Straight Forward

Are you ready for the Critical Shift?
By James F. Ford, Jr., Ph.D.

“Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don’t interfere.” – Ronald Reagan.

Most police departments have a table of organization identifying the various ranks in their particular agency. Some of the more common ranks used are Officer, Corporal, Sergeant, Lieutenant, Captain, Deputy Chief, Assistant Chief and finally Chief of Police. The administration of most police agencies is based on the traditional pyramidal, quasi-military organization structure, which contains the elements of a bureaucracy: specialized functions, adherence to fixed rules and a hierarchy of authority (Peak, 2004).

As a patrol officer, you have been waiting to be eligible for the next sergeant’s test. You heard through the rumor mill that one or two sergeants would be leaving at the first of the year. For the purpose of this scenario, you are in a non-civil service community. Your agency has issued a memorandum outlining the promotional process, which is indicated in your department’s rules and regulations. You purchased the required textbooks and have gone over hundreds of scenarios in your mind–all the “what would you do if” questions. You have exhausted all your vacation time, owed time, personal days, and any other time that you think you may have on the books to prepare for this opportunity to advance in rank. The big day has arrived, and all the preparation and sacrifices have come to fruition. The results have been publicized and your rank is number one.

There are many thoughts going through your mind, such as now you will become their supervisor. How different will you be? How much of a change in me will there be as a result of me being promoted? Will I still be one of the guys? You still are going to be in the so-called trenches answering calls from time to time, but your main role now is to be the patrol supervisor. How will you handle the expectations that management has of you such as a) interpret the department policies, procedures, rules and regulations and ensure that officers follow them, b) initiate discipline when necessary, c) train officers when they are unskilled or need refreshers, d) conduct personnel evaluations, e) make assignments to ensure the objectives of the unit are met and f) take charge and lead by example. The officers on your squad or platoon have expectations as well and some are: a) I interpret department policies, procedures and rules, and regulations to meet the needs of the officers, b) handle discipline actions informally rather than taking direct action especially for minor infractions, c) advocate for officers when they request vacation or other time off, d) support officers when there is a conflict with citizens, e) assist officers with securing better assignments and opportunities, f) understand your officers, be empathic and understand that your officers need to take breaks and sometimes need to attend to personal matters (Whiseand, P). These are not all of management or officers’ expectations, but I am sure you have a good idea of what is expected.
If you were respected as an officer before being promoted, then the same should follow through to your promotion unless you have completely changed your personality. Be yourself, don’t transform into someone you are not. On one hand, you are not in the same position as you were before being promoted and now you have additional duties and will be delegating more and supervising. The rank and file who were with you before the promotion should still be with you and recognize that now you have more responsibility. You now have to answer to the administration and to the rank and file you supervise. My advice to you newly promoted supervisors is simple: Lead by example and remember where you came from.

Dr. Jim Ford is a retired lieutenant from the Chatham Township Police Department. Currently, Dr. Ford is a Professor of Criminal Justice and the Director of Graduate Program in Justice Administration and Public Service at the College of Saint Elizabeth in Morristown. He is an author of two books, “The Other Side of the Line” and “Shift Work & Criminal Justice Professionals” management consultant in criminal justice, author, and a licensed private investigator.