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Paul Clinton

Paul Clinton

As the POLICE Web editor, Paul Clinton contributes posts about patrol cars, motorcycles, and other police vehicles. He previously wrote about automotive electronics as managing editor of Mobile Electronics. Prior to that, he was an award-winning newspaper reporter.



William Harvey

William Harvey

William "Bill" Harvey is currently serving as chief of police in south central Pennsylvania. He retired from the Savannah (Ga.) Police Department where he worked assignments in training, patrol, and CID. Harvey has more than 25 years of experience working with recruits, rookies, and FTOs.
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Know Your Place

There are ranks within the team. Know them.

December 18, 2012  |  by William Harvey - Also by this author

Photo courtesy of William Harvey.
Photo courtesy of William Harvey.

"Hey, buddy" is not the way to start a conversation with a superior officer. Introducing your watch commander to a citizen as "Wild Bill" is far too informal and diminishes his position in the citizen's eyes. This happens far more than you think. Matter of fact, I was on the receiving end of both of these. Let's get the decorum lesson behind us.

Law enforcement is steeped in para-military tradition. Rank structure is a key to our successes. You are taught this in the academy, some of us lived this in the military and structure must be adhered to. I'm not talking about calling a commander by his rank if you two are out fishing. There can be friendships, despite the strict fraternizing policies of some departments.

When you introduce your supervisor to a citizen with their proper rank, you set the following standards. First, you show respect toward the department and what it stands for. If the citizen has a problem, complaint or this incident requires somebody from a higher pay grade, they should know it.

This high rank is there to be a problem solver or solution provider with this circumstance. No offense, I've known a few cops named Bubba and Snake. And I've been referred to as Wild Bill (don't know how I ever got that nickname). However, the informed citizen knows circumstances can require someone from higher up the flagpole.

To meet and greet the supervisor who will cure their situation will reek to no end if they are called Wild instead of their respective rank. Also, this informal name will assure the citizen that the fix is in. If the supervisor is on a first named basis, the citizen may believe they won't get equitable treatment. The flip side of this is that when interacting with citizens, the commander must use the proper title for their staff as well. This shows the outsider that we have mutual respect for each other, exhibiting professionalism. It is all based on respect of the system.

I know that there are times you may despise your supervisor. You don't want them around you but due to assignments or situations they're going to be there. If you don't respect them as an individual, respect the rank and uniform they represent. If you disrespect the rank by showing this disregard for your agency's leaders, you're setting yourself up for problems. I've seen this disdain later set the stage for a charge of insubordinate behavior, which is serious at any department and should never be tolerated. If you let your anger or disdain bubble up, you'll let it slip out at the most inopportune time.

How we treat each other and the respect we show our agency is often how we are judged by the public. If we act like professionals without causing citizens to suspect hooliganism, then we will be seen as professionals. If we lower our standards of respect, we are no more than a group of workers. Keep our vocation at a professional level.

Tags: Command Staff, Professional Image, Community Relations


Comments (10)

Displaying 1 - 10 of 10

Marc @ 12/18/2012 6:00 AM

Wow, Wild Bill, that sounds remarkably like instructions for your underlings not to question you. Each man should be competent for his own actions. Upper brass sets the policies, but each officer has to decide if what he is being asked to do is ethical, constitutional, and decent. He should ask himself if a citizen would be permitted to do the same action, and if not, he should refrain. Our jobs don't allow us to act outside the law.

Dr. Jeffrey P. Rush @ 12/18/2012 8:09 AM

Marc sounds like a millennial, or at least what we're told they're like. Chief Harvey is quite right, understanding the rank system and acknowledging it should be what we do in this profession.

A bad order is a bad order, but as long as it's not illegal, immoral or unethical (and most aren't) then we have an obligation to follow it. Perhaps there will be time for discussion, perhaps not. Regardless we follow the order.

Not sure how difficult that is, or from where it is that Marc is coming from. Each officer does not have the luxury to decide for himself if their going to follow the order (again, unless it's illegal, immoral or unethical - and most aren't).

bthornton @ 12/18/2012 9:08 AM

The supreme court of ct has ruled it not unconstitutional to discriminateagainst a leo applicant for scoring too high on the intelligence quotient portion of entry exams. This follows lockstep with the justification of following bad orders because we're just doing our job. Maybe the time has come to enlist more critical thinking and ethics training to circumvent this area of citizens concerns that perhaps we are not hiring the best and brightest.

Marc @ 12/18/2012 7:14 PM

A millennial? No, but thank you. I am a solid Gen Xer. The standard I'm talking about is whether or not an average citizen in the exact same setting doing the same thing. If he would be arrested, you shouldn't be doing it. Examples? You're told to conduct a license check. Response: You want me to stop people without probable cause? No, sir, I took an oath to uphold and defend the constitution and you're asking me to violate the fourth amendment.

How many of you would enforce laws you know are bad? Don't you think you have a duty to protect the citizens from the State just as much as you do to protect them from each other?

Pete Eyre @ 12/20/2012 5:52 PM

Howdy, just wanted to let you know that I did a response video to your post William.

If you or anyone else is inclined to check it out please see:

http://youtu.be/wXthE3WjGoc

Here's the page cited at the end of the video for those interested:

http://CopBlock.org/WelcomeLEOs

Able Freeman @ 12/21/2012 4:52 AM

Thanks for letting me share here. I am commenting here to thank commenter Marc. His comments betray a mind set that I thought had for the most part, left the ranks of LEOs. I believe if the majority of LEOs were to take that very mindset on, we the people and LE would have new and highly productive to the mission relationship benefiting all of society. Maybe I do not need to bring up the concentration camp guards, but there I did and following orders is no justification for anything.

Thanks again Marc

Sincerely,

Able Freeman

Jim C @ 12/25/2012 2:28 PM

I'm on a first name basis with everyone and use them regularly from the chief to the janitor. But NOT out in public. People need to know that the person showing up is someone you recognize as able to tell you what to do. Those that respect you know that this person is even more important. Your superior needs you to lay those ground rules so that they can better deal with the situation.

B.T.Roberts @ 12/25/2012 9:32 PM

When I saw this post my blood pressure shot up 30 points, then I read it.

A little background on me, Retired Detective, 30yrs on the job 23 in investigations of some sort, like most started in the college of the jail and then on to patrol. I have 4K plus hours of training, a Masters degree, a tested IQ of 158; but I was the stupidest S-O-B to ever be on that job; according to those who told me to know my place. Of course it may be that I’m just an A-Hole.

However the article is absolutely correct: adhere to the decorum in public; no matter how painful it may be.

Of course it could be said that some of those that dictate whose place is what, might treat those they have placed lower a little better, sometimes just a very little better, is all it would take.

And Wild Bill, Possibly a title change, maybe Public Decorum in L.E. would sound better, but hey I probably would not have read it.

Marc, you too are absolutely correct, you as an Officer are libel for your actions, following orders and policy (especially those which are unconstitutional/unlawful) is not a viable excuse. I have stood in front of a Federal Judge and said those words; it’s not where you want to be. And if it comes to it stand your ground and tell that superior they are incorrect, insubordination charges may follow and you may have to prove your case to superiors or a Judge/Jury, but suspension or termination is better than financial ruin or incarceration or both.

Christopher A. Dodge @ 12/26/2012 11:00 AM

As an ex-LEO, I recommend that every sworn officer undergo incarceration to the fullest degree, for a week or so. The OC spray quals are designed to educate officers on the effects. The tazer qual is a joke because fellow officers assist in your fall, whereas citizens are gravity-delivered to hard pavement. Every officer needs to understand the psychology of being on the losing team, and from there compassion will cultivate. Our problem is that current LEOs are simply unaware of reality due to the indoctrination, pay, benefits, incentives and lifestyle of a young and impressionable recruit. Thank you for your time. Good work out there to those of you who have honor and integrity, despite the position of authority and privilege you have inherited.

jes @ 12/26/2012 8:05 PM

@Marc... Your lack of reading comprehension is astounding, at no time did this article say or even imply "like instructions for your underlings not to question you".

@Everyone... Obviously this board is not only LEO's, the LEO haters are here in full force taking words out of context to spread their misguided beliefs.

@Pete Eyre... Your youtube video was a hatred spewing diatribe of out of context misdirection and you believe your mission is to show the world how terrible the police are.

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