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Cop’s Eye View: The value of front line police leadership

By Danny McGuire

Five years ago, the writer of a Yahoo! News article ranked “Front Line Supervisors of Police and Detectives” as the No. 1 most stressful job in America.

The job description was defined by the writer as those who directly supervise and coordinate activities of members of the police force. It’s safe to say thing haven’t gotten much easier for people with official titles ranging from shift supervisor to corporal to sergeant or senior officers in charge. The title may differ, but the jobs are often the same.

These roles are not only one of the most stressful; they also are some of the most important positions within any law enforcement organization. I like to call these positions front line leadership, although that’s not just a law enforcement-centric. Such roles can also be found in the banking industry, education, athletics or just about any other organization that has multiple people working within it.

So what is all the importance and stress about? It is because the front line leader has the most direct contact with his/her charges and with the general public on a daily basis. For example, let’s consider the banking industry for a moment. If a bank customer has an issue with the teller, that person does not go directly to the bank president. In most situations, the complaint and will usually go to the teller’s supervisor or for our purposes here, the frontline leader.

To illustrate the importance of this role, I surveyed 500 people I knew with the rank of detective and/or police officers in the Chicago and Northwest Indiana area to learn about how much contact department leaders have with their charges on a daily basis. Of 262 responses, a majority said they never see their chief, deputy chief or other command level superiors.

On the other hand, when asked how many times during their regular tour of duty they have contact with their frontline leader, the responses were much different.

With everyone reporting they connect with their front line leader at least twice during their daily tour, it illustrates how engaged front line leaders are with those working a daily shift.

Lastly, I asked whether they felt front line leaders are the most important position during their shift. The responses overwhelmingly agreed.

That means the police officers working the street each day look at their front line leader as the most important individual in the entire department as it relates to carrying out their duties.

As usual, armed with this information I wanted to get the “Cop’s Eye View” and went out to meet with a group of coppers with varying experience from different departments. One thing they all had in common was their departments all had the rank of sergeant as their front line leader.

I asked the group about my survey and they agreed about seeing their sergeants at least twice a day. A couple of them elaborated.

One officer stated:

“Sarge is the man! Here’s the one I call for everything. I work midnights, so on the street, the Sarge runs the show. No matter the situation at hand, the Sarge is the one I call for. If he needs to call somebody, which is rare, he can do it,” one officer shared. “He is very confident and very empathic. He often shares his experience, and not a ‘war story I am the best’ arrogant kind of way. Rather, he is always teaching us something.”

Another officer chimed in to say their supervisor was a mentor and a coach.

“She has helped me through some very difficult times, both personally and professionally, and always offers assistance when I need it,” the officer explained. “I went through a pretty difficult time personally and during that time I also had some professional issues arise. She was always there for me at both levels. Just an incredible all-around person. And, her knowledge of the police department and the way things are done is unprecedented. I can only hope that someday if I ever make sergeant I can be as good as her.”

It all goes to show that the ones on the front line can have an important impact on the officers they oversee every day.

Danny L. McGuire, Jr. is an Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at National Louis University in Chicago, IL with over 20 years of law enforcement experience. Danny can be reached at dannymcg@dancamcom.biz or dmcguire3@nl.edu.

Read all of his Cop’s Eye View columns here.