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.
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.
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.
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.