Leadership Spotlight

Falling Prey to Posturing

By Gary R. Rothwell, DPA

Posturing is an understated, preventable mistake. Sometimes, crime scene investigators are insecure or fearful of not measuring up. They may attempt to appear confident even when they are not. Herd behavior occurs, and responders blindly follow the loudest officer’s theories and declarations, resulting in posturing.

Posturing is how we present ourselves to others. We attempt to appear in the most favorable light. At crime scenes, there are two officer postures—silence and pronouncing. Silence entails remaining quiet until our wits return, enabling us to deal with the issue at hand. Pronouncing involves loudly proclaiming assertions to attempt to convince others that we are competent.

These pronouncements sometimes are wrong. However, other individuals are not comfortable challenging them. The person who pronounces becomes the unofficial leader of an investigation, whether a detective, coroner, assistant prosecutor, or, even, a journalist. The result is wasted time and resources.

Posturing is not limited to crime scenes. It occurs in situations of uncertainty because unsure individuals do not want to appear stupid. It is human nature to agree with the person who is posturing, even when common sense suggests acting otherwise. Leadership entails recognition of these insecurities, awareness of the potential peril, and willingness to question unsupported opinions.

Often, silent officers need time to gather composure and regain confidence in their abilities. Leaders who detect and break the pronouncing posturing behavior can allow these individuals to have the time they need.

Challenging the dominant opinion tactfully requires fortitude and depends upon the leader’s personality. Saying “let’s think about this” subtly puts the onus on pronouncing posturers to defend their assertions and provides an opening for others to question them. Confronting posturers is effective, but if done through ridicule or embarrassment, there is a risk of backlash. Law enforcement leaders who recognize and stop this behavior avoid a mistake made by many, but admitted by few—falling prey to posturing. 

Special Agent Rothwell heads the Perry office of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.