Some years ago, on a warm afternoon in South-Central Los Angeles, I responded to the scene of a drive-by shooting in which a man had been killed. Such crimes were — and remain today — sadly common in that part of town, so much so that my coworkers and I were well-practiced in the routine of preserving evidence, identifying witnesses, and all the other chores uniformed officers are expected to perform while waiting for homicide detectives to arrive. We had completed those chores and transitioned into the standing-around phase when our watch commander arrived at the scene.
He was a newly minted lieutenant, fresh from a long stretch behind a desk at Internal Affairs, and our initial impression of him was that he was ill-prepared for the position he now occupied. That impression was reinforced when he arrived at the crime scene bearing a notebook, inside of which he had assembled a series of checklists, one for each of the various types of incidents likely to launch him from his desk at the station and out onto the street. That a man in his position needed these checklists at all was bad enough; worse was his apparent lack of embarrassment in so clearly demonstrating to his new subordinates his lack of experience in handling such rudimentary aspects of police work. Worse still was his failure to recognize, as he ticked off the items on his murder-scene checklist to a ticked-off veteran sergeant, that all of the steps his checklist told him to see instituted had already been completed before he arrived.
Despite our new boss’s inauspicious debut, we were willing to cut the man some slack. It often takes some time for people who have been out of the field for an extended period to get acclimated to the pace and demands of working as a watch commander in a busy patrol division. Alas for him — and more so for us — he never found that level of acclimation. Though not uneducated, he was all but ignorant when it came to the realities of police work as it’s actually practiced. Worse, he could not make a decision without consulting some higher-up, even as he ignored the advice offered by sergeants far more experienced than he. In short, he was not a leader.
How, we wondered, had the Los Angeles Police Department allowed this man a) to be hired in the first place, b) to be promoted to lieutenant, and c) to be placed in a position for which he was so manifestly unqualified? The answer is a familiar one to L.A. cops and indeed to cops everywhere: he was a member of the Club.
I have written of the Club before, that informal society of people deemed fit for advancement into the upper levels of LAPD management. (As the reader has perhaps already guessed, I am not, nor have I ever aspired to be, a member.) Qualifications for admission are simple: Memorize the slogans and buzzwords in vogue among those already admitted, secure administrative jobs that offer contact with those already admitted and where exposure to physical dangers and personnel complaints are at a minimum, and, most important of all, avoid working patrol, most especially in those parts of town where crime is highest and the exposure to danger and personnel complaints is greatest.