Has your morale been snatched?
Morale retention is just as essential as weapon retention for you, other officers and your community
If your morale has been snatched, you are not alone, and it is understandable how it could have happened. During my 33-year law enforcement career, my generation of officers never suffered such a prolonged attempt to destroy or demoralize us into inaction as yours.
However, you must resist. Just like losing your duty weapon, a morale snatch can be dangerous to you and others because:
- It causes officers to be less alert to dangerous conditions around them.
- It causes officers to be less energetic in their pursuit of criminals, which makes their community less safe.
- It causes officers to be less energetic in their pursuit of survival training.
- There is a direct correlation between a fall in energetic policing and a rise in aggressive criminality.
- It leads to a decrease in officers’ enjoyment of their career, family and life.
- It can cause officers to leave a department or even the career they once loved and live to regret it.
- In a worst-case scenario, it can lead to suicidal thoughts or actions.
I survived and enjoyed my career, because I practiced not only “weapon retention,” but also “morale retention.” With that in mind, here are 12 morale retention tactics.
1. Know that “it gets better”
The great thing about bad times is that after you endure them, they help you better enjoy the good times ahead.
“It gets better” is what World War II combat vet Pvt. Lester Olson once said to me when I was struggling with a career-related trauma.
He was right. It did. It always does.
2. “Illegitimi Non Carborundum”
When I got into law enforcement, I asked my friend’s father to be one of my references. His name was Bob Dwyer, and he was a former Marine Raider who fought in World War II on Guadalcanal and Bougainville. I will never forget: after he agreed to be my reference, he said to me, “Marcou, if you are going to be a police officer you will have to remember these words.” He leaned forward to make certain I was listening and said, “Illegitimi non carborundum! Don’t let the bastards get you down!”
Those words helped me often and now I am sharing them with you.
3. Listen to your quieter, but more populous, supporters
In a recent poll, 70% of respondents said they support bigger police budgets and 77% said they want more police officers on patrol.
It’s easy to hear the people shouting the loudest in the street and handcuffed in your back seat. The trap is thinking they are representative of all the people you serve.
Every generation of officers has had to weather insults, but frankly, no generation before has been as inundated as yours. Therefore, I suggest you pay attention to the quiet voices of support on your beat. They are the more accurate representation of the people you serve.
4. Concentrate on your circle of influence, not your circle of concern
Too often people spend too much energy worrying about areas they have no ability to change. There are things you can influence in this world and things you can’t.
Identify the things you can influence, like your beat, children, appearance, finances, fitness level, skill level, friends, co-workers and occasionally even your bosses. Concentrate your best efforts in these pursuits and you will see improved results.
5. Carpe Diem!
Each day brings with it new opportunities to excel, achieve, enjoy, read, train, relax, reminisce, laugh, love or even all the above.
Choose to be a person that realizes life is short and every day is a gift to be unwrapped and lived.
Seize the day!
6. Answer one call at a time and always strive to improve as a person and a professional
No matter what is happening in other states, counties, cities, or on other beats, you are only capable of handling one call at a time. By combining good tactics, good job knowledge and a good heart, while trying your best, you will be appreciated by more people than you can imagine.
Do that each day and in the end, it will make for a great career.
7. Practice stress management
Stress is not inherently a bad thing. It can improve your performance, push you forward and make a person excel.
But poorly managed stress is bad.
Since you, as a police officer, will experiences stressors that others can’t imagine, it behooves you to become a master of stress management.
8. Don’t just go home after every shift. Make a home after every shift
We have all said, “My goal is to go home after every shift.” That’s a good goal, but let’s expand on that.
While you are on duty make it your goal to come home after every shift. While you are off duty, make it your goal to make your house a home after every shift.
Focus on creating the kind of home your family wants to live in and their friends want to visit. Then embrace them all.
If your morale is bad at work, chances are it’s bad in your home life too. And that’s no good for anyone.
9. Pray. It can’t hurt.
One thing that has worked in the past for me and still works for me is a simple daily prayer of gratitude.
This prayer reminds me that even when things are bad out there, life is a gift and I have much to be thankful for when it comes down to it.
If prayer is not your choice, I would offer you another p-word as an option: perspective. Always keep things in perspective. Perspective is a great clarifier.
10. Return to nature
Police work brings you into contact with a great deal of ugliness. Strike a balance by looking to the beauty, peace and tranquility of nature. Make time to enjoy sunsets, fishing, swimming, hiking and the list goes on. Nature can relax you, re-energize you and uplift your spirit all at the same time.
11. Never forget how privileged you are to be a police officer
I reminded myself often of the privileged life I led as a cop. I was able to go places, see things and have experiences most people can’t imagine. I was able to arrive in the nick of time to save many, capture many, and say a prayer for the souls of many as they departed this world. I have seen the world and people at its worst, but that also has allowed me to see people at their best.
I was lucky enough during my career to never (well, almost never) forget how lucky I was.
You are privileged to be an American police officer. Never forget that.
12. Realize it’s your morale, and no one else’s!
Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist and philosopher, realized that everyone has something called “response-ability.” That is the ability to choose a given response to a set of circumstances. In these current times, you can choose to stand down, retire early, or even resign, and be miserable, which is what criminals hope you do.
Or you can be one of the thousands of officers who choose to retain their morale and do the best you can. Together you and your beloved profession will prevail.
With all the legitimate challenges your generation is facing, when you do prevail over them, (and you will) you may someday be remembered as America’s greatest law enforcement generation!
And remember, illegitimi non carborundum.
Police1 readers respond
- Have a hobby. Find something you love to do that is law enforcement-centered. Build something, write, read for enjoyment, play an instrument. Find ways to create and if you can include your family, even better.