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Web Only : Leadership 101

Tough Decisions

October 01, 2004  |  by Mark G. Stainbrook - Also by this author

"To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing." - Elbert Hubbard

I am currently working in a violent crime task force with a group of hard working cops from the South Bureau and Central Bureau of the Los Angeles Police Department. These guys and gals are the "hunters" of the department. They hit the streets every night looking for gang members, guns, and dope. I love the fact that they are hungry. There is quite a bit of competition among them to make arrests and to get into good capers.

I give you this background because it is central to my story. It is also important to know that the task force is a temporary entity, focusing on the highest, most violent crime areas in the city. The officers assigned to the task force were chosen from the divisions within our area of operations. Their mission is to support the divisions through aggressive crime suppression.

A few weeks ago, a call came out of a 211 PC (robbery) in progress. When I arrived at the scene, a patrol sergeant from the division in which we were working was just coming out of the business that had been robbed. He related to me that his units and our task force units had arrived nearly simultaneously on a robbery in progress. Two suspects were in custody; a gun, money, ski masks, and property were also in custody. He stated, "Great teamwork between your guys and ours. This is a great arrest." I asked him who was handling and he told me that a patrol unit had the radio call and was already getting started on a field showup and collecting witness statements. Patrol units had chased and captured the suspects and a task force unit recovered a gun. "OK," I said. "Since you seem to be ahead of the game, you take it and we will give you a hand."

What I didn't know at the time was that two of the task force officers, Gonzalez and Aguirre, had actually been flagged down by a citizen and notified of the crime prior to the radio call being sent. They had initially set up on the location and started directing responding units. The cultural norm for our department is that the first officers take the paper.

After the suspects ran from the location, Gonzales and Aguirre helped to clear the location and then went to identify the robbers two blocks away.

Needless to say, when they returned, Gonzalez and Aguirre were upset at having their caper snagged out from underneath them. Now I was in a quandary. But after thinking about it, I decided to stick with my initial decision and let patrol handle it. My reasoning was as follows:

(1) Our mission is to support the divisions we are in. We could and would still help the patrol unit with the arrest and paperwork. (2) Our unit would still get credit for the arrest and they would be able to get back into the field more quickly.

(3) The task force officers have to go back to these divisions once the task force is finished. I don't want them to go back with a reputation that the task force was not a team player during our short existence.

Of course, the downside was that the officers were extremely irritated with me. I took them both aside and apologized for jumping the gun on my decision and explained to them my reasoning. Officer Aguirre and Officer Gonzalez were very respectful of my decision and I appreciated how they felt about the situation.

Still, over the next several days, I pondered the decision and questioned myself. My officers work hard and I thought I might have let them down. I went over the circumstances several times and decided that even if I had known the officers had been made aware of the robbery first, I still would have deferred to the division that owned the ground. I felt I had to look at the big picture and that the decision was the best for the task force and the patrol division.

There is more than one lesson in this story, but here are a few I came up with as I critiqued myself. I believe that good leaders should constantly and conscientiously review the decisions they make and look for ways to improve. We need to look for the leadership lessons in our own actions and those around us. We must come to terms with the fact that we are always putting ourselves "out there" to criticism and second-guessing by others. We will not and cannot always be right. Leaders should not have a problem with explaining their decisions and accepting constructive criticism. Above all, like any professional, a leader must always strive to improve his or her performance.

I am sure I could go on, but then what would I write about next month? Be safe and think leadership!

Tags: Command Staff, Leadership


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