The Problem Isn’t Promotions

Cops everywhere tend to share the same troubles, grips, and complaints. Whether talking to a deputy from rural Montana or a patrolman walking a beat in Times Square the places and names may be different, but the message is often the same. One of the most common messages involves that supervisor who should not be a supervisor and typically centers around how “that guy” was able to work the system and rise to power without being qualified. But it that really the problem?
I admit over the course of my career I have work with supervisors who probably shouldn’t have been in charge of a hot dog sale. Like many others, I often looked for fault in the system that allowed these officers to become bosses – the testing or lack thereof, the fact that they avoided trouble by never doing anything to begin with or even the good old boy network that “took care of them”. But now that I am myself “a boss” I have come to understand that there is another side to the story.

Yes, testing can be a problem and allow those who can write a good score but are not capable of using the information to rise up the ranks. Sure, there are also those who had a shining complaint-free record when on the street and use this to promote their decision making, when in fact they did everything possible to avoid making a decision. I also cannot deny that some departments still suffer from an internal “who you know, not what you know” promotion method. But this in only what gives poor performers to advance- it is not what allows them to remain in those positions. While you can blame those who promoted them for giving them a chance when it comes to why they are still there the fault lies with those who will not demote them.

So why are demotions so uncommon?

1. Failure is not an option- departments fear to acknowledge that they may have promoted the wrong person, believing that this will tarnish the selection process. So, instead of admitting a mistake was made they allow unqualified or ill-suited selectees to continue in the position no matter what.

2. Those promoted do not ask for it – some departments may be willing to allow a newly promoted officer to return to a previously held position if they would request it. But the problem with many unqualified bosses is they fail to recognize they are unprepared so they personally are in no position to request such a transfer.

3. Such a move would ruin a career- very few officers are promoted after an otherwise lackluster career, somewhere along the way they distinguished themselves by some means. Chances are they would have been successful is they had remained in their previous position, but moving down the ladder will surely ruin them even if it was voluntary.

I know demotion even among supervisors can be difficult. This is especially true in larger departments with powerful unions or labor relations organizations. But it is not impossible. Leaders have the responsibility to provide leadership, not just bodies in seats, and if those given that responsibility are not up to the task they should be removed. There also need to be viable opportunities for voluntary demotion available, a way in which a newly promoted officer can gracefully bow out and return to a field positions WITHOUT ruining the rest of their career.

Not everyone is meant to lead and not every leader is successful. Sometimes this happens due to a fault in the system and sometimes experience points out personal shortfalls. In either case command staff level leadership owes it to their department to correct a wrong when it is recognized.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Tom Burrell

Tom Burrell

Tom enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves in 1987. Following service in Desert Storm, he transitioned to active duty with the US Coast Guard. In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position in conservation & maritime law enforcement. Tom is currently a Captain and he oversees several programs, including his agency investigation unit. He is also a training instructor in several areas including firearms, defensive tactics and first aid/CPR. In 2006 Tom received his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Harrisburg Area Community College and in 2010 a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University.
Tom Burrell
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