During my recent trip to Las Vegas I met a good friend and former mentor. We talked about his ‘after-policing’ coaching prowess. My friend is a girls’ soccer coach and is also active in the Police Athletic League. When the topic switched to my column he said, “Norm, why don’t you write something positive about …” I knew exactly what he meant!
It is much easier to focus on the negative things (in our lives, at work, and in our current and past careers). As a police supervisor for a decade and a half I know that I tried to praise police officers who performed professionally and I did ‘lay paper’ on them! This means that I regularly took the time to write Commendations and Contact Reports to document excellent performance. I also put significant effort into completing the required performance evaluations for my officers. Just prior to leaving Metro as a lieutenant in 1996, I had completed a revamp of the Performance Appraisal System (PAS) and we emphasized that it was important to cite positive performance. I had always subscribed to the One Minute Manager style of leadership which included praising good work. I also liked the concept, “Catch a Cop Doing Something Right.”
My buddy has made his point. One of my ‘realities’ about the LVMPD is negative and bitter (after being raped of my profession just about six years ago). I can, however, choose to show some balance and shed light on the many outstanding men and women who I had the privilege to work with at the LVMPD. Metro has their own ‘media machine’ to promote themselves and it is operating at ‘full speed’ on social media and even their recruiting ‘binge’ on the marquees up and down the Strip. I hope that is ‘free’ advertising—wow, those are huge signs!
The vast majority of my peers did their jobs but also raised their families and did not draw attention to themselves via on-duty abuses, off-duty misconduct, or other scandals. It can’t hurt to share more of their stories and satisfactions during and after their careers. I plan to do more of this in the future so send me your stories!
Chief Mike Koval leads the Madison Police Department. He recently wrote about recognizing POSITIVE performance in his weekly blog. He uses green folders to track positive performance brought to his attention from various sources.
This week Koval wrote about how he declines offers from some cop shows to ‘shadow’ the MPD because his focus is on“the daily grind of providing service(s) to constituents who are struggling, really struggling, just to make it through another day or facing another trauma-inducing moment.”
He continues, “When exposed to the fragility of individuals at their most desperate hour, what is the immediate challenge to our officers? To embrace their role as guardians and respond to calls of ‘desolation’ (pain, sadness, anger, abuse, addiction, and chaos) with ‘consolation.’ No small feat. But in spite of all odds, our cops still amaze by rising to the occasion! They seek no accolades for a vocation that often ‘rewards’ nobility with graphic, haunting images of despair and echoes from critics pronouncing what the police ‘could have done or should have done’ differently. Ah yes… the wisdom of the Monday morning quarterbacks!
“Sometimes I’m inclined to wonder if our people can continue to dig deep in pursuit of our sacred mission: protecting and defending the vulnerable, voiceless, and invisible souls living in our midst. The ‘green’ folder provides just the elixir I need to give me a booster shot of validation; knowing that our people remain both resilient and resolved!”
Affectionately known as a “green” folder, Koval is referring to his last order of business on most days, which is to actually assess positive feedback. He reviews all of the COMPLIMENTS that have come to MPD’s attention through correspondence, phone calls, walk-in’s, emails, and our web site. He clearly notes that most policing does never makes an episode of ‘COPS’ but there are plenty of stories that will warm hearts and give hope (to all observers) that one officer can make a difference. He cited three positive stories in his blog and noted, “I had to say a prayer of thanksgiving for officers who viewed servicing… call(s) as an honor and a privilege.” Read that again, a modern police leader saying a prayer of thanksgiving for officers who viewed their SERVICE to be an honor and a privilege! Wow!—makes me want to sign up and try it all over again!
The most poignant story started as a dreaded ‘Internal Affairs’ complaint. A citizen alleged that an officer was seen using an official vehicle (a marked squad) to take his kids out for dinner. A fact-finding process started and, by assessing facts (not finding fault) Koval learned that the MPD was sent to an address involving a man yelling and banging on the complainant’s door.
Upon arrival, the officers could not calm him down, the man persisted in erratic behavior, and was ultimately placed under arrest (disorderly conduct). Given the fact that one of the officer’s recalled the man screaming about getting back to his children, this same officer decided to do some follow-up. The officer located an address and went to check on whether there were children at this location and conduct what we refer to as a “welfare” check. When the officer arrived, he saw two children locked out of the house (ages 5 and 7) and their mother did not respond to repeated knocks on the door.
Keys were obtained from management to check the welfare of the mother. Mom was not inside and was eventually located elsewhere, evaluated, and conveyed to detox. The officer now had to notify child protective services to secure a temporary placement for the two kids. This can take quite a bit of time and eventually someone driving from Milwaukee would accept responsibility for the kids. But it was getting late and the officer, a dad with kids himself, knew full well that the children on this call were hungry. So, as you probably surmised, the officer loaded the kids into his squad, drove them to a fast food restaurant, and bought them dinner! Give me “complaints” like this all day!
Does the LVMPD focus more on catching cops screwing up than doing the good work that is done? The general public probably doesn’t believe this, but many of us can attest to this fact! Sure there are Galas such as Best of the Badge and commendation ceremonies, but cronyism plays a big part in who gets recognized. The double standards abound! Bottom line… next time you see kids in a police car going through McDonald’s drive-thru, please don’t assume it is a ‘bad’ cop taking the family out for a ‘free’ dinner. You are more likely to be seeing a display of genuine ‘heart’ and compassion — which is why many of us selected this career in the first place!
Norm Jahn served with the LVMPD for over 21 years and achieved the rank of lieutenant. He also served as a police chief in Wisconsin for over three years. Jahn has been a university professor and also taught in the criminal justice program at the College of Southern Nevada for over a decade.