the team will do next. The next ‘play’ is called and the team breaks the huddle and goes out and executes the play.
Prior to the huddle there were tryouts, training camp, practices, a playbook, depth chart, a game plan, and dozens of team meetings. There
were lots of meetings with specialty units and also lots of time watching videos.
So what does the general public know about how police officers prepare before they go to work each shift? One of the first glimpses I ever
had of a police briefing was during ride-alongs when I was in college.
I then watched Hill Street Blues and saw similar ‘police’ shows where it appears the police officers are going over their ‘game plan’ for the day. But the big ‘myth’ is that this IS occurring and that cops are given critical officer safety information and information to fight crime and apprehend suspects… when the ‘reality’ is that more often than not, only a minimal amount of information is conveyed. I always felt there wasn’t enough preparation for duty in briefings and this was inexcusable!
The general public does not know that a police supervisor (sergeant) has between 8-14 officers working for him. Once briefing is completed,
the officer frequently will have no personal interaction with a supervisor for the entire shift. It is possible that the sergeant will show up on a car stop or on a high priority call. They are required to show up when there is a use of force or a citizen complaint.
Supervisors then see their officers at de-briefing (the end of the shift when the police reports are reviewed). Members of the community need to know that officers are largely unsupervised during their shifts.
So what is covered in a patrol briefing? Officers learn their assignment for the shift which normally includes being given a call sign and a sector/beat to patrol in their area command. They also hear about major crimes that have occurred during prior shifts. They should
also hear about officer safety information and lessons learned from unusual incidents as soon as possible. Officers share information through a “Multi-Media Patrol Briefing System.” Additionally, they hear about policy and procedure changes and other important information within the organization. I always emphasized that the most important part of the shift was patrol briefing! Others, including Sheriff Gillespie, apparently don’t see it that way. They just ‘talked’ a big game but didn’t (and still don’t) CARE enough to commit to better preparation for officers every shift.
The reality is that supervisors are rushed out of briefing — usually their officers must be logged on to the radio and ready for calls within 30 minutes. The shift getting ready to finish for the day often stops ‘working’ so they can finish reports and go home on time.
Officers often never hear the details or critiques of important incidents (shots fired by police, pursuits, barricaded suspects) because there is just not enough time dedicated to preparation and review. Officers miss information on major incidents at their station and in the valley — which now consists of eight or nine area commands.
I know that I often learned more from the news (TV) than from sitting in a briefing room. We also solved some serious crimes by watching
video that made its way to the media (i.e., the homicide of 95-year-old Bertha Meier during a purse snatch in a grocery store parking lot) rather than from information provided by our own department. There are many examples of this. Some cops care to be prepared… others just want to get on the streets and out of sight of supervisors.
So what is a supervisor to do when he has as many as 14 officers to prepare and supervise for 10 hours? Worse yet, what is he or she to do
when the other sergeant(s) might be on vacation or at training and you end up with a single supervisor for 20-30 officers on a shift? Does
this sound like a good situation? When our police have the power to take away LIBERTY or take a LIFE, shouldn’t they be as highly prepared
as possible (not just at the academy, but before every shift)? NOBODY can honestly tell citizens in Las Vegas that patrol briefings are as
effective as they need to be!
Current technology allows officers to see pictures of suspects and videos of crimes but nothing replaces a commitment to quality. Rushing
officers out to the streets with minimal preparation (NO game plan) is crazy. I remember very clearly the time when I didn’t even know that
we could no longer use the taser (electronic control device) on a suspect in handcuffs even though that procedural change had taken place several months prior. I tried to stay up to date and be a conscientious and professional officer but it is really impossible unless there is time to read new procedures, discussing scenarios, and clarify expectations. It is also difficult to change without having the time to practice or role play or do dynamic training.
Most patrol squads get a training night ONCE per month! When a new sergeant is promoted, his/her first opportunity to really meet and
make an impression on a squad could be several weeks after they start working together. The interaction between a police supervisor and a
squad of officers does not even compare to that of a coach/player.
Again — policing involves important decisions and high risk activity but the status quo will remain until true leaders change it. The public would be startled and disappointed if they knew how little ‘game planning’ was taking place in many police departments.
I tried to focus attention on the importance of patrol briefings. I did this as a supervisor and I even offered to do it when I was on relief of duty—waiting for the orchestrated termination to come down from Sheriff Gillespie. Instead of staying home (with pay) for 18 weeks, I suggested that I could make the rounds at each briefing and put on a presentation about the importance of briefings. I had a ‘program’ that I had been working on for several years that included ‘success stories’ for fighting crime by being informed. My offer was promptly rejected — they didn’t want a sergeant who couldn’t tell the truth about “crossing the street” going around trying to improve effectiveness and officer safety.
I still have lots of documents that I prepared and forwarded up my chain of command well before they decided that I would no longer wear
a badge. Just two weeks before crossing the street, I provided the following input in response to Captain Fasulo’s requests to supervisors.
Regarding PATROL BRIEFINGS: Should be conducted by a sergeant every shift (A/S Moody’s position). The most important part of our day!
Sergeant returning from RDO’s can update his squad more extensively… leaving the other squad to spend less time in briefing on items
already covered. Outstanding results when done consistently and correctly (this is the game plan for the shift). Information sharing is important… develop criteria for what is mandatory entry material.
Officer safety information is often presented… keep our officers safe. We need at least 30 minutes — if we are expected to cover directives etc… Many officers are not keeping up with directives now… because they don’t check their e-mail and we don’t distribute or always read new directives to them. Lots of important information is not getting delivered. Debriefings are also very important…
secure times need to be established and officers should be required to check e-mail before they get dismissed at the end of a shift (30 minutes early every day for some officers who also want an E/O on their training days).
I even tried writing a procedure to formalize the process and make more uniform at all area commands: It is the policy of this department to provide timely information to employees for fighting and reducing crime, for enhanced officer safety, and for sharing important administrative information. CRITERIA FOR ENTRY IN ELECTRONIC BRIEFING SYSTEM Information on major incidents, crimes committed, and where there is a need for investigative follow-up will be entered into the EBS by individual officers (or at the direction of supervisors) prior to securing at the end of the shift. Officers will enter the information and supervisors will approve and monitor the entry in conjunction with the report review and approval process at debriefing.
This fell on deaf ears. It was more ‘sexy’ for support to be given to ‘going Rambo’ than planned and effective policing.
I even created checklists to be used by supervisors and at the top of each briefing checklist was the ‘vision’ for the LVMPD which was TO BE
THE SAFEST COMMUNITY IN AMERICA. The truth of the matter is that Metro was not doing enough — not even pretending to have high quality briefings each shift and the community has paid the consequences.
I also proposed that we move toward PREPARED POLICING WITH A PLAN where I wrote: We can be more PREPARED to Police with a Plan when we strive to have more informative briefings and if we are able to leave briefing knowing not only where crimes have already happened, but also, know who we need to be watching, where they are living, and what vehicles they are driving. If we wanted to start with requiring that
information regarding arrests for ACTION CRIMES is to be entered ASAP we would have much better prepared officers. We could even have a
light duty officer do Patrol Briefing entries (for CCAC only) after reviewing reports in the wire basket each morning.
I was repeatedly commended for my contributions to the patrol briefing system by my direct supervisor but he paid the price for supporting me— quite a pathetic state of affairs!
Before closing, I just don’t want to miss the opportunity to cite an outstanding article by Dale Stockton that I just saw in a police magazine. It was entitled, LET THEM SHINE and contained a subtitle: Rather than feeling threatened, leaders should recognize talent, hard work & creative energy.”
Here are some excerpts:
“We eat our own, he said. I clearly recall my former chief making this comment several years ago. Law enforcement has a tendency to embrace the negative and minimize the positive when it comes to our own people, he was saying. This would seem out of place in a profession
that claims to encourage personnel to improvise and empower them with autonomy.”
Stockton also wrote about having lunch with a respected law enforcement trainer who was getting ready to retire. The trainer had created a booklet about the laws of power. The first law—Never outshine the master — don’t look better than your boss or else you’ll pay the price. So true as applied to the megalomaniacs at Metro!
He went on to explain that he was a little skeptical but then he remembered the comment about “eating our own” from his former chief.
He thought back on the people he’d known over the years who’d been taken for granted or held back by their agency. By the end of the week
at a training conference he heard from several superb trainers “Who had been minimized or outright disenfranchised by agencies that they’d
served for most of their adult lives.” He asked, how could this be?
Why do we do this?
He went on to offer an explanation:
“Maybe (police) are just hardwired to embrace the negative and slow to acknowledge the positive, let alone believe that someone with whom we work might actually be really good at what they do.” As a sage once told him, “No one shoots at a burned-out light bulb.”
Reflecting on what the 30-year veteran had said about ‘outshining the master’ and how it could deal a death blow to your career, he asked,
“Are there really LE leaders out there who are so insecure, so self-indulgent, that instead of supporting individual growth, they stifle and discourage?” Unfortunately, he concluded the answer was YES.
Stockton concluded; “This is wrong. It counters everything that good leadership demands. Those who have a position of authority have a
responsibility to their subordinates and their organization to encourage development of expertise. They must expand skill sets to improve the overall capabilities of the agency. Rather than feel threatened because they might not know as much as a developing specialist, leaders should recognize talent, hard work and creative energy. Doing so motivates others, and nothing improves the reputation of an agency more than quality people with specialized skills that can benefit other departments when needed. Think of individual proficiency and capability as a resource that can pay tremendous dividends — not as competition. Rather than feeling threatened, leaders should be proudly promoting those who excel. Doing otherwise isn’t only selfish and short-sighted, it’s foolish.”
I think it is a legitimate question for the remaining sheriff candidates to be asked about personnel management, promotions, discipline, and PREPARING their officers for each shift, but it seems that these ‘internal’ issues are rarely addressed. Readers, feel free to ask Larry Burns and Joe Lombardo some specific questions about topics like these the next time you have an opportunity to do so — and see if they give you an answer or dance around the ‘meat’ of the problems at Metro.
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Norm Jahn is a former LVMPD lieutenant, who has also served as a police chief in Shawano, Wisconsin, and has nearly 25 years of police
experience. Jahn now contributes his opinions and ideas to help improve policing in general, and in Las Vegas in particular, through
his weekly column in the Las Vegas Tribune.