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How to support your sergeant (and why you should)

There are some easy steps both line staff and supervisors can take to support their police sergeants

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Put in the extra 20 percent by showing up on time, in uniform, prepared for the watch.


The role of the police sergeant is not easy. Sergeants must serve both line officers and middle management. Officers may admire a sergeant one day and despise them the next. But in the paramilitary organization of law enforcement, orders must be given and taken.

How line staff can support police sergeants

Here are five ways an officer can make their sergeant’s job a little easier:

1. Just show up.

Woody Allen said, “80 percent of success is just showing up.” That is pretty true when you think about it. Put in the extra 20 percent by showing up on time, in uniform, prepared for the watch. That means your gear is set up, your hot sheet is printed, your guns and ammo are checked, and you’ve reviewed last week’s briefing sheet and crime maps.

2. Make sure to have “just the facts.”

Make sure you have all the elements of the crime when you submit your police report. Get the facts and check the report for spelling and grammar errors. Make sure it makes sense. Remember to explain where evidence was found, who handled it and how it was processed. Describe the suspect, even if he is in custody. Be thorough in all aspects before you present your report to the sergeant.

3. “Semper Gumby” (always be flexible).

Don’t complain about everything. Don’t bristle if your sergeant tells you they are going to ride with you for a shift. Take it as an opportunity to show them how you operate. Go with the flow, even when the assignment is not so great. Sergeants have to choose people to do jobs that are not always fun or exciting. If the sergeant chooses you to sit guard outside of the hospital room of the robbery suspect who’s been shot, take the duty in stride.

4. Just show up, part 2.

Make sure you go to your range date to qualify, make sure you honor subpoenas and show up to court prepared to testify. Go to your physical qualifications. Attend your interviews with internal affairs or civilian review hearings. Failure to do so will probably result in your sergeant writing paper on you.

5. Be a mentee.

Let the sergeant be your mentor. Ask for advice before you need it. Have a talk over coffee or a meal, just because. Don’t wait for an issue to come up in order to have a meeting with your sergeant. Talk about media issues, new policy, procedures, active shooters, incident command, or whatever you’d like advice about.

Model yourself after that outstanding sergeant who always knows what to do and what to say. The relationship will be good for you both. It will be helpful for a promotional test or when things get rough and someone needs to take charge.

How supervisors can support police sergeants

Here are five ways a lieutenant or captain can make their sergeant’s job a little easier:

1. Don’t reward good work with more work.

Leaders often over-rely on personnel who do consistently great work. Give the sergeant a break and assign work and projects to someone else to distribute the workload. Of course, the product may not be as good as your first choice, but give it a chance. Develop new workers, even if it means having your star performers help them out at first.

2. Do not wait for a problem to check in.

Stop the sergeant and ask how things are going (and actually listen to what they are saying). Find out what the issues are with the troops, equipment, or overtime. Don’t be afraid of the answer. The sergeant will appreciate that you are not stopping them about a problem or problem employee. Do it over a meal (on you) or a cup of coffee, not in your office with you behind a desk. This is a valuable meeting with someone who has a tremendous impact on the officers.

3. Catch them doing something good.

Commend the sergeant and troops at line-up briefings or better yet, at a community meeting where the neighborhood people will hear about their good work. Write a formal commendation for the sergeant and their teams for outstanding achievements: making a great arrest, stopping a crime series, unique problem solving, or doing something good in the community.

4. Prepare them to leave.

Wait, what? I understand that most every captain and lieutenant wants to keep their outstanding personnel, but that should not hold back the excellent employee. Make sure the sergeant has access to training and assignments that give them the opportunities to acquire new skills and abilities. It may be difficult to go without them for a while, but consider allowing them to attend training such as Command College, Tactical Commanders training, leadership schools, PERF’s Senior Management Institute for Police (SMIP), the FBI National Academy, POST training for leaders and other worthwhile training. The sergeant who improves with additional training will be an asset anywhere in the organization and eventually will help you and your department in the future.

5. Ask the sergeant for advice.

This may be difficult, but it is worthwhile to gain perspectives from line supervisors who encounter the same things field officers see each day. It also helps to gain an ally when you need to convey a new program or policy to officers. Front-line supervisors may help understand some of the reservations or expectations that the officers may have and they may help you decide how to address the concerns. The sergeant can make or break new policies, and having them on your side is a sure advantage. Go on a ride-along to make them comfortable in their “office.” Talking while driving and scanning is easier than sitting across from you in a chair.

James Dudley is a 32-year veteran of the San Francisco Police Department where he retired as deputy chief of the Patrol Bureau. He has served as the DC of Special Operations and Liaison to the Department of Emergency Management where he served as Event and Incident Commander for a variety of incidents, operations and emergencies. He has a Master’s degree in Criminology and Social Ecology from the University of California at Irvine. He is currently a member of the Criminal Justice faculty at San Francisco State University, consults on organizational assessments for LE agencies and hosts the Policing Matters podcast for Police1.