After the Webinar: Understanding Public Safety Professionalism. Q&A with Dr. Jeff Fox

Webinar presenter Dr. Jeff Fox answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Understanding Public Safety Professionalism. Here are just a few of his responses.


Audience Question: Are there ways you can suggest where we can accurately assess how the public actually perceives our agency? 

Jeff Fox:

Wonderful question! Yeah! I see more and more police agencies using various forms of social media. They put polls and surveys out asking for people for input. It might be like a Likert scale one through seven type of thing or you can actually have questions you ask them and you can have a place for comments. You can put it on Facebook and different things like that, most agencies have that now. Some agencies actually have contact cards. They use them that way too. You can put something on your website, and even you can collect that data, and then you can aggregate and extrapolate and come up with yearly information. And take it with a grain of salt to, I used to read every evaluation of every student through our academy and 99% of them will say this person was great and one person would say, “This person should never teach again and should be banned from the country!” Like, really? You know, so, you’re not going to make everybody happy all the time. So, what we’re looking for is patterns and trends. But I think that’s a wonderful thing to do. I think it adds to the professionalism of the agency. I think accreditation actually wants something like that, I’d have to go back and look at my notes on it, but I’m not sure if that’s an accreditation requirement or not. But this is a wonderful idea to do that, and there are different mechanisms you can gear it toward, if you have a mission statement for your agency, and you want to focus on how well are we doing? You can specify it. In other words, you can make it very specific for what you want, or you can make it open-ended. So, there are 2 or 3 different ways to do that. I think it’s a really good idea other than just a normal complaint system. I also think it’s good to look at your own data too, for your internal complaints, and that sort of thing. I see more and more agencies who are posting that information, and it actually looks pretty good in most cases. I know the State police started doing that recently, where they would post all the complaints, they wouldn’t say who they were, but let’s say they got 100 complaints this year and 20 of them sustained, and 80 of them unfounded and it would be very generic. The more open we are to the public, the better off we’re going to be. The more we work with the public, the better off we’re going to be. But I would use some of those mechanisms and you can look around and see what other agencies have done. Most of them use social media.


Audience Question: You’ve talked about language in the 15 characteristics. As an executive assistant, how can I stress the importance to our officers of refraining from using foul language inside our building? 

Jeff Fox: It is not easy. I am not perfect. I will say things sometimes that I shouldn’t say, I try not to. And so first of all, we have to set the right example and we can’t live in a glass house. So, as leaders, we have to set the right example. Secondly, there’s nothing wrong with talking about that during in-service trainings. There’s nothing wrong talking about that, doing during squad meetings before or after work and spinning it in a positive direction. It is not going to be easy. You are not ever going to get it 100%. Those areas that I think that you’re going to be most effective with. I don’t know if I want to use my Standards of Conduct for that necessarily. I guess, it depends on how much and how often. If it was a particular person, and you were having a big issue with them, there’s nothing wrong with the supervisor calling him in and saying, “We can’t do that, you can’t just be saying that all the time.” But we are human and I know supervisors are different. I had a secretary I hired like 25 years ago and she put on Facebook recently, she would say she was a country girl, she was really, really good, and she would say, “Aren’t you just a cats a_ _!” she would say the A word, and then, I would kind of grin. And she would say about different things. She was being complimentary to who she was saying it to, but she knew, I never said that. And I was okay, it’s just me and her or somebody else we knew who was okay in that environment., So you can, kind of pick and choose how much of that you want to regulate in public. Cannot regulate it 100%. But you can also talk to your supervisors and your sergeants and talk to them about being professional. And you don’t have to do it in a direct manner. You can do it indirectly, if you put on a professionalism class, you could talk about that sort of thing. It’s not okay to talk to the public like that. It is not okay to do that. And then you know, the camera system, when we first started using cameras to people who got them, those who worked really hard, and use them for enforcement tool, and those who got a lot of complaints. I got one early on because I was a hard worker, but a lot of guys got them early on, because they were saying things they shouldn’t say, and they now have a camera to cover that. With the media we have now it’s hard to get away if anything. So, that is the best answer I could give you. But I think it is all the above type of thing, where you have to kind of encourage that especially if it’s been going on a lot.


Audience Question: What are your suggestions, if your site managers and assistant directors don’t hold their supervisors accountable? 

Jeff Fox:

Then you got to hold them accountable? I have had that happen. I had a fellow trooper who was a really, really good enforcement guy, but he didn’t like to follow through on his criminal investigations. And we had a case he worked. It was a victim, and the victim came in and said, “Hey, what is going on? What’s going on with us?” And we would do case reviews every two months and my sergeant, he was a nice guy, but he wouldn’t hold people accountable. Well, I’ve got to hold you accountable. So, if you’re not going to hold him accountable. I am going to hold you accountable. And the guy came in. He said, it’s been a year, and nothing’s going on. I went back and looked at the case reviews the sergeant had done. He told him over and over again to do this. He did not do it. He didn’t do anything about it. Now the guy has made a complaint. So, now, you know, you are going to run into standards of conduct. He has too. And then, I didn’t give him much time, I think I gave him a reprimand and it was written up. But then I found out he’s been doing it a lot. There’s a pattern he had of not doing his job. So, first of all, I wouldn’t let it be a surprise. I will let them know, “Hey, you got to do your job, I’m going to hold you accountable because the bucks got to stop someplace and stop them right here.” Let them know what is going to happen. And you can do that in different ways. Supervisor and in-service school, you can talk about it in general. More specifically, you can talk about it at evaluation time, at merit rating time. You can include your comments in there. And the best thing to do is just talk about it as a coaching and mentoring thing and see if that would work. But that is a big problem. That’s a big problem everywhere if nobody wants to make anybody do what you’re supposed to do. How does it start? It starts with you; it starts with me. Document it. I believe in progressive discipline. Work your way up. I have talked to you twice. I counseled you twice. And now we’re going to move it up the food chain. So, that’s the best I could do with that, but that’s the big issue and it is always going on. You just got to confront it, and coach, mentor, and document.


Audience Question: My supervisor definitely does not conduct himself in a professional manner. What is the best way to address this situation? 

Jeff Fox: A couple of things. That is a tough one, that’s a really tough one. Do not lower your standards lead by example. And if it’s too bad, there’s nothing wrong with confronting them about it, but be aware that it might blow back on you. I’ve had several occasions; I had a first sergeant who would get on the phone with a lieutenant, and they would scream and yell and curse each other on a phone. I’d be sitting in the chair in his office, and when he get off the phone, he looked at me, he said, “You wouldn’t do that, would you?” “No, I would not do that. I wouldn’t let him do that to me either.” I am not going to do that. He is not going to do that. And see, the funny thing was that First Sergeant talked to the Lieutenant that way. But he never spoke to me that way because he knew I wasn’t going to put up with it because I didn’t operate that way. Then, I was on vacation one time when I was with another agency, I was out in the middle of nowhere on a walking trail, and my boss called me, he wasn’t happy because I wasn’t going to agree with what he wanted to do, and he was screaming and yelling at me, and my wife and child were a distance away, they could hear us and I was just like, “Okay, well, we’re going to end this conversation,” when I got back to the office, I walked into his office, I close the door. I said, “You are never ever going to scream and yell at me again? It is unprofessional. I am not going to tolerate it from you.” He did not, he didn’t have anywhere else to go other than to apologize. Now, that could come back to bite you. But if you’re doing your job, you’re doing the right thing, you just got to cover yourself, because some people wouldn’t take it well and they might retaliate. You can lead by example, first of all, I’m not going to act that way. It depends on the relationship you have too. How much you can actually coach and mentor up. There is such a thing as coaching and mentoring up. We had to be very subtle about it. If I did not agree with what my sergeant said, sometimes, I knew they were dead wrong, I didn’t just walk into the office and go, “Hey, you idiot, you’re wrong.” I will go in there as a ole country boy to say, “Hey sarge, I was looking at the code book here. And I know what you told me about that, but this is what it says in the code book.” “Oh, alright partner, you’re right, you know.” So, there’s a different way of handling that. So it depends on the relationship you have, and you can set the boundaries, as I said if something is directed toward you or directed to your people. You can set boundaries. You can say, “You know what? We really should not be doing that.” Or “I really can’t let you do that.” Now, again, this doesn’t mean you won’t get repercussions, it can come back to bite you. There was a case down in Florida where a female officer came up and grabbed the supervisor by the back of his belt when he was mishandling a prisoner. And he turned around and grabbed her by the throat and started pushing her backward. She did the exact right thing. He was ultimately fired and charged. That is where the word courage comes back again. But courage doesn’t mean that you’re not going to get blowback.


Audience Question: Can professionalism be trained especially with someone who has a history of unprofessional conduct? 

Jeff Fox:

I think it can. Now, that is almost like the ethics question: Can you teach me ethics? I think you can, I believe people can change. Can you train it? Yes, we should be training that in basic schools. We should be trained in service schools. Some of you are all from that type of environment, where you have in-service schools. But there’s nothing wrong with having training, anyway. First of all, it needs to be as much as possible put in in the policy. That’s a shame, really, but people should act right. But maybe you had to tell them, this is the right way to act. So, you do that with written policy. If you don’t have that, then you don’t have a way to address that. You know. It’s kind of a conceptual idea floating around. So, part of its leading by example, remembering coaching and mentoring down, coaching and mentoring up. I believe we can. Now, does that mean everybody is going to take that well? No. I went and taught a class up in Northern Virginia one day. They asked me to compare and talk to their troops about how to search vehicles and find drugs and stuff. One afternoon, I had lunch and we went back to the division. And I was talking to everybody about, how do you start vehicles. I’m very constitutional about you not violating people’s rights, treating people with respect and all that stuff. And when we went out and searched vehicles and stuff in the afternoon. The other guy, I didn’t know this or have been another person here in the morning. He had come and talk to them; I had no idea. He came up to me, he said this. I’m going to tell you, “I told them exactly the opposite of what you said.” He said, because I’m about you, put a vehicle back to what you find it. You don’t mistreat people; we don’t do that. And he was more roughshod. I am like “What?!” And he said, “You know what, I was wrong.” And he changed his ways by listening to what I said. He said, “I’m not going to do that anymore. You’re right about what you said.” And he’s a Captain now in that same division. That is pretty cool, you know. So yeah, I think it can be taught. It has to be reinforced. I think probably the biggest thing is it has to be emulated. If your leadership isn’t doing it if you hire people and maybe they were professional coming into it and you put them into an unprofessional environment unless they have a strong personality, sometimes they’re going to adopt or adapt to whatever they need to survive. So, you want to have a good agency and if you already have a great agency, keep it that way. Do not let anything change it. If you have an agency is not really great, it takes work, but it can be done, is not going to be easy and you’re going to have a bad egg once in a while, it just kind of happen. You cannot avoid it. I will tell you; you can’t lower standards. You got to have high standards, but, again, it goes back to all of the above. There are all sorts of ways that you put this across to people. In this PowerPoint, the information of free to use. I like the five-I’s I think it works really well.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of Understanding Public Safety Professionalism



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