17 May Legislating The Many For The Actions Of A Few
As my partners and I walked out of briefing that evening, we were a bit stunned and confused… and frankly, angry.
It was only a few minutes earlier that our sergeants relayed to us in briefing, the “new rule” as it relates to making arrests. Before we are to put handcuffs on anyone, we MUST call a supervisor over to the call, car stop, etc. to get approval to make the arrest.
The sergeants told us this (informal) policy was because of a few “bad arrests” made recently by a couple of officers that worked on a completely different shift on the other end of the week. Apparently, these arrests were made on bad faith, poor tactics, and shaky “PC” (Probable Cause).
So, to address this issue, the sergeants apparently got together and came up with the brilliant idea to create a blanket informal rule that all field arrests must be approved by a supervisor on scene before the arrest is made.
Besides the sheer ridiculous nature of this decision – we do not have enough supervisors to be everywhere and approve all these arrests – what was most upsetting for me, and my partners, is the fact that we were now subject to these restrictions based on the actions of a few problematic officers.
Throughout my career, I have occasionally seen this phenomenon raise its ugly head from time to time, and simply put, it is poor leadership. Legislating the many for the actions of a few is a sure way to crush morale amongst the troops.
There are a few things you can do as a leader to avoid making this mistake.
1) Analyze the problem
Is this problem (making bad arrests) ubiquitous throughout the organization? How long has it been occurring? Is it isolated to a few “chronic offenders”? What is the root cause of the problem? (Poor training, bad policy, No clear set of expectations?) In this analysis, you should get an accurate picture of the extent of the problem to help you make a decision that is thoughtful and not “knee jerk”)
2) Address the individual behavior
If the problem is isolated to a few, muster up the courage and have the necessary conversations with those individuals and address their performance deficiencies specifically. Many times, these “blanket policies” occur, simply because the leaders are unwilling to have the difficult conversation with the actual offenders. This is what you get paid to do as a leader…put on your big boy/girl pants and sit down with the employee. You may discover a training deficiency that needs to be addressed or they are experiencing problems in their personal life that you may be able to help with. None of which would have been accomplished through the blanket policy.
3) Encourage the correct behavior
Identify the employees who are doing the work well and acknowledge them publicly for it. This not only boosts the morale of those employees who are doing what they are supposed to be doing, but it also sends a powerful message to the rest of the troops by reinforcing good behavior.
The key to avoiding making these “morale killer” decisions is to stop and pause before making them (No one is bleeding in the street) and do the proper analysis. Take your time as it is on your side…inevitably you will come up with a better decision.
By the way, our “arrest approval” policy only lasted about a week or two – the sergeants got tired of coming out to every call.