I made lieutenant after being on the job for 12 years. This is a fairly normal progression in New York. After four years in the bag, my first promotion was to detective. I made sergeant four years after that. Lieutenant came four years after that. I was sitting second on the captain’s list when I pulled the pin due to a family crisis.
In my former department, patrol sergeant was a street job. Usually right after giving roll call, I’d fill out my duty charts, take care of administrative matters, check in with the lieutenant and then hit the street.
When I made lieutenant, the job became much more administrative and less street intensive, but I still made time to hit the bricks every shift with my troops, even if it was to roll in on a few hot jobs. I’d be careful not to interfere with the sergeant’s supervisory function. They knew that “Lou” was there primarily as a back-up. Being “out there” helped me maintain that tactical edge that only working the street can give you. I looked at myself as a cop first and a boss second.
I went through the FBI National Academy as a New York sergeant and joined the New York chapter immediately thereafter. I moved to Florida a few years after retirement and transferred my membership to the Sunshine State’s chapter. Be it a state, sectional or national training conference, I’ve been to virtually every FBINA conference since then.
Super Street Dogs
Recently, I attended the annual training conference of the Florida chapter of the FBINA. The program, which had the theme Street Gang Threats and Enforcement Strategies, was dedicated to the memory of two fellow FBINA grads, Capt. Scott Bierwiler of the Hernando County (Fla.) Sheriff’s Office and Capt. Chad Reed of the Dixie County (Fla.) Sheriff’s Office. Scott Bierwiler was shot and killed on Feb. 19, 2009. He was 42. He made captain shortly before his death. Chad Reed was shot and killed in early 2010. A 13-year veteran, he was only 33.
No way is this article intended to imply that either deputy made any tactical errors or violated any tactical concepts that led to their demise. In fact, just the opposite is true. I spoke with more than a few officers and deputies who not only knew both men, but who told me that both were super street dogs, despite being bosses. Bierwiler had served in a number of high profile positions—the special operations section, vice and narcotics unit, and both intelligence and CID duties— before he made captain.
Reed had already punched out and was heading home when he heard the call of a shoot-out in neighboring Hernando County, Bierwiler’s area of responsibility. The suspect was last seen fleeing through Dixie County, so Reed and a complement of his deputies were tailing the vehicle waiting for a more secure spot to take the bad guy down. Unfortunately, the bad guy suddenly pulled into a gas station and opened fire, fatally wounding Reed.
In my former agency, captains were office staff—white shirts, pancake holsters, etc. No Sam Brown’s for Capt. Crunch. Patrol lieutenants were also issued white shirts, but I always bucked the system and wore navy blue. I was also one of the first watch commanders to get a mobile phone installed in my squad because I spent more time on the road than in my office. I think Chad and Scott were like that, too.
A Three-Step Process
Because of my background and duties as a firearms and force trainer, I found it easy to stay tuned into the street. Other bosses in my agency? Not so much. I believe it’s important for bosses to maintain their tactical edge. To do so, follow my three-step process. It will help you thrive and survive on the street and motivate your young street dogs to think tactically.
First, go to as many street schools as you can. I know duty-time schools are few and far between, so you might have to dig deep into your own pockets and take some vacation or lost time to go, but think about it: When you factor in how much information you’ll take home, how much you’ll be able to apply when you get back, the tuition to a Calibre Press Street Survival Seminar, a TeamOne Network or an Armiger Police Training course is just pennies compared to the knowledge you’ll gain from one of these programs. Even a two-day, high-risk vehicle stop course or a one-day street narcotics seminar will prove very informative.
Second, get out on the street as much as you can. Performance evaluations and personnel and discipline issues take a lot of time, but there’s always time during your shift to get out there and roll in on a few jobs with your charges. You’d be surprised how much your presence will motivate your young patrol officers and it’s part of your job to supervise. There’s no better way to evaluate how your subordinates are doing their jobs than to see and observe from up close. Your job is to evaluate how well your sergeants are supervising. You can’t do that by ridin’ the pine for eight hours.
Third, visit www.lawofficer.com and keyword search “Complacency Quiz.” Retired Sgt. Guy Rossi and I co-authored the quiz. See how much of that tactical edge you’ve lost. Don’t be embarrassed. It’s a self-test quiz and only you’ll know how you’ve done. If you need a little jump start to your street tactics, you’ll know as soon as you’ve scored the quiz. Let me know how you do.
Author’s Note: This month’s Tactics column is dedicated to the memory of Florida Sheriff’s Captains Chad Reed and Scott Bielwiler, Zone Partners for Life.
How to Maintain Your Tactical Edge
1. Attend training classes—and often.
2. Get out on the street as frequently as possible.
3. Take the Complacency Quiz (visit www.lawofficer.com & keyword search “Complacency Quiz”), and adjust your skills as needed.