Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Where are the Leaders, Coaches and Mentors?

We are facing a critical time on the San Diego Police Department. With the exodus of some of the most talented, experienced and senior leaders of the department comes a loss of leadership, knowledge, skills and experience. Some of you can think back to a time in our department's history when we faced similar circumstance. I am hopeful history does not repeat itself and we can learn from our past. To ensure this does not happen, it will require strong leadership from our senior officers, detectives and supervisors. It will require each of us to hold the other accountable and to adhere to the safety practices we have all been trained to use.

The other night in Mid-City there was an incident where a Sergeant in patrol called for cover when he came under attack. He was being pelted with rocks and asked for cover. A short distance from this incident was a group of officers participating in a 10-17 (Meeting to sign reports). It has been reported these officers did not break to cover the Sergeant who was asking for help. This incident has been reported and discussed on the SDPOA Forum at length and the Sergeant who asked for the cover has confirmed the incident and acknowledged the rapid response by members of the Gang Suppression Team. This is not acceptable in any realm of thinking and we must take responsibility for each other's safety and well being. We cannot allow outside influences to dictate how we treat and protect one another.

A clear example of the leadership I am talking about was shown by the Field Lieutenant that night and members of the uniformed Gang Suppression Team who responded in a rapid and coordinated manner to this sergeants call for help. Lieutenant David Nisleit immediately addressed the lack of response by those at the 10-17. The GST members took the initiative to immediately help a fellow officer. Lieutenant Nisleit showed the courage and leadership to confront a behavior that was not appropriate and should not and cannot be tolerated or accepted. The GST members responded quickly, decisively and professionally to a critical incident that could have turned out much different if they had hesitated to perform their duties in an appropriate manner.

It is incumbent upon all of us to step up and provide leadership, mentoring and coaching of our young, energetic and enthusiastic officers. When we came on we had that old guy who took us under wing and guided us through our learning. We were allowed to stumble and bumble and make our fair share of mistakes; but our mentors had our backs and kept us safe. You did not dare make a traffic stop when responding to a cover call; you threw your paper in the passenger floorboard to respond to assist an officer simply making a traffic or pedestrian stop; you pitched that new cup of coffee out the window and drove like a bat out of hell to cover that officer whose voice did not sound right when he asked for a cover unit; you did not think twice of dropping your code-7 when an officer went out on a traffic stop in an area we all knew was not the most cop friendly of areas; many citizens got off with a "verbal" warning as you dropped a citation to cover an officer who needed help; when at a 10-17 and an officer requested cover it was managed chaos as the cars fled the lot to cover a fellow officer, sergeant, detective or an officer of an allied agency. All of this was drummed into you by that senior officer who led by example and refused to accept anything less.

Sergeants were the calm in any situation. When a Sergeant spoke you better be listening and you better heed his/her word. They were the "Quarterback" of any situation. They called all the shots and gave direction to coordinate scenes and critical incidents. You looked up to and in some cases feared them; but always respected them. They commanded respect through their competent and decisive decisions. Good Sergeants always made decisions when needed and then stood by their decisions. They took care of their people and did not allow others to interfere. How did they do this? They mentored and coached; if you were tired from working all night and being in court all day, would make sure you worked with another officer; if you needed a training class to move to a different or preferred assignment, they pulled strings to make it happen; they helped coordinate the exchange of days off to meet every ones needs (BUT you better not be that person who took advantage); they bought the first beer for everyone at shift change; they held BBQ's for their squads to build a cohesive team; they pointed out when you messed up and praised you when you did good; they demanded a hard day's work and that you be on time for work and not leave early; they paid attention to your journals, but also knew who was working and who was not; they knew more about your beat than you did and expected you to address those quality of life problems as well as the dope dealer, car thief, burglar, trouble maker who refused to go along with societies rules.

Lieutenants were feared and respected. They gave the marching orders to Sergeants who carried this message to the troops. Lieutenants seldom minced words and if you were in their office it was usually not for something good. Lieutenants were the "Head Coach" of the team. If you screwed up and needed more than a verbal lashing or written warning the Lieutenants were the one you had to sit before. They had for the most part all been there before and knew what and how you were feeling and without minimizing the behavior they did it in a humane manner that allowed you to accept the hit and move on. The good Lieutenants always had a smile for the troops. They would peek into line-up but seldom participate. They would show up at the most critical of scenes and ensure things were being handled appropriately. They seldom took charge of a scene but were always "In-Charge" by their mere presence. When they offered suggestions for getting something done you listened and followed his guidance. They knew the job and always shared that knowledge.

Today we have young officers looking for leaders and mentors to help guide them through these times. We have young, inexperienced Sergeants looking to the senior, more experienced Sergeants and Lieutenants for guidance and leadership. We will soon have a brand new group of trainees coming out of phase training; a new group of recruits hitting the field for phase training; and a brand new group of Lieutenants, "Baby" Sergeants, Detectives; and summer in full swing. It is time for those of us who have been around for a while to step up to the plate and lead, coach and mentor. It is time we get out of our comfort zones and take on some of the less glamorous jobs to mentor, coach and teach our younger counterparts. Our senior, experienced Field Sergeants are the leaders we need to rely on to set the tone for patrol. Starting at line-ups; keeping the focus and attention on the job at hand; not allowing the outside distractions of politics to control or dictate behaviors and actions; keeping a positive outlook for the future that seems bleak but is sure to turn around; supporting your squad members and their families; giving officers time off to refresh and recharge; share your experiences and knowledge; be a leader, mentor, coach and most of all be their strongest and loudest cheerleader. If you smile in the face of despair, the pain and anguish is less likely to become contagious. If you keep a positive attitude when all else around is crumbling; those around you will begin to follow your lead. Be involved with your people; but do not do their jobs. Allow them to learn and make mistakes; but watch their backs and keep them safe. Remember two blind men walking along a cliff are more likely to fall than one; lead by a person with sight. Two young, energetic, enthusiastic officers with little experience in the same car are more likely to get hurt or hurt someone else than they would if paired with a more senior, experienced officer who can provide that mentoring, coaching and guidance.

We owe it to ourselves, each other and the organization to keep each other safe and out of trouble. We owe it to our families and friends and the taxpayer to remain safe and do our jobs in a fair and professional manner. This means covering each other; following your training and not responding to priority calls alone; broadcasting your stops, day and night; listening up for squad members making stops and start that way even if there is no request for cover (you are already on the way and in the area if something goes wrong); take time off to refresh your mind and body; confront unsafe actions; and above all else remember why you became a police officer.

The City Council today refused to discuss or make changes to the latest contract imposed upon us six days ago. It is time to think to the future and put this chapter behind us. Allow others to fight the political fights; you need only focus on police work. Concern yourself with safety and doing what is right. Be professional and be proud. Hundreds of people take the test to become a police officer every month and few make it through the process to enter the academy. The few who enter the academy; it is the exceptional man and woman who complete the training and become Police Officers. You are one of the few and you earned it. Do not allow politics to take that from you. Most of all do not allow the politics of San Diego to become the reason to become lax; not follow your training and allow one of us to be seriously hurt or killed. Be safe!!!


Beat And Release said...

Not just unbelievable, it's completely unacceptable!!! A good example of the proper way to look out for one another......my troops had worked a twelve hour day (thanks to court) and were on the way out the door at 0100 when an officer called out with shots fired at a club. All it took was three words from me, "Go get him!" The troops dove into their cars and tore up the roads getting to the scene and covering that officer. The ended up working two more hours on perimeter while K9 searched for the suspect.

No one complained, whined, bitched or moaned. This will have more of an effect when you understand my department does NOT pay overtime to patrol officers. It's my job to make sure they get time back.

We have broken up squad meetings several times due to similar situations. What is is this profession coming to when a meeting take precedence over an officer calling for help? Sheesh!!

Matt said...

Next months promotions will be huge in terms of setting the tone for this department. The need for experience has never been greater.
Awesome job Steve you have come up with another gem that needed to be said. Good luck and be safe.

Anonymous said...

Leadership is suppose to start at the top. We know that is not the case at SDPD. The 7th Floor appointed leaders are afraid of their own shadow, and that of Jerry Sanders! We have looked at the 7th floor for wrods of wisdon, guidance and leadership. All we get from them is their reinforced loyalty to the City, and not the troops.

You are correct Steve. Leadership starts with us. We can not count on true leadership from SDPD's upper management. We need to watch each others backs. It is unacceptable to ignore a cover call. We have been re-trained to not respond to anything after a 10-17 because it may create an overtime situation. Overtime = Bad Cop. That's why sergeants allow officers to do nothing for the last couple hours of the shift. It is the new conditioned response.

Public Safety is not like a regular business. There are no profit margins. We are a tax payer based organization. Don't run it like a business!

Be safe!!!!

30 yrs plus said...

I just shared this with my Unit. Great words of wisdom and inspiration Sparky at a time the department can really use it.

Free Radical said...

Excellent post and advice Sparky. We have to stick together and help one another. We need to keep our eyes on the ball and not get caught up in the politics of the moment. It will drive you crazy! On Tuesday the Council told the POA they did not think it was the right thing to do politically to support any change in the imposed contract. They cited the possible need for more money due to State cuts. It is six months until we "negotiate" with them again. It ain't going to be pretty. My advice to you guys who are younger is to follow the 252 who left last year. Look for another place to work. Many agenies are hiring laterals.

Anonymous said...

If you had a Lt with any balls that whole 10-17 group along with the Sgt should be on supp. probation is all common sense gone. If this is the common sense thats left God help you guys............Frito

Patrol Cop at NE said...

So true... We need Lieutenants & Sergeants with balls to make decisions & hold people accountable. We need LEADERS like LT Nisleit & Sgt McMillan who are not afraid to hold people accountable. Thanks for the well timed and very accurate post. If you want a leader he is right here writing informing and encouraging us all. Thanks Sparky!!!

Detective Sergeant said...

As usual you say what needs to be said. We need leaders in all ranks to step up. The timing of your article is visionary Steve. Not sure how you keep coming up with such fantastic commentary if reality but please do not stop. We talked at length today about this post and to a person we all agreed we need to step up and mentor coach and lead the enthusiastic new officer. We all hope Lansdown promotes people like you Steve who has the experience and knowledge to mentor and lead. Thank you Steve. Again, well done and good luck with promotions.

Anonymous said...

Steve, a very insightful article! It is sad that some have allowed mismanagement and a lack of true leadership to put them in a state of mind that allows them to think covering each other out there is not a priority...SAD. It is beyond time for the 7th Floor to be courageous enough to promote and support those true leaders who are ready and willing to take this once great department forward in a safe manner. Cut the politically correct BS folks, get behind each other, and Chiefs, you need to be listening to your troops - the message is loud and clear - they want LEADERSHIP, not a bunch of PC cheerleaders...Keep our troops safe and make the right call. It's time...SD Cops-stay safe out there and always cover your brothers and sisters.

Six More Years :-( said...

Such a sad state of affairs. Sad but true.

Another reality; 99% of SDPD is completely reactionary. They don't know what it means to be proactive. Steve, you worked proactive units. I too hope to one day. Don't know what the SDPD future holds for us.

Only a few proactive units remain. Uniformed GST is one. I know they they cover off and respond to this type of situation. No proactive work equates to a major loss to the citizens and the department.

Not many proactive investigative units either. And we see the negative impact of this. They worked in the background, but accomplishments were great. No SIU or others. So much for the career advancement matrix. So much for a goal for some officers. Great units have been gutted.

A few days ago there was a post making reference to SDPD and "smoke and mirrors." The personnel shuffle. It really is a losing proposition and fails every time. Not to mention that people moved from one assignment to fill another are demoralized. Six years to go.....

Cop on the street said...

WOW!!! What have we become that we do not cover on a call like this? Great advise and counsel Steve. If we don't look out for each other, no one else is going to! Keep the posts coming Sparky!!!

Anonymous said...

I have two comments regarding this post, Sparky. First, I went to a retired cop breakfast this morning in Clairemont and was surrounded by most of the guys that trained me over 40 years ago. I got to thinking that if it weren't for them, I never would have made it. Even though I've been retired 13 years, I still owe each one of them a debt of gratitude. I sincerely hope that there are enough seasoned cops like you left to teach whomever comes along.

Secondly, I couldn't believe what I first read on the POA Forum about cops not covering another cop. That's unbelieveable!! Even as a detective, I would cover patrol any time, any place. Once again, that's not only how those aforementioned older cops trained me, but it's the RIGHT thing to do. This is not only sad, but embarrasing. Hopefully, no one was injured and there was a hard lesson learned. I've been to quite enough funerals in my 30 years. Tom Rey