September 09, 2011

The Literature Corner: Time Management

Cops will tell you that the hardest part of being a police officer, the part that produces the most stress, is not dealing with the public, or even dealing with criminals, but dealing with other police officers, particularly supervisors.

This edition of the Literature Corner focuses on one of my experiences with a pre-historic cop.

Time Management

Sgt. Mike Pulaski was a dinosaur. He was one of the old breed. He first became a cop when one might deal with a drunk by driving him 20 miles into the country and letting him walk home, if they didn’t beat him senseless for annoying them in the first place. Another alternative might be beating them senseless and leaving them in a dumpster. He was pre-Miranda, and long before the time that criminals would happily sue any cop who hurt their feelings. In Pulaski’s day, criminals figured that getting roughed up by the police was just part of the cost of doing business. After all, they were ripping off society, they were predatory scum; didn’t society deserve to get a few licks in? They thought so, the police thought so, and so did most citizens. Then the 60’s and liberal Supreme Courts happened.

Pulaski managed to restrain those tendencies over the years, but he never managed to catch up with modern policing techniques, and wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer in the first place, so of course, he was promoted to sergeant-- middle management.

In police work, people are often promoted for reasons that have little or nothing to do with their ability to do the job. Have an officer who is dangerous? Can’t do his job properly? Is he the Chief’s buddy? Is he a good old boy? Just feel sorry for him in general? Promote him! That way he can’t do any immediate harm. The Peter Principle--people rising to the level of their own incompetence--is alive and well in law enforcement.

Pulaski had been a supervisor in Detectives for many years, and finally, they had enough of him. In most police organizations, becoming a detective is a promotion relative to the patrol force. Detectives are considered to be sort of super cops, supreme beings whose abilities far outstrip those of normal mortals. As such, they have many special perks and privileges and freedoms not accorded the patrol troops. Unlimited coffee breaks, for example. Another of those perks is the juice to get rid of people they don’t want. And so it was that after many years in a comfortable, relatively work-free environment, Sgt. Mike Pulaski came to be a shift supervisor on my shift, working for a Lieutenant who was many years younger.

Pulaski’s reputation preceded him, but I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Most of the guys and girls were. It didn’t take long for us to figure out that the Detectives were wise indeed, and that we were in trouble.

Pulaski didn’t have a clue. He had no idea of patrol procedures, of safety tactics, of, well, just about everything necessary to be an effective cop, to say nothing of a capable supervisor of cops. At the same time, he wasn’t at all afraid to issue orders that were contrary to proper procedures or common sense. He wasn’t the slightest interested in learning anything either. He had two years to retirement, and he saw no point in changing the formulas that made him such a stunning success for his entire career.

It was at once frustrating, dangerous, comical and sad. You want an example? Shortly after he came to the shift it was evaluation time, and he and my other Sgt. and Lt. were conducting my evaluation. Toward the end of the chat, after he made a completely bizarre observation about my performance, so off the mark it was virtually in another language. We were all stunned. He somehow picked up on the silence, and said: “we’re aware of what we think we see.” He sat back, nodded, and crossed his arms in satisfaction. After a beat, the other Sgt. and the Lt. were staring, open mouthed at him, but I just grinned slightly, nodded politely and said, “of course you are.” No sense trying to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig.

Pulaski was also a pretty stern moralist, a fundamentalist Christian. Though he did radically alter those views after having an affair, getting caught, and getting divorced after decades of marriage. Patrol work does offer certain--opportunities--and Pulaski ended up taking advantage of them. He was far from alone.

Pulaski called me into his office one relatively slow Sunday night after he’d been on the shift about four months. “I think you might have a problem, but I’m not sure you have a problem. You might not have a problem at all, but I’d like your help in solving this problem that you might not have.”

I was momentarily unsure if he was kidding, but he wasn't. He was being very sincere and had no idea that he was making no sense at all--he never did. I decided to play along. “Uh, sure Sarge. No problem. What’s the--uh-- problem?” He was starting to make me do it!

He explained that he noticed (he was aware of what he thought he saw) that I had a great deal of overtime lately. That, to him, indicated that I had a “time management problem.” In his simplistic universe, I simply wasn’t getting my reports written on time, so I ended up having to write them after the shift was over, hence, overtime.

Overtime is a love/hate thing in police work. It’s a constant bane for everyone. Administrators can virtually never hire all the troops they need to really do the job, so police forces are always short handed. This can sometimes be dangerous, and it’s always annoying. The troops have to do far more work than is safe or reasonable to do, so they’re always racking up overtime, often writing the reports they didn’t have time to do during their shift, running from call to call, after the shift ended.

On one hand, the troops love the OT because getting one and a half times their normal pay really helps pad the paycheck. On the other hand, police work is very stressful and tiring, and most cops don’t like to hang around for additional shifts--not on a regular basis anyway--or to do paperwork. Most cops really hate paperwork.

Administrators have limited budgets and are always being pressured to keep overtime at a minimum by the same people who deny them enough bodies to do the job in the first place. So administrators are always running around complaining about all the overtime, issuing orders to their subordinates about eliminating unnecessary overtime, while at the same time knowing that they shouldn’t be complaining and they can’t really cut down on the overtime. They also fight about compensatory time--work extra today, get that time off tomorrow, or at some time in the future--because it’s even worse than overtime. How can you let someone off when that will make a shift even weaker, which will only increase overtime? Still, it was often done.

I pressed Pulaski a bit and found out that he noticed that on the previous shift, I had very little overtime, but on this shift--the afternoon shift--I had a great deal of overtime. I was amazed, but I just nodded and promised to do my best to deal with the problem I might not have. No sense annoying this particular pig.

What Pulaski was missing was the fundamental nature of police shift work. The day shift, from 6:00 AM until 2:00 PM, was not generally too busy. Even with a number of calls that required reports, the average officer usually had enough time to sit and write them in the field without generating much overtime. The afternoon shift, from 2:00 PM until 10:00 PM, was the busiest shift by far. Officers tended to literally dash from call to call with no time to write. Particularly if they took a report or made an arrest late in the shift, overtime was a foregone conclusion. Everyone knew they’d likely be hanging around after shift whether they wanted to or not. Finally, the midnight shift, from 10:00 PM until 6:00 AM, was busier than the day shift but commonly not as busy at the afternoon shift. Usually, after 3:00 AM, things quieted down a little and officers could get their reports done, but not always.

Pulaski was too dense to realize that it was only normal to have little overtime on the day shift--the shift we’d finished only a few weeks before--a great deal of overtime on the afternoon shift, and somewhat less overtime on the midnight shift, therefore I had a time management problem.

I chatted with my Lieutenant about it. “He said you had what?”

“A time management problem, but he wasn’t sure I had it and wanted my help in solving the problem I might not have at all.”

He broke up.

“Hey, it’s not THAT funny. He’s serious!”

“Yeah, I know,” the L-T said. “But you’ve got to admit, it’s original!”

“Original. Great. So what do you suggest I do?”

“Well,” he said, drying his eyes, “you’re not sucking up any illegitimate OT are you?”

“Nah. You know that.”

“OK then. Let’s just wait and see what happens, but keep me posted.”

“No sweat.”

“And watch that time management problem, will you?”

“Har, har.”

As I expected, my OT dropped off a bit on the midnight shift (we changed each month), and dropped to essentially nothing on the day shift. Pulaski called me in and congratulated me on solving my time management problem. I thanked him for the opportunity to improve myself. Oink, oink.

From that day forward, the L-T turned my "time management problem" into a department legend, one of those little things that crops up over and over for comic relief. Cops need a lot of that.

Posted by MikeM at September 9, 2011 11:03 PM