Jumping the Chain of Command

Steven Grammas

I hope this article finds all our members happy and healthy. We are moving toward the end of the summer. Kids are returning to school, stores are putting out Halloween decorations and the thought of the summer heat changing into that beautiful fall Las Vegas weather is lingering in our minds.

I wanted to talk about jumping the chain of command, but from the lens of a supervisor who jumps the chain downward toward the troops. We have been seeing a rash of captains and lieutenants holding meetings with officers to talk about issues such as health and well-being, work product or how officers have conducted themselves in the course and scope of their duties. I am not sure how our members feel about this taking place and can only speak from my own thoughts on these issues.

First, we as officers are constantly told not to jump the chain of command. In fact, I know several officers who have been chastised for going over their sergeant’s head and speaking to the lieutenant or captain about an issue. Typically, their issue deals with their sergeant, so they only feel comfortable talking to someone above them. But the officer still feels the wrath of the sergeant for jumping over them. But what happens when you get a calendar appointment from your captain, who says, “I just want to talk about a few things”? Go a step further. The captain says they want to talk to you about an incident where your sergeant has already handled the issue.

In my opinion, if supervisors wanted to have normal, day-to-day talks with officers about work performance and other things of that nature, they should not have promoted above the rank of sergeant. Now, I do not want this to be misconstrued as me saying a captain should never talk to a troop, or a captain should never address issues they have with something a troop has done. Rather, I would offer that the captain should keep their interactions to, “Good morning, how are things going? What can I do to make your job easier? Are there things you need that you are not getting?” This is the role of the administrator. I also believe that if there is an issue with a troop’s performance, the captain should be involved. However, that should be a meeting with the lieutenant, who then speaks to the sergeant, who then can address their troop. The captain should not be addressing things like that by jumping two levels of supervision, effectually cutting the supervisory legs out from under a lieutenant or sergeant. The troops should not be having these conversations with the bureau commander, no matter how “cool” or “approachable” the captain is.

Imagine what happens to your psychological state of mind when your captain says he wants to meet with you! You will spend days wondering and fearing, “This must be super serious, otherwise why else would the captain be meeting with me?!” Those types of thoughts will linger in the officer’s mind as they go out on patrol or are inside the jail working a module. It could have a serious safety impact on them; their head won’t be in the game because they’ll be worried about why such a high-ranking official is scheduling a meeting with them.

When I was a cadet, I tended to think I was already a police officer, and so I would back other officers whenever I felt they needed some help or even requested another unit. One time, an officer was out on five males near Vegas High School and was asking for another unit. I was close and told dispatch I was out with him. I then faintly hear what I believe to be a traffic unit say, “2CD55, Tom 220.” I respond with, “Go ahead, Tom 220.” The response was, “This isn’t Tom 220; this is 220, Captain Dennis Cobb, and I need you to come back to NEAC and see me.” If it was not for the green pants I wore as a cadet, clearly the poop streak would have been visible from me pooping my pants in fear of the captain wanting to see me. The entire ride there I was nervous, as I knew a conversation with the captain was not a good thing. When I arrived, he made it very clear to me that I would have my time as an officer, but for now, the cadet cannot be a backup for a real officer on any calls. Captain Cobb was a very nice man, and while he was a very friendly captain who had known my family for a long time, I absolutely was scared to talk to him.

Conversely, on another issue of me backing up officers as a cadet, my sergeant held a meeting with our entire squad and wrote on a whiteboard that a typical car stops with the black and white behind a citizen car, with a contact officer and a cover officer. The sergeant asked the squad what was wrong with the look of the stop. After several attempts to ID the issue, the sergeant circled the cover officer and said, “This can’t be the cadet!” We all laughed, including me, but I absolutely took seriously what he was saying and stopped my backup ways (well, mostly, LOL). This was certainly a conversation for the sergeant and myself and the squad, not necessarily for the captain and me.

I guess the point of this article is to let all our officers, and the ranking members of this Department who read our magazine, know that once you promote, you should deal with the level below you only. Don’t jump levels of leadership to address issues and talk directly to the troops. Talk to your lower leadership and let them do their job of addressing the issues. Otherwise, stay a sergeant. Hopefully this article has given you some food for thought on this issue.

As always, if you ever need anything from me or the rest of the Executive Board of the PPA, just reach out. Stay safe.