What’s on your mind, Chief?
Recently, while speaking with a sergeant from another jurisdiction about calling my Patrol Division lieutenant, he suggested that contact would be made over the radio. The sergeant then asked; “What band is he on?” Band? I honestly have no idea. I know that when I push the power button, the light comes on and I hear radio traffic. Because I did not know the radio band, does that make me a bad chief?
Then I thought, well I bet the sergeant does not know the employee pension contribution percentage or the average overtime rate for determining expenditure allocations associated with state and federal grants. While that allowed a temporary relief from the sting of the “radio band” debacle, I immediately realized the banality to this line of rationalization.
Truth is, the above illustration is not a completely accurate reflection of my response to this fine sergeant’s question, but it did prompt me to think. I considered the various strata of professionally intimate knowledge and the organizationally relevant issues based on an individual’s path along the para-militaristic hierarchy.
AREAS OF FOCUS DEPEND ON DEPTH OF EXPERIENCE
Obviously our focus shifts through the years and responsibilities. I was challenged by this to ask what is important to me as the chief of police.
As a patrol officer, I recited the criminal ordinances verbatim and communicated exclusively using the 10-code. As an undercover agent, I knew precisely how many grams made an ounce, how many ounces made a pound and how many pounds made a kilo.
As a division commander, I was focusing less on the adrenaline-producing accounts of arrests, pursuits, and seizures, and more on budgeting, total quality management, and alternative scheduling solutions. As we move up the ranks, time is spent wrestling less over arrests and more over the employees affecting them.
The areas of concern most important to me at this stage in my career are various, but the singular topic monopolizing my focus is the employees. The challenge of investing in human capital yields the greatest institutional returns for you as the leader, for the individual officers in their quest to serve with dignity and longevity, and for the community in their desire to live unencumbered by the fear of victimization.
If employees knew the depth of consideration given to their safety, training, education, mentoring and general well-being, there would be plenty of crow to eat. Obviously, how could they know? Without the relational experiences as a senior law enforcement executive there is no substitute for understanding the objective perspective required for surveying the comprehensive nature of the organization as it relates to the employee.
EXPECTED versus EXPERIENCED
The difference in the expected and the experienced creates the traditionally adversarial nature of employee / employer relations leading most to view this fraternal caste system through a Marxist lenses. The senior law enforcement executive becomes the oppressive bourgeois, while the proletariat officers bust butts as their labor is exploited as a commodity to be reassigned, promoted, transferred, and disciplined. However unrealistic this analogy is, perception for some becomes their reality.
Breaching the institutional stratification of rank, assignment, classification or perception may be accomplished by articulating a clear organizational vision focused on equity of opportunity and ownership. Will the rookie officer attend your command staff meetings? Probably not, but if their voice is represented, then they become an invested resource for the institutional ideals and operations.
The truth is, while we care about the well-being of the individual and their ability to communicate on the proper radio band, our focus also considers the operational integrity and effectiveness of the organization. This may segregate us from the rank and file, but objective distance is necessary for ensuring a sustainable natural balance of labor and demand contributing to long-term and productive employment.
Bridging this perceptual divide also promotes employee longevity as they balance a need for external motivators (fair compensation) and internal satisfiers (selfless service). Is harmony achieved with increased pay that encourages employee’s retention? Possibly for a brief period, until the next material purchase beyond their means, and then it is back to pay rate complaints.
It seems that every employee terminating their service is offered a job elsewhere making at least twice their law enforcement earnings. Really? I want a job like that. Of course, most soon return because of their “love of the job.” It is what we call unemployment.
Materialism does not create deeply committed careers in progressively challenging workplaces. The luster of new vehicles wane as the miles accumulate, SWAT gear gets forgotten as the activations go fewer and farther between, and the reassignment to narcotics fails to satisfy because it doesn’t live up to what was learned watching “Training Day.”
The material and external appeals to self-satisfaction are temporary, and like forecasting the market or predicting the next YouTube video to go viral, law enforcement executives cannot continue guessing when the motivational rollercoaster will adversely affect the institutional core. A sound foundation is laid when leaders focus attention to the internal motivators appealing to the altruistic nature of public service.
Listen quietly as the chorus reigns down, “You cannot pay bills with altruism.” No, but without an ethical anchor or altruistic attachment, meaningful institutional commitment fails to develop and diminishes the individual’s potential for meaningful long-term employment.
The contrasting of personal values creates fissures between the employee’s desire to serve and reasons to remain. There are occupational points of departure when employees become disenfranchised with the altruistic ideals of duty, honor and service.
The socialization process of “becoming blue” includes the period when a new officer is introduced to the traditions, codes, and cultural expectancy of fraternal membership.
Researchers struggle to decode the mystery of the thin blue line, and their attempts end with mere speculations about what occurs behind the veil. Peter Manning’s seminal research into the meaning and symbolism of police work describes the powerful mystification of policing as the “sacred canopy.”
Researcher Marjie Britz concluded after attempts to identify dynamics involved in the enculturation process that; “Traditional research in this area has suggested that the socialization process is so intense and the subculture so strong that individual characteristics are quickly overwhelmed.” Top academics focusing on what makes us; us, can only venture about the informal processes creating such loyalty yet so much discontentment.
The years of research I invested for my doctoral dissertation focused on the occupational socialization of policing. During this time I learned that the initial disenfranchisement from the organization begins once the individual joins the agency. They immediately realize that the preconceived notions established through external influences, such as media and myth are in actuality not what policing involves.
The next major point of departure happens once the cadet graduates the academy. Senior training officers fail to reinforce the lessons taught in the academy by encouraging the rookie to forget what they just learned there. The senior officers impose their ideology of “not making waves” thus ensuring a continuation of the homogenous nature of the organizational ethos.
This further alienates the officer from the original altruistic motivators such as duty, honor, and service. Homogeneity is critical to maintaining the status quo as evidenced by the lack of minorities and females throughout the classified ranks of the profession.
The combination of these stages produce the fully socialized officer who learns to acclimate to the occupational environment by embracing mediocrity for the sake of avoiding isolation from peers. Police observer John Van Maanen captured the essence of the fraternal unity by stating: “Consequently, the police culture can be viewed as molding the attitudes, with numbing regularity, of virtually all who enter.”
My best observation for remedying the contrasts between what senior law enforcement executives want for their employees, and the perception employees have towards organizational altruistic ideals is found in the “why.”
Core commitment is not cultivated in the “what” or “how” things are done, but “why” we do it. As it relates to addressing institutional investment, officers know how to do police work and what to do when situations arise requiring their services. What they either never knew or forget over time is “why” they do police work.
Simon Sinek explains it succinctly in his work, and attaching meaning to their need for “why” establishes a cause greater than themselves, their pay, or their current condition. The sense of sacrifice and service is as relevant today as ever.
It is incumbent upon us as leaders of our organizations to discover the voice for relaying this message to our employees and re-introduce them to the reasons they played cops as kids, admired them as teens and joined them as adults.
Police Leadership: What’s on your mind, Chief?
Chiefs, if you are wondering what you should be thinking about, please take note. Catch them early in the career, do not overlook the significance of your influence and opportunity to meet with potential candidates, recently hired cadets, proud graduating rookies, and fully field trained officers. Brief one-on-one moments spent sharing your vision and level of expected commitment burn an indelible image on the public service psyche of these officers.
Does “what” I think about matter? Maybe not. What does matter is “why” I think about it. That is because we have been commissioned to grow the next generation of public servants, and without specificity of focus on the core tenants of sacrificial service, we remain numbingly regular and amazingly ineffective. That’s why.
Police Leadership: What’s on your mind, Chief?
What do you think Chiefs should focus attention to?
About the Author
Scott Silverii, Ph.D. was appointed Chief of Police for the Thibodaux Police Department, Louisiana in January 2011, after serving 21 years for the nationally accredited Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office. Chief Silverii began his law enforcement career in 1990 by serving in a variety of investigative and command assignments including twelve years undercover and sixteen years in SWAT. A subject matter expert in data-driven approaches to crime and traffic safety, he was appointed to the IACP’s prestigious Research Advisory Committee.
Chief Silverii earned a Master of Public Administration and a Doctorate in Urban Studies from the University of New Orleans, focusing his research on anthropological aspects of culture and organizations. Chief Silverii can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, @ThibodauxChief, or Law Enforcement Today.
Learn more about this article here:
Van Maanen, J. (1975). Police socialization: a longitudinal examination of job attitudes in an urban police department. Administrative Science Quarterly, 1975, 21.
Manning, P. (1980). Violence and the Police Role. American Academy of Political and Social Science, 45(2), 19.
Britz, M. (1997). The police subculture and occupational socialization: exploring individual and demographic characteristics. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 21(2)
Sinek, S. (2009). Start with Why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action. Penguin Publishing Group, New York, NY. ISBN: 978-1-101-14903-4,
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