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Columns : Stripes and Bars

Dangers of Over-supervising

New supervisors often make the mistake of micromanaging the officers in their command.

January 15, 2015  |  by Amaury Murgado - Also by this author

Being a great officer does not guarantee success as a sergeant. We promote officers, give them very little training, and expect wonders. Officers go from asking questions one day to being expected to answer them the next.

I thought my own transition from officer to sergeant would be a cake walk. I could never have been more wrong. When I was promoted back in 1996, I did everything I was trained to do in the military. I met with the squad's former sergeant and we discussed the good, the bad, and the ugly. I went over the squad's personnel files to familiarize myself with their training, discipline, and awards. When I next met with my new command, I gave them a written list of my expectations and standards. Finally, I evaluated them for two weeks before I started making any changes. By then, I was in full sergeant mode. I thought I was doing a great job until two weeks later when I was summoned to the patrol captain's office for some not so friendly advice on how to keep my stripes.

The captain told me to shut up on the radio and let my deputies ask their own questions. He told me I was trying too hard and doing too much. He reminded me I was being paid to be a sergeant and not a mother hen. Needless to say, I was speechless. As I sat there getting verbally lambasted, I thought about the last four weeks. By the end of our one-sided meeting, I really couldn't say much because he was right; in my zeal to do a good job, I was stifling my squad.

Over-supervising is the most common mistake made by newly promoted supervisors. For most of us, this mistake comes from being too conscientious, being too goal oriented, and having too much zeal for mission accomplishment. For the rest it's about control, limiting liability, and having a fear of failure. Whatever the reason, over-supervising always ends up the same.

In order to not over-supervise, one of the first lessons you have to learn is that you are in a new role and that you're no longer working at the officer level. You don't get to keep doing what you have always done. Don't misunderstand my meaning; you're still a cop, but you have to acknowledge that officers do officer things and sergeants do sergeant things. You get paid to make sure others are doing their job and that the objectives of the agency are being met.

The next lesson is that delegation is a huge part of your new vocabulary and a primary tool. You'll still get your hands dirty and get to share in certain parts of the workload, but you have to back off. And this is harder than you think when you are a hands-on type of person.

The last lesson is that you have to learn to let your officers be officers. Yes, you are to help, mentor, and train them, but you also have to let them make their own mistakes or they will never learn anything. You need to let them work things out for themselves and ask for help when they need it. Teach them to formulate their questions in a way that lets you know they are doing their job and not looking to you to do it for them. A "Here is what I have, here is what I'd like to do about it; what do you think?" format works very well.

If you always hover over your officers and tell them how to handle their calls, you accomplish nothing but building resentment toward you and guaranteeing that you will do double your work. Over-supervising quashes initiative, creates morale problems (no one likes to be micro-managed), and creates respect issues.

Eventually I found my groove and enjoyed my 10-year run as sergeant before being promoted to lieutenant. In the lieutenant role, I make myself available as a mentor. When I work with new sergeants, I share the same story in hopes that they don't get called into the captain's office like I did.

Amaury Murgado is a special operations lieutenant with the Osceola County (Fla.) Sheriff's Office. He is a retired master sergeant from the Army Reserve, has over 27 years of law enforcement experience, and has been a lifelong student of martial arts.

Comments (3)

Displaying 1 - 3 of 3

Marshal @ 1/22/2015 6:04 AM

Good advise. Here is a little more. No matter how far up you go don't forget where you came from and don't do the stuff that pissed you off when you were on patrol. I have been in command staff roles for over 12 years now. I go out and handle calls and do things so I know how my men work and do their jobs. I don't hove or micro manage. I hire adults for a reason and they know if I step in it is for a reason and I'm not undermining them. I can't figure out how a supervisor who hasn't been on the street for 5 or more years can think they know what goes on out there and make policy. The public mentality changes constantly. Every Christmas or Thanksgiving my command staff and I take turns giving someone the day off to spend the holiday with their families. I realize that in larger departments that doesn't work the way we do it but getting out from behind the desk in any way goes a long way to the troops.

Ima Leprechaun @ 1/26/2015 2:23 PM

Every new Sergeant goes through the "Little Hitler" syndrome. I have seen new Sergeants take comp time so they can follow officers on duty and spy on them, I have seen Sergeants try to shadow officers doing their night checks. Every new Sergeant goes through a year of over reacting to everything. the funniest ones are the guys that were the worst offenders as Patrolmen that assume everyone else were like them. I used a simple book to re-train a new Sergeant, it was a 25 page book called "How to train your dog." It was totally effective and worked on all of them. But generally it takes about a year for a new Sergeant to settle down and relax. Well trained patrol officers know their job, they need very little supervision. Sergeants exist for one reason only, to break rules. If you need to do something outside your rules a Sergeant is the only person that can override existing rules. Other than breaking rules there is no need for first line supervisors in a well trained department.

Ima Leprechaun @ 1/26/2015 2:34 PM

Thankfully, a new Chief made a General Order that if you are the reporting officer at any scene you are in charge of investigating the scene. If anyone including any supervisor takes over any part of your investigation without your permission he is now in charge of the investigation and has to complete the report. This was a great General Order. I had a Lieutenant interfere in a Deadly car crash and he released all the witnesses before I could interview them. The Chief made this G.O. based upon this incident. Tracking down witnesses was extensive since most were visiting our town from out of state. The independent witnesses coupled with the evidence made the case clear and easy to define. Without those witnesses I would have been unable to charge the at fault party. Supervisors are usually in the way at any crime scene and are there just to gawk. A good supervisor already knows that and keeps out of the way unless he or she is asked to help. Trust your staff as long as they are well trained, they know their job and they don't need sight seers messing up their scene.

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