Do Chiefs Take Officer Safety Seriously?

Every chief says they care about officer safety; but actions suggest otherwise

By Scott Hughes  |   Apr 5, 2017

Allow me to rant for a minute …

When I became “one of them,” I made a promise to my employees, and myself, that I would never forget where I came from. In fact, I often use the hashtag #RememberWhereYouCameFrom to document my activities with my troops on Facebook and Twitter. To me the reasons this is important are obvious. That’s why I’m amazed in 2017 how many “leaders” cannot—or will not—embrace this concept.

Real Officer Safety

I’ve witnessed chiefs discuss officer safety and taking care of their personnel in various settings. Yet these same leaders don’t even wear a uniform, carry a gun, or wear a vest! What message are you sending to your people? I’m sure I’ve already pissed off some chiefs just a few sentences into this article but it’s the truth: We must practice what we preach.

Now, perhaps more than ever, we need real leadership at the top. No more “do as I say, not as I do” crap. If you’re a chief and this article is making you a little uneasy, do me a favor. Take a look in the mirror. What image are you projecting? I’m not just talking about physical appearance—although that’s an important issue—I’m talking about modeling expected behavior and leading by example! That’s a cliche, but so true! This issue has been written about and studied so much but the problem remains: Many leaders don’t, and can’t, lead by example.

Chief: When was the last time you got out and ran a beat with your officers? Do you even know how to log onto the in-car computer? (OK, now I’ve definitely pissed off some chiefs! I’m OK with it.) One of the best “excuses” I’ve heard from a chief for not working the road was: “I am afraid of getting into something … Then who will investigate it?”

Really? That’s the best excuse you’ve got?

I’ve also heard that once you become a chief you are more of an administrator and you need to focus on running the agency. That’s very true. Being an administrator does require lots of time in meetings and mundane office and management work. That being said, a chief must set time aside to go out and work with the officers on patrol. Make time for it. For me, Friday evenings work, and that’s what I do.

If you’re reading this and you’re on the fence, let me offer this. I truly believe that once you get out in the field you will have your eyes opened. You will see your officers and community in a fresh light, and you will be better informed for it.

I also believe that you will enjoy it. Remember that office and managerial work I mentioned? Those endless meetings? Getting out in the field is the antidote to this—the yin and the yang, if you will!

And there’s another benefit. In my experience, officers respect the chief more if they believe that the he or she has their interests at heart. How can you have their interests at heart if you don’t know what it is that they’re doing?

Unfortunately some chiefs seem to believe that if they mix it up with their officers, they will be taken down a notch and will lose some of their authority. This is mistaken thinking. Your officers will respect the effort—even if you make a mistake or two. There is huge power in vulnerability, according to Professor Brene Brown, University of Huston Graduate College of Social Work. There is also the opportunity to learn and develop.

And that’s what this all comes down to: Just because you’re the chief, and the buck stops with you, doesn’t mean that you can’t grow as a person in that position. It doesn’t mean that you can’t make mistakes once in a while. Mistakes are how we learn! If you’re done making mistakes, you’re basically done trying new things. It might be time to try retirement.

Conclusion

My colleague Jim Glennon recently wrote an article in which he stated that the biggest threat to law enforcement today isn’t ambushes. It isn’t community relations. It isn’t even politics. It’s the lack of leadership in our ranks. As a chief it pains me to agree with Jim—he only reached the rank of lieutenant!

All kidding aside, people become police officers because they wanted to help people in their most dire moments. I can’t think of a more noble impulse. So, chief, let’s appeal to the virtues of our officers and have the humility to learn from what is our greatest asset—our people.

Bottom line: You can’t, in my opinion, learn from them if you don’t know what it is that they do every day.

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Scott Hughes
Chief Hughes holds a bachelor’s degree in Organizational Leadership from the University of Charleston and is a graduate of The Supervisor Training and Education program as well as The Police Executive Leadership College. Scott is also a graduate of the 133rd FBI-LEEDA Command Institute and is a certified Law Enforcement Executive (CLEE). Chief Hughes is an active member of the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police where he serves on the education committee.