What I Expect From a Frontline Leader

In 1996, I was supervising an LAPD citywide gang unit and we were doing some work in Rampart Division. I was in Rampart Station using the restroom when I was approached by a sergeant. It was a guy I knew from a few years ago when he was a young officer working Newton Street Division. He was now a newly appointed sergeant assigned to Rampart.

At this time, my oldest son had graduated from the LA Police Academy a few months earlier and was now also assigned to Rampart.

The sergeant said to me, “Tony, I have your son Ryan assigned to my squad. As his supervisor, what do you expect from me? What can I do for him … and you?”

What a great question.

I thought about it for a couple of moments and told him to focus on three things.

Keep Him As Safe As Possible

The law enforcement career is inherently dangerous. But there are ways to make the job even more dangerous than what it is. Your mindset, tactics and knowledge are some of the few things that can make the job safer.

Especially with young officers, a supervisor and the training officer can set the stage for a young officer’s attitude towards his or her job. Certain people can condition you for your entire career.

When I first got out of the academy in 1976, I had training officers and supervisors, but one officer stood out to me as being my mentor. He set the tone for my attitude as far as officer safety and my wellbeing. He taught me that when you get to any situation, the quicker you get “control” the safer you are. And the quicker you get “control,” the safer everyone is.

As I moved on in my career, I kept that theme in the back of my head, and it has gotten me out of more “hairy” situations than I can ever recount.

The second component to being safe is your knowledge. The more you know, the safer you are. That being the case, you should never stop learning.

As I do law enforcement training, I still incorporate those two principles in my ”Officer Safety” training.

In law enforcement, you can do everything right, and things still can go wrong. What you’re really doing in your training, tactics and attitude is increasing the odds in your favor. That’s the best we can do and that’s what I wanted for my son.

Keep Him Out of Trouble

When it comes to policing, there are many ways to get in trouble. You can do everything right with a “good heart” and “good intentions” and still get in trouble.

Supervision is not a popularity contest, nor is it meant to be. You need to have the courage to put your foot down with your people, even when they don’t see or understand your decision.

Sometimes supervision is seeing what others cannot because of your experience. It’s like looking at a pool of water and telling your people not to go in because you know what lurks below the surface while they don’t.

Especially with younger officers, you as a supervisor or training officer, have the power to influence them, so you should not abuse that power. You can abuse that power by feeding your own ego and giving the false impression that you can get them out of any predicament. Sometimes officers who aggressively march forward to do their job can get in trouble, especially if they are led to believe there are no consequences for their behavior.

Knowing the rules, parameters, and boundaries is extremely important.

During my last 13 years on the job, I supervised a plainclothes gang unit where our mission was to seek out and arrest gang members and suspects wanted for committing violent crimes in the city of LA.

We followed a lot of people (friends, relatives, or suspects) and sometimes we would lose them or their vehicle. We had a new officer come into the unit, and on one operation, he was losing a vehicle we had been following in traffic This caused him to run a red light, nearly causing a traffic accident at a major intersection.  As soon as I could, I pulled him aside and corrected his driving habits. He tried to resist my guidance and said, “But what if we lose him?”

I told him, ”This isn’t TV. The bigger picture is that the City of Los Angeles does not care. They will not back your driving when you run a red light and get a family hurt. Also, I’m not going to your house to tell your wife and kids that you died in a traffic accident trying to follow a possible relative of a possible suspect.”

It takes courage to guide or correct one of your subordinates, but once they think about it, they understand that you care about them and that those are the rules. You can play by the rules, play hard, and be successful.

Allow Him to Be Successful and Grow

Allowing him to be successful means many things.  It’s caring enough about him to keep him adequately trained. It’s holding him responsible for his basic daily duties. It’s developing within him an attitude of empathy, fairness, and strength.

Allow him to get his feet planted solidly under himself, learn the job step-by-step, and apply what he has learned to improve constantly. Allow him to become “solid” at what he does.

A law enforcement career is a very competitive career. Today’s trainee can be tomorrow’s competition. The officer needs to gain self-confidence so that he or she can face the challenges with a proper frame of mind. Because life is governed by uncertainty, self-confidence enables the officer to face what comes with courage. That’s part of the mental endurance that is sure to come in handy during a law enforcement career. Allow him to be as good as he can be.

I thanked the sergeant for caring enough to make my son the best he can be and for having the courage to correct him and guide him if he gets out of line. 

The mere act of this sergeant approaching me about my son let me know that he cared about his officers and that my son was in good hands.

These honest words of gratitude come from a fellow supervisor and cop … and more importantly, a father.

About the Author 

Tony Moreno

Retired 32-Year LAPD Veteran, Law Enforcement Trainer, and Author

Tony Moreno was born in Los Angeles and joined the Los Angeles Police Department in 1975 where he devoted 20 of his 32 years on the job focusing on the gang problem. He also worked patrol, school car, detectives, narcotics, homicide and organized crime and intelligence. His last 13 years he supervised a unit whose mission was to seek out and apprehend hardcore gang members and criminals wanted for committing violent crimes in the City of LA.

He has been conducting law enforcement training throughout the United States, Mexico, Canada, Honduras and El Salvador since 1982 and continues presenting classes to college students, civic groups, businesses, members of the community and private organizations.

For five years from 1982 through 1986 while working the Gang Detail, Tony drove a yellow Plymouth Fury police vehicle and was nicknamed “Pac-Man” by the gang members in south/central Los Angeles. His nickname, “Pac-Man”, and an identical yellow Plymouth Fury were later used in the storyline of the classic gang movie, “Colors”. Tony maintains a website at www.gangcop.com and has authored four books, “Lessons From A Gang Cop”, “Spinach For the Everyday Warrior”, “Cops in America … Dealing with the Ferguson Effect” and his fourth and latest book, “A Message From A Blue Heart”. His books are available at www.policeandfirepublishing.com.

Tony Moreno

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