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Command presence in community corrections

Looking and acting the part begins with your very first interaction with clients


Personal appearance is one of the most valuable, unspoken tools that officers have at their disposal.

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The father of probation (a.k.a. community corrections), John Augustus, had to have had some type of command presence back in the 19th century when he worked with minor offenders in Massachusetts. How else could he have convinced a judge to release a criminal into his care?

If my suspicions are true, Augustus taught us a valuable tool, and we have failed to include it in officer certification training. Command presence has been the topic of countless training classes and articles, for ages. But regardless of how much training you obtain, or how much research you conduct, mastering your personal command presence is difficult to achieve.

Where is our training?

Command presence is a subject that I don’t recall being taught during certification. During my 17 years of service, I have witnessed first-hand how command presence is truly critical in the world of community corrections.

In the early years of my career, I supervised a caseload of between 125-140 clients. My office visits always ran about 30 minutes or so, and I loved speaking to all of my clients about various issues and concerns, especially when the client had a long term of community supervision.

The starting line

I remember how some of my clients would comment on certain officers, using language such as, “they mean business,” or, “that officer is by the book.”

One client who had spent a large percentage of his life under supervised release told me he sized up probation officers from the moment he met them in the lobby.

“It all starts with the sound of the voice,” the client told me. A weak tone of voice could signify a “walk in the park,” while a loud and firm voice signified a military-type probation sentence to this client.

Next, the client would size up the POs, looking for signals like clothes not matching the voice (someone trying really hard to make a good first impression) or pressed business casual clothes, which he equated to a 100% professional.

The client confirmed voice and style of dress go hand-in-hand, and that prisoners evaluate COs the same way. In his opinion, those who don’t take pride in the way they put on the uniform don’t really care for the job.

This conversation intrigued me so much that I went in search of all I could find on command presence, to see if I could enhance my image, in an effort to more easily obtain compliance from clients.

Look the part

After reading all that I could on the matter, and watching a few YouTube videos, I was convinced that every time I walk out to the lobby area to call a client in, anyone sitting in the waiting room is sizing me up, from my shoes to my hair.

Your personal appearance is one of the most valuable, unspoken tools that officers have at their disposal. Dressing the part is not difficult: make sure your clothes are washed and pressed, and match your clothing colors appropriately.

Stand up straight and look confident when you’re speaking out into the lobby. Your physical presence will draw your clients to listen to you and follow your instructions. If you project a sense of self-confidence through your body language and your dress attire, it demonstrates to your clients that you know what you’re doing.

Continuous learning

While there’s no instruction manual for command presence, I can attest through my personal experience and observation of others, we are each other’s greatest teachers. Command presence will always be a continuous learning process and an element I believe should be a critical part of certification for every probation officer.

A lack of command presence in our profession can be hazardous to you and your department. As odd as it sounds, a lack of command presence will be one of the building blocks of a negative work culture, which, in turn, will lead to ineffective safety procedures in any department, regardless of the size.

Command presence is just as essential at controlling a major incident in a community supervision department as the actual emergency response plan.

Promoting a positive command presence among officers will lead to a positive work atmosphere and a level of situational awareness that will project to the employees and the general public.

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Leandro “Leo” Perez, Jr. is a Unit Supervisor for the Hidalgo County Community Supervision and Corrections Department. He received a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Texas-Pan American in 2004. He is also a 1999 graduate of the University of Texas at Brownsville Police Academy.

Before coming to the Hidalgo County C.S.C.D, he was employed as a Security Manager under the Federal Protective Services contract in the Southern District of Texas. He came to Hidalgo County C.S.C.D in September of 2005 as a community supervision officer. He served as a line officer for four years before being assigned to the United States Marshals Violent Offender Task Force.

He is the creator of the P.O.S.T (Probation Officer Safety Training), D.E.P.O.T (Developmental & Educational Probation Officer Training) and S.T.O.P (Safety Training for Office Personnel) training programs. His training programs have been presented at various conferences throughout the state of Texas. In 2003, he was one of the recipients of the Simon Property Rose Award for his role in the emergency evacuation of the La Plaza Mall Shopping Center, a 130,0000-square-foot shopping center located in McAllen, Texas. In 2016, he was the recipient of the Texas Probation Associations Judge Terry L. Jacks Award for his significant contributions to the community corrections profession. In 2023 he was the recipient of the Texas Probation Associations Sam Houston State University Award, for his scholarly contributions to the community corrections profession.