The Three-Ring Rule
Poor management skills are nothing new and the management style which prevailed when I was a young officer had me mystified. My first days as a station duty operator at a glistening new district headquarters building is an example.
Upon arrival on my first day I was faced with a problem of the utmost importance. A cadet and two constables huddled around a stack of letters and envelopes, unable to agree on which order they should be stacked. The superintendent had issued an edict that his mail was to be “properly sorted,” with the largest envelopes on the bottom and smallest on the top. Addresses were to be faced up and properly displayed. “Those not complying would be disciplined.”
The cadet charged with sorting the superintendent’s daily mail became very red in the face as they debated. All but one of the envelopes were neatly stacked. The remaining one was a little shorter than its immediate predecessor, but also a little wider. They measured and discovered it had the exact same square inches as its predecessor. What to do?
The dilemma escalated and, just as their voices were rising, the duty sergeant walked by and seized the envelope. He quietly told everyone to get back to work and, without a glance or another word, fed the offending envelope into a shredder. He glided back to his desk, picked up his pen and continued to write. We all stared briefly at the sergeant and then busily hurried back to our duties.
As I returned to my desk I complimented the sergeant on his quick, if not risky, solution to the problem. “That’s why they pay me the big bucks son,” he humorously responded without looking up.
The superintendent arrived at seven that morning and picked up his mail at the front desk. I thought he might scrutinize it and be impressed with the order, but he paid it no heed and instead barked at the sergeant. “I noticed a scout car has parked over a yellow line in the parking lot. I want the driver of the car in my office.” Without any emotion, the sergeant turned and asked me to get the fleet number of the offending car. I did as ordered and our investigation revealed the officer had gone off duty an hour before. The sergeant called and ordered him to report back to the station.
As a newly minted station duty operator this was my christening under fire to the internal workings of a large police facility. It was also my first inkling that perhaps being promoted wasn’t the gleaming ideal I had once imagined.
My first hint that all wasn’t quite right in paradise was when I noticed that everyone in the station quickly dropped what they were doing to answer the phone if it rang more than twice. There was a “three ring” rule, I was told. The phone must be picked up on the third ring or the superintendent would pick it up on the fourth and everyone at the desk would be documented for neglect of duty.
The phone rule, along with the orderly envelopes and properly aligned cars were just a few examples of a long list of rules which ensured the HQ was run properly and efficiently. There was a price to pay for such efficiencies, of course, including the lack of people willing to work in such an environment.
Having to administer the tyranny of a superior to those below made those stripes look awful heavy. It also became painfully obvious how climbing the ladder affected people such as that superintendent. Be careful what you wish for.
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