By Sergeant Phil Jones
Washoe County (Nev.) Sheriff's Office
Risk in law enforcement has become a tricky subject. Somewhere along the line, we began believing we could eliminate it all together. If we wanted to reduce it to the point of null, we would stop turning on our overheads for traffic stops, continue to lunch when there’s a shots-fired call, or offer advice over the phone for domestic disturbances instead of going to the location and investigating.
We’ve learned our lessons on tactics with active assailants. We now react immediately, knowing full well we must take risks to reduce the risk to others. But on almost all other calls, we’ve begun thinking of the liabilities — or damage to our career — before thinking of those we serve.
By always thinking only of risk first and task second, we end up drowning in so much “what if” that we end up doing a disservice to the public.
Real World Risk
When a critical event takes place in law enforcement, it rarely goes as planned. From something as simple as a high risk stop, to a critical incident, naysayers inevitably will come along and point out all that went wrong in great detail.
These types of people, in general, will take the path of least resistance by finding fault. Anyone can sit in the de-briefing, point out what went poorly, and pontificate how they would do it better the next time. We have all worked for Monday morning quarterbacks. The true supervisor takes these events as an opportunity to educate a large group, not just the ones involved in a particular incident.
We serve the community, so all of us must understand that we will have to take risks to accomplish our mission. We know that someone will come along and place blame for taking too much or too little risk. As a supervisor, we must resist that. Train your people for the next one, and never complain down.
When the event is finished, I would suggest using a T chart to divide it up and, not just what went right on the left, and wrong on the right. It should be divided into what we control and what we can’t. We do not have the luxury to blame anything when the first round is fired, or when people call for our help.
We must protect and serve, and leave it up to others to place the blame — we know they will!
If the sheep could protect themselves, they wouldn’t be sheep. Don’t handle an incident worrying about who will be blamed later, or how it will affect your career.
Rather, take care of the community you swore to serve.
Then, after, take care of your people by being calm and shouldering the negative responses from those who micromanage after the fact.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not talking about going rogue or being the wild-eyed cop. But we have to remember, we have to lead as supervisors; and sometimes, that means into harm’s way, not safely away from it. That includes the critical incidents, and your career path.
Train hard. Stay safe
About the Author
Sergeant Phil Jones has 19 years on in Reno. He has worked Patrol, Gang Unit, SWAT, K9, Interdiction, and is a Critical Incident Trainer.