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Ready, set, rotate: a management diversification plan for small to midsized agencies.

Imagine you are the chief of a 35-member police department. You plan to retire next year. You have served in this position for the past 15 years and have enjoyed an excellent working relationship with your employees. You feel comfortable leaving an effective and progressive department positioned to navigate safely into the next century.

You feel less comfortable, however, with the challenge of recommending your successor to the city council. Your command-level officers from the traffic, patrol, and administrative divisions have served faithfully in their respective positions for the past 10 years. Each commander possesses the same educational background and qualifications. You must decide who would be the most qualified to run your department. Would it be the commander with experience in traffic, patrol, or administration? Or, would the department, citizens, and community be served better by someone with a vision of the entire operation, someone who understands the complexities of each division and can manage with an executive view of the entire department?

This question, pondered countless times every year across the country, provides an interesting challenge for chiefs, selection review boards, and politicians. When agency heads have experience in only one area of police work, the job can prove challenging. This not only affects new chiefs but their subordinates, as well. How can police chiefs understand the needs and complexities of the detective bureau, traffic, or training units when they have spent their entire careers in the patrol division as a patrol officer, sergeant, and commander?

In many cases, officers remain in the patrol division throughout their careers. This action deprives officers of the learning experiences offered through assignment to other areas and reduces their value to the agency and the community by not providing them with a well-rounded knowledge of various department divisions. Logically, effective leaders have the most diversified experience at different levels within the organization. A rotation program represents one way for officers to gain valuable leadership experience and a broad-based view of the organization, better serve the agency and the community, and enhance their own career goals and satisfaction.


Developing Leaders with Vision

The image of police leadership generally takes three forms.(1) Police chiefs view themselves as either stewards, commanders, or executives of their departments. Stewards of the department believe the department is well developed, requires little more than routine maintenance to keep it running, and needs no urgent design changes. By contrast, commanders view their roles as hands-on positions and often assume direct operational control during difficult situations. Finally, executives recognize the need for broad strategic planning to maximize the organization's value to society. Police chiefs would benefit by developing division commanders with an executive view.

Police executives remain responsible for placing the most qualified and effective police officers on the street to fulfill the department's mission. Although developing an executive view takes years to accomplish, by doing so, division commanders see beyond the individual divisions of a department and view their commands as a single component of an overall successful organization.

Moreover, police administrators with vision understand the critical need for creativity in police operations. Commanders who move up the ladder in one division bring fresh ideas with them. Still, those who have experience in more than one area of police operations develop a unique perspective. The ability and opportunity to look in from the outside provides the new commander an opportunity to view operational issues with a creative eye.

Serving Agency and Community Needs

Historically, the life cycle of a police officer in the United States remains fairly predictable. Officers receive their initial academy training and their assignment to the patrol division. Here, they have considerable contact with the public as they perform the routine, often-mundane duties of a rookie police officer. Enthusiastic about their jobs, they generally leave good impressions with the public due to their positive attitudes, not their experience, as police officers.

Often, officers who do a good job and maintain a level of motivation and dedication catch the eye of the boss and receive assignment to the detective bureau. After several years in the detective bureau, they may receive a promotion to sergeant and reassignment to the patrol division. A promotion to lieutenant or captain may be their final resting place until the top job becomes available.

Unfortunately, most police agencies provide only two paths for police officers to enhance their status and salary - promotion to a higher rank or a transfer to a specialized unit.(2) This encourages police officers with ambition and initiative to flee from the largest and most visible facet of the department - patrol operations.

Instead, departments should place the most experienced officers in the patrol position, where 90 percent of the department's work is done. Patrol officers can enhance the image of the department, while affecting the crime rate and criminal activities. Although detectives remain just as valuable as patrol officers, they investigate crimes after they occur and rarely deter criminal activity. The patrol officer has higher visibility and more opportunities than a detective to positively affect a larger number of people.

At the same time, the police department and the community would benefit from patrol division officers who have previous experience as detectives or investigators. A patrol officer knowledgeable about the methods used in investigative work could help to build a strong foundation for a criminal investigation. Departments would benefit if patrol officers could handle such investigative details as photographing crime scenes, fingerprinting offenders, and taking complaints. However, these tasks must be accomplished without adversely affecting morale. Reassigning to the patrol division an officer who has served as a detective for 3 or 4 years might impact negatively on the individual officer. To prevent this from occurring, the chief must effectively explain how rotating officers will help fulfill the mission of the department at the same time that it benefits individual officers. The chief also must advise officers that each assignment will last for a certain time, after which they should expect reassignment to another division. If handled properly by the department, most officers will view rotation as an opportunity to round out their backgrounds and build their resumes for future advancement.

Enhancing Career Goals and Satisfaction

One of the most serious ailments affecting small to midsized police departments across the country remains the fact that, too often, effective and enthusiastic police officers become stagnant and bored when they see no opportunities for advancement. Young officers especially may become disillusioned if they do not see a light at the end of the promotional tunnel. Many police administrators feel that once officers are assigned to a particular division, they should remain in that assignment until they receive a promotion. This situation severely hinders opportunities for growth, both for the department and the individual officer. For law enforcement to remain effective in the 21st century, this concept needs examination.

The idea of an officer remaining in the same position for many years helps to perpetuate the concept of a "grunt." While the term sounds derogatory in nature, a grunt is simply one who delivers the goods.(3) In fact, the grunts of the organization determine the success or failure of the department. In conventional police organizations, all players do not contribute equally. Some studies suggest that, traditionally, 20 percent of the people accomplish 80 percent of the work.(4) Grunts often handle 90 percent of the work. Unfortunately, considered the lowest rung of the ladder, they receive the least amount of credit. Grunts represent the Cinderellas; they do most of the work but reap the least rewards.(5) They also experience the greatest risks. On the other hand, the specialists - detectives and traffic and crime prevention officers - represent Cinderella's stepsisters; they do the least work but receive the most rewards.(6)

Grunts have the most frequent contact with the public; therefore, they remain responsible for the public's perception of the police department. Through one-on-one contact with the community, the grunt's demeanor and attitude determine the effectiveness of the department. Most citizens know and care little about Uniform Crime Reports, clearance rates, strategic plans, or standard operating procedures. However, the average citizen can give a complete and graphic description of an encounter with a grunt.

Quality control was once described as the guy on the loading dock who decides whether to throw the box of crystal onto the truck. The decision remains up to him whether the crystal gets broken.(7) Similarly, the grunt's attitude determines the public's opinion of the police department; that is, community perception of the department forms through interaction with the grunt. Yet, grunts deliver police service without the full appreciation of the organization, when, in fact, grunts with poor attitudes will, in turn, generate bad attitudes toward the general public. Police managers should examine how the work environment and internal matters affect how grunts deliver their goods in order to help them maintain positive attitudes. Two ways include developing master patrol officers and establishing a corporal position.

Developing Master Patrol Officers

Departments should consider developing a master patrol officer position, where officers demonstrating advanced skill levels would receive higher levels of compensation. Currently, most agencies have different advancement grades for patrol officers, which usually correspond to the number of years on the job, and an educational policy that pays officers more money according to the number of college credits they earn. Unfortunately, neither of these address specific skill levels that officers could seek to achieve greater status or compensation.

Establishing a Corporal Position

In smaller police departments, the number of police officers qualified for higher positions exceeds the positions available. Usually, when a patrol squad consists of three or more officers, a corporal can supervise the squad in the absence of the sergeant. By promoting or assigning corporals based on a successful period of rotation through the detective bureau, positive results will ensue. First, officers receive an added incentive to gain experience as detectives, and second, moving back to patrol work as a supervisory officer would be more palatable for the officers.


Police agencies should develop a strategy that allows officers to enhance their status and salary without having to vie for promotion or reassignment to a specialized unit. Officers can develop expertise by obtaining valuable skills working in different divisions and provide organizations with the flexibility and efficiency needed to fulfill the department's mission. As experienced officers with demonstrated advanced skill levels receive higher positions of responsibility within the agency, opportunities for the future increase with each advancement, assignment, and promotion. With proper planning, when the next chief retires, the decision for promotion can be based on each commander's overall executive view. Assume once again that you are a chief preparing to retire. But, this time, your three command-level lieutenants rotated and served as commander in each of the respective divisions of the department. Over the past 10 years, you have had an opportunity to evaluate each commander's ability in each area as they have served in positions with different demands and responsibilities. As a result, you are better positioned to make an effective recommendation to the city council. Now, you can retire knowing that you have left the department in capable hands.


1 Mark H. Moore and Darrel W. Stephens, Beyond Command and Control: The Strategic Management of Police Departments (Washington, DC: Police Executive Research Forum, 1991), 105.

2 Ibid.

3 Chris R. Braiden, Enriching Traditional Roles: Police Management, Issues and Perspectives (Washington, DC: Police Executive Research Forum, 1992), 87.

4 Dr. Jack Enter, "Managing the Problem and Marginal Employee," presented to FBI National Academy Associates, December 6, 1996.

5 Supra note 3.

6 Supra note 3.

7 Supra note 3.

Captain Marvin serves with the New Providence, New Jersey, Police Department.
COPYRIGHT 1998 Federal Bureau of Investigation
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Article Details
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Author:Marvin, Douglas R.
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Date:Nov 1, 1998
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