One thing that I have had no shortage of in my career as a patrol officer is the lack of two-way communication from the rank to the file. This is common when changes in policy take place. In some cases, the officers/ deputies will know the reason for the policy. This might be because of something they, or one of their shift mates did to cause the changes. How does the changing of rules affect morale of the officers? Is it change that can be justified by research and data, case law, or new legislation? If not, then why is the change being made? Change can be scary. If you are a supervisor, think back to when you changed ranks, when you first got promoted to supervisor. Were you ready? Were you pre-planning decisions about how you were going to change things? If you are an agency head, did those same questions run through your mind when you got the news about your promotion? This is what it is like when officers get notice of policy change.
What can change to improve communication? Well let’s start with talking to each other. It is common for two things to happen when officers see a member of command staff passing them. They greet them accordingly or the stop and talk. What does that do if a member of command staff stops and talks to line officers? Eventually, they will get the truth. It might start out with small talk; however, think of it as a trust building case. Officers need to know that what you talk about will be considered. Officers need to know that they matter.
When was the last time an officer saw a member of the command staff on a call that was not a major incident? When was the last time you backed up an officer on a traffic stop, or directed traffic on a crash? Better yet, do have your radio on when you are working? Having a working command staff will build morale, trust, and communication in the department. People work harder when they are happier.
How can you make your staff happy for free? Morale can be built with little or no money spent. Do you have a member under your command that is moving, or has an FMLA-qualifying event? How about showing up to help move? How about calling or stopping by after a child birth or adoption? How much does that cost? I remember seeing a video of a police chief stopping by officer’s house when he moved with pizza. The chief sat with the officer’s kid and read and did homework. How much did that cost the Chief? $20 maybe. How far did it go with the officer and their family? You think that officer is going into work and sitting around just answering calls? Or do you think this officer is going answer the calls and be a go-getter? That one simply act can “recharge” officers and show that we are a family. Why would it have to wait until someone gets hurt or killed for the blue family to come together?
We as officers know that commanders are not mind readers. How could you possibly know that Officer A is having a baby, moving, had a death in family? Maybe we should TALK! Talk to the shift supervisors, shift officers, or you can TALK to the people who process the paperwork. The paperwork you ask? Just like any case that is worked, follow the paperwork. All major life changes with officers are documented by some type of form. Do those forms pass by your desk? How hard would it be to route them to your desk or get an email when they happen? A phone call or lunch with that officer will go a long way.
You need to hold yourself accountable for this. The burden of leadership does not mean that you need to forget about those that you lead.
Ken Leedham served as a law enforcement officer for 17 years in both corrections and patrol. He has a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice and is a proud Whiskey Patriot.