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Bob Parker

Bob Parker

Lt. Robert Parker served with the Omaha (Neb.) PD for 30 years and commanded the Emergency Response Unit. He is responsible for training thousands of law enforcement instructors in NTOA's Patrol Response to Active Shooters courses.



Jose Medina

Jose Medina

Officer Jose Medina is an active member of the Piscataway (N.J.) Police Department's SWAT team and runs Awareness Protective Consultants (Team APC) tactical training.
SWAT

Revolving Door Syndrome

Beware the effects of an ever-changing roster of upper-level management on your SWAT team.

October 01, 2007  |  by Robert O'Brien - Also by this author

A couple of weeks ago, the Cleveland Browns' starting QB was replaced during the second quarter of the first game of the season. He watched the rest of the Browns' lopsided loss from the bench, and three days later found himself traded to Seattle—for next year's sixth round draft pick. It is the ultimate "no confidence" vote.

Which begs the question, if the coach and GM had so little confidence in their starting QB, why did they make him a starter in the first place? Didn't anyone see this coming? If so, why did they allow him to be the team's starting QB? Why ask why—this is the NFL today—here today, gone tomorrow. However, "why" is a valid question that needs to be asked. The answer goes far deeper than the QB, and into the decision-makers who call the shots.

A look into the "new" Browns since their 1999 return to the NFL is very revealing. In nine years, the Browns have had two owners (same family), three GMs, four head coaches, seven offensive coordinators, and six opening day QBs. With this amount of instability and change at the top, is it any wonder the entire team is affected? The answer is seen with the "new" Browns having only one winning season in the past nine years.

A similar "revolving door" pattern can be found in many law enforcement agencies today. Most chiefs serve at the whim of politicians, who also tend to come and go through the same "revolving door." Consistency in these agencies is unknown, as policy and personnel changes happen faster than the department can digest them.

Take my own department, where in my 31-year active career I worked for no fewer than 14 chiefs of police, and a number of acting chiefs. Do the math, and that works out to less than two years per chief, with the shortest chief "tenure" being nine days (he was found to have organized crime ties). My department even resorted to "fill in the blank" when it came to the chief's name on reports. Things in my department are no different today. While the current chief has been there two and a half years, he's the fourth or fifth chief in nine years. That's nearly 20 chiefs in 40 years.

I have no doubt that many of you are in the same boat—your department's top brass revolving door is in continuous "spin cycle." Although there are still many LE agencies whose administrators are stable and consistent (that can be good or bad, depending on the chief/sheriff). Street officers are a resilient bunch, and learn the necessity of going with the flow of constant changing of the guard. If anything, the bottom of changing agencies are far more stable than the top is. And as all good street cops know, the job on the street remains the same, no matter who the new boss is.

However, there's a caveat to this, and that is: Change almost always means the rules change also. And this is where things get dicey, including for SWAT, especially during high-profile situations.

One chief might allow the SWAT commander authority to make tactical decisions, while the next chief will only allow him/herself to make the call. This translates into if/when/how/why/where use of force (including less lethal, chemical, etc.) being "allowed." A growing trend today is not allowing SWAT to do anything "offensive," unless specifically OK'd by the Chief. In many cases, the result is a return to "green light, red light," and "sit, wait, and talk."

Is there any wonder why there is so much "disconnect" between the top and bottom in so many agencies/departments? Consider yourselves very fortunate if you work for a "good" chief/sheriff, one who understands and supports you, and earns the respect of his/her officers and the public, and even the media and politicians. It's called leadership—with a capital L.

However, to those of you less fortunate (you have a lot of company), while you have my sympathy/empathy, there is little time to feel sorry, because the reality of today's street dangers won't let you. Improvise, adapt, overcome. Do the job the best you can, act in good faith, and do it every time. Do the right thing, and do it all the time. It's called being a professional, which is exactly what you are.

Easier said than done, you say? And you'd be correct. But no one ever said ours is an "easy" profession. The exact opposite is the reality of policing in today's constantly changing society. Yes, we're (too) often caught in the middle of political power struggles, but we still have to do the job as professionals, and strive to do the right thing all the time—because it's the right thing to do.

If you're lucky, you'll outlast most of your chiefs/sheriffs, and someday you might even become the next chief. Stranger things have happened. The current chief of my department and I worked together as SWAT sergeants for 12 years. If you make it to the top, don't forget where you came from, or those who fight in the trenches, because they will be counting on YOU for their very survival.


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