Some are affixed by the people themselves. Some are affixed by the police. Labels include, but are not limited to: Victim, Witness, Suspect, Reporting Party, and Other. At least, those are some of the boxes we can check off on our report forms.
But what about “Customer”?
Arguably an accurate label, right? We, the police, exist to “protect and serve”, do we not? We are, in fact, in a service industry. “Customer service” may not be a term we often associate with police work, but it’s no less true. Policy exists to make sure the public are treated in a respectful and professional manner.
We have often heard the axiom “The customer is always right”. And that, my friends, is where our paths diverge.
Because I don’t think it’s true. Furthermore, I think that attitude has landed us, the police, with our backs against the wall and forced us into a new role. People have confused our desire to serve with their attempts to make us subservient.
The customer isn’t always right.
Therein lies the important distinction…and it isn’t entirely the fault of the public we serve. We are complicit in our own pigeon-holing. Cries of political correctness, weakening leadership in the public sector, and a desire to further one’s own career instead of taking care of the people under your purview have all acted in concert to undermine the respect once held for the authority of the police.
When one kowtows, one sets a precedent that will spread like wildfire through the dry and brittle forest that is one’s profession.
I understand the need for professionalism; however, that doesn’t mean our civil servants, myself included, need to take being berated all in the name of being polite.
Case in point:
Recently, I was at the scene of a collision (read: already busy) when a citizen slowly rolled up. It was obvious he wanted some attention, so I said, “What can I do for you, sir?” This is how it went…
Driver (derisively): “When is the parking on this street going to improve?!”
MC: “How do you mean, sir?”
Driver: “They park here all the time!”
MC (looking around): “Are there signs saying they can’t?”
***It should be noted the area in question is near a high school and there are streets with signage restricting parking during certain hours. I was unsure if this was one of those streets.
Driver (angrily): “Are you being a smart-ass right now?!”
MC (nonplussed): “Excuse me? Sir, I don’t live on this street. There are streets in the area that have signs similar to those I mentioned…”
Driver attempts to interrupt me: “I was…”
MC: “No, sir. You don’t get to come at me like that and then rudely interrupt my explanation.”
Driver: “Are you going to let me talk?”
MC: “As a matter of fact, sir, no. You are welcome to take your question to the PD, but now, I need to get to the detail I was sent here to handle. Good day to you.”
Driver: “What is your name?”
I gave him my name and walked back to the crash scene. Unsurprisingly, when I cleared the crash a few minutes later and returned to the PD to give the Powers That Be a heads up on what I knew was going to be a complaint, guess whose car I saw parked right in front of the PD lobby.
Now, nothing came of his complaint because, quite frankly, I had done nothing wrong. It did, however, spur the idea for this post.
Ordinarily, the driver’s accusation of me being a smart-ass would be dead on accurate; however, at the particular moment, the question was a legitimate one for the reason described above. I did not ask in a tone indicative of smartassery; rather, it was merely inquisitive in nature.
When one rises (sinks?) to the level I have achieved in the aforementioned art of smartassery (like, say, using a word like “smartassery” that doesn’t even exist to describe how much of a smart-ass one is), one becomes rather accomplished at the subtleties inherent in the art. It is with the utmost confidence I can say I did not subject the driver to my Jedi-like command of being a smart-ass.
In this case, the “customer” was not right. Not in the least. What’s more, I think he was unequivocally wrong in his manner and should be called on it.
**I was not present during his complaint, so I can not attest to whether or not he was called on it. It is my fervent hope that he was.
I have had supervisors during my career that have run the gamut. I’ve had some that had no compunction about telling customers they were wrong. I’ve seen it done incredibly professionally, but the point remains that they were educating the customer about a more appropriate manner with which to go about their interaction. I’ve also had those that would simply listen to the customer complain and then smooth their ruffled feathers by promising to “talk to the officer about their behavior”. Those were not my favorites.
When we simply let people run off at the mouth so they can just “get it out”, there is no behavior change. We reinforce the misplaced belief that “customer is always right”. When a different perspective/option is described to the customer and their shortcomings are exposed to the light of day, perhaps positive change can occur.
That is not to say the police never do anything wrong. I’ve made errors in judgement when talking to customers in the past. I’ve admitted it…hell, I’ve blogged about it. This is not an “Us vs Them” scenario. This is about each of us treating the other with dignity, respect, and politeness.
If you want a strong, confident police force, you must realize politeness is a two-way street.
Image courtesy of Flickr and hobvias sudoneighm.