Dear Bullethead: I work for an agency with about 50 cops. Our department is in pretty good shape overall, and, for the most part, the citizens are pretty supportive and our pay and benefits are decent. So far, so good, right? Well, with 50 officers, the special assignments are pretty few and far between, and doing anything else means you re working patrol, patrol and more patrol. Don t get me wrong, patrol is a good job, and we work a 3/12 schedule with four days off every other week. But after a while, it s pretty easy to get burned out, and it would be nice to have an opportunity to do something else. However, in our department, detectives, K9, traffic investigators and similar jobs are long-term assignments, meaning you re there until you get fired, retired or promoted. Some guys have been in there for 15 years and have 10 more to go. They have no interest in going back to patrol and shift work. They either have no interest in promoting or lack the ability. These jobs don t pay any more, but they do have an assigned car and a decent (semi-normal) schedule. Plus, it s different.
I tried to bring up the idea of some type of rotational opportunities, but that didn t go very far. The chief has about three years to go and doesn t see any point in change. Other agencies have some type of rotation or limited-term assignments and seem to make it work. What s your take?
Dear Burned out:
Just so we start on even ground and to set a little perspective, I'll rehash a few things you mentioned. You work seven days out of every 14 that sounds like a freaking firefighter's schedule. You have good pay and benefits in a town where the citizens support the police, and although you can get burned out, you believe patrol is a good job.
I don't know what it was like when you started, but I can remember sitting in a room with 400 people testing for two positions. That was to get hired at a place where everyone from the mayor to the Girl Scouts hated the police, and the pay was so bad that if you had a kid, you qualified for food stamps. Each time I made it through a step in the hiring process I thought they must have made a mistake. When I finished the academy and field training, I was so excited I would have done patrol for 10 years with Monday, Wednesday and Friday off and not said a peep.
I suppose it was easy when you got hired, and the academy was probably one of those weak-kneed, non-stress deals I ve been hearing about. I don t know what you did before you made it to patrol, but if it was in the private sector, you likely had much less freedom and worked at least 10 days out of every 14. So, before you start sulking and your nose starts running all over that nice uniform, remember how good you have it.
On with the issue. Just so you don t think I m pulling this out of my tail pipe, I ve worked at places with permanent positions and places with rotations. Generally speaking, I would say mid-sized to larger departments tend toward permanent positions, and smaller ones tend toward rotations. Some even use a combination of both: A detective position may be permanent, but officers can spend a few years working in dope, gangs, vice or something along those lines. All of these have pros and cons, and as you might have guessed, I think it should all come down to performance.
Permanent positions will give you something you can t get with rotations: journeymen. Gang detectives who have arrested four generations of scumbags, or homicide dicks who ve spent so much time in chambers getting warrants signed the judges invite them to family reunions. These cops produce. Problem: You also get professional lops. These bozos arrive late, leave early and spend more time making excuses than solving crime.
With rotating positions you always get new ideas and people eager to learn and do something new. Just like anything else, though, there s a learning curve, and people need time to get up to full speed. Shortly after they get up to full speed, they are out and doing something else. Not only that, but in places where the positions rotate, they eventually rotate around to people who might be in over their head (although everyone deserves a chance).
The hybrid (with detective promotions and officer positions) is great, unless those who get picked tend to be just the close friends of those doing the picking. I like this method, though, because the officers come in for a short while and sprint as fast as they can for the whole assignment. This tends to increase the production of the older detectives and the learning curve of the officers. It also lets the officers see if they are really interested in carrying a case load, getting phone calls at all hours of the day and night, and all the other cool stuff that goes along with being a hard-working detective.
If I had to pick either rotational or permanent, I would stick with permanent positions. If someone is good at something and they continue to perform at a high level, they shouldn t have to leave. Every department I ve encountered has the ability but not the juevos to fix the lops. Find a permanent-position department and check the policy and procedure manual. Skip all the hocus pocus about community policing and the BS about the font style on your nametag, and move down to the part where it discusses detective positions. It probably says something to the effect that detectives will work wherever the department puts them. How long do you think it would take some good-for-nothing coffee-break chump to decide it s time to move on if they were put on five-eights from 0100 hrs 0900 hrs Thursday through Monday? Direct them to respond and investigate every property crime in a beat, or if the city isn t that big, give them the whole city. Yup, they would be a report car. The problem: Most administrators don t want to deal with the labor reps, who would and should make a lot of noise but don t have a leg to stand on because this is a policy-and-procedure issue. I would make a stern warning to all the detectives and give them three months to start performing. If that didn t work, the lowest rung on the ladder would spend the next three months chasing the radio on weekend graveyards. If that didn t work, I would leave the guy there and bring an officer over to do his job.
If you need something really different, try switching from graveyards to days or swings, or vice versa. Maybe chase stolen cars instead of dope or gangsters. Put together a problem-oriented policing project that requires serious thought and gets you away from your burnout while getting you noticed as a do-something kind of guy. Last, try doing some investigative follow-up. Ask Sarge if you can hold a report you took and try to solve the crime. The detectives will be happy to not have the extra work, and you will have something to do other than bitching about lazy detectives.
It's time to weigh your options. You can work hard and enjoy what you have, or you can go elsewhere, but believe me, it's not easy to start over.
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