Trending Topics

4 ways leaders can (and should) motivate their officers

Those in supervisory and leadership roles can either be motivators or morale busters to the organization depending upon the approach of those police supervisors

The bond that exists among police officers of any rank motivates them to confront the daily challenges they often face.

This article, originally published January 2015, has been updated with current information.

It is important for police officers to have motivators to keep their passion for policing strong and to enhance their desire to continually be the best they can be.

Police comprise a brotherhood replete with a bona fide understanding of the inherent dangers that are ever-present in their occupation. The camaraderie that exists among cops is essential for their emotional and physical wellbeing. From one corner of the world to another, the bond that exists among police officers of any rank motivates them to confront the daily challenges that present themselves in the public safety sector.

It’s vital that within the supervisory and management hierarchy of any police organization, those placed in leadership positions must be carefully chosen. Not only must they possess the law enforcement expertise, experience, and skills to work in the trenches, but they must have the aptitude to deal with diverse and highly competitive personalities of those under them. Those in supervisory and leadership roles can either be motivators or morale busters to the organization depending upon their approach. Here are four keys to motivating officers in your organization.

1. Education

Rookies look up to their trainers and leaders as role models to emulate. As rookies embark upon their careers, they need support to gain an understanding of the job and to develop a keen awareness of the street and its accompanying realities. At the onset, excellent training — both in the academy and on the street — is essential to properly motivate the new cop and to develop healthy outlooks and appropriate attitudes

For officers who have been employed in the job for a significant amount of time, they need continual motivators as well. They need to be afforded opportunities for continuing education in areas of both organizational need and interest to them individually, and they must be allowed the time and opportunity to take advantage of them.

For those who have an avid desire to progress in their career or gain knowledge that will allow them to pursue an added interest in another departmental arena, they need to be encouraged and supported to reach their goals. It can be a morale buster when their repeated requests for training opportunities are denied or delayed indefinitely without legitimacy, cause or explanation.

2. Fairness

Cops can also be strongly motivated by a sense of fairness within the organization. When there is disparity, partiality, favoritism or internal politics that come into play on the job, these factors can quickly serve as morale busters to high achievers and motivated police officers. Law enforcement personnel need to know from the start that they have equal opportunity for professional and promotional opportunities.

Officers need to know they are working in a fair playing field and one that has the unbiased support from the police chief who should endorse this notion from the top down. The surest way to kill a cop’s motivation and destroy the morale in any police department is to allow favoritism to persevere.

Politics outside the police organization can play a significant role in the attitudes that cops develop. If politicians are swayed by the momentary tide of public opinion and fail to take a stand, speak up, and support police with legitimacy when necessary, then morale can disintegrate which can be a monumental morale buster.

3. Communication

Effective internal communication is essential for cops to be motivated. Information needs to be presented clearly and concisely, and the message needs to be aptly integrated with their role. Miscommunications — both within and outside the organization — resulting in misunderstanding can be extremely detrimental to both morale and performance. It can also negatively impact otherwise-healthy working relationships.

The media can be a strong force when it comes to the portrayal of cops. The focus can be positive or negative which, in turn, can put law enforcement in either favorable or unfavorable light. Police leaders must work diligently to communicate clearly with media, no matter how unpleasant that can sometimes be.

A bona fide motivator for cops is to know the media is presenting law enforcement accurately and objectively. When the media fails to do this, the overall perception of cops can be negative, disrespectful, and lead disillusion and destruction of morale to officers individually as well as a group.

4. Recognition

Another motivator for law enforcement officers can be applause for a job well done. An announcement at roll call about the officer’s performance, the placement of a formal compliment letter in the officer’s personnel file or personal acknowledgement by the chief with presentation of a plaque can be a huge morale booster that can reverberate throughout the department. This not only rewards the individual officer but it inspires others within the department to excel.

Law enforcement is a rewarding career and, consequently, positive motivators need to outweigh and counteract any existent morale busters. Therefore, it is critical to supply positive motivation within a department to produce engaged employees, foster the desire to excel and provide public service at its best.

Karen L. Bune is an Adjunct Professor at George Mason and Marymount universities and a consultant for the U.S. Dept. of Justice. Board Certified in Traumatic Stress and Domestic Violence, a nationally recognized speaker, she also serves on the Institutional Review Board of The Police Foundation. She received the Police Chief’s Award and County Executive’s Recognition of Service Certificate from Prince George’s County, MD. She is in the Wakefield High School (VA) Hall of Fame. She holds the AU Alumni Recognition Award and Marymount University’s Adjunct Teaching Award. She appears in “Marquis Who’s Who in the World” and in “America.”