Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the Houston Police Officers Union or the Badge & Gun.
Recently I attended a class at the academy which was taught by a supervisor of mid-level rank. Overall, I believe the message was positive and the instructor had a passion for what was being taught, which is always refreshing. However, I took issue with a comment that was made about policy, namely our general orders. I’d like to detail the aforementioned class before I detail by analysis.
The instructor maintained the belief that our general orders are a set of guidelines, which exist to protect us as officers. When I stated that the general orders exist to protect the department, the instructor denounced my opinion by stating, “Wrong! Wrong!” and proceeded to validate their point by stating that as long as you follow the “guidelines” you are protected.
The instructor added that these “guidelines” help to thwart any civil law suits that may occur as a result of not having those “guidelines.” The instructor furthered their disposition by stating that it is economical because by not having to pay large sums of money for losing in court, the department saves money, which means more money for officers, better shops, etc. It should be noted, I appreciate this line of thought, but it is not entirely accurate.
First, the general orders are not a set of guidelines. The general orders are a set of rules. By definition, guidelines are more of a suggestion, because guidelines do not result in harsh punishment if not followed. To the contrary, rules, if not obeyed, are accompanied by harsh punishment and/or consequences. Based on that fact, I do not believe that rules and guidelines should be used interchangeably.
Secondly, if the general orders are there to protect us and guide us, then why are there so many? The department has made it nearly impossible to digest the amount of policies that have been created. If the department wanted to guide officers, it would create policies that were more palatable. That would require fewer policies that are easier for officers to follow and understand.
Instead, the department uses the same legalese that you might find in a lease agreement, which you probably never read, because of the length and dry nature of the text .This explains why a large portion of officers are violating policy every day, most of which do not even realize they are violating policy (similar to the Traffic Code). If the general orders existed to truly protect officers, then I would imagine more officers would be aware of their content.
Thirdly, it is borderline comical, if not tragic, that the department disciplines officers for “bias policing” when the department enforces its own set of biases. The general orders contain policies that prohibit how you can wear your hair, your hair color, facial hair (mustaches only), and your nail color. Our general orders tell us that those with tattoos look less professional and as a result they need to cover those tattoos. This department promotes conformity, not individuality. Even if there is extensive research that shows that officers who appear to be individuals, not robots, receive a much better response from the citizens they serve in their perspective communities.
Lastly, the instructor alluded to the fact that it was economical to create what I believe is an egregious amount of policies. The reality is that by creating so many policies you have essentially handicapped your patrol officers. This department, on the patrol level, has found a way to make the simplest tasks arduous. A prime example of this would be completing a “simple” tow slip. Not so simple (not referring to tow slips as being complex).
Not only do you have to complete a hand-written carbon copy of the tow slip, you also have to place that exact same information into the vehicle screen on RMS. Oh, and don’t forget to do this within one hour so you are not violating policy.
The fact that we are required to write the same information over and over is not just time-consuming, it’s annoying. As a result, you have less efficient and less effective patrol officers. This means decreased customer satisfaction due to response time and a more frustrated and cynical police force. This would directly affect the instructor’s economical argument because unhappy officers equal unhappy citizens, which would mean less support from taxpayers.
It is my suggestion that certain policies be reviewed and revised to better suit a more intelligent and open-minded department. Additionally, the department needs to find a better way to function on the patrol level. This can range from taking away unnecessary steps in certain processes, that exist in our general orders to adopting better and newer technology (the next time you see a DPS trooper ask them how he completes an accident report).
I cannot speak for everyone on this department, but a majority of my classmates in the academy claimed they joined this career because they did not want to be at a desk. I hate to break it to you, but you are at a mobile desk. With the way things are going, our title, Police Officer, should be changed to mobile data entry unit.
We, as a department, have forsaken the role of the knight and become the squire. This is due in great part to continuous general orders that hinder patrol officers. Such orders are generally created as a result of a knee-jerk reaction by management.
On the bright side, the new chief has the opportunity to potentially correct these issues and find a creative way to make the patrol officer a desired position on this department.