Thursday, April 10, 2014

Do Police Officers Change After Being Promoted?

Edward Brown, M.S.

Becoming a police supervisor is an enviable accomplishment in a police officer’s career.  Merely going through the promotional process says a lot about the drive, determination and responsibility on the officer’s part.  But, does something happen to some police officers when they become promoted to supervisor?  Does the desire for power shift the camaraderie they once enjoyed with their co-workers?  Can you become a police supervisor and still remain grounded?

Edward Brown, M.S., of Core Edge Police Professional Development provides questions and answers about the psychological and emotional considerations endemic within police promotions.

Q: What differences have you seen when some officers got promoted?

Brown: Some differences included officers who engaged in regular brotherly love, and said they would remain unchanged, if they ever got promoted.  Interestingly, these were the officers who changed the most when they got promoted.  It’s understandable that management requires a different set of responsibilities.  However, some of these new supervisors became the worst to work with.  Eminent economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen said that the lower echelon (rank and file) never want to destroy a system (even if it’s unjust), because their value system is the same as the upper class (management).  Consequently, when employees, who once felt disempowered in the past, receive power, they are the biggest protectors of a system.

Q: What’s your take away from Veblen’s analysis?

Brown:  Essentially, that officers, who are the most outspoken about Pro-officer issues, want more power and control over their professional lives irrespective of any injustices they might have once felt.  Instead of destroying the dispassionateness of a system, they want to join it.

Q: Is desiring more power a bad thing?

Brown: No, it’s not.  There wouldn’t be any police supervisors, if all officers opted not to advance within the hierarchy.  Who would be tomorrow’s leaders and managers?   But, sometimes newly promoted supervisors go overboard to maintain their positions at the behest of demotivating personnel.  Invariably, they can be effective managers, as well as, morale builders, if they attain the employee motivational skills necessary to successfully engage with people.

Q: So, an “Us against them” struggle emerges between officers and police management, because of the need for power by some supervisors?

Brown: In minor situations. But, I wouldn’t go that far as a whole.  I’m referring to those officers who pledged that they would never forget the challenges of being an officer once they got promoted and seemingly did the reverse.  The role and mentality of officers versus management causes a natural schism.

Q: What do you mean?

Brown: I did my master’s thesis on the impact of the officer-centric style of management compared to the command style (autocratic) on police departments.   I wanted to explore if it would be better to make operational decisions from the bottom up or top down within the police hierarchy?  Based on surveying officers and supervisors within 14 police departments within the state of Georgia, it was clear that information should come from the rank and file for departmental decision making, but cyclically.   In short, data or intelligence should come from the ground troops and should be used by command staff for daily decision-making.  Information should also travel back down to the troops to ensure effective and proper responses and procedures.  This “Yo Yo” effect would serve as a means of continuous communication up and down the chain.  The challenge becomes where you sit within the hierarchy.  There’s a saying that “Where you sit is what you see.” The long-term, strategic considerations made by police chiefs superseded daily functional decisions made by police officers.  The Chief's role is to consider issues of liabilities, politics, and budgets; whereas, police officers have limited responsibilities in these areas.  These critical areas then become the sticking point for what is deemed fair and equitable.

Q: So, the mentality of police officers and management were different because of objectives?

Brown: They all are playing on the same team, but don’t always read from the same playbook.  Or said another way, there is a communication void.  Police chiefs reported that they could do a better job of communicating operational procedures (“Why we are doing what we are doing”).  But, resigned to communicate on a need to know basis.  Chiefs said that they were committed to staving off daily political battles for police officers by politicians and citizens. Some chiefs said that police officers may never hear about a politically motivated complaint lodged against officers.  This was one way of chiefs protecting police officers.

Q: It seems that we have gone a long way from what happens to some newly promoted officers to the concerns of police chiefs.  How do we reconcile this disconnection?

Brown: Perhaps, in the police academy and in-service training, a basic management class should be part of the curriculum. Not only would everyone understand what leading/management means and entails, but a “gut check” for those who aspire to climb the hierarchy.  This will definitely quiet the false promises and expectations of officers who claim to do so much good for other officers once they become promoted. If everyone is aware of the responsibilities of managing, it would bridge the communication divide and help management do their job more effectively.  Police officers would then have realistic ideas and expectations of what promotions mean.  In theory, understanding and awareness should go a long way in managing unrealistic expectations.

For more information on ways for improving departmental communication, click here:

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