Gerald Doane: From law enforcer to community leader |

Gerald Doane: From law enforcer to community leader

I can think of nothing more important to a community than its police officers. But what if we elevated the role of our “law enforcer” police officers to something more meaningful both in their eyes and in the eyes of the public?

Wouldn’t it be rewarding to all if the community gave police officers the added responsibility and accountability of being community leaders with law enforcement responsibility?

When I became a leader, I became a much better police officer, at least in my own eyes. Was it because of more training and education? Sure! But I guarantee you, it was much more than that. The fact that I took on more leadership responsibilities and performed more leadership tasks was the key that led to my evolution as a police officer.

A famous leader once said, “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”

Translation: Don’t micromanage your people. Give them clear and concise missions, let them lead, and they will surprise you with how they get the job done.

Interpretation: Leadership builds trust, which leads to ingenuity and success.

In 1973, I received crisis negotiator training from the now famous Dr. Harvey Schlossberg, director of psychological services for the New York Police Department. He was a police leader and a clinical psychologist.

Dr. Schlossberg recently passed away, but his legacy will be carried forward by his life partner and colleague, Dr. Antoinette Collarini-Schlossberg, also a clinical psychologist who teaches and leads at St. John’s University.

Harvey presented us with two concepts, the “de-escalation” of the police response and “crisis intervention therapy,” or as he called it, “negotiating.”

Did he tell us how to “de-escalate” and how to “negotiate?” Nope, not even close. His training was a frank and open discussion on the psychology of people in crisis, and the often tragic results when police over-respond in crisis situations by using those age-old police practices, more commonly known back then as “tough-talk” and “tear gas.”

But delay, delay, delay was difficult for many of us law enforcers to stomach, especially most bosses who wanted their police officers back on the street responding to calls for service instead of doing containment duties for hours on end while negotiations with a hostage-taker proceeded ever so slowly.

Yes, Harvey’s method took time, something administrators and old-timers didn’t necessarily want to provide. Yet he trusted us to carry out his mission of de-escalation and negotiation because he knew we would come up with the how to convince our departments the value of his method.

He let us lead!

My boss at the time was different than most bosses in our department. I officially was still a patrol officer, a law enforcer if you will, but near to promotion on the sergeant’s list. When I asked if our department could adopt Harvey’s methods, my boss literally gave me free reign to develop a team of crisis negotiators for our department. He put me in charge of negotiator training; selection, including psychological testing of negotiator applicants; equipment; and developing team policies and procedures.

Of course, he monitored my performance, what real leader wouldn’t?

This transition to leadership was life-changing for me. It gave me two things, more responsibility, along with more accountability. I treasured doing something meaningful, and I valued being held to a higher standard of performance.

Bureaucracies can be mind-numbing with all the laws, policies, procedures and protocols placed on police officers. One becomes nothing more than a cog in the bureaucratic wheel. Many many in the public, the ones we are sworn to serve and protect, even the cop and authority haters, often view police officers that way.

Well, what do leaders do?

The textbooks tell us the specific tasks that leaders perform are decision-making, communicating, motivating, and selecting and developing people. But leaders also plan, they organize, they establish performance standards, and they measure and correct performance, even their own.

Quite a task list! But one leadership task that textbooks do not often address adequately is developing trust with their constituents and communities.

If our communities wish police officers to become community leaders rather than strictly law enforcers, they must learn to trust officers with more responsibility and more accountability.

A community leader with law enforcement responsibility could be the new role of a police officer. Give them the proper mission and you will be surprised at the ingenuity and success.

Gerald G. Doane lives in Grass Valley.

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