December 2013 Warning Bells article

South Bureau Training for Supervisors

I was recently invited to a South Bureau training event provided to the sergeants and lieutenants in the bureau. This event gave me the unusual view of hearing what a deputy chief was imparting to the front-line supervisors in terms of how, when and why policy was to be enforced. Almost everything the deputy chief told the supervisors seemed to be based on common sense. Despite this, I see on a daily basis the wreckage that is too often visited on the troops when some of those policies eventually work their way down to street level.

What happens to the seemingly enlightened policy on the way down the chain of command to implementation in the field is that all too often, the common-sense element gets stripped away. At times something seems to get lost as management intent slides down the chute onto the street. Maybe it is inevitable, but it causes all kinds of problems for morale and general dissatisfaction when actions are initiated against officers supposedly because of directions from “on high.”

The solution may be for officers to at least know what the purpose of the policies is before the policies start sliding down the chute. Then, when policies are improperly applied or misinterpreted, this purpose can be pointed out.

For example, the deputy chief said that two mantras underlie everything that is being done: First, keep officers alive, and second, keep officers out of trouble. OK, those are hard to argue with as goals. I think the League would support keeping officers alive and out of trouble. But, as they say, the devil is in the details.

How is this to be accomplished? Supervisors, the deputy chief said, are an important component in accomplishing these goals. Supervisors have experience and maturity over the younger officers currently on patrol. When they see something that is out of line, they should speak up and correct it before the officer gets hurt or gets in trouble. “If it’s predictable, it’s preventable,” he said. Adrenaline, emotion and inexperience are predictable.

When these factors are having an effect on officers, supervisors need to step up and take action. For instance, the deputy chief said, “I am all about what the sergeant is doing to control that pursuit and mildly interested in what the adrenaline-filled lead PII is doing.” In other words, we know that officers involved in a pursuit are going to be filled with adrenaline and that will have an effect on their decisions. If we know that, the deputy chief is going to look at what our more experienced, more mature supervisors are doing to protect those officers from this peril.

So, sergeants beware! The spotlight is shining on you. Review those pursuit rules and be proactive if you become incident commander in that pursuit. Since this is Warning Bells, let me acquaint you with high-level management’s views on a few subjects. The views expressed below are not necessarily those of the League, but instead the views of South Bureau management as expressed in this supervisor training session.


Supervisors must constantly assess the risk to the public to consider whether the pursuit should continue. The sergeant should announce that he or she is the incident commander. Supervisors must be cognizant of the number of vehicles in the pursuit and justify any additional vehicles. The air unit is the greatest asset in pursuits. Tracking mode should be employed whenever practicable to reduce the violator’s need to overdrive. Tracking mode means dropping back out of sight of the violator.

Code 3

There is a feeling that officers driving Code 3 are not driving with due regard for the safety of others as is required by the Vehicle Code. Officers need to know that management is monitoring them. Supervisors should review Digital In-Car Video System (DICVS) videos, paying attention to overdriving issues. Both driver and passenger officers will be taken out of the field if there is improper driving, because the passenger has a duty to rein in overdriving.

Intersections should be “cleared” before entering them Code 3. If there is a TC in the intersection, then it wasn’t cleared. However, the intent is not to immediately go to discipline. The primary idea is to get the officer’s attention and focus on training to improve driving.

Seat belts

Fifty percent of on-duty deaths are because of traffic accidents. Zero percent of onduty deaths have been because of officers trapped in their seat belts and unable to respond to a deadly threat. Therefore, for officer safety, officers should wear seat belts.


Closed-fist punches should only be used when reasonable and needed in a fight for life. Generally, they should not be used because they are inflammatory to the suspect rather than effective, they look ugly to observers and on videos, and an officer is likely to break his or her hand.

Use of Force section of reports

It is absurd to think that officers will remember a use of force blow by blow. Use of force descriptions are needlessly detailed and cannot possibly accurately match a video in every detail.

Digital In-Car Video System (DICVS)

The purpose of the DICVS is to help and protect officers to ensure constitutional policing. Audits are designed to identify training issues and to make sure that everyone is using the system. However, failures to turn the system on or turning it off too soon will be dealt with by sledgehammer.

Supervisors should use their DICVS as a model for officers. Supervisors should proactively monitor its use by officers. DICVS is a tool for criminal and administrative investigations.

In cases of personnel complaints, a supervisor should review the DICVS before they cut a face sheet. If the complaint is demonstrably false, that should be put in the intake of the complaint. (The complaint could be adjudicated without an officer interview.)

Supervisors should use the DICVS for positive feedback for training to accelerate an officer’s learning curve. It should not be used for finger-pointing. Counseling sessions with officers should be private and positive.

Private conversations between officers when DICVS is activated

Although the DICVS is not meant to monitor private conversations between officers, officers need to understand that when the DICVS is operating, everything said between the officers is subject to discovery and may negatively influence a criminal prosecution or a civil case. Officers must realize that their private conversations during Code 3 runs, pursuits and stops do matter.

Tactical language and profanity

Profanity in a tactical situation when trying to establish control over an uncooperative suspect is proper, but the suspect should demonstrate uncooperativeness prior to the use of the language. The central problem is when the profanity demonstrates an officer’s lack of respect for the public. Profanity directed at citizens where not tactically necessary should be addressed as a training issue, but it has to stop. Patterns should be identified through action items.


Audits of videos reveal that occasionally, officers use tactics that cause concern. When the DICVS reveals tactical deficiencies, supervisors should address them with the officer in private. Do not beat the officer up; rather, ask how the situation could be handled better to allow the officer an opportunity to improve his or her tactics and use the DICVS as a tool.

DICVS and personnel complaints

Statistics show that the DICVS overwhelmingly supports officers in personnel complaint investigations. Only 4 percent of allegations where DICVS has been involved have been sustained against officers.

So, warning bells have been rung. Take heed. But if what is happening to you does not fit within the intent of upper management, then something has been altered coming down the chute. Those who launched the policy, or the intent of the policy, down the chute should be notified that it hit the street with a different interpretation. If you are unjustifiably in jeopardy, I would be happy to carry your message up the chain of command, but I need to know right away while it is still fixable. I can’t dig up your administratively dead body and bring it back to life.

In the meantime, examine the beliefs and attitudes of those who control your future, and use that knowledge to keep yourself and your partner out of the line of fire. Beware of ending up as collateral damage as these policies are enforced in your division on you and your fellow officers. What is born on the mountaintop rolls downhill.

Be legally careful out there.

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