Making decisions quickly and considerately—and often with limited information—is one of the most important, and underappreciated, skills law enforcement officers develop during their career.
While attending a recent conference, we were both reminded how individuals with law enforcement experience often overlook their ability to decisively make decisions. We were attending a conference to do our “homework” on creating a new degree program. This conference was so far outside our areas of expertise that we had cellphones out at all times trying to translate acronyms and figure out what the session speakers were actually talking about.
As we were participating in one of the exercises, members of the group who did have expertise in the areas discussed were going back and forth about information, but no one would make an actual decision. After several minutes of this, it was apparent that no one was willing to commit to a decision to save face and not appear “wrong” in front of others.
I, Chuck Russo, had no problem making a decision. This aspect was familiar territory for me, as I assume it would be for most law enforcement officers. After I spoke up, the team was able to move forward and no one questioned the decision.
Making the Best Decision Based on Available Information
Have you ever heard the saying “a good decision now is better than a great decision later?” Many times in our law enforcement careers had either of us had to wait until we had all the information prior to making a decision we would have missed opportunities that would have resulted in individuals being worse off.
Of course, there were times when had we waited for all the pertinent information, our decision would have been different and “better” for individuals involved. However, the time it would have taken to obtain all the information would have had negative impacts on those same individuals. The general rule we operated under was once we believed we had most of the information, we were confident in moving forward and remedying the situation. A good decision now enables us to move forward based on a preponderance of information related to the incident.
Back to what prompted these ramblings, had the choice not been voiced the discussion would have continued with no decision being made. While eventually one of the many previously educated on the topic would have spoken up and voiced a choice, how much time would have been lost? What if anything would have been gained by continuing the discussion to flush out, say, the last 10% of the information?
Personally, we would rather make the wrong decision than not make a decision at all. If it is later determined the decision was wrong, collectively we have the confidence to say why the conclusion that logically led to that decision was reached. Not being willing to make a decision, again in our opinion, demonstrates a lack of confidence in one’s abilities and can translate into leadership deficiencies when “it hits the fan.”
We have yet to meet someone who is correct 100% of the time. Having conversed with doctors, prime ministers, astronauts, Congressmen, ambassadors, senators, generals, admirals, police chiefs, sheriffs, leaders of business and industry, and even a Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, we know that everyone makes mistakes. While we strive for perfection, we all understand it is a goal and not necessarily an expectation.
As we’ve said, the topic was clearly beyond our knowledge base. This was expressed when our team introduced ourselves to each other. Not having any superior officers or even workplace peers in this group proved to be a positive. “Saving face” in front of peers was not a concern as we all had absolutely nothing to prove. Questions were asked and ears were open. When no one would speak up to make a decision, it seemed to fall upon the outsider to step up and determine how to proceed.
Decision Making Abilities Make Officers Good Employees
This, in our opinion, is why law enforcement officers are sought after in many professions once an individual leaves law enforcement.
LEOs are accustomed to making decisions based on the prevalence of information available. They often do not have all the information, yet they are expected to render a decision and resolve the situation. “A good decision now is better than a great decision later” sums up the conditions by which most patrol officers operate. These skills prove valuable to companies and agencies that operate on tight timelines or in rapidly changing environments.
Personally, we have been asked to contribute to teams with the intention to participate as line individuals only to be immediately offered supervisory and management positions. The reasoning for this “immediate promotion” was simply we are willing to make an educated decision in a timely manner. Others outside the profession recognize this skillset. It is unfortunate that many within the profession fail to recognize this same skillset among our personnel. This may be due to the fact that within the profession this skillset is expected not something exceptional; outside the profession we see quite the opposite reaction.
While the skillset one develops as a cop, a trooper, or a deputy may seem inconsequential within our chosen profession, those outside the field consider this as an exceptional skillset that can greatly contribute to the overall success of the company, the organization, and the task at hand.
What so many of us do each and every day has value, not only to those with whom we interact with on a call, but for those we choose to work with once we leave the profession. The knowledge, skills, and abilities we hone as a police officer, a trooper, or a deputy sheriff is valued and rewarded by other organizations or companies upon our retirement or separation.
There is a life beyond the badge that rewards us for what we have done and what we can do.
About the Authors:
Dr. Chuck Russo is the Program Director of American Military University (AMU). He began his career in law enforcement in 1987 in Central Florida and was involved all areas of patrol, training, special operations and investigations before retiring from law enforcement in 2013. Dr. Russo continues to design and instruct courses, as well as act as a consultant for education, government and industry throughout the world. His recent research and presentations focus on emerging technology and law enforcement applications, post-traumatic stress, nongovernment intelligence actors, and online learning.
D.C. Rand is the Faculty Director of Criminal Justice and Homeland Security at American Military University. He began his law enforcement career with the United States Air Force, first as a Security Policeman and then as a Special Agent with the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations. After retiring from active duty, he began the next phase of his professional career first as an Internal Investigator with the TJX Companies and then with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts rising to the position of Training Manager with the Massachusetts State Police-Commonwealth Fusion Center. Mr. Rand has since served in various positions in academia prior to his appointment as Faculty Director.