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8 things bosses must do to earn officers’ respect

If you want to be a good police leader, you may consider some suggestions about what your average line officer — the cops at the heart of the outfit — think you should do

Something I’ve learned that if you put anything out related to law enforcement training, it will always spark some discussion about the boss.

“My captain refuses to admit this...”
“My LT won’t let us do that...”
“My sergeant would never support us on the next thing...”

Throughout my own career, as well as my writing gig here on Police1, I hear the complaints about bad bosses and the praises of the good ones.

Managing Versus Leading
It’s important not to confuse “leading” with “managing.”

Just like the line officers they supervise, you have the good bosses who are motivators. They support employees and create a strong organization. They’re obvious leaders.

You also have the not-so-good ones. They want to have minimal interaction, want others to make them look good, and just want everything to run smoothly with no disruptions which might force them to deal with conflicts. They’re the managers (at best).

“Managing” is just that — managing to keep everything neutral, with no citizen complaints, no controversial arrests. This often comes along with no forward progress and probably an army of officers performing at a level of average or slightly below, so they don’t make waves.

This is law enforcement. In any military-type organization, like it or not, once you take on the role of “boss” in this line of work, you are now responsible to lead.

Why? Because good cops perform important work and like to work for leaders, they want to feel encouraged and supported to do their job well and better as time goes on. A leader who has been there and done that will have the respect of the troops they supervise.

The old saying “respect is earned” is true. Though we can get ordered to do just about anything, you cannot “order” respect.

So how does an agency end up with only managers? Well, there are two reasons. It is not uncommon these days for entry-level law enforcement positions to be filled by people that only want to be supervisors.

Many of them are becoming supervisors with just a couple years of street work which they had no interest in to begin with. What happens next?

They stick to what they know, creating forms, databases, and time consuming processes to accomplish simple tasks; in short they have minimal knowledge on what the finished product of effective law enforcement is, so they focus more on the “process” rather than the final “product.”

This is the person who is never in the stack, getting ready to hit a door. This person will remain at the office demanding constant updates as to what is going on and reminding you of things you already know.

A Few Suggestions from the Line
Based on feedback from line officers, this list compiles the complaints your average officer has about their boss.

Based on these suggestions, it would seem that law enforcement supervision is not rocket science and most officers just want the boss to be connected somehow to what the average officer — all the cops at the heart of the outfit — does for their shift and feel that they are being supported.

1.) If you supervise people who wear uniforms, wear one yourself along with sidearm and cuffs. Look like you want to arrest someone — there will be plenty of time for tassel toe shoes and “man purses” in your post retirement job.

2.) Work out, nothing makes a line officer hit the gym like bench pressing less than the boss during the physical agility test.

3.) Work in the field with your employees regardless of what position you hold in the department. If it has been years since you did, you no longer have any credibility with your employees as a leader.

4.) When you are working with your troops, take the lead once in a while. If you are always telling them “I’ve got your back,” we don’t think you do – just that now we have one more thing to worry about.

5.) Communicate! E-mail does not count; if we are screwing up, talk to us about it, if we are doing good, let us know that, too. Also, if you truly want to fix a minor personnel problem you see brewing, talk outside the office over coffee or go for a ride in the squad and get things resolved before it becomes a major headache for everybody.

6.) If we ask a question give us an answer and make sure you give us right answers, we are far more critical of your decision making than you can possibly imagine.

7.) All cops complain, don’t take it personal; it comes with the job and the personalities within it. If your troops stop complaining, don’t think you fixed anything, when cops stop complaining it is because they are either seeking a promotion or they no longer care about the job.

8.) Making a simple task complicated and adding red tape does not give us the perception that it is more important.

Obviously, as cops we could fill the page with suggestions. However, the take away from this article is simple: Don’t kid yourself into thinking there is a class that creates leaders. They rise through the ranks with a successful career in the street and need to stay connected to that environment.

A well run department will create its own leaders and they will rise to the surface. In fact many of these leaders may have no desire to actually promote because they are good at and enjoy the job they have.

They are still there and need to be encouraged to use their skills to lead and promote so you can create more leaders for the future.

Law enforcement is one of the most rewarding (and fun) professions to be in.

Just like there is no room for lazy call-dodging cops, there is no room for supervisors who are just getting by, waiting to promote to the next position.

Bosses should still be pulling their weight and going hands-on with what their officers are doing; it builds respect, credibility, and helps build a team that any boss wants to be part of.

Who do you want to be? The boss who never leaves the office? Or the boss who made the flying tackle in the last foot chase?

Patrick (Pat) Novesky has spent most of his life working in a rural environment not only in law enforcement, but also has been employed as a wildland firefighter working several states and as a guide for a hunting outfitter. Pat’s law enforcement background consists of a 20 year career ranging from positions as a sheriff’s deputy, ranger, and police officer holding assignments as intelligence officer and investigator. Pat has also been assigned to two narcotics task forces. Pat has served as a police firearms and Verbal Judo instructor and has been involved with various training for all types of law enforcement & other users of the outdoors and remote areas. The past several years of Pat’s career have been spent working as a conservation officer in Northern Wisconsin. Pat’s goal is to bring a common sense approach to issues that pertain to the rural law enforcement officer. Contact Patrick Novesky