What’s the current temperature at your precinct or station house? How is morale or group energy among shifts or precincts where you work?
Why do these questions matter?
Simply because these things highly affect our performance and our willingness or ability to work together as a team. Because we all SHOULD be concerned with identifying those specific things which can often distract our attention, our awareness. Anything that will diminish, drain, or destroy the energy affects how we react and respond in the job we do. If you’re not paying attention then I assure you someone is—and most likely with a camera.
What can bring us together? What can divide us?
I think it all begins with you. And to understand your position in the organization, I would suggest a personal inventory. By understanding our place in the culture, and accepting our contributions to it, we’re able to smooth the ride and avoid the proverbial speed-bumps and barricades that too often knock us off course.
The Gossip & Rumor Mill
Often, like a gaggle of old geese honking away, we either create or invent drama around the station. Sometimes we find ourselves attracted to it. Sometimes it’s done before or after tours or meetings to share laughs and create embellishments for just good humor. I have nothing against laughter, and, in fact, think that it’s often noticeably missing these days. So besides laughter as medicine for our daily aches and pains, let’s focus on the harmful stuff. This can be anything from rumors about policy—especially changes in policy—operations, someone’s performance (or lack thereof), and so on. We know the people who stir the pot for whatever reasons they have. When details are missing, they find or suggest them.
Where should you draw the line?
Pretty simple, actually. We draw the line where facts stop and sources are questionable or nonexistent. This type of talk in our line of work is serious because it can get someone hurt, or replace relative certainty with things like fear or hesitation. Ask this simple question: “Is this true?” It’s amazing how often this simple question will stop a story in its tracks (even a story inside your own head). If it might be true (or false), investigate with an open mind.
In this line of work we need to deal in facts. So shoot down bullshit from the onset. Doing so is essential to our work, and it’s good for morale. Hearsay can negatively affect special teams, patrol, and other units within the organization. Ultimately it affects the whole agency.
The OCD LT
And while very cute to most sergeant’s, for the few and proud lieutenants who are squared away (I know three, total) this can be anyone in leadership, regardless of rank. You want a sure fire way to STOP learning? It’s simple. All you need to do is think you are the biggest expert around or that there’s no training that could teach you anything at this point. Or the organizational guru with the spotless desk and a file for everything, including the wind direction and nightly temperature while he sleeps. These folks usually believe (and many do) that everyone around them is messy and unorganized.
We call these guys and gals “anal” and “OCD.” They really do care—a lot—about how and where physical things are arranged and maintained. I’m not griping about these folks (though they may gripe about me) as we need them. They can be very useful and essential parts of a productive force. The only reason I mention it is that often these folks expect perfection out of non-perfectionists. So that alone creates some problems.
It’s not always just the older folks who dislike change. Try to share with others honestly your strengths and weaknesses, because we all have them. Perfection is not perfect, because we learn through our mistakes and our failures. Sit and speak to your folks and you can learn to work together. There may be aspects you can improve upon personally. Others you might excel at. Remember: We all learn differently.
If they feel safe in doing so, many men and women will gladly tell you they are very particular when it comes to certain aspects of the job. This is good to know.
Simply put, it takes a lot of energy and much effort to undermine, research, and share ONLY the things that are not working. This reminds me a lot of big media these days … No matter what channel you watch, it’s all bad news. Same with these guys and gals, except that they are usually much more persistent. Often this person has never taken a promotional exam and never met a supervisor he or she didn’t despise.
These folks armchair quarterback every use-of-force situation or OIS. They willfully ignore all the great things we do for our communities and opportunities we give those who need a hand in rough side of town or when a hurricane or major snowstorm hits. They just don’t see the good we do (just like mainstream media).
If this is you, even just a little bit, see if you can try, at least 51% of the time, to see positive in what we do and in the world around us. Complaints and gripes eat up precious energy and kill morale. If something needs fixing, fix it—even if it means fixing yourself.
For some of these people these behaviors are compulsive or and you will most likely not convince the clinically narcissistic that they are in fact narcissists (again LTs, mostly). Set some basic boundaries with these folks. Share enough to let them know that we all have a common goal to serve and we all want to go home safely on a daily basis. Let each and every team member know what is expected. (A bit of friendly competition can help or ramp up enthusiasm too.) Appreciate those micromanagers who obsess over every detail. At least they care.
Negativity is exhausting, and it’s no wonder we cops feel exhausted all the time. Honest, caring conversation goes a long way—and just in the station. Share your goals, one at a time, with clear language with spouses and kids and friends too. It will give you and them that energy and focus back.