Abstract The first-line supervisor in law enforcement is commonly referred to as a Sergeant. These positions are of great importance to a law enforcement agency. There are many pros and cons to becoming a first-line supervisor. These positions are tasked with the expectation of maintaining a level of balance within the patrol ranks, as well as remaining fair and impartial among those ranks. There are also many expectations of subordinates. In order for both parties to meet these expectations requires a close working relationship.
The first-line supervisor in a law enforcement agency is expected to assume the role as a liaison between an administration and subordinates. Administration depends on their first-line supervisors to be responsible and handle all incidents that could possibly bring precarious liability upon the agency. They must possess the skills necessary to relay information from administration to the subordinates. Some information from an administration may be difficult to understand, it is the first-line supervisor’s responsibility to translate the information to their subordinates.
When a law enforcement agency does not have a strong group of first-line supervisors, that agency will suffer greatly with communication issues. The supervisor must be able to understand the law enforcement department’s written policy and be able to translate this information as well. Failure to translate this information exposes the supervisor to the possibility of civil liability. The first-line supervisor is expected to make on the spot legal decisions, which could impact not only themselves but the agency as well.
One of the difficult expectations of the first-line supervisor is the ability to maintain a close working relationship with all subordinates. A supervisor must be able to realize inadequacies in training. If one is performing below the level of expectation, the supervisor must be able to recognize and address the issue as necessary. A supervisor must remain approachable from their subordinates. With this approachability and accessibility the supervisor will be successful in building a better working relationship.
The difficulty with some supervisors is the ability to draw the line between having a personal relationship with their subordinates and a professional relationship. With a close working relationship a supervisor should be able to confront the subordinate and be able to resolve the issue. The resolution may range from simply counseling the subordinate, all the way up to possible disciplinary action. Approximately 25 percent of all law enforcement disciplinary action is due to drug use. (More & Miller, 2007) Supervisors must remain vigilant on possible drug use.
Many supervisors are unwilling to discipline their subordinates, which could ultimately lead to their downfall. When disciplinary action is necessary it is the responsibility of the supervisor to remain fair and impartial. When initiating disciplinary action the supervisor must put aside any personal feelings toward the subordinate, and act solely on a professional level. They must act in the best interest of the subordinate and the department as a whole. It is important that when the disciplinary action is necessary it is done in a constructive manner.
When the disciplinary action is constructive it allows the subordinate to accept their mistakes, and learn from the incident. When the disciplinary action is done in a destructive manner, it could result in a repeat offense and the subordinate not learning from their mistakes. (Hilgert & Haimann, 1991) Conflict is inevitable in law enforcement. Subordinates are confronted with conflict on a daily basis and the first-line supervisor is also exposed to this conflict. Citizens file formal complaints on subordinates on a daily basis.
In order to avoid precarious liability it is expected of the first-line supervisor to asses these complaints, investigate into them, and take the proper action. Complaints may not always be filed by citizens; some may be filed by peers of the subordinate. The supervisor must be able to determine which of these complaints are legitimate, along with which are petty and inaccurate. At times these complaints may need to simply be deflected. Approximately 73 percent of a first-line supervisor’s time is exhausted resolving conflict. (More & Miller, 2007) A supervisor is expected to possess leadership skills.
When a supervisor displays a negative attitude towards law enforcement work, it will have a direct effect to declining morale and productivity. (“The problem: Ineffective first,”) Subordinates expect their supervisor to lead by example. If a supervisor disciplines a subordinate for violating an agency’s written policy, then proceeds to deliberately violate written policy himself, it will have a direct negative effect on the agency as a whole. One must obtain the respect of their subordinates. Respect will not always be given simply because a supervisor possesses rank.
When a supervisor leads by example and is not hypocritical it will make it easier for them to obtain the respect from their subordinates. Subordinates have many expectations of the first-line supervisor as well. Subordinates expect the supervisor to be understanding that human error will occur in the work place, and should be expected. Every subordinate possesses their own set of unique skills, and expects the supervisor to allow them to excel in those areas. A supervisor is expected to evenly delegate details and responsibilities to subordinates in order to allow for the development of skills and experience.
Every subordinate appreciates their hard work to be appreciated and praised. If these needs from the supervisor are met, the agency can expect a positive working attitude, as well as motivation in the work place. When these needs are not met the agency can expect a lack of motivation. Approximately 85 percent of subordinates will positively respond to these efforts from their first-line supervisor. (Scarano & Jones, 2000) This paper was devoted to clarifying the expectations of a first-line supervisor in a law enforcement agency. Clearly, first-line supervisors are truly important to the stability of any law enforcement agency.
Without these supervisors an administration would be unable to insure their subordinates are properly trained and capable of performing their job requirements. Supervisors must maintain a strong working relationship with their subordinates as well as remaining approachable and accessible. When disciplinary action is necessary the supervisor must be able to apply the discipline without any bias towards the subordinate. When confronted with conflict it is expected of the first-line supervisor to handle the conflict in the best interest of all involved parties. One must possess leadership skills and constantly lead by example.
When these two expectations are not met it becomes difficult for the subordinate to respect the supervisor. References More, H. W. , & Miller, L. S. (2007). Effective Police Supervision. (5th ed. ). Cincinnati, Ohio: Anderson Publishing. The Problem: Ineffective first line supervisors. (n. d. ). Retrieved from www. srassociatesinc. org/files/TheProblem. pdf Scarano, S. , & Jones, T. (2000). Following by example. law and order. (Vol. 48). Hilgert, R. , & Haimann, T. (1991). Supervision: Concepts and practices of management. (5th ed. ). Cincinnati, Ohio: South-Western Publishing Company.