Never overlook the value of technique; the skillful or efficient way of doing or achieving something. The detail of good technique may seem trivial, but mastering a critical task is a sizeable step towards demonstrating effective leadership. This post will review performance issues and techniques for police chiefs and senior commanders on the receiving end of middle of the night calls invariably involving emergencies and other bad news.
The first step is to practice a state of readiness. For the chief or senor commander that involves a bedside check. Is your telephone in working order with a pen and writing pad close at hand? Is your mind clear? There is no predicting when the calls will come so every night is the same routine.
When the telephone interrupts your sleep, swing your feet out of bed and plant them firmly on the cold floor and stand up. Put on the light. Now you are alert. Answer in a tone that is crisp and professional. The person calling you is often in a state of excitement. You must sound calm and composed. Make detailed notes for accurate case management. Ask questions to gain the best possible understanding of events.
If you are chief in a jurisdiction with an outside investigative agency dealing with serious injuries to persons as result of police action and the situation warrants, call the agency personally. Do not delegate. This puts you squarely in the picture as an active participant. If the outside agency will carry out an investigation, you must still decide if a parallel investigation is needed. Ensure that experienced investigators are called out, briefed and assigned.
Attending the Scene
Decide if you need to attend the scene. If it is an officer down situation, no question: you either go to the scene or to the hospital. Always be there if it sounds like a sticky situation where the critical interests of the service, the community or the well-being of one of your officers is at risk. Select your clothing carefully. You could end up on television or in an impromptu conference. Uniform is never wrong, and a shirt, tie and jacket will take you most places. What you don’t want is to appear disheveled or dressed too casually. Remember that you may not be returning home until the end of the next working day.
First task at the scene is an updated briefing from the on-site commander. Next is to speak with the involved officer(s), checking on their well-being and assuring them of support while avoiding any exchange of details that could be evidentiary. No need to insert yourself into the investigation. Visiting the scene gives you a sense of the environment, topography and lighting conditions, all useful details when later you must account for police actions or make critical decisions on disposition. If the incident is on-going, such as an active shooter, avoid distracting the tactical team. They must make critical decisions based on preparation and their leader’s judgment. This is always a sensitive issue and chiefs are tempted to become directly involved. Usually that is a bad idea. If the best training and equipment has been provided, and the best leadership selected, chiefs should trust their people. Getting information to next of kin is often overlooked in a tactical event. The chief should ensure this is carried out.
If the situation warrants, call out the public affairs officer to get a head-start on a media release and respond to inquiries.
Leaders show up
Even the most senior and experienced officers appreciate the presence of top leadership at a critical event. Exert your presence, speak encouragingly to as many officers as possible, not overlooking the senior officers and supervisors who made the early tactical decisions. Recognize good performance. They will appreciate and remember.
The period immediately following an emergency is a potential time of peril, for this is when matters go wrong due to false assumptions or when critical details are overlooked. The chief should not leave his or her post until long after the emergency, because that’s just the beginning. It’s never over.