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Leadership as comfort

About a month ago, I arrived back home from an appointment, only to find my apartment not as I had left it

By Joe Serio

About a month ago, I arrived back home from an appointment. As I reached the third floor where I live, I could see some pieces of white paint chips scattered in front of the apartment door and the welcome mat was askew.

For some reason, my first response was to chuckle to myself as if someone were playing a game with me. It was different, out of the ordinary, and unexpected. I have no idea why I reacted that way, but it wasn’t a game.

It wasn’t until I came closer that I noticed the door ajar. That would turn out to be an understatement. The miscreants had taken a crowbar from the top to the bottom of the door to crack the frame and push the door in. This was not going to be a good day.

The burglary was classic. They entered quickly, went directly to the electronics and the jewelry, did their job and got out. It was the one hour of the whole day that I was out of the apartment, suggesting they had done their homework. Needless to say, the experience was a shock to the system.

The items could be replaced easily enough but the sense of violation burned in my veins. For me, though, none of this was the most surprising part of the experience. The most surprising part was the Travis County Sheriff’s Office response to the incident.

In the few months I’ve lived in Austin, I have not had any connection with the Sheriff’s Office. I have never been to the county jail. I’ve not been pulled over by any of the Sheriff’s deputies. I do, however, have a very specific opinion about them now.

First, I was fairly shocked by the speed with which the sheriff’s deputy arrived at my doorstep. Given the state of mind I was in, it seemed immediate. In real time, it was less than 10 minutes. The deputy was respectful, patient, and thorough. We both knew the odds of getting any of the property back, but he did his job as if there was hope. He was professional and certainly empathized with my general frustration over the situation.

Second, I received several phone calls from the detective assigned to the case. He led me through the process, told me what information might be useful in this case, and provided me his contact information. Later, I received written correspondence updating me on the status of the case.

Third, and perhaps the biggest surprise for me, I received several phone calls and a letter from the Victim’s Services Unit. It was a comfort to know there was someone to reach out to in case I needed additional assistance.

Like any organization, the Travis County Sheriff’s Office has its challenges, to be sure. I’m certain they have their share of disgruntled citizens. In large bureaucracies made up of myriad personalities and hamstrung by budget shortfalls, politics, and a host of other factors, it is to be expected.

The other side of the story is that there are systems in place, people who care, a place to reach out to in case of need, and a way to mitigate the violation felt by the victim.

Our agencies aren’t perfect and there is so much to do to serve our citizens more effectively. But, for me, in this single isolated experience, I believe I got a glimpse of the leadership of the Travis County Sheriff’s Office. And it felt pretty good.

Dr. Joe Serio is a popular and sought-after criminal justice speaker and trainer. He is currently delivering a series of classes on time management, emotional intelligence, leadership, customer service, and other topics at the Harris County (Houston) Sheriff’s Office Training Academy. Dr. Serio is a featured speaker at SHIELD, Sheriff Institute for Ethical Leadership Development, at the Travis County (Austin) Sheriff’s Office Training Academy. He also speaks at adult and juvenile probation departments as well as police departments.