Maintaining a calm demeanor amid chaos

Leaders have to exude an aura of control so the troops feel confident in going about doing their duty


When supervisors and leaders retire, they take with them decades of accumulated skills, experience and patterns of thinking about how things get done – also known as “institutional knowledge” – that may not be passed along. To collect that information, Police1 has created the Institutional Knowledge Project to create a repository of lessons learned around the management of people, policy, training, supervision and discipline that can be applied by future generations of police supervisors and leaders when handling similar situations. 

To participate in Police1's Institutional Knowledge Project, click here. Questions? Email editor@police1.com.

What happened?

A young sergeant under my command was with several officers at a scene where a foot pursuit concluded. The area was a cul-de-sac in a known gang area and by the time I got there, the officers were effecting arrests and several local residents had congregated outside, many wearing their gang paraphenalia.

The officers were busy securing the scene while the young sergeant gave direction. The young sergeant was nervous and quite worked up from the situation

From the chief down to the line officer, people see us as authority figures, like it or not, and how we act in public can affect how others act.
From the chief down to the line officer, people see us as authority figures, like it or not, and how we act in public can affect how others act. (Getty Images)

How did you handle the situation?

I let the young sergeant do his job and did not interfere in giving any directions to the troops, so as to avoid taking away from his direct command of the officers on scene. I just asked the sergeant for details and updates.

I kept a steady demeanor and told him to concentrate. I told him not to rush and to focus on the troop's needs and keep them safe while they do their job.

He gave a sigh and asked, "Sir, how do you always stay so calm? I never see you worked up or excited."

I told him very simply, "Son, no matter how worked up I am, I won't let you see it. If I get worked up in front of you, then you get worked up, then the troops get worked up and that's not good for anyone."

I told him the leader has to exude an aura of being calm and in control so that the troops can feel confident in going about doing their duty. If they see the leader frazzled and not in control, then they won't feel confident and in this business, that can get people hurt or killed.

Looking back, was there anything would you have done differently?

At the scene, nothing. But I do recommend giving young sergeants more hands-on mentoring on first-level supervision and leadership basics. Supervisor school focuses a lot on policy and discipline and those are necessary but a good working cop should already know those things. Leadership and the finer points that can take a leader from a positional/transactional leader to an inspirational leader is more important to form the foundation of what we need in our profession.

What lesson did you identify from this situation?

From the chief down to the line officer, people see us as authority figures, like it or not, and how we act in public can affect how others act. If you see a uniformed officer panic at the scene of a crime, the public will respond in kind. The officer is ineffective then and cannot give directions to others who probably won't be listening to the panicking officer. The officer needs to exude confidence even in a life or death emergency to project that the public will be protected to the best of the officer's abilities.

To participate in Police1's Institutional Knowledge Project, click here. Questions? Email editor@police1.com.

NEXT: Read more from the Institutional Knowledge Project

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