Difficult Is As Difficult Does

I was a good employee. As opposed to a difficult employee. I had an employee that other employees complained about. He was a good cop, wasn’t afraid of the work, made his decisions and he backed them up. But he always had to be right. It is possible in our line of work to disagree on something and it’s even possible to be wrong. I’ve been wrong plenty of times. But this employee couldn’t be wrong and he couldn’t be disagreed with. Anytime another officer disagreed with him, it became an argument and sometimes, this officer was wrong and he couldn’t back down. That made him difficult. One morning, while we were managing some traffic control, he asked me, point blank, why other officers seemed to have a problem with him. I told him it was because he was difficult to work with and explained why. After thirty minutes of debate about whether or not I was right that he was a difficult employee, I stopped him. “This is why they have a problem with you.”

I followed the rules and did what I was told. I tried to recognize those leaders with whom you could respectfully disagree and those for whom you just kept your mouth shut. I played the long game. My reviews were good to exceptional (especially during those years in which my bosses required me to complete my own performance evaluations because, well I don’t have a good reason for them. Laziness?). But, I am a big believer in object lessons, and that includes when my managers, or the University, made decisions that I believed would cause unintended consequences, especially after my (in my mind) reasonable suggestion that their new (or old) policy was a bad idea. And in this way, I am a very difficult employee.

There was one (of many) times that the University administration tried to stop the police from driving on campus. A policy memo came out saying that we were not allowed to drive on campus during the day, unless it was a serious emergency (as opposed to a minor emergency?). One of my officers was dispatched to the Health Center, which was in the middle of campus, during lunch time, to place a student on a mental health hold (5150) and take them to Emergency Psychiatric Services. This was not an emergency, in fact, we often asked the Health Center staff to keep the person occupied if we were backed up on calls. So I notified one of the Captains that I would be walking to the Health Center to pick up a 5150 hold, place them in handcuffs, and walk them back to my car, parked at the edge of campus, more than a block away. At first, the Captain didn’t respond, other than to nod in acknowledgement, then he must have pictured a student in a fragile state of mental health, being walked publicly across campus, surrounded by his peers, and being placed, in handcuffs, in the back of a patrol car.

“Wait, what are you doing?”

“I’m not allowed to drive on campus.”

And he remembered the memo. “You can drive this time. We’ll change the policy.”

It takes a difficult employee to do that.

The police department also used to perform “Money Escorts.” Various departments around campus collected money and then called for a money escort to go to Student Services Center where bulk money was kept or to the bank for deposits. The purpose was to provide safety for the person handling the money. When one of my officers came in complaining that he had just done a money escort for a department that just had to deposit a couple of checks in an envelope, I checked our dispatch logs and saw that we were running as many as fifteen money escorts a week, with each one taking an officer out of service for as long as an hour to an hour and a half.

So I started answering up to take the money escort calls. On bicycle patrol. Our policy said that we would supply an officer for safety, not a police car for ease of convenience. When I began arriving at money escort calls with a bicycle, the first response was usually:

“But our employee can’t keep up with you.”

“No problem, I’ll walk the bicycle. I’ll go at the employee’s speed.”

Most departments simply thanked me and said that they would take care of it without me. The Housing Services employee was ecstatic as she enjoyed the walk to the bank and back, but her bosses didn’t and after a few weeks, stopped calling us. One department called and I showed up, standing beside my bicycle, holding it by the handlebars, in their front lobby.

“Yes, officer, how can we help you?”

“Hi. I’m your money escort.” I was met with several confused looks.

Finally, a man stepped forward. “Um. We need an officer with a car.”

“Sorry, I’m the only one available. We provide an officer for safety, not a car for convenience.”

“But my employee isn’t wearing the right kind of shoes to walk all the way to the bank.”

“Do you have another employee who is properly dressed to perform their job?”

That was probably too far, and I assumed would result in a complaint, but it stumped them.

“You know what? I’ll just take her,” the man said.

And money escorts became a thing of the past. Sometimes a difficult employee is necessary to move evolution along.

And then sometimes, it backfires on me. One of our Captains created little 3×5 card, “How Have We Served You?” surveys with postage paid. He came to briefing and asked us to start handing out the cards. Now, I knew that he intended for us to only hand those out to people that we provided some service to, such as a safety escort, or took a police report, or provided an unlock, something like that. He wanted something that he could show the University how well liked we were by the people we interacted with.

The officers hated it; it didn’t feel like police work. I didn’t really care either way. I understood what the Captain was trying to do and I understood why the officers hated it.

So I started handing them out to EVERYBODY.

If I wrote you a citation, I handed you a survey with your copy of the citation. “Please let my bosses know how I performed my work today. Thank you.”

If I arrested you, I placed a survey in your booking bag with all your personal property. “Hey I put a customer service survey in with your property. If you could take the time to fill it out and mail it to my bosses so that they know I’m out doing my job, I’d appreciate it.”

I went through dozens and dozens of customer service surveys.

And then I got called to the Captain’s office.

“Wes, who are you handing the surveys out to?”

“Anyone I come in contact with. Is there a concern?”

“Are you handing them out to suspects?”

“Yes.”

“Why would you do that?”

“Because a customer service survey should be for all the people we provide service to.”

“Well, we’ve gotten these in for you. They are all positive.” And he showed me photocopies of the completed surveys. “With comments like, ‘He didn’t beat me like the (city) police do.’ And “He was very professional, even when I lost my temper and called him names.’ And ‘He’s my favorite, because of all the times I’ve been arrested, he always talks to me like a person.’”

Clearly someone I had arrested multiple times. Unfortunately, that didn’t narrow it down much. Although I would have probably bought that person some lunch the next time I arrested them, if I knew who they were.

So I hadn’t used the surveys in the way the Captain had intended, but the people I gave them to didn’t respond in the way I had expected. I had expected a lot of angry customer service surveys. It didn’t happen.

So the Captain and I stared at each other smiling. Neither had won, but neither had lost. Ultimately, the surveys when away when the Post Office notified us that they couldn’t deliver 3×5 cards and postcard size was too large for officer’s pockets. So the surveys went the way of the Dodo bird, notwithstanding a difficult employee.

Am I still able to be a difficult employee? Probably. Better check with my wife.

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