A demonstration of leadership

Morley Lymburner
April 27, 2011
By Morley Lymburner
Facing challenge and adversity with courage and tenacity, Hamilton Police Service Sgt. John Harris has, above all, maintained his humanity and compassion for fellow workers, developing into a true leader over his 38 years of service – and a worthy recipient of the Blue Line Police Leadership Award. The award recognizes and encourages pride in service to the public and a standard of excellence that exemplifies “Leadership as an activity, not a position.” Its goal is to increase the effectiveness, influence and quality of Canadian police situational leadership from both an organizational and community perspective. Blue Line Magazine’s five judge panel concluded that Harris epitomized the best qualities of leadership in police work. He has overcome physical adversity with an admirable tenacity and demonstrates exemplary leadership qualities to his co-workers and community.

Facing challenge and adversity with courage and tenacity, Hamilton Police Service Sgt. John Harris has, above all, maintained his humanity and compassion for fellow workers, developing into a true leader over his 38 years of service – and a worthy recipient of the Blue Line Police Leadership Award.

The award recognizes and encourages pride in service to the public and a standard of excellence that exemplifies “Leadership as an activity, not a position.” Its goal is to increase the effectiveness, influence and quality of Canadian police situational leadership from both an organizational and community perspective.

Blue Line Magazine’s five judge panel concluded that Harris epitomized the best qualities of leadership in police work. He has overcome physical adversity with an admirable tenacity and demonstrates exemplary leadership qualities to his co-workers and community.

“Sgt. John Harris is without equal as a supervisor,” wrote HPS Chief Glenn De Caire in nominating him. “He is equally a mentor, sympathetic listener, task-master and supporter.... his squad members consider him a co-worker... and he is the quintessential ‘cops’ cop.”

For a decade, Harris took on some of the toughest police jobs, working as a motorcycle gang investigator joining with police experts from across the province. He became so knowledgeable Crown attorneys often called on him as an expert witness and he was asked to work with the FBI and Secret Service.

A former defensive end with the Hamilton Tiger Cats, Harris’ law enforcement career began after a bone crunching ankle break ended his athletic career. It was a disappointment but eventually led him to the Hamilton Police Service.

His police career was challenging enough but he came face to face with another reality in 2004 – the need to have his leg amputated below the knee. This setback was well documented by Hamilton Spectator writer Susan Clairmont who pointed out that she found his “willingness to speak about the loss of his leg is remarkable because he has spent years not drawing attention to it. Officers on his shift don’t speak of it. Not even in a joking way.”

While on a holiday in Australia in 1991 Harris walked to a store from a beach area. The day was hot and he received severe burns on the soles of his feet. He was suffering from diabetes and did not know it at the time. The effect of the condition caused his feet to become numb. For over ten years he struggled with on-going problems to the point that all toes on one foot where amputated followed up a short time later with the removal of a leg below the knee.

With such a gruelling story Harris simply shrugs it off by saying it sounds dramatic enough but he keeps it to himself.

But how can a guy with one leg be a uniform patrol sergeant? Has it been done before? Anywhere? There are officers with missing limbs who do desk jobs, sure. But out there with the bad guys? With everyone’s safety riding on them?

Harris did six weeks of physio in five. Received an athletic prosthesis that he can run on. Passed his use of force tests, showing he could still control and handcuff someone, and re qualified with his firearm. Next he passed a retest for his driver’s licence and then re qualified for the police force vehicle testing... and no one has talked about his leg since.

As a patrol supervisor, John Harris is on the front-lines of policing and is without equal. He is a mentor, sympathetic listener, task-master and supporter of his people. His squad members consider him a “co-worker”, notwithstanding that he is responsible for supervising them, and ensuring that all objectives and goals are ultimately and always reached.

Proof of his effectiveness is reflected in his people. Harris’ squad is consistently the top-rated squad for RIDE lanes and traffic enforcement. This is a significant accomplishment in front-line policing, especially considering that the squads were merely average performers before being managed by Sergeant Harris. Many of the officers who have been on his squads have been promoted through the ranks.

h3. Service

John leads by example. In over three decades of policing, his reputation is one of leader and mentor. If the schedule allows that he is off on Christmas Day, he routinely comes in to work to ensure an officer with young children can be home with his/her family. He has done the same when a squad member has an important family engagement to attend, and, due to staffing requirements the officer wouldn’t otherwise be able to get the day off. When Sergeant Harris has booked vacation and he knows his squad will be below staffing requirements, he won’t ask his officers to come back on a call-in, he reports for duty, and never requests the time back.

Sgt. John Harris marches in every Police Memorial Parade and consistently has the highest squad representation at these important policing events.

h3. Legacy of leadership

The Police Leadership Award was initiated and first bestowed in 1999 by the Canadian Police Leadership Forum (PLF). With continual sponsorship from Blue Line Magazine, the PLF presented the award annually until 2005 when the organization ceased to exist.

Blue Line has long recognized the simpatico between the precepts of the award and the magazine’s founding principles. Leadership ability is not a virtue one is born with or delegated to perform but rather something that is acquired through a learning experience and nurtured through a willing spirit. Encouraging leadership as an activity encourages leadership as a position. Drawing forth those with recognized leadership abilities at levels beneath senior management ensures the availability of a talent pool for the future of policing.

The Blue Line Police Leadership Award exists to highlight the importance of recognizing those with leadership abilities and encouraging other officers to develop leadership skills. It is open to active Canadian police officers below the rank of senior officer who have demonstrated exemplary leadership and commitment to service through deeds resulting in a measurable benefit to their peers, police service and community.

In February Blue Line Magazine took up the challenge of the PLF with a cross-Canada search for a suitable candidate for recognition. Six nominations were presented to the judges at the beginning of March and through their discerning efforts the 2010 recipient was selected by consensus.

Congratulations Sgt. John Harris!

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