What a New Sergeant Needs to Know
Lieutenant Raymond E. Foster
When you began your law enforcement career, your organization sent you to a training academy and then, likely, provided you with a field training officer or senior officer with whom to work. However, when you promote to sergeant, there is little training and nothing like the mentoring of a field training officer system. Moreover, the transition from police officer to sergeant is often one of the most difficult transitions of your career. In this article, we will explore five concepts that can help you make the transition from street cop to sergeant.
Part of the promotional process involved a review of your past performance. Indeed, the gist of the “Peter Principle” is that because you were good at what you did, you will be good at what you are going to do. While being a good street cop is a solid foundation for being a field sergeant, your duties and responsibilities as a field sergeant are vastly different than those of a police officer. Furthermore, anytime you act as a police officer you are a participant and your leadership role as well as your supervision role have been minimized.
Anytime a sergeant performs a law enforcement function, they are a police officer and not a supervisor. The next time you are tempted to “jump in,” think just for a moment – would your officers be better served by having a leader with them or do they need another pair of hands? We all know that if you are rolling around the streets of your community stuff is going to land in your lap. You are going to end up making arrests, etc. However, let me give you two general rules: First, you know the difference between when you have to take action and when you have discretion not to do so. Exercise it. Two, you should occasionally and intentionally do your officers’ job. There is tremendous value in directly experiencing your subordinates’ work environment. As an example, suppose your officers complain about a new booking procedure. Intentionally make an arrest and experience the booking process. You are doing their job for the purpose of seeing and experiencing their problems and keeping your own skills set intact.
Recall the Rodney King video. A field sergeant employed the TASER. When TASERs were first introduced into the Los Angeles Police Department, they were assigned to field sergeants. Sergeants were trained and expected to use the TASER. The organization put the sergeants in the position of acting as police officers in that they participated. Think about the video. Might the outcome been different if the sergeant acted solely in a leadership/supervision role? At the very least, he would have been slightly removed from the problem and not – an active participant; he would have had the opportunity to see the incident differently.
Lastly, intervening when something is going sideways is not doing your officer’s job; it is doing your job. If the fight is on and what is needed is an extra pair of hands, you know what to do to assist the officers. If an officer is beginning to go sideways, taking corrective action is your job as a supervisor.
Do you Supervise?
Leadership and supervision are different. In my book, Leadership: Texas Hold ‘em Style, we define leadership as “the art of influencing human behavior toward organizational goals.” Supervision includes leadership but it can be further focused as leadership and management within defined organizational roles. In other words, you are assigned to supervise someone just as someone has been assigned to supervise you. Concepts such as Chain of Command and Unity of Command come into play because of your role as a supervisor.
Supervising means taking direct actions such as observing, critiquing and training. It also includes all of the paperwork associated with personnel actions. Focus on you supervisor duties as well as your leadership duties. As an example, go through the personnel files of your subordinates. Are their evaluations up-to-date? Is their emergency contact information correct? Can you assess some of their strength and weaknesses based on their personnel files? Additionally, you should meet with each of your subordinates and ensure their emergency contact information is up-to-date, etc. This is a good way of getting them, and you, to think of you as the supervisor.