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3 ways to combat degradation of morale in your agency

As older members of the workforce reach the age of retirement, law enforcement leaders must be attuned to the challenges of maintaining morale — and consistency — within the ranks

The once-blue flame of an officer can evolve into a dim, flickering candlelight as the years pass. It’s an undisputed fact that motivation tends to wane as one’s retirement eligibility increases.

Tenured officers nearing the age of retirement can often be a toxic element to a police organization. While some crusty veteran officers believe it is a rite of passage to spew negativity, the smart police leader says, “not on my watch.”

If left unchecked, this cadre of ROAD (Retired On Active Duty) and/or ROD (Retired On Duty) officers can erode the pillars of morale in a police organization.

A Galaxy Not So Far Away
Consider this scenario: A young, energetic police officer named Luke greets his tenured 30-plus year Sergeant in the hallway of the station. The two engage in a conversation wherein the superior refers to the younger officers as “kids” and characterizes them as lazy and not as dedicated as their elder colleagues.

Then Sergeant Obi-Wan closes in with the kill shot: “You know, kid, I can retire anytime I want. Three bad days in a row and I am out of here!”

Does this sound familiar? As a police leader, you’ve probably heard this — or something very similar to it — more times than you can count.

This is not harmless banter — it is a symptom of a serious degradation of law enforcement morale, and you as a leader have a responsibility to address it.

Bridging a Generation Gap
Generational divides plague every workplace. Social researchers continue to develop new labels and stereotypes for each budding group of generation newcomers. Their theories lead to broad-brush generalizations, which can serve to further undermine an already polarized workforce. The law enforcement profession is no different.

The economic downturn of the recent past has resulted in a disparity within the rank-in-file. Nowadays, newer officers in many departments are working for less pay and benefits than their tenured counterparts who perform the exact same job. This — in and of itself — creates animosity which is further fueled by the arrogance of the seasoned veteran waiting for and wailing about those “three bad days.”

The job of a police officer is difficult enough without added stress from within the ranks. The police leader can address this problem using three simple concepts:

1. Addressing the younger officer, the leader should encourage them to work hard to overcome the prophecy that the new generation lacks the commitment and intelligence to succeed. Equally as important, begin now to teach those younger officers to avoid the temptation to be the naysayer when they reach that career tenure point.

2. To that salty dog waiting for three bad days to retire, the message from you must be clear: Every day you poison the workforce with negativity and pessimism is a bad day for those around you. Seasoned officers should take their newer counterparts under their wings and mentor them along, not berate them.

3. Take the time to monitor this blending of old and new to insure that the well is not being poisoned. Corral that toxicity for the sake of troop morale. In extreme cases, it might be necessary to step in and start baking that salty dog’s retirement cake. It’s a simple, three-day process...

Paul Cappitelli is an honorably retired law enforcement professional with over 45 years of experience. From 2007-2012, Paul served as Executive Director for the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST). Prior to his POST appointment, he retired at the rank of Captain from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department in California, following 29 years of service. Paul is a past and present member of several professional groups and associations. He holds an undergraduate degree in business management and a master’s degree in public administration. He is currently a public safety consultant and police/corrections practices expert. Visit Contact Paul Cappitelli.