Friend, or Foe…Or, Neither?

I couldn't help but note how the absence of supervisorial intervention had played out for others elsewhere; how their failure to stem some cancerous problem exacted ever greater tolls later. What might have culminated with a written reprimand or a punitive day off instead ended up being the irrevocable loss of careers, families, and freedoms. A few employees ended up taking their lives.

Author Dean Scoville Headshot
I won't mention his name. For what it's worth, I suspect he will appreciate the anonymity. My reason for bringing him up is that I saw that he had recently celebrated his 25th anniversary with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's department. At one time, he wouldn't have made five years if I had anything to say about it.
He'd only been on the department about three or four years when our paths first crossed. At the time, I was a newly promoted sergeant and he was an inherited subordinate.

Extremely easy-going and blessed with a fine sense of humor, P. was hard-pressed to find people that didn't like him. Hell, even the inmates liked him. (The few that didn't like P. generally weren't fond of anyone else, either, and would be fairly characterized as misanthropes.)
There was only one problem I could find with P.. His attendance.
Over the 12 month period preceding my arrival, P. had called in sick in excess of over 60 work days. Do the math -­ that's the equivalent of three months work.
How  it was that nobody had addressed the situation was beyond me. Supervisorial cowardice? (Unlikely - P. was non-sworn and not particulalry intimidating. Hell, the deputies posed more of a threat to supervisors). Apathy? (If so, it's sad that the people who liked him didn't see fit to straighten out a guy who obviously needed the overture.) Whatever the reason, the one thing I did know was that he was now my problem and that any continued calling in sick by him would create staffing shortages and the need to occasionally draft pissed-off replacements for overtime.
Told that I was going to be monitoring his sick call-in's and given my reasons, P. said that he understood and would strive to show up for work with greater regularity. But after an almost embarrassingly short passage of time, just days, P. called in sick.
In attempting to verify the nature of the sickness , I ultimately tracked him down to where he was partying at a motel room in Las Vegas. That this discovery had been accomplished with no more than a phone in the watch sergeant's office proved a source of amazement to P., who flatteringly said he was surprised that I'd accomplished it. Regardless, at some level I'd taken his lie personally, my mindset being: Hey, I'd been straight with him. Why couldn't he be straight with me? (OK, if you've made up your mind to party in Vegas instead of going to work, you've pretty much committed yourself to having to lie. But still…) 
And so his fabrication found P. was saddled with an administrative investigation and put on an "improvement needed" program with an eye toward getting him terminated. I laid out what the department would expect of him in the future in the way of documentary needs should he call in sick thereafter. Then I sat back and waited for the next call-in.
And waited.

And waited.

And waited.
Before I knew it, a year had gone by and P. hadn't called in sick. Not once. Moreover, I couldn't find any indication that he'd tried to undermine me or my efforts on any other front, either.
My transfer back to patrol ended my time in custody and theoretically with P.. But lo and behold, guess who ended up transferring to the same station and found himself once again under the eye of his least favorite supervisor?
If our shared history afforded us the degree of familiarity with which to act friendly toward one another from the get-go, it'd also saddled us with a mutual guardedness. Was P. going to screw me over by resuming a pattern of sick call-ins? Was I going to go out of my way to get him fired?
It wasn't that I aspired to get employees fired. In fact, I may have gone above and beyond the call of duty a time or two in giving an employee the benefit of the doubt, given their subsequent transgressions (shame on me). But a vast majority of the time my suspicions of an emloyee's true value to the department and community were validated. And in any event, I'd rarely felt good at the misfortune of a deputy or civilian employee, save for those whose conduct was sufficiently reprehensible so as to negate my compassion.
Still, I couldn't help but note how the failure of supervisorial intervention had played out for others elsewhere; how its absence had allowed some cancerous problem to exact ever greater tolls later. What might have culminated with a written reprimand or a punitive day off instead ended up being the irrevocable loss of careers, families, and freedoms. A few employees ended up taking their lives.
I'd worked with some of these cautionary parables and heard of others. The deputy whose post-shift "follow-ups" with women encountered on patrol had garnered complaints but no administrative action. Emboldened by the plethora of amnesties, he escalated his campaign to on-duty sexual assaults that ultimately resulted in his receiving a fourteen-year prison term. Then there were the guys who took inordinate pride at their ability to chug and drive, only to find that they weren't as impervious to alcohol's effects as they'd imagined and that field amnesties by the fraternity can be tricky things. On other fronts, a single lie would evolve into many more, with even greater errors of judgment coming to light as these falsehoods were inevitably investigated.

True, P. had lied to me. But it's been my experience that in going up up against some skewed sense of self-preservation candor usually gets its ass kicked. And so with P., I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt, particularly as my freshest memory of him was how he'd apparently turned things around.
I was glad I did, too. P. did a great job in his capacity and was the only employee I supervised that went one from end of the evaluation spectrum ("Improvement Needed") to the other ("Outstanding").
But P. was hardly the only employee that rehabilitated his image in the workplace.  Others had stepped on their dicks like they were putting out fires but somehow succeeded in turning things around (true, this U-turn was sometimes no less difficult than that accomplished on the final lap at Indy).
Sometimes, it came down to a matter of maturization—the employee just needed to grow up, and did. On other occasions, some change in his or her working environment did wonders (they found themselves a niche in which they were better suited; irritant supervisors moved on). Whatever the cause, the change provided a changed attitude that helped foster a rehabilitated image in the eyes of those they worked with and worked for. 
As noted, it isn't easy. Hell, more than once I have found myself in need of a makeover (some contend I am now). Such are the reasons that I believe that every employee should periodically ask themselves some questions: Do I need to change (is the problem with me, or the SOBs who piss me off)? Do I want to change? Or is there a need for something else to change? If so, who are the change agents? Is there a mentor that can I seek out? Is that supervisor that's sticking his nose into my biz really my enemy? And that one that tends to let me slide, is he truly my friend?
When evaluated objectively, the answers may prove surprising. Reflecting back on my time with the department, I see now that some I'd perceived as allies were not; suspected enemies, anything but. If time doesn't heal all wounds, it may at least provide better clarity.

I'd hope that among those whose asses I'd chewed out for driving too fast, working too slow and taking too many short-cuts there would be those who'd arrive at similar conclusions. That I may not have been their buddy, but I was certainly not their enemy. Then again, they may just continue to write me off as an asshole.               
It's fair to say that if you work in the law enforcement profession that you are often acting in the role of a subordinate or supervisor. In either instance, I hope that you have a realistic appraisal of where you stand with others, and why. The why's can be myriad, and are as often as not due to the things that we don't do as much as those we do and may have all manner of shared culpability. But the one constant in the equation is you. And know that you will never have a better ally—or worse enemy—than that person.
As far as P. is concerned, I congratulate him for his anniversary with the department. Indeed, I'd wish him many more if I thought it would be as much a boon for him as it'd be for the department.
But that's fodder for another time.

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Author Dean Scoville Headshot
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