I’ve often listened to what is said about police chief candidates when a community is conducting a search for a new leader. I’ve studied how chiefs are selected for nearly 20 years. One of the phrases that is used (when the union or the vocal members of the department actually like and support the choice) is, “He is a cop’s cop.”
That is used as a term of endearment. But is it also a code phrase that describes the ‘competitive qualifications’ of candidates? Is the community going to get a PROMOTED POLICEMAN as the new chief or someone who has the qualifications and skills that far exceed the local ‘cop’ or tenured sheriff’s deputy?
A ‘cop’s cop’ is a term used to describe an individual that thinks like a street cop, acts like a street cop, and views the role of the police like a street cop. Descriptions that are used include; “He was a cop’s cop; he never forgot his roots, never forgot those people who helped him along the way and never forgot those people he worked with.” “He never forgot that he was a police officer, the guy out on the street, in the rain and the cold.” When you are the chief and the rank and file support you (maybe even like you) this popularity does not always translate into effectiveness and what is best for the
COMMUNITY. Some cops will respond, “It isn’t about the community — it is about a chief taking care of his own.”
We see it happening more and more. The police union tactic of taking a vote of no-confidence to put the police chief (often a new one) in his (or her) place. Who is supposed to be running our police departments — the unions or the appointed leader?
Suffice it to say that a ‘cop’s cop’ is NOT always the best person to be put in a position of leadership. There must be a transition into the role that is essential for modern police chiefs and a good example of this is what happened last week with the Phoenix police chief when he lost his job for standing up to the powerful union. LEADERSHIP takes courage. Losing your job does not mean that you weren’t a leader; I viewed it as a badge of honor because of the circumstances
(trying to serve the public instead of ourselves).
A promoted policeman could be described as a police officer who has been promoted to sergeant, lieutenant, captain, assistant chief, or police chief in most municipal departments. The rank structure varies in different departments, but in the LVMPD the highest three ranks are assistant sheriff, undersheriff and sheriff. Of course, the top dog is elected by the voters and that just happened in Clark County in November.
Debates (and probably a few fistfights) over police promotions have been taking place for decades. In some police departments promotions are based on seniority. This could mean whoever took up space the longest would get the next promotion. This is obviously not a good method. In other departments there are more formal systems that could be called merit-based promotions. Minimum qualifications are set for time in grade (how much experience you must have before qualifying — at Metro it’s currently six years on the job to take the sergeant’s exam). Minimum education requirements are also set and Metro is finally requiring more and more college to qualify to compete for promotion at each rank. At each higher rank there normally is a higher expectation and greater credentials are demanded.
The LVMPD requires competitive promotions up to the rank of captain.
After that, Sheriff Gillespie can ‘appoint’ whoever he wants — so long as they have reached the rank of captain. We always used to figure that you had to make it on your own up to captain and then you had to be a ‘buddy’ of the sheriff to advance any further. This does not always happen in municipal police departments. Some of them actually advertise for command ranks by looking outside their organizations.
They seek the ‘best and the brightest’ and often do not want to be burdened by in-house issues and drama. Many new police chiefs are allowed to bring in assistants and this certainly could help to transform a department (or reform it). I found out the hard way as a 36-year-old police chief in Shawano, Wisconsin. The department was in desperate need for change, but I was on an island because the next highest ranking member of the department had also wanted to be the
police chief. They hired this ‘outsider’ from Las Vegas and it didn’t go over well.
So why is it likely that being ‘buddies with the sheriff’ is going to get you appointed to an even higher rank than captain? Common sense dictates that there will be a comfort level between buddies.
Friendships rather than credentials are going to be important and embraced rather than balancing the YES MEN with independent thinkers, innovators, and dissenters. Kevin McMahill and Todd Fasulo are being promoted by Sheriff Lombardo, who we all know, is just filling the seat for Doug Gillespie. I don’t believe buddy promotions can happen
so much (if ever) in the military and obviously not in municipal police departments where there are more structured (and secure) promotional systems. Of course, any system can be compromised and
there have been ‘cheating scandals’ in most every police department in America at one time or another.
Here is an example of what can happen when strong ‘relationships’ are more powerful than integrity. I’ve heard from several sources that the questions on the LVMPD sergeant promotional written exam are exactly the same this year as they were last year. Everyone has that one ‘friend’ that they confide in, but they forget that secrets get repeated. If this is true and everyone gets the ‘notice,’ it may reduce the rigor of the testing process, but at least it is fair. If only certain ‘buddies of the regime’ who have consumed the Kool Aid about ‘relationship-building” get it, then it is entirely unfair.
Metro has an Office of Human Resources and a Civil Service Board that are supposed to oversee promotions — among other things. But what if they are just a rubber stamp for the sheriff? Rules can be changed to the benefit of your ‘buddies’ and then they can keep climbing ranks.
The LVMPD also now has an internal review board so some promotion hopefuls will never stand a chance. I can’t believe the unions have allowed this because there was once ‘outside’ oral board members and no internal review board. I am certain that I earned every promotion that I ever had at Metro (sergeant 1987, lieutenant 1992, and sergeant again in 2007). Nobody told me what to study or gave me any ‘inside’ information that may be rampant these days. I’m of the opinion that the promotional process was much more objective and secure when I experienced it than it is now. Some of those who would be called a ‘cop’s cop’ will never be allowed to proceed beyond the internal review if they refuse to sell their souls to the regime.
Bottom line: The leadership skills, experience, and qualifications needed to lead modern police departments are rarely to be held by a ‘promoted policeman.’
The next category of police chief would be described as a politician.
These are the folks that can blend in with elected officials and managers and get things done. Joe Lombardo will need to have some ‘political’ skills if he is going to get budget increases or More Cops support. Street cops use derogatory terms when describing their leaders and one of them is ‘politician.’
It is true that many former police ‘officials’ jump into politics. Stavros Anthony was a Metro police captain and is now a member of the City Council. Richard Perkins stayed in politics after he left the Henderson Police Department. Stan Olsen and Dave Kallas became lobbyists. I don’t recall all of the names and places but this happens in many cities.
Bill Bratton from NYPD (formerly NYPD and LAPD) would be called a ‘politician’ by many cops because he is so refined and rubs elbows with politicians all of the time. He is standing right next to his mayor (Bill De Blasio) during much of the turmoil in recent weeks.
Lots of street cops hate De Blasio for ‘throwing them under the bus’ and they probably don’t like (or understand) the role that Bratton must play. Anyone studying municipal police leaders (sheriffs can be a different beast) will realize that there are many different personalities and they run the gamut from north to south and from west to east (i.e., Daryl Gates, Bernard Parks, Willie Williams in LAPD and Lee Brown, Raymond Kelly, and Bernard Kerik in NYPD).
While the term ‘cop’s cop’ is a term of endearment (from the troops), the term ‘politician’ is most often used in a derogatory manner. There are at least two different perspectives here. Elected officials appreciate when the police leader has the maturity and sophistication to work with them instead of being a battering ram and being bull-headed. They may find this to be the case more with a ‘cop’s cop’ who has not gained all of the additional experiences and skills necessary to lead the largest police departments. They would like to view the police chief as a colleague rather than someone who is difficult to work with.
It is ironic that Larry Burns and Joe Lombardo recently had to be ‘politicians,’ as the term can be used, because they had to run for sheriff. Neither of them may actually have had the political skills necessary to navigate the Las Vegas City Council and County Commission — at least not right away. Municipal police leaders need the skills right away.
Over the weekend the police chief in Phoenix got fired. This is an example of how police chiefs are held accountable (the termination of Daniel Garcia may or may not have been justifiable) as compared to an elected sheriff who can do just about whatever he wants to do (i.e., Joe Arpaio in Maricopa County, Arizona).
Garcia got fired by a city manager. Just how long would Sheriff Gillespie or any of his predecessors have lasted if they could be hired and fired by a mayor or city manager? It is highly possible that they would not even get an interview for police chief in many municipal police departments. How would Gillespie fare if a police commission or a public safety director was responsible for the oversight of the police chief? I have met and personally know some very successful police chiefs who have navigated the ‘rapids’ in multiple departments and have national reputations as police leaders.
I guess what I didn’t do is ask them how they survived and listen to their advice!
Daniel Garcia was hired in Phoenix after a career with the Dallas Police Department. He was what is known as an ‘outsider’ and this causes significant problems. Garcia was ‘embattled’ over contract negotiations, a pending vote of no confidence (which can actually be an indicator that your police department is becoming more professional) and other issues. He spoke out when he was told (by his ‘civilian’ supervisors) to not speak out. Basically, he asked for some job security, a two-year contract (for him) so he had the stability to continue to make changes he felt were necessary. The powerful union
(probably a big campaign contributor and endorser like Las Vegas police unions) was trying to humiliate him and remove him with a vote of no confidence and other actions. It isn’t even a fair fight when the union members have so much influence and the new chief is not even from the community, but this is what it is going to take, more often than not, to have true change.
Garcia basically asked, “Does the police chief or the union run this department?” He was fired for insubordination (I was, too… Captain Todd False-ulo, who is now going to be an Assistant Sheriff, jumped two ranks since firing me).An insubordination termination does not mean that his actions were not based on his principles. He may have been serving the greater good (the community) and not sucking up to politicians or bowing down to the union. Of course the ‘suits’ claim that they can’t expect regular police officers to follow orders if the chief doesn’t. Another false narrative! What is most important is that Garcia took a stand and does not appear to have been a PRETENDER — which is the most base and disgusting type of police leader and will be the last classification that I address in this column.
Below is an excerpt of Garcia’s comments regarding recent developments in Phoenix: “The union actions have hurt the department’s image in our community’; they have damaged the reputation of our officers in this organization,” said Garcia.
Could the same thing be said about the police unions (PPA and PMSA) in Las Vegas? Look at the role that the PPA played in the recent election — some believe the PPA somehow sabotaged Larry Burns and their office-holders will be well received by the Lombardo administration.
Look at the role the PPA played in the discontinuation of the coroner’s inquest proceedings and what Metro officers are required to answer (or not) after use of deadly force. Look at how the PPA ‘hired’ Bryan Yant — they really didn’t hire him but both the PPA and Doug Gillespie had to be involved in the transfer.
There are too many pretenders in policing. They are the types of people that get promoted because they are golfing buddies or they worked in K-9 with the sheriff years ago. They neglected development of their professional skills (formal education, etc.) until it became an impediment to their own careers. They critiqued and judged others who chose a different career path or who had different aspirations.
These are the types of people that the street cops will say ‘changed’ when they got promoted because they were not true to themselves. You can be a ‘cop’s cop’ and make the transition to being a police chief and be true to yourself. This may alienate many of your former peers but it does not mean you should be condemned.
Pretenders have the ‘stars and bars,’ but often they did not earn them in the traditional way (through hard work, performance, and achievement). I listed the names of many current captains in the LVMPD who I know and have worked with in the past. How do the more senior (and seasoned) members of the LVMPD feel when the ‘New Kids On The Block’ (and they know who I mean) are promoted past them in total disrespect for their career contributions? I know how it feels to believe you are held in contempt and disdain by the Gillespie
regime… but I sleep a whole lot better than I would have if I was still a member of the LVMPD who had to conform to their self-serving system!
If you are a ‘true’ police leader you are not ONLY a leader in your police department, you are also a leader in the community, and your area of responsibility is public safety and TRUST. And by the way, you don’t have to achieve rank to be a professional and a police leader, which is the only reason that the LVMPD seems to be surviving these days.
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.