The Star-News


Discipline done differently

Fri, Sep 17 2010 11:03 AM Posted By: Tom Basinski

When I was an adjunct professor at Southwestern College's Police Academy (adjuncti meaning no benefits) I would tell the potential recruits there were as many ways to do police work as there were people in the room.

While it is true that certain things must be accomplished in the end, there are a variety of ways to get to the end.

I no longer teach at the academy. They, uh, "Let me go." Apparently the administration thought the humor in my lectures was not one of the ways to get the job done. When the college and the police academy fell on hard times with accreditation and other issues, I shed no tears for them. That'll teach 'em for canning me. What it will teach them, I don't know.

When I became a Chula Vista Police Sergeant (after only 16 short years), my supervision style and outlook was similar to Sergeant Bilko, or maybe Ernest Borgnine in "McHale's Navy," if you're old enough to relate. Our squad got the job done, and we did it well.

Of course I know that every organization needs discipline. Paramilitary entities like police departments especially need discipline. As a sergeant, I too employed discipline. Mine was slightly different than some others.

On graveyard shift one of our officers didn't answer his radio, in spite of the emergency "alert" tone the dispatcher sounded every few minutes. We looked all over for him. I was more worried than anyone because he was ultimately my responsibility. I didn't look forward to calling his wife and telling her something bad had happened to him because we lost track of him for a couple of hours.

When we found him (he had fallen asleep in a parking lot), I was like a father; half mad because he worried us to death, and half overjoyed he hadn't been taken by surprise while checking a door or ambushed during a vehicle stop.

I could have written him up. Instead, the next night at roll call I made the stone-faced announcement that one of us had fallen asleep the night before and that was unacceptable. "We have to teach Martin a lesson," I said. The room was silent. Everyone expected the worst. I walked toward him carrying a large box. I removed a blanket from the box, spreading the blanket over his shoulders.

I put one of my young son's teddy bears in his arms. Then, I placed an alarm clock on the table in front of him. When he was comfortable and bundled up, I had someone take a Polaroid photo for his scrapbook. (Remember Polaroids?)

Martin learned his lesson. He laughed. We laughed. The squad knew I didn't want them to fall asleep. Even though it was handled with humor, everyone knew there was no mixed message. They knew Martin got a free pass this time, but there would be no repeat performances from anyone.

Another officer was continually tardy for roll call on graveyard shift. I learned he would go to his girlfriend's apartment in the evening, and often fell asleep. After the third tardiness I asked if anyone knew where she lived. Someone did, and it was near the police station.

Because we had a two-hour overlap in manpower with the afternoon shift we loaded up the entire squad in three cars and went to the girlfriend's place. I knocked on the door. The groggy officer opened it.

Acting like nothing was out of the ordinary I started reading the recent crimes and stolen vehicles from the log. I assigned him his vehicle and his time to eat. One of the other officers made a comment about some suspicious guys hanging around a local 7-11, and we left. He wasn't late again.

Even though things didn't always work the way I intended, that was an example of my supervision style.

Tom Basinski was a Chula Vista officer for 17 years and a District Attorney investigator for 17years.

 


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