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Before gossiping about a co-worker, ask yourself these 3 questions

The spread of rumors within police departments compromises investigations and shatters morale


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By Captain Kory Flowers

Poll any group of cops about their biggest gripe these days, and overwhelmingly you’ll hear about the evils of a society that does not value its law enforcement officers, and how challenging it is to serve and protect valiantly among citizens who distrust, disparage, or even hate its officers. Particularly in the past five years, as public support for law enforcement among a very vocal minority dwindled, officers everywhere have vented about the lack of support. “We want to be valued and respected for the vital role we serve” is the sentiment of officers, and that desire is legitimate and understandable.

In light of that dichotomy, why then do we eat our own? If we truly desire to be supported, valued and appreciated, why do we so often revel in the demise of our own officers?

Fueling the rumor mill

Unfortunately, in larger police departments, an officer will often step out of line and violate one of the thousands of policies or regulations. This begins the cycle of placing the officer on modified assignment while the internal processes of investigation and corrective action take place. Common sense would dictate that the same officers who crave validation, respect and honor from their residents, would rally around an officer caught up in a poor decision and facing public scrutiny and discipline. However, that’s not what generally happens.

Before the ink has dried informing the offending officer of the internal investigation, text messages and calls begin to fly around an agency, as officers trade what they’ve heard back and forth, in a type of twisted gleeful sport. Speculations on the details of the offense and self-righteous recommendations for the sentencing of discipline follow next, as we seemingly enjoy the missteps of our teammates, conveniently forgetting that we have likewise made poor decisions in our past. Rumblings become rumors, which are hastily exaggerated with every forwarded text message, even though very few are privy to the facts of the situation.

This cancerous rumor mill of gossip and ignorant and irresponsible relays of half-truths do nothing to serve the department. Of primary importance, the internal investigation can be compromised if the fact that the investigation has leaked at all represents the improper handling of sensitive information, which then spreads uncontrollably through the grapevine of gossip. As the malicious rumors spread through the agency, internal trust and morale often suffer, not to mention the mental health and well-being of the involved officer. The unchecked spreading of such rumors can destroy internal morale and team cohesion.

Gossip in the workplace can be more harmful than you think. It erodes trust, lowers morale and can even lead to a decline in productivity. Negative rumors increase anxiety and tension, which can result in higher turnover rates and loss of valuable team members. In the video below, Lexipol co-founder and risk management export Gordon Graham talks about maintaining a positive work environment and the dangers of workplace gossip.

The value of courageous leadership

How do we best combat the predictable self-inflicted wound of toxic and malicious gossip, which can pose a legitimate threat to the health of our agency?

The answer, as is so often true, is to be found in courageous leadership. We must each individually choose to lead valiantly within our unique spheres of influence, to stop the toxic cycle. When presented with a tidbit of malicious gossip, and along with it the temptation to sadistically savor the misfortunes of our fellow officer, boldly and vocally decline. Speak and be heard, drawing a line in the sand and stemming the tide of negativity within your circle.

Courage, like cowardice, is always contagious. With one or two similar exchanges, pretty soon you will find yourself excluded from the gossip pipeline, which is a good thing.

Three questions to ask

If the temptation to pass along gossip is simply too strong to bear, at least hold it up against the following test before passing it along:

  1. Ask yourself is it true?
  2. If you can legitimately and certainly answer in the affirmative, then examine the information through the lens of is it necessary? Does the information you’ve received represent something that is absolutely vital to relay to others?
  3. On the rare occasion when it is truly necessary to pass on some rumor or gossip, finally ask is it kind? Never forget that we officers represent an often maligned, misunderstood and underappreciated minority in our society, and should be only treating one another with kindness and respect. We can control that. Would spreading the rumor be a kind thing to do?

Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind? Chances are high that very few texts, messages, or phone calls you receive about another person will pass those three tests to mandate further transmission. Those are pretty good guidelines.

If we so vociferously complain about unfair, unkind, or hostile treatment from the outside world, we should be equally zealous to care for our own, and especially during their missteps. They are us and we are them. Speak up and stop the masochistic cycle, and others will likely follow.

About the author
Kory Flowers is a 25-year veteran captain with the Greensboro Police Department. Captain Flowers trains law enforcement officers nationwide on various subversive criminal groups, leadership, tactical communication, and has written articles and conducted interviews and podcasts for publications including the Los Angeles Times. He is a guest television host on “On Patrol Live.”