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LCPD Leadership Woes

I've just finished reading the article on the LCPD Police Officer's Association complaints about a lack of leadership in the department at the command level. Wow. I'd heard some rumblings when Dominguez was appointed chief but since I didn't know him decided to wait and see how his stewardship of the police department would play out. Apparently there are some issues and not just with him, but with his staff. Here is one paragraph of the POA letter:

"The department today does not suffer from a lack of management. The department suffers from a lack of leadership, from a lack of transparency, from a lack of accountability, from miscommunication, and a discounting by the chiefs of the learned input of personnel, supervisory and non-supervisory, who possess specialized knowledge and skills that the department’s chiefs do not have."

The letter also discussed Deputy Chief Kiri Daines' response to a city councilor's inquiry as to what LCPD is doing to retain experienced officers. The POA felt that Daines lacked transparency in her response when she gave the primary reason for officers leaving as financial. The POA used an aphorism in response:

"People don't leave their jobs because of the work; people leave their jobs because of who they work for."

That is a true statement. Nobody ever joined a police department to get rich, they joined for a variety of reasons but at the base of it all is the desire to serve the community in which they live. People who enjoy their work do it for the satisfaction they gain in the performance of it. If they're aren't happy they look for greener pastures. And the worst thing a person of rank can do is try to bullshit their way through an answer when they don't have one.

I read some months back that LCPD was down to about 150 sworn personnel, which would be fewer cops than when I retired over 20 years ago. If that's true, it means the department is 25% below its operating capacity. That's dangerous for the cop on the beat and certainly for the public. It means higher levels of stress for the officers and working more hours to make up for the lack of personnel. On busy nights, even fully staffed, response times can be hours behind due to priority calls.

In all fairness, let's remember that Covid and national incidents between police and citizens have had a seriously negative impact on police department personnel retention and recruiting efforts. All that "Defund The Police" garbage came home to roost and hurt every department across the nation. I'm not downplaying the unnecessary violence perpetrated by police officers in certain cites who committed grievous acts against citizens, they were deservedly charged with crimes and some have gone to prison; but hand-in-hand with that are the politicians and media who encouraged anti-police attitudes and behavior and did nothing while cities around this country burned. Who the heck would want to be a cop in that political atmosphere?

Personnel issues notwithstanding, the LCPD POA has other grievances against their leadership, and while I've written this Lonsway-ism before, I'm giving it to you again because I want you to keep it in mind as you read: Where leadership fails, organizations fail.

Chiefs may not be able to do much about a lack of personnel, at least at this stage of the "Defund" and Covid concerns, but they can sure as heck be visible. That is basic leadership. It doesn't take much effort and it means a lot to the officers in the field. If you're the chief and you have an officer shot and wounded, or otherwise injured in the line of duty you are obligated to make an appearance and give a statement. Nobody should ever have to tell a chief to do that. If the chief doesn't do that, what kind of an incident does it take to get him in front of a camera speaking to the media about what a great job his officers are doing, and their courage and commitment in spite of the dangers they face?

I can see why officers are buying out their time and leaving, and why veteran officers with 20+ years would pull the pin. Who wants to work in a department that does not appreciate its officers? Talk about a morale buster. The chief is the face of the department. When the public thinks of LCPD they get a vision in their heads of that person, how well he or she communicates, and decide if they can trust what they are hearing. "No comment" and "Can't make a statement because it is under investigation" doesn't cut it; neither does sending a subordinate. And the POA is right when they say that a department the size of Las Cruces needs a public information officer.

Too often in police work we have individuals who want rank for the pay, prestige, authority and power that come with it, but what they don't understand is that rank is not about any of that. Rank is about responsibility. It's about being a leader and doing what's best for your people and having the backbone to stand up for what is right. Anybody can wear rank, not everybody can be a leader.What's the old adage? Supervisors do things right; leaders do the right thing.

I remember what an old gunnery sergeant in the Marine Corps told me nearly 50 years ago on the day I got promoted to PFC: "Always do what is best for the unit. If what is best for the unit happens to benefit the individual, then that is icing on the cake for the individual. And never play favorites or lie to your people. If you do, they will do everything in their power to undermine you." He added a few more gems regarding leadership principles he had learned from a career that started in WWII. He survived Iwo Jima, Korea and Vietnam so I figured he was worth listening to. But in police work we don't always get people doing what is best for the unit; on the contrary, we get people doing what is best for themselves and their careers.

Favoritism issues have always existed in LCPD. I could go back over forty years and give you stories about one officer receiving a slap on the wrist for a violation of Rules & Regs, while another who commits the same offense gets hammered with days off without pay; or cops who are selected for choice assignments even though he or she is far less qualified than others; or cops who routinely get selected for training venues away from the city while other officers never get sent anywhere; and cops who get merit pay raises for menial nonsense while others never see a dime despite their contributions. These types of incidents can only occur under weak leadership.

With regards to transparency, chiefs who think they can hide information from their troops, the media or the public are only fooling themselves. The truth always comes out and when it does it invariably has a negative impact on the chief. It may not cost the chief his job, but it does cost him the respect of his subordinates and that is a far greater price to pay. Most chiefs only last the life of their contract, which is three years on average. There could be grounds for early termination but in general it is easier to sidestep a public dispute and let the contract run its course. City managers in general try to avoid airing their dirty laundry. I saw that in 1999 when LCPD deputy chiefs and supervision filed a complaint against the chief. Nearly thirty of us sat in a room with the city manager, who listened to our complaints in an open forum with the chief present so that he could respond to our charges. The city manager was trying to play arbiter, which was a mistake. In the end, he decided to just let the chief's contract run out so we were stuck with him several more months. The manager's contract expired with the chief's and council did not renew his contract, either. He inherited that chief, just as the current city manager inherited Dominguez.

Two sides to every story? Absolutely. But when POAs write detailed letters to the city manager and council outlining incident after incident after incident of failures of command by the chief and his staff, that means there are some serious problems. It will be up to appointed and elected representatives to dig deep and get the truth and it will be interesting to see how this plays out.


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