Just Helping Out a Friend

Last Wednesday I had an opportunity to help out a friend.  Chief Chuck Nebus of Farmington Hills asked me to be a member of an oral board interviewing officers from his department who were testing to be sergeants.  I was joined by Lieutenant Mike Wildt of Northville Township and Lieutenant Chris Wundrach of the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office.  I was honored to be asked by Chief Nebus –I respect him tremendously and it’s great to know that he values my judgement.  I know that he is looking to find the people who can best lead his department now and in the future.  Not an easy task.   I can’t say it enough:  there is very little that is more important in a department then who its leadership is.  The chief is most visible and the person who sets the direction.  But the sergeants have a great impact on what is really happening.  They decide how rules and policies are to be followed in the street.  They coach and mentor the workforce.  And when you hear about police problems in police agencies it usually can be traced to sergeants not doing their job.  I frequently remind myself that all police departments crawl along on the backs of their sergeants. 

Most departments involve other agencies in their promotional selection processes because it eliminates favoritism and targets the best candidates.  Prior to coming to the oral board they had met certain base requirements like level of education, years of service.  They also had taken a written test to demonstrate their technical skills and had been rated by their own command staff for their ability on the job.  Then came the outside oral board.  It is a grueling process–and it should be.  Literally the lives of officers and the public depend on their skill and judgement.

It was fascinating to hear the officers, all of whom were smart and talented, talk about their desire to be sergeants and what they had done to prepare for the job.  They talked about their education and training, their experience and their personal life histories. They emphasized how important their integrity was because they knew that in order for the community to trust the department and the officers to follow them they had to have impeccable integrity. They also have to have excellent technical skills–they have to know the law, department rules and policies and city ordinances. We asked them hard questions.   We put them in situations in which they had to describe in detail how they would handle multiple competing priorities, like how would they direct their workforce if confronted with an armed robbery, injury traffic crash, suicidal  subject, 911 hang up call and a parking complaint that all happened at once?  It was all about who was the best qualified to do the job. 

I came away with the knowledge that Chief Nebus would be proud of the officers that we saw.  He will be sure to find a high quality sergeant or two in that group.