Prioritizing your personnel in 2021

LE leaders share advice and top tips for improving officer wellness, safety and morale in 2021


This article originally appeared in the January 2021 PoliceOne Leadership Briefing. To read the full briefing, visit Making career cops | Capitol attack lessons | Prioritizing personnel in 2021, and add the Leadership Briefing to your subscriptions.

Police1 asked 21 law enforcement experts to outline solutions for the ongoing and emerging issues facing police leaders and officers in 2021. Following are a few excerpts from "21 on 2021: A police leadership playbook" that focus on how police leaders can prioritize critical personnel issues around officer wellness, safety and morale.  

Access the complete playbook here.

Officer wellness

Departments must prioritize quality time off for officers in 2021. The events of 2020 have made clear that departments can be flexible and creative in staffing. This should continue in 2021 to ensure that officers are given time off to rest, heal, and spend time with loved ones.

Without time away from a job that has become increasingly stressful, and frequently unrewarding, the level of burnout and poor mental health rises. Families become strained when officers fail to get quality time at home, furthering the negative impact on mental health and risk for divorce.

Time off cannot be entirely based on seniority, as young officers with families are equally in need of time away. While this may be a challenge for understaffed departments, failure to respond adequately to the current mental health crisis of the workforce will result in far worse outcomes in the new year.

Read more: Addressing high rates of mental illness among officers

Dr. Michelle Lilly is co-director of the Training and Research Institute for Public Safety (TRIPS) and an associate professor of clinical psychology at Northern Illinois University.

Officer safety

According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF), the COVID-19 pandemic was responsible for a historic increase in health-related, line-of-duty deaths in 2020. 

In 2021, law enforcement agencies should ensure that their officers are both physically and mentally resilient. To improve officer safety and wellness, local, state, federal and tribal agencies must have the ability to provide the proper equipment, training and services necessary to protect their most valuable assets, their employees.

One essential tool that is available to all organizations is the Destination Zero Safety Resource Center. This online repository contains downloadable brochures, information, posters, presentations and videos from over 250 nationally recognized officer safety and wellness programs. Integrate these best practices into your agency’s health and safety programs.

Read more: Why officer safety must be a top agency priority

John Matthews is Executive Director of Law Enforcement Initiatives at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, a former police chief and 37-year law enforcement veteran, and law enforcement analyst for CNN and FOX NEWS.

Officer morale

Police leaders should intentionally focus on improving the quality of their communication.

The modern environment is characterized by high levels of speed and interconnectivity, which poses significant challenges for contemporary leaders who are attempting to build and maintain aligning narratives. While the sheer volume of information is practically limitless, a failure on the part of leaders to effectively message their intent in an intelligible and coherent manner is directly correlated with low employee morale and disengagement.

An essential function of leadership is to inspire high engagement, and clarity is a prerequisite for the type of high-functioning culture necessary to contend with today’s toughest policing challenges. Leading in complexity is an improvisational undertaking, and leaders seeking to perpetuate a culture of engagement and high morale should invest in growing their ability to communicate their vision and intent creatively and precisely.

Read more: 5 reasons why morale is bad at your agency

Major Charles “Chip” Huth has 29 years of law enforcement experience and currently serves as the Commander of the Kansas City (Missouri) Police Department’s Traffic Division.

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