Saturday, May 16, 2009

Indispensable Leadership? (Op-Ed)

Having recently read an article from the San Francisco Chronicle, posted on, that eludes to disharmony amongst the members of the Oakland Police Department S.W.A.T. Team, I began to debate the thought of whether or not any leader, any manager, any supervisor is indispensable. Throughout my career, there have been times when I certainly believed much to my detriment, that I was indispensable; only to later learn that the functions of my unit, program, and department continue to roll on without me. I have also seen other supervisors and officers alike, with similar beliefs and opinions of themselves. It is unfortunate that we sometimes allow our ego to overwhelm our thoughts and the concept of reality.

A positive trait of leadership is the ability to develop personnel under your watch. Development goes hand in hand with continued training, learning, and succession planning. If we are doing our jobs as supervisors, development is an ongoing theme and with time, you should have the confidence in your staff to properly carry out any mission or task. In my experience, the higher in rank that we promote, the truth of the above statement multiplies.

In the case of the Oakland PD tragedy, a Captain with responsibility for management over both a Traffic Bureau and the S.W.A.T. Team, made a conscious choice to remain at the hospital with the families of two mortally wounded motor officers as opposed to responding to a barricade suspect incident. Granted, the barricade situation was obviously a high priority, in that the suspect was the same murderer who had just shot the two motor officers, the Captain felt a duty to carry out his mission at hand; that comforting the families of the slain officers. The management of the barricade situation was deferred to the Patrol Captain, who as noted in the article did have previous S.W.A.T. experience. At the barricade scene, the decision was made to enter the apartment where the murderer lied in wait and the lives of two additional of Oakland’s finest were taken from us.

Any Law Enforcement death is tragic, but the events in Oakland on March 21, 2009, are something that I never again wish to see in my career. This tragedy has negatively impacted not only the Oakland PD family, but each and every one of us in the greater Law Enforcement family. Investigations, debriefs, questions, accusations, followed by answers, suggestions, and training, will never satisfy all of us with a vested interest in this tragedy. But we can each take something and improve our thought process, our tactics, our leadership ability, by being open to what we learn in the aftermath.

To be a successful supervisor, especially at a management level, you need to have the confidence in your personnel that any mission they confront or undertake in your absence, will be carried out in a manner consistent with training, law enforcement ethics, department policy, and procedures. Not all missions will be successful, but the majority will be. If any one of us is so indispensable to an organization, that our presence is the only way to ensure success, we have failed in our mission as a leader. Likewise, if any one of us believes that we are indispensable, we have failed personally.

Like all Law Enforcement tragedies and high profile incidents, there will be training and potential changes to procedure that will follow the Oakland tragedy. Take the time to review each and every bulletin or review; digest it, learn from it, and move forward. Casting stones, deflecting focus, disparaging others lends no benefit, and moreover, pays no tribute to our fallen brothers.

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