When it comes to doing it right, sometimes it's what drops off the radar that speaks volumes.
Take, for instance, the Anaheim (Calif.) Police Department.
Doing it Right
In the aftermath of a series of officer-involved shootings, Anaheim PD had been dealing with a series of escalating protests outside of the Magic Kingdom. This was largely due to a synergy between a growing entourage of mercenary "if it bleeds, it leads" journalists and opportunists seeing their chance for a little TV time. Every day the local news would lead off with live footage of some picketing sign-bearing numb-nuts voicing his or her ill-informed opinion on recent police shootings.
Despite the amount of time that the news media was devoting to the protests there was a conspicuous gloss-over as to the precipitating rise in gang violence and murder in the weeks preceding the spate of officer-involved shootings.
But then August came, and with it, a major gang sweep months in the planning.
Almost overnight, the story fell off the radar. The protests have abated. The news media has slunk away.
I, for one, am happy as hell that the PD did what it did, when it did. While my suspicions are that it was more a matter of serendipitous timing than anything coldly calculated to deflect attention away from the protests, it had a desired end: It pretty much nipped the protests in the bud, at least for the time being.
But then I have never understood why so many police and sheriff's departments spend so much time in the thankless enterprise of kissing the news media’s ass (my reticence to do so no doubt factored in my shortened career as a department spokesperson). One day chiefs and sheriffs will learn that the journalists they kowtow to will abandon them as readily as they will some short-term cause célèbre.
Never having worked a "ghetto" station, I was curious about the experiences of those deputies and police officers who had. I would ask them if they had a hard time with the locals, my implicit speculative take having been heavily colored by the news media and film. Invariably, their response was "no."
A common reply was along the lines of, "Actually, most of the citizens were highly supportive of us. I met some great people and they would even have us over for dinner. But then, they weren't the ones that you saw on television. It was always the self-proclaimed community activist that was stirring things up, claiming to be speaking on behalf of others when he wasn't."
I guess the question I would ask these folks in Anaheim is, "Are these protestors really speaking on behalf of locals? Or just stirring things up?"
Then there is the other end of the spectrum...
Doing it Wrong
I heard from an LASD friend who'd fallen prey to a campaign of vindictiveness being orchestrated by a cadre of supervisors. According to him, he’d made the mistake of pissing off a sergeant who, in turn, decided to sic his fellow supervisors on him.
What the precipitating offense was I don't know, and I suppose one can arbitrarily discount my friend’s account as sour grapes. For what it's worth, I'd be lying if I said I had any idea what the other camp's side of the story is.
But I would not be lying to say that I have seen and heard of similar campaigns myself. Nor were these campaigns confined to sergeants indulging in a shark-feeding frenzy of deputies. For as people tend to ascend upward, so do their tendencies, and lieutenants were known to go after sergeants with the same kind of zeal.
I worked with a sergeant who'd related to me his victimhood at the hands of a number of them at Industry Station. He told me how, shortly after his transfer to the station, he and another sergeant were asked to evaluate the deputies for training officer selection. They were assured that their input would be confidential as the requesting lieutenant wanted candor in the appraisals. The sergeants gave the man what he wanted.
Later, both sergeants were fronted off by deputies in separate parking lot incidents. It turned out the lieutenant had turned around and made their candid appraisals of the deputies known to each. The sergeant I worked with subsequently found himself in a bind one night and noticed a conspicuous silence on the part of deputies responding to his request for assistance. The sole deputy who did respond told him that a majority of the deputies hated and distrusted him.
(Putting myself in their shoes, I'd feel ambivalent. There were supervisors that I would have been, in the common parlance of the department, "disinclined to piss on their graves." But I don't think I'd help one of them end up in one by failing to assist the SOB if he desperately needed it).
From then on, that sergeant began a campaign to foster better relations with the deputies, and the next time he was asked for his input on training officer selection, he gave all the candidates high marks.
This pissed off the lieutenant, who thought the sergeant was disrespecting him. The lieutenant’s ire was further provoked when the sergeant went to bat for a deputy he was intent on giving an outstanding evaluation, but whom the lieutenant characterized as a "player capable of playing all the positions who never comes up with the big play."
Instead of seeing the sergeant's efforts as those of a supervisor going to bat for one of his men, he saw them as the actions of a subordinate going against his will. From then on, the lieutenant pretty much made it known that he would do anything necessary to keep the sergeant from promoting.
The lieutenant then had five of his peers pool their considerable venom in preparing a 20-page malediction of an evaluation on the sergeant.
This was apparently the kind of evaluation that would just break a guy's spirit. The sergeant received his first example of the lieutenant's wrath when he received a "competent" evaluation from the man—down from a "very good" the previous year.
Although the evaluation had been due the previous month, the lieutenant had held onto it and instead gave it to the sergeant a week before he took his orals on the lieutenant's examination.
Completely demoralized, the sergeant got little sleep the week before the exam, and its effects on his performance were predictable.
Still, he talked a 90 score.
The lieutenant had allegedly couched his bets by whispering into the captain's ear, and the sergeant received only an 85 on his appraisal of promotability, thereby leaving him completely out of the running.
Distraught, the sergeant turned to another lieutenant who, in the guise of father confessor, encouraged the depressed man to "open up" and confide in him. Incredibly—I say incredibly, as this lieutenant had been one of the chosen five peers to pencil-**** him in the first place—the sergeant did so, in effect feeding information to a parrot that, in turn, passed the sergeant’s laments to his personal Torquemada.
A year later, history repeated itself with the sergeant getting another demoralizing "competent" evaluation. But this time it was with the father confessor lieutenant's signature.
According to the sergeant, "Lt. Torquemada" got a lot of malicious satisfaction in telling him to read the results. Now.
The man had characterized the sergeant as a supervisor who kissed off stuff to peers and who never took chances.
Now at this point, you are probably reasonably asking why the hell I should believe this man's version of events. A fair question. I will only burden you with two answers.
First, I saw how this sergeant worked, and was witness to multiple occasions where he'd gone above and beyond the call of duty in helping his peers and subordinates. He took chances and deserved more of a pay-off for them.
Second of all, I was likewise witness to how the ticked off lieutenant conducted himself and I gave the man a wide berth, content to experience his terrors vicariously through the stories of sergeants like the one herein as well as others. I would even consider including the man's name here save for the facts that he's passed on; it'd have no meaning to those who didn't know him; those that did no doubt know who I am speaking of anyway.
That isn't to say that things weren't at least contemplated at the sergeant's level during my 13 years at the station. Indeed, there were occasional attempts at "supervisorial solidarity" at the sergeant rank. Usually they came in the aftermath of multiple supervisors dealing unsuccessfully with some recalcitrant offender. It was thought that a united show of force by the sergeants would induce greater compliances by subordinates. The term "Sergeants Incorporated" was bandied about. But as mutual respect among supervisors was occasionally lacking, so, too, was any reciprocal loyalty among the three-stripers and the idea didn't get much traction.
For the most part, I didn't regret it. True, it probably meant dealing with ongoing problems a little longer than I might have had to otherwise, but at least I didn't feel like I was party to some William Golding dystopia a la "Lord of the Flies." Besides, I have found that the truth will inevitably bear itself out.
Lifeline or Anchor?
And sometimes the truth is that the guy who is screwing up today might just clean his act up later. I have known more than one deputy who was even on my **** list and whose surly attitude was common knowledge around the station. Often, it was because he'd been denied transfer to a choice assignment, or been given a poor evaluation of some manner which hampered his chances to promote. It's hard to know the reason.
Sometimes, it was even because of the kind of vindictive campaigns I've addressed here.
But a surprisingly high percentage of the time someone would give these same malcontents an opportunity to salvage their careers and reputations and run with it. They were able to rehabilitate their images and their careers and start anew. Such are the advantages of working for a large department. I don't doubt that things can be much more difficult for those working at a smaller PD.
In any event, my question is, if given the opportunity to make a difference in one of these people's lives, are you more apt to toss a lifeline or an anchor?
I hope that the episode that fomented this little reflection proves such a bump in the road for my friend, and nothing more.
Before You Scold Me
On a related note, the other day I clicked a link on a friend’s Facebook page to read a blog post called "The 10 Commandments of Pet Ownership."
Item number 8 particularly struck me:
"Before you scold me for being lazy or uncooperative, ask yourself if something might be bothering me. Perhaps I'm not getting the right food, I've been out in the sun too long, or my heart may be getting weak."
As I read this, I wondered how many of us are as conscientious about considering what might be negatively affecting those more intelligent lifeforms about us.
Until next time...