Take care of your officers
By Brandon Elliott

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This is a message to all you sheriffs, chiefs and administrative officers. You ladies and gentlemen have a tough job keeping the ship at sail and the waters smooth. It takes a vast amount of experience and calculated thinking to be the heads and executive officers of your agencies.

What I want to address is what often gets lost in the bureaucracy that is police administration: taking care of the men and women who serve at your behalf. You may automatically think I am talking about pay and benefits. Although those are very important issues, that is not the focus of this article. This article is about your relationship with your officers, the dynamic of your agency and being the leader your officers need.

This topic came to me while fishing through the Internet. I stumbled upon a heart-warming article about a recently retired Sgt. Karen Krahn of the Madison Police Department in Wisconsin. Sgt. Krahn served for 18 years with the agency during which time she had an admirable career. Unfortunately she developed cancer, which forced her retirement. The department continues to take care of her to this day, boosting her morale and celebrating her career.

Recently she took a turn for the worse and was in need of hospice care. The department responded by going to her residence and giving her a full motorcade escort, complete with cruisers, motor units and mounted patrol, from her home to the hospice center. They then awarded her with the department's "courageous service award" and presented it to her during a private ceremony with family and friends at her hospice bed. I would love to shake the hand of Chief Noble Wray of the Madison Police Department and commend him for his approach to his officers and his community.

This is what I mean about taking care of your officers. The officers who work under you are not your subjects to be ruled over; they are the wheels that move your agency forward. They are the people who lay it all down every day for you. Taking the time to talk to them, learn from them and care for them is what they want from you. The men and women in your ranks spend as much time wearing the uniform of your department as they do with their own families. They should be treated as family at work just as at home.

Trust is key. Trust your people to do what's right, trust that they know what they are doing and can perform their duties without micromanaging their every move. Keep up their morale by keeping in touch with them and motivating them to make something more of their career. Cultivate the learning process, discipline when necessary, but commend frequently.

Most importantly, keep and open mind and back them up should complaints arise. There is nothing worse then an administrator who is so liability-conscious that he or she fails to back up a fellow officer. Sometimes the officer is wrong and deserves punishment, most of the time it's false and the officer should be backed up until proven otherwise.

The positive effect of having a relationship like this with your officers will be astounding. You will have fewer disciplinary issues and higher productivity. You will have highly skilled officers who are proactive and who make sounder judgments. The community will get their money's worth from these officers and you.

Letting your officers know you support them by having a real relationship with them will create the morale and dedication needed to gain their support for you. This helps everyone involved. It will improve their performance and psychological health, and it will improve the way you run the agency, which creates better results for the public. If you understand this, you will take a long look at your agency and make adjustments if needed. Chief Noble Wray of the Madison Police Department understands it. Now it's your turn.

Brandon Elliott is a 10-year officer in a busy East Coast resort police department. Brandon has experience in investigations, counter-narcotics, patrol and training. He holds a degree in criminal justice, as well as certifications as a police instructor and field training officer. Brandon is currently the head of his organization's reserve officer program and serves his organization as an FTO.