Just 30 Minutes
More often than not, when your boss’s boss’s boss is in charge, even for half an hour, things go haywire very quickly. In horror, I watched this play out when I was young, had hair, and had brand new sergeant stripes on my police uniform sleeves. Assigned to a very busy precinct in northwest metro Atlanta, neither my work nor the officers I worked with were ever dull. My shift had a habit of stirring up a hornet’s nest by probing into neighborhoods that were troubled. Avenues of escape for the bad guys would be cut off, and I swear, we could predict crimes. It was a great shift. I was one of three supervisors, and I had a fellow Sergeant. We all reported to a shift lieutenant who reported to the precinct commander. Usually, there were two supervisors working to keep track of the shift’s orchestrated stirring of the hornet’s nest.
I said “usually.” On the rare days the supervisors were alone, we’d keep our ear to the radio a little more intently and drive more miles to make sure the shift was able to manage the challenges generated by the high inbound call volume. Working as the lone supervisor wasn’t easy, although certain times were easier than others. For example, just after the morning rush hour, there usually was a lull. It was during one of these lulls I was invited to call into a morning radio show based out of Charlotte to talk about motorcycle riding.
The producers of the radio station had explained that they wanted just half an hour of my time, from 9 to 9:30 a.m. During that time, I’d be on live radio, so I’d need to be completely available—no background noise, no distractions, and no interruptions. I’d have to find someone to cover the shift during what was to be the quietest part of the day. There was only one person to whom I could turn. The precinct commander, a man with decades of police experience, readily agreed to cover my shift. We agreed that while I was on the radio show, I’d clock out, turn off the police radio, and lock my office door. Things were absolutely quiet at 8:50 a.m. when the plan was put into place.
I called into the radio show. Predictably, they played the theme song from CHiPS as my intro at the end of each commercial break.
We discussed motorcycles and motorcycle travel. I answered questions from listeners about where to ride and what to pack, and told some funny “road lies.” The interview ended politely; the DJ thanked me; and we hung up. I turned my police radio back on to hear just how far the train had gone off the rails in my brief absence.
The first voice I heard was the deep confident tone of the precinct commander, but the pace of his speech indicated just how badly it had gone in my absence. “Radio, I’ll be in route to the traffic crash involving the overturned patrol car. Confirming someone has responded to the scene of the armed robbery, and does the BOLO of the suspect vehicle match the vehicle we’re pursuing right now?” I thought to myself, “Well, that escalated quickly,” as I clamored to my patrol car, seeing the precinct commander briefly in the parking lot. “What the hell, boss? I gave it to you for half an hour!!! I’ll go to the pursuit. Can you continue to the overturned car?” “Sure thing, sergeant,” he replied. It was only then I realized I had cussed at and ordered my commander to handle a traffic crash. As I sped in the direction of the pursuit’s termination, I thought, “I really enjoyed being a patrolman, it won’t be too bad to lose these stripes.”
It turned out that within minutes of the start of my radio interview, three thugs had committed an armed robbery of a pawn shop on the other side of my zone. Two officers responded quickly, but only one arrived. One had been delayed by being struck by another motorist, causing the patrol car to flip onto its roof and spin down a busy roadway. The officer wasn’t injured, only perturbed. The rest of the shift had quite correctly predicted the direction of travel of the suspect vehicle, intercepting it just a few miles away. After a brief pursuit, one suspect leapt from the interstate in an effort to escape, breaking both his femurs, immediately removing the desire to continue.
After the pursuit, car crash and armed robbery, the precinct commander and I caught up for a “hot wash” of the incidents. He was very understanding about the comments made by his new sergeant, and I didn’t get demoted. Quite the opposite; he spoke on my behalf for future promotions and served as a mentor for many years.
We’ve all heard the phrase “A rising tide raises all boats.” The same is true for a cohesive unit, whether military, police or in the workplace. Great troops and officers tend to bring out the best in others with whom they serve. Supervising such great people tests leaders with the need to balance getting out of their way so they can perform at their best, against the need to maintain some degree of order. If you’ve been entrusted with supervision in your workplace, do yourself a favor and work to gain trust of leadership from your subordinates by humbly working hard on their behalf. Become a student of leadership: read, listen, and watch examples of great leadership so you’ll be the kind of leader your subordinates will be glad to follow.
Oh, and don’t do a radio show if you’re the only supervisor working.
Capt. Hawk Hagebak lives in Metro Atlanta with his wife and daughter. He is a recent retiree from the Cobb County Police Department, a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard, a Motorcycle Safety Foundation Rider Coach, and author of the popular Motorcycle Adventures series of guidebooks. You can keep up with Hawk at www.MotoHawk.com
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