Supervisors: Try Talking

Scott Nicholas
Vice President

Has anyone besides me noticed that, unlike rank-and-file officers, supervisors always make it through probation? I know of a few supervisors who have been “non-confirmed” for legitimate conduct issues, but I can’t think of one who has been “non-confirmed” for not meeting standards. Officers are “washed out” of the field training program on a regular basis. But how many sergeants, lieutenants or captains can you remember who have been told they are not meeting standards? My guess is none! 

Why is this? Our Department requires officers to be the best of the best, or they do not move on to the next level. Some of these officers are written up or go through the Internal Affairs process to face discipline for not following policy or procedure. So, again, my question is: Why not probationary supervisors? It seems to take an act of God to have a statement of complaint investigated by Internal Affairs when the complaint is filed on a supervisor. On the other hand, a supervisor files any complaint on an officer, regardless of it violating contract, Department policy or just common sense, and our Department conducts a full-blown investigation. Again, why? 

I believe Metro has too many officers, sergeants and lieutenants promoting to a level beyond their ability. I have watched great officers become horrible sergeants, great sergeants become horrible lieutenants and great lieutenants become horrible captains. Of course, I’ve also seen horrible officers, sergeants and lieutenants promote to be horrible in the next level, too. I have an opinion, and it’s only mine, but I feel like people promote to promote; they don’t promote because they are going to be a great supervisor and because they have the ability to lead people. They promote only to get to the next pay grade or the next level of personal satisfaction (ego). I think it’s time that our Department began to weed out supervisors who have promoted above their ability. 

I know we all have to test to promote, but does passing a test make one a good supervisor? Does passing a test mean those who are promoted can handle the new tasks that face them? I have been around some really poor supervisors in my career. I have also been around some really poor officers who think they should be supervisors because they have the ability to retain what they read. Does this mean they will be good supervisors? No, it doesn’t! 

I know we can all tell when a supervisor is doing a great job. People want to work for them. Period. Officers will give up days off, shift preferences and even shift differential pay to have the opportunity to work for a good supervisor. I know when officers feel good about the supervisors they work for because I’ve been around some great ones in my career. My best experience with these supervisors was their ability to communicate. All of these supervisors took the time to sit down with me and their other subordinates and talk. These supervisors also led by example and always worked as hard as they expected me to work. This seems to be a lost art in our Department. 

I don’t want to blame anyone for this change in culture, but it’s not effective in helping our officers become better at their jobs. I know we can all sit down and file a statement of complaint, but how many supervisors know how to sit and talk to an officer, one on one, and get the officer to understand the goals of our Department or make the officer understand the directives of our Department, in simple and understandable terms and without laying blame on others for the creation of these policies and directives? Not too many! 

A lot can be accomplished by having supervisors who can talk to their officers and effectively communicate with them. Internal Affairs is overwhelmed with complaints that often could have been avoidable if someone would have sat down and talked to the officer. Maybe we need to find out why this isn’t being done? Maybe we need to test for individuals who know how to supervise, mentor and communicate with officers so we can get back to the basics of what we are all here for? We were all hired for some type of public safety, whether you are a police officer or corrections officer. We are here to keep our community safe and serve the people in our neighborhoods who pay their taxes and expect us to perform at the highest level.