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  • Supervisor and discretion

    Trying not to get into specifics.

    I was told by my supervisor at a previous agency that legally he cannot interfere with officer discretion unless there is some other law or legal principle (such as shall-arrest, or lack of probable cause). He had 15 years on the job at the time, most of it in supervision.

    A supervisor from a neighboring agency where I work now told me the same thing, and said he learned that when he went to the supervision course at GPSTC. I don't know his background other than this.

    Suppose you are told you are not allowed to arrest people for affray, not allowed to write speeding tickets, not allowed to stop for equipment violations, or ordered to release someone when there is clearly probable cause for DUI. Assuming everything is perfectly legal and within policy.

    I do believe based on what I've been told by those other people, that the above is not allowed, but don't really have anything to go on besides just word of mouth. Is there particular code section, case law, or something else to support this? Even something from the supervision course manual would be helpful.

  • #2
    Interesting questions, but I get the feeling there is more to this than those questions.

    Generally speaking (and this may vary state by state), the authority of a peace officer is essentially the same regardless of rank or title. A new rookie cop has the same general enforcement authority as his supervisor or chief.

    As a practical matter, the function of each officer is to implement department objectives and goals as decided by the department head (or his delegated representative such as a supervisory rank officer). Decisions on how to apply the assets (personnel, equipment, budget) of the department are the purview of the department head (elected or appointed), and that may include specifying certain concentrations on specific public safety issues or crime problems while specifying other issues as not serious enough to commit the resources available.

    Then there are the political aspects of public law enforcement. An elected sheriff will be held to account by the voters every few years. An appointed chief will be held to account by the elected representatives overseeing the department. Any department head is constantly balancing operational decisions with public expectations and demands, as well as managing a limited budget.

    Decades before marijuana was legalized in Colorado there were cities and counties that publicly refused to enforce MJ laws. In some cases it was a matter of bowing to public opinion; in some cases it was a matter of committing budget and staff resources to the more serious problems of the communities.

    Many agencies here in Colorado stopped responding to automobile accidents on private property, or non-injury minor collisions on public roadways, instead requiring those involved to go into the police station to file a "cold report". Our state laws require that nearly all accidents be reported, and that LE agencies maintain such reports, but there is no specific requirement to respond to the scene.

    Several years ago I had a utility trailer stolen from my driveway, along with a couple of ladders and other work equipment. When I called in the complaint I was told that an officer would call me back to complete the report. Several hours later I received that call and the incident was handled over the phone without response to the crime scene.

    Many years ago DUI enforcement was a very cumbersome and time consuming exercise, requiring several hours to secure the vehicle, transport the subject for BAC testing, sworn affidavits, jail booking, etc. Our department's patrol staff was frequently overwhelmed by calls for service, so when one officer was tied up with a DUI arrest all the others were further burdened by having to cover that officer's designated area for hours. The decision was to make DUI arrests only in cases involving accidents with property damage or injuries; all the rest (so long as they were cooperative) were provided with transportation to their homes and cars towed to a secure lot for later retrieval. Problems? Sure! I remember one incident in which the subject left home as soon as the officer cleared the area, got into another vehicle, then caused a serious accident with multiple injuries; thus a nasty lawsuit against the city, the department, and the officer.

    I could go on with examples, but I think the point is clear. Being the boss of a LE agency requires decisions every day based on budget, staffing, equipment, and other resources. That is the boss's job, not each individual officer's decision to make.

    Comment


    • #3
      I agree with what you're saying, and it makes sense, but in our agency we have nearly unlimited downtime. It's possible to go an entire month without an actual call for service, except "I locked myself out of my office". We're a college, though with low standards and a lot of drug problems on and off campus. I don't mean this to brag or to insult anyone, but the other day we tallied up stats for last year and about half of all calls for service, traffic stops, and self-initiated activity were mine, out of about 10 officers. I realize a lot of these guys have done their time at other agencies so I'm not knocking them at all, but I'm a young guy and I like to work; I love what I do; and I have a nonstop line of students complaining to me that the dormitories are like a Cheech and Chong movie, or that people are driving twice the speed limit through campus, ignoring stop signs, and so on. In the rare event that we have an actual call for service, I handle it and our average response time is about one minute. I am usually the only officer on duty, but due to extremely low call volume, it's not a matter of budget, resources, manpower etc (surprisingly we are kept pretty informed about our budget and other issues). Jail billing is also taken care of by the city and things like DWLS are just fingerprint and release instead of hold for a bond.

      I know better than to write or hassle the sheriff's wife, when I was in FTO when I first got hired by my first agency, I stopped the former sheriff of 30+ years, whose father was sheriff for 30+ years, and whose father before him was 30+ years. He let me go with a warning.

      As of just a little while ago I spoke to another one of our officers who was a supervisor and FTO at another agency, and he said the same thing as the other supervisors I've talked to; that in our state they cannot legally interfere with your discretion so long as everything else is legal.

      Comment


      • #4
        So "they cannot legally interfere with your discretion so long as everything else is legal". That is just fine. That may not stop your department head from downgrading your performance evaluations or loading you with every less-than-desirable assignment or detail until either you get fed up and quit, or there is enough of a record to let you go. In any bureaucracy those who stand out are quite likely to be ground down or cut off. Any experienced bureaucrat has learned how to massage the system and the data in order to get what he/she wants.

        Another factor that has occurred to me is because of your department being part of a college administration. All colleges and universities are constantly competing for students, for grant programs, and for alumni contributions. Every report generated and every statistic compiled is a part of the public record, and that record is regularly reviewed by new students (and their families), grant program administrators, and deep-pocket alumni. Public colleges are not immune to politics; in fact college administrations tend to be very active microcosms of political interests. Pressures may be applied to "control" (read as "reduce") reported crimes and arrests in order to maintain a public image of safety and security, a steady flow of dollars, and continuing career-building by the administrators.

        One call for service in a 30-day period is interesting, if not astonishing. 40 years ago I was a shift supervisor in a mid-sized city police department, and every one of my officers regularly averaged between 15 and 20 calls for service per 8-hour shift, and 30 per shift was not unheard of. 25 years ago, as a small town police chief, my officers routinely handled 5 to 10 calls for service every day. Frankly, if I were the decision maker involved I would look at your department's record as indicative of a pressing need to greatly reduce department staffing, perhaps even eliminate the department and contract services with a police department or sheriff's office.

        For a young officer with lots of drive I would suggest looking for opportunities with other departments that will provide you with more challenge. As long as you remain where you are I suggest that you settle in to the realities of your employer's expectations, and remember that "IT'S NOT JUST AN ADVENTURE, IT'S A JOB" (hopefully you are old enough to remember the old TV and radio ads that I am drawing a parody from).

        Comment


        • #5
          We had something similar come up many years ago in California. Here, the legislature giuves every peace officer policew authority anywhere in the state, but it also giuves them a "Primary Mission" which will vary from agency to agency. The concept to to establish jurisdictions, keep agencies from poaching and ensure that tax money budgeted to fund department's A's mission wasn't inexcusably wasted doing Department B's function.

          A Fish & Game warden somehow got a transfusion of Highway Patrol blood and spent an inordinant amount of time writing citations for traffic violations, which had nothing to do with his mission of natural resources management and enforcement. In spite of being repeatedly warned to knock it off, he continued to do so anyway and the department disciplined him.

          He appealed and the court ruled in his favor. In doing so, they pointed out that while Fish and Game Wardens had a Primary Mission, it was not an exclusive mission and that thwie peace officer authority did extend to anywhere in the state for a crime committed in their presence. It held that the department could not discipline the Warden for his traffic enforcement activities until such time as they could demonstrate that they caused him to inexcusably neglect the duties of his primary mission.

          With that in mind, while it may not be appropriate to order someone not to perform a discretionary act, there are ways to do it legitimately. Again, it might be shown that performing that act interfered with a higher duty, or put someone at risk. City councils who do not want a particular law enforced may ad language in a department budget specifically stating that no funding has been included for enforcement of that law. It just takes a little imagination.

          Going too far is half the pleasure of not getting anywhere

          Comment


          • #6
            Special note to OP emtguy:

            At WalMart today (March 17, 2020) there were two armed uniformed police officers (not security guards) assigned to the toilet paper aisle, keeping the peace as store employees limited each shopper to two packages of TP.

            There could be a reason the shift commander selected those two officers for that detail. I don't know, but it is certainly a possibility.

            I got my two packages of TP and checked out. Asked if I could have an armed escort to protect me and my TP until I was safely in my truck. Checkout clerk told me there were more cops working the parking lot.

            By the way, our local PD requires a bachelors degree to apply, the academy is 6 months long, and the field training program lasts a year. So we have some well-educated and highly trained LEO's assigned to the toilet paper aisle detail.

            Comment


            • BNWS
              BNWS commented
              Editing a comment
              Maybe because they were there you were able to get your 2 packs of TP. I haven't seen TP in my local market in 2 weeks even though there are signs limiting people to 2 packs. The checkout girls are not willing to confront angry shoppers. It's surprising how nasty people can get to a teenage girl. I would suspect an incident generated the response.

          • #7
            Praise God that we have no Walmart to deal with in our jurisdiction! At least 2-3 calls there per shift when I worked the city.

            Regarding statistics; of course due to Clery reporting, since I got here, crime reports have gone through the roof. That's because the students were complaining on a daily basis that they could hardly breathe in the dorms. Parents and high school students would come to tour the college and it got to a point where the student "tour guide" would not even take them to the dorms because of the marijuana problems. I hit the ground running and found who was actually selling it, arrested him, and he voluntarily withdrew and moved home awaiting trial. Things have calmed down a lot since then, but early on I hit it hard and would catch 2-3 a week easily. We have also had problems such as unpaid dope dealers going to the dorms looking to "collect money" and one student was severely beaten because of this. As a chief I don't have to tell you the endless list of other crimes and issues that follow a drug problem.

            Things have died down and word has gotten out in the community, if you have dope, don't bring it to the college and don't even drive through the college. Again all of my work is caught up; I check buildings, I am present in the dorms (they're not even wanting that because we are "too scary"). It's not that I'm only doing traffic, that's less than half of my time, for the most part I am the only person doing any noticeable amount of any kind of work.

            If anyone has the supervision manual from GPSTC and could show me the relevant paragraphs in it, please let me know, it will save me a lot of hunting and possibly open records requests.

            Comment


            • #8
              Oh well. Seemed like a nice young guy. I hope the brick wall he is about to run into doesn't cause too much damage.

              Comment


              • #9
                This has long been an issue for campus police officers. I have several friends that served as police officers for various USG institutions. They all spoke of the political winds and what they were encouraged to do. My friends at UGA PD used to joke that it all depended on the editors at the Red and Black. If the Red and Black said they were too lax, they would receive instructions to crack down. If too harsh, they were told to back off.

                You will have to accept the reality of working in a political environment. Some of the professors/academic types may not like police. They may view you as a necessary evil. They will likely seek to tie your hands as much as possible. The Chief has to answer to those same people as they are the boss. This is why police forces under control of educational institutions find themselves commonly under fire. Many people feel that its in the best interest of the university/college for them to hide crime.

                Just understand that the road you are traveling down is a mine field. If you like your job and what they are asking you to do is not illegal, it is best not to rock the boat.
                Sign here. Press hard. You are making five copies.

                Comment


                • #10
                  Nearly every court is going to tell you that your boss has the authority to direct your work. They also have the authority to discipline you if you don't follow those directions. My colleague above from the great state of California has a court system behind him that is unheard of in the rest of the United States

                  You can split hairs all you want about "t interfering with officer discretion" but if you don't listen to what the boss tells you...........you are going to not have a good experience working there.

                  Point in case. Yesterday I shaved off my mustache that I have worn continually for 45 yrs after a directive from the sheriff that all uniformed staff will be clean shaven during the COVID crisis. I probably could have talked him into changing his mind about us retired folks needing to use respirator masks etc, but I chose to take one for the team. Also down right refusal would have probably been a fireable offense

                  I might add that the Sheriff himself along with the Chief Deputy also shaved their face yesterday................

                  Having been a full time supervisor in the past (and now a member of the agency management team) I have had to make decisions about situations that were unpopular. I have had to pass on instructions from elected/appointed public officials that made our team mission harder. I have had to tell officers they "can't" do something that was actually legal for them to do but policy now told us it was not appropriate. I had to live with that decision or ......leave my job. Or get fired if I refused etc.

                  Somebody above you makes policy. If the chief says NO PARKING TICKETS...............you probably shouldn't write parking tickets..........and the list goes on. Trust me somebody ABOVE the chief told him to say that.
                  Last edited by Iowa #1603; 03-19-2020, 02:11 PM.
                  Since some people need to be told by notes in crayon .......Don't PM me with without prior permission. If you can't discuss the situation in the open forum ----it must not be that important

                  My new word for the day is FOCUS, when someone irritates you tell them to FOCUS

                  Comment


                  • emtguy89
                    emtguy89 commented
                    Editing a comment
                    Shaving seems an odd requirement for all this...

                    Wasn't the chief though, and I don't write tickets, probably 1% of my stops result in a ticket. Two formal complaints, and both were unfounded. The culture here is not so much of a "do/do not or I will write you up" more of "okay, then show me/prove you're right". We are all generally on a first name basis and thank God not one of those places like the sheriff's offices that can fire someone because he doesn't like them. Hence the reason I wanted to see the actual source.

                  • Iowa #1603
                    Iowa #1603 commented
                    Editing a comment
                    Again you are trying to split hairs.

                    You follow the directions of your supervisors or you are not going to have a good experience.

                • #11
                  Writing parking tickets and equipment violations during a national emergency while a large majority of people are out of work and looking for essential items would not be something my supervisor would have to tell me not to do. I would see it was my job to remain available to respond to reports of serious crime and or incidents that may result in injury or death.

                  Comment


                  • emtguy89
                    emtguy89 commented
                    Editing a comment
                    These discussions came about before all of that and were entirely unrelated. We still had a full house and weren't even contemplating shutting down at the time.

                • #12
                  Originally posted by retired1995 View Post
                  Special note to OP emtguy:

                  At WalMart today (March 17, 2020) there were two armed uniformed police officers (not security guards) assigned to the toilet paper aisle, keeping the peace as store employees limited each shopper to two packages of TP.

                  There could be a reason the shift commander selected those two officers for that detail. I don't know, but it is certainly a possibility.

                  I got my two packages of TP and checked out. Asked if I could have an armed escort to protect me and my TP until I was safely in my truck. Checkout clerk told me there were more cops working the parking lot.

                  By the way, our local PD requires a bachelors degree to apply, the academy is 6 months long, and the field training program lasts a year. So we have some well-educated and highly trained LEO's assigned to the toilet paper aisle detail.
                  Shift commanders are involved with off duty details?

                  Details aren’t handled by a detail office, where you just review and grab what’s available?

                  Comment


                  • #13
                    Originally posted by NolaT View Post

                    Shift commanders are involved with off duty details?

                    Details aren’t handled by a detail office, where you just review and grab what’s available?
                    I suppose that is a possibility, off-duty officers working for WalMart. When I ran a department I never allowed off-duty employment that involved any exercise of police authority. Too much liability exposure for the city, in my opinion. I know these things are done in some places.

                    Comment


                    • #14
                      "Shaving seems an odd requirement for all this..."

                      It is actually a CDC recommendation for first responders
                      Since some people need to be told by notes in crayon .......Don't PM me with without prior permission. If you can't discuss the situation in the open forum ----it must not be that important

                      My new word for the day is FOCUS, when someone irritates you tell them to FOCUS

                      Comment


                      • #15
                        Originally posted by NolaT View Post

                        Shift commanders are involved with off duty details?
                        I believe that the reference was that the Shift Commander found an undesirable assignment for some officers...........................POSSIBLY someone who had ticked the Shift Commander off at some point
                        Last edited by Iowa #1603; 03-20-2020, 02:49 PM.
                        Since some people need to be told by notes in crayon .......Don't PM me with without prior permission. If you can't discuss the situation in the open forum ----it must not be that important

                        My new word for the day is FOCUS, when someone irritates you tell them to FOCUS

                        Comment

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