Toxic Environment

Myron Hamm
Myron Hamm
Secretary/Director of Corrections

With the growing movement to scrutinize and question every move that officers make today, it becomes a challenge to do this job effectively. What makes a great work environment? The first thing you need is a solid relationship with your co-workers. The second thing needed is a solid group of supervisors to lead and set an effective example. A couple of years ago, I was getting a solid list of complaints about a lieutenant from an area command. I had no less than seven officers communicating how horrible a supervisor this lieutenant was — everything from profanity-laced tirades to monitoring officers’ calls. Imagine being on a call and speaking to a citizen and getting a call from a supervisor asking you what is taking so long. Imagine your first encounter with this supervisor, and you are told that if you transferred to this area to hide out, then this lieutenant would personally sign your transfer. 

All the complaints that were made went nowhere, and the conversations with command staff and the PPA were ignored. It’s funny how a change can energize and invigorate an area. The same squad has a new lieutenant who holds people accountable, and not one person has complained about the new lieutenant’s management style. Production is up, and the squad is now in a position of feeling like their boss has their back and is not targeting anyone. 

A few years ago, Central Booking was the most senior platoon in all of DSD. There was a change in leadership, and a majority of the senior officers departed Central Booking. During this period, positions were reduced, and the workload and responsibilities of the remaining staff increased. In my opinion, when you have a leader who has never done the job before and then they are given the leadership position, it’s unrealistic that they can be effective. 

But when you have a so-called leader who has appointed themselves as the fixer, that means in their mind, they go somewhere to solve problems. If a person believes they are sent somewhere to head up a unit and fix all the problems, and when they leave, the unit is in worse shape, I would look in the mirror and realize all my shortcomings and failures as a leader. 

A person like that only cares about themselves and their supposed rise to the top. I have seen and dealt with those types of narcissistic people who have never done this job from the ground up, but now, they can tell you how to fix all the problems we face while they sit behind a desk. If you have never been in a pursuit, a fight, made a high-quality arrest, performed a pat-search or been on your feet for hours at a time, how can you tell our troops what it’s like to be in those positions? 

So, if you are in a leadership position and you are calling yourself the fixer or some other clever nickname to hide the fact that you are unliked by the troops and unqualified to lead, then good luck. But the one thing people like that will never have is the trust and respect from the people they are tasked to lead. I heard a guy in a movie tell his adversary that you are blinded by your arrogance.  

The fact that leadership changed and things got worse should never happen. So, if you are the fixer, then why are things getting worse? Or why do they get worse when the fixer arrives? If you are only fixing things that benefit yourself, then you are not a fixer, you are the root cause of our problems. 

Amid all the changes and the scrutiny, what is lost in the rhetoric is the fact that we are all human and are prone to make mistakes. So, coming to work should never be toxic. Employees should not feel like they are under a microscope and are being constantly watched. I have heard for years that there is no quota system, but let’s face it, we are a stat-driven agency. Officers are constantly told that they need to find something and are informed if they are low or at the bottom of the squad in stats. I advise our leaders to listen to your people and find out what they need and how you can make their work environment more comfortable. Just remember, “If you stay in a toxic environment for too long, you are going to become toxic yourself.”