful not to ding them without doing it for other officers in similar situations. Confronting the Crazymakers takes courage. Be ready with the changes you expect and start enforcing consequences.
Steve Albrecht is retired from the San Diego Police Department. His books include Contact & Cover (C.C. Thomas); Streetwork; Surviving Street Patrol; and Tactical Perfection for Street Cops (all for Paladin Press). He teaches supervisory and employee performance workshops and can be reached at email@example.com.