For those who are active on social media, specifically YouTube or some other video watching service, it seems as if we are constantly barraged by videos of police officers going overboard, pointing their weapons at people, questionable shootings and so on and so on. Let me take a moment to state clearly that all of these videos need to be vetted and researched thoroughly before an educated opinion should be offered concerning any alleged impropriety concerning an officer’s actions.
I chose not to comment on most of these videos, because of the aforementioned fact that time needs to be given to thoroughly investigate any alleged misconduct by an officer. However, I am often asked my opinion on different police-involved shootings or questionable tactics by officers in a viral video. The best response to these questions concerning the actions of officers can be boiled down to one word; leadership.
Call it what you will, leadership, supervision, management, are all at the heart of the police work. And yes, I know that each of those words has their own distinct definition. However, for this discussion, I will use the layman’s understanding and conflate the ideas. Without effective leadership, any organization can devolve into chaos. The top of any organization sets the standard and tone of what is and is not acceptable. Management sets the vision and without a vision or mission statement, the employees have no idea of what they should be doing or where the organization is going.
When a police officer seemingly goes off the script of their department’s mission statement, it can be summed up to one of three things: poor training, lack of supervision or the officer is simply wrong.
Let’s take a look at how leadership affects the behavior of officers and subordinates. An officer may have behaved badly because they have not been trained at all, not trained properly or forgot his/her training. In all cases, it’s the supervisor/leaders job to find the deficiency and actually do something about the behavior. Failing to train an officer, is the responsibility of the administration and most importantly falls on the town/city’s administrative shoulders. It’s their job to ensure that the officers who are hired to protect the public, know the rules and regulations in order to keep the peace in a constitutionally effective manner. This is why the cities and towns are held financially liable when misconduct is found on the part of an officer.
The lack of supervision can be just as bad or worse. Failing to check up on any subordinate is what causes the lapse in judgment, loss of quality and efficiency in any organization. Supervisors must be present and adopt the philosophy of managing while walking around, coupled with problem-solving. Having subordinates know that the supervisor is actively engaged is what brings about the greatest amount of success and productivity.
When an officer is wrong, they are simply wrong. Good and effective leadership should admit their mistakes and do everything in their power to correct their mistakes. In police work, not only are members of the department watching but so is the city, the residents and sometimes the world. Leadership from the city’s administration on down to the first line supervisor is responsible for making sure that the best quality hits the streets. Hiding, making excuses for and protecting bad behavior, is extremely detrimental to the relationship between police departments and the communities they are sworn to protect.