I attended a seminar conducted by Mr. Jack Harris. Mr Harris spent over twenty years with the Tuscon, Arizona Police Department, retiring as a Captain in 1994. In law enforcement circles, Mr. Harris is considered a good source of information with respect to management and behavioral science. He is well known for helping people develop skills they can use in real-world situations.

I’ve heard Mr. Harris before. He is one of the kind of presenters who you can listen to multiple times because each presentation is different and takes a different angle but always carries the same theme of developing accountable and well-run law enforcement organizations.

This session talked about supervisors and managers. The title was “Keeping Good People Good.”

In addition to the normal reminders of communication and accountability, Mr. Harris also spoke about the challenges of supervisors supporting their staff, even when it becomes uncomfortable to do so. He spoke about why managers don’t manage. Some of the items he spoke about were:

  • Supervisors/Managers become apathetic and give up
  • It’s difficult to manage friends and peers
  • The issue of the “experience gap”
  • Fear of the appeal process, litigation, and other administrative issues
  • Lack of administrative support
  • They are allowed to not manage.

Some of the suggestions Mr. Harris provided to counteract these issues were based on the premises that the skills that made someone a good police officer, are not the same skills that will make them a good supervisor. He also said the key to good police supervisory effectiveness is not what you know; rather, it is how well you apply what you know to real-life situations.

Mr. Harris said that the following skills go a long way in keeping good people good:

  • Changing how we view others in order to help them adapt as needed
  • Skill development that reflects the real need not the perceived need
  • Mentoring and coaching
  • Refusing to accept mediocrity
  • Setting the example and being a role model
  • Separating business from personal
  • Preventing problems and strong emphasis on problem solving.

Mr. Harris said that a supervisor’s resolve to helping keep good people good has to be stronger than the discomfort that temps them to not supervise. I find this statement to be significant.

Harris continued that one must have the courage to communicate. He said that without it, personal discomfort overpowers professional responsibility. He stated that it is the manager’s job to tell people the truth, not what they want to hear and to provide them with honest feedback about their performance and how they are meeting expectations. Harris said that to problem-solve often requires early intervention and courage on the supervisor’s part to take an ethical stand toward accountability. He went on to give examples of how supervisors he has worked with complain about various employees who underperform and often fail in career-ending missteps stating they were not surprised to see the employee “crash and burn.” Harris went on to say that when he looked at these employees’ evaluations, they generally reflected good or superior performance because the supervisors lacked the courage for any number of reasons to confront the issues and work to resolve them. He said that often the supervisors would tell him that they felt they would lose standing with their staff if they corrected them.

Harris took the time to remind us that it is more important to have the respect of your employees and coworkers than simply being liked by them. He also emphasized how one poor attitude on the part of a supervisor who in unhappy or is out of step with the organization can devastate morale across the entire department.

Mr. Harris also talked about the challenges of balancing the need for accountability and management and that it is not an easy task. He said that unfortunately, we often “educate by what we tolerate.” He went on to explain that tolerating unacceptable performance and behavior allows issues to continue and become more complex and get worse. It gives tacit approval to the inappropriate actions and confuses people. It increases liability exposure of the organization and exposes mangers to personal liability.

Harris also said he feels we ought to be careful about using labels. He feels we use terms like “mentor” and “coach” too much and without qualification. He believes it is more important to know the job and lead by positive example.

Mr. Haris left us with a number of things to consider:

  • Set high standards
  • Don’t confuse style with substance
  • Don’t confuse activity with accomplishment
  • Over-supervision leads to resentment
  • Use mistakes as teaching opportunities
  • “Walk the talk” – honor your commitments
  • Make decisions, monitor the results and fine tune them if necessary.

Mr. Harris concluded with this thought: “It is not enough to just hire good people, we have to strive to keep good people good.”

We’ve been fortunate in Northfield to have hired some very good people and will continue to do so. The challenge, in changing the basic philosophy of policing as we have done over the past five years, is to provide members of our department with the tools and support necessary to be successful. Support does not mean “do your own thing” or not be accountable, but rather I feel it is incumbent on a police chief to develop a vision based on the direction given by council and the community and strike a successful balance within the department. It also means making adjustments, even when it is not so popular to keep the mission and vision viable.

It means providing clear communications to supervisors to assist in their execution of day-to-day functions with that vision in mind to accomplish long term goals and objectives. This type of latitude makes it a bit more of a challenge for our supervisors but I am fully confident that they will continue to be up to the task as will our staff to undertake the challenges of proactive policing and problem solving.

I would continue to encourage you as community members to communicate to us how we are doing. As in the past, I will continue to meet with various groups throughout the year from elementary students to senior citizens and hopefully everywhere in between to keep the vision and mission in line with the concerns of the community. I welcome opportunities to speak to various groups, whether a civic organization or neighborhood meeting. Whether it is through this web log, my email address, by phone (645-4477) or in person, I hope you will continue to communicate and partner with us to keep our community a desirable place in which to live.


I’ll have one opportunity yet this evening to draft one more entry before I head back to Northfield. As much as it is good to exchange ideas with peers and learn new things, it is also good to look forward to returning home.

About Gary Smith

Chief Smith has served over 31 years in the criminal justice field. He is currently a consultant assisting public and private organizations better establish community goals and ethical conduct with the members of their organizations. Chief Smith serves as a facilitator, lecturer, professor and other capacities both inside and outside the criminal justice field.
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