Leadership and Scrotes
Author: Michael Keller
"If there was one thing Roscoe Rules wished, after having seen all of the world he cared to see, it was that there was a word as dirty as "nigger" to apply to all mankind. Since he had little imagination he had to settle for "asshole". But he realized that all Los Angeles policemen and most American policemen used that as the best of all possible words.
Calvin Potts, the only black choirboy, agreed wholeheartedly with Roscoe when he drunkenly expressed his dilemma one night at choir practice in the park.
"That's the only thing I like about you, Roscoe," Calvin said. "You don't just hate the brothers. You hate everyone. Even more than I do. Without prejudice or bias."
"Gimme a word then," Roscoe said. He was reeling and vomitous, looking over his shoulder for Harold Bloomguard who at 150 pounds would fight anyone who was cruel to the MacArthur Park ducks.
"Gimme a word" Roscoe repeated and furtively chucked a large jagged rock at a fuzzy duckling who swam to close, just missing the baby who went squawking to its mother.
Everyone went through the ordinary police repertoire for Roscoe Rules.
"How about fartsuckers?"
"Not rotten enough."
"That's getting old."
"Everybody uses that."
"Not bad, just too long."
"Scrotes, then," said Willie Wright who was now drunk enough to use unwholesome language.
"That's it!" Roscoe Rules shouted. "Scrotes! That's what all people are; ignorant filthy disgusting ugly worthless Scrotes. I like that! Scrotes!" (Wambaugh 1975)
Fortunately, the Roscoe Rules of the policing profession, arguably, never make it to management positions. But let us not forget that in many police departments Roscoe Rules do exist and exert a certain leadership upon other officers. As managers, how do we manage an employee that can be so destructive to the organization? What do we do with the Roscoe Rules in our profession?
Officer Roscoe Rules, in all probability, would not have been allowed to enter into the policing profession with a predisposition for such hatred of everyone. The selection processes utilized today in modern, professional, police organizations would have caught these unacceptable characteristics. So, if we don't hire them, then where do Roscoe Rules come from? The very profession we are trying to eliminate them from creates them. They are the victims of the policing profession and the disease is cynicism.
The Roscoe Rules of the policing profession are the byproduct of human frailties, natural forces, and the extreme demands of this profession that mold many of our good officers into hateful, unproductive problem employees. They often times enter into the policing profession with the best of intentions. "I know it sounds corny as hell, but I really thought I could help people. I wanted to do some good in the world, you know?" That's what every cop answers when asked why he became a police officer. He'll probably say it with laughter or a touch of bitterness. That doesn't mean it isn't true. He's just isn't a rookie any longer" (Baker 1985). As we grow from the rookie stage to a seasoned veteran the disease of cynicism has already started to grow. As leaders in our organizations, we all too often look at the telltale symptoms such as attitude and lack of productivity as just another problem employee who is disillusioned. We focus on the multitude of symptoms and characterize these employees as just another problem rather than understanding the disease itself, which if left unchecked will continue to breed officers like Roscoe Rules.
Roscoe Rules, to some degree, are in and influencing the policing profession. As leaders, how do we manage them? Are they salvageable employees? Have they themselves become Scrotes? To answer these questions we must first have some understanding of the multiple factors that mold them into Roscoe Rules and then determine what options are available to us as leaders.
"Cynicism is an attitude of "contemptuous distrust of human nature and motives" (Behrend 1980). A cynic expects nothing but the worst in human behavior. In short, cynicism is the antithesis of idealism, truth, and justice—the very virtues that law enforcement officers swear to uphold" (Graves 1996). The cause of cynicism is attributed to numerous factors. For the police officer, the most significant factors are overexposure, burnout and overinvestment. When an individual is repeatedly exposed to the worst in people, desensitization, to varying degrees, occurs. This not something that can occur; it always occurs. Becoming desensitized, separating oneself from what could be repulsive to the ability to cope, is a survival mechanism. How much child abuse can we endure? How much domestic violence are we expected to intervene in? How much disrespect can we absorb and remain professional? How much injury and death can we be exposed to? Is it any wonder that police officers loose a certain amount of their sensitivity? Like virginity, you can never get it back.
The demands of the policing profession, when excessive, can often lead to stress related problems and burnout for police officers. Burnout and stress are factors deeply intertwined with cynicism and can have a very detrimental impact on the psychological wellbeing of an officer. "The term burnout conjures up images of a sputtering wick, blackened, slowly sliding into the melting wax of a dying candle. It calls up the image of a cheerless, depleted, charred structure in need of demolition-a blot on the organizational landscape. When applied to a career police officer it more often is an excuse, a cop-out, a nonspecific, subjectively determined description of one who has become unresponsive and irresponsible". (Robinette 1987) When officers burnout it is very difficult to reorient them to mainstream policing. The profession to them just becomes a job, not a career. They just want to make it through their tour of duty. They loose sight of the vision and mission of the organization. They just don't care.
"A young trooper had just recovered his first occupied stolen auto. One officer commented, "The blue flame is lit," and laughter followed. …he explained that the young man's excitement was like a torch being lit; and the blue flame was the symbol of a law enforcement officer who wanted to make a difference in the world" (Kaighin 1999) The eternal flame at the grave of President Kennedy is not self-sustaining. It requires fuel and maintenance. So does the blue flame for a young police officer. Once the wick has gone out and receded deep into the wax it's almost impossible to light again. This holds true for an officer who has become so cynical that he/she becomes another Roscoe Rules. "I guess what our job really boils down to is not letting the assholes take over the city. Now I'm not talking about your regular crooks … they're bound to wind up in the joint anyway. What I'm talking about are those shitheads out to prove they can push everybody around. Those are the assholes we gotta deal with and take care of on patrol … They're the ones that make it tough on the decent people out there. You take the majority of what we do and its nothing more than asshole control" (Van Maanen 1978)
Officers who overinvest in the policing profession fall victim to the addiction of the profession, ever looking for the adrenaline high like a street junkie searching for the next fix. Officers need to balance their enthusiasm for the job with the necessity for non-police related activities. The overinvested officer has put his/her emphasis on the business of policing and will severely neglect their personal life. Not only is this destructive to the officer's career; it is very destructive to the officers family and personal non-police relationships. When all you see, do, and think is police related you get a distorted view of the outside world. Officers, like Roscoe Rules, become too paranoid and eventually don't trust anyone, especially those that they should trust the most.
From a management perspective, what options are available to the leader who wants to minimize the adverse impact that Roscoe Rules has on the organization and attempt to achieve a win-win for both the employee and the organization? A knee-jerk reaction of some administrators is to associate employees like Roscoe Rules with a person in need of clinical intervention. "Used by themselves, clinical referrals and fitness for duty evaluations can actually be an abdication of management's responsibility to clearly define the problem and deal with it appropriately. Clinical interventions, by themselves, are typically ineffective in terms of changing the behavior patterns of malcontent officer. The reality is that most behavioral and performance problems relating to malcontent officers need to be addressed by management in management terms, rather than psychological problems." (Gilmartin, Harris, 1996) Although Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) can be of some assistance to officers it should not be used as a crutch for management to shirk its responsibility to appropriately deal with the problem officer. Addressing the psychological aspects of a problem employees performance is only one step toward achieving the goal of rejuvenating the employee or removing the employee from the organization.
"Supervisor's have to understand how and why young, enthusiastic, and productive officers can within only a few years become negative, cynical, and nonproductive employees who either wait in a holding pattern for retirement or aggressively fight administrative direction. Today's malcontent officers were frequently yesterday's shining stars" (Gilmartin, Harris, 1996). Supervisors must be trained how to indentify those "red flags" that indicate that an employee is headed down the wrong road. Supervisors frequently develop close relationships with the officers under their command. It is expected that they will empathize with an officer to a certain degree. Their empathy must not restrict their ability to see beyond the obvious symptom of a growing problem in an employee.
It is vitally important to train our officers as to the pitfalls of the policing profession so they they too can see the "red flags" that tell them they are headed for trouble. Training on overinvestment is available for officers and their families. This training illustrates the highs and lows of the policing profession, the damage to one's career and family. One segment of the training is designed for family members to help them identify the warning signs and better understand the emotional rollercoaster of policing. This training is usually designed for officers with at least five years in the profession and is very highly recommended.
As an administrator, we sometimes think that reassignment will help rekindle the flickering blue flame. So we take a problem employee and reassign him/her to the Detective Division, Narcotics Division, or some other job assignment. All we have accomplished is to move a problem, not solve it. Now we will have a problem employee in another division being destructive. They might show a burst of energy when they first get into the new assignment but this is usually short lived.
Once we have identified all of the options, an administrator must take each option and assess the pro's and con's of each option. This is the fair, right thing to do. We need to give our employees the benefit of a detailed review of these options. Afterall, it is their career. Many times we have invested large sums of money into our employees. A conservative approach is fiscally responsible. Trying to determine what is the right thing to do can be very difficult. It is elusive at best and requires considerable thought. Ultimately, the question that must be answered is "what is in the best interest of the organization?" After considering and exhausting all other options termination may be the answer.
Terminating the "Roscoe Rules" in the profession may, for some administrators, be an easy task. Some administrators find it very difficult to terminate an employee. Some feel that they need to continue to try and work with an individual even when the individual is trying to undermine the administrator's initiatives. As crude and repulsive as "Roscoe Rules" may be to some, he probably has some talent. The threshold to determine termination is simple, is the talent, the probability of the employee changing, greater than the need to remove a destructive force for the greater good of the organization? If not, then make the termination.
In summary, effective leadership and "Scrote" management requires a determination to move the organization forward on a foundation of ethical and professional conduct. There are many "Scrotes" in the world and certainly some manage to infiltrate the policing profession and become "Roscoe Rules". Professional police organizations needs to take a proactive position on either transforming our "Roscoe Rules" into productive, professional employees that uphold the highest of standards that our organization should exemplify or be removed from the organization.
There are a variety of options available to administrators who attempt to change "Roscoe Rules". All of the employees in an organization are deserving of a leaders exhaustive efforts to be fair and consistent with everyone. Once all available options have been assessed then a decision must be made. This is not one that can be delegated. A true leader, must decide what is the right thing to do and what is in the best interest of the organization.
Baker, Mark, "Cops: Their Lives in Their Own Words", New York, Simon and Schuster, 1985
Behrend, Kenneth R., "Police Cynicism: A Cancer in Law Enforcement?", FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, August 1980.
Gilmartin, Kevin, Harris, John, "Malcontent Cops: An Intervention Strategy", International Association of Police Chief's Magazine, August 1996.
Graves, Wallace, "Police Cynicism: Causes and Cures". FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, June 1996.
Kaighin, Barbara, "Keeping The Flame Lit", Law and Order Magazine, October 1999
Robinette, Hillary M., "Burnout in Blue, Managing the Police Marginal Employee," Praeger Publishers, 1987
Van Maanen, John, "The Asshole" Classics in Policing, Anderson Publishing Co. 1996
Wambaugh, J., "The Choirboys", Delacorte Press, 1975, p.24
About the author: Michael A. Keller has been in the public safety profession since 1973 attaining the position of Chief of Police & Director of Public Safety. He is the CEO of the Keller Consulting Group. He has consulted with police agencies on issues involving Police Management and Planning, Leadership, Employee Discipline, Internal Investigations, Criminal Investigations, and investigations regarding the Sexual Exploitation of Children. He is a member of Project ALERT and Team ADAM, with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. He holds a Bachelor's of Arts Degree in Police Administration, is a graduate of the Leadership Command College, and a graduate of the FBI National Academy 176th Session. He has written numerous articles on Leadership and Policing for various publications. He has extensive media experience and has been a guest on ABC's Good Morning America, CBS's Today Show, Dateline NBC, CNN, and Larry King Live. He is an avid saltwater fisherman. http://www.kellerconsultants.com
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