2022 came with many challenges for our officers but also shed light on many opportunities for improvement within the Public Safety Sector for 2023.
What was the most challenging issue for your organization last year? When we polled our webinar audience of Law Enforcement personnel, Recruitment and Retention was noted as the most challenging issue faced by agencies last year at 55% with Officer Morale not far behind at 39%.
Police1’s What Cops Want State of the Industry Survey also confirms this sentiment with 77% of officers polled feeling that morale had decreased in their agency in the past year. Moreover, they resoundingly shared what they wanted from their leaders: to communicate, to be consistent, and to care. But in the era of police reform, how does one go about balancing these three areas of focus to foster a successful working environment?
We convened three executive-level law enforcement professionals: Chief Thedrick Andres (Henderson NV PD), Captain Brendan Laflamme (Hollis PD) and Brian Churchill (Retired Chief of Police and current Business Manager at Utility, Inc.) for a panel discussion to share their unique perspectives on how they’re actively addressing this feedback and the strategies they are implementing to build positive morale.
1. Effective Communication
When we asked our panel of experts what’s the most important factor to building positive morale, the resounding answer was Effective Communication. “Communication is the most pressing barrier to morale and stands out to me the most. Our employees want effective communication” Chief Andres shared.
It is highly important that agencies prioritize effective communication to prevent what Chief Andres calls “the disconnection cycle”. This is caused by the failure to ensure the administration all the way down to the line level officers understand the why behind decisions that are made in law enforcement.
It is imperative that first line supervisors be transparent with their team and not be reluctant to address things as they occur. Officers, just like employees at other organizations, appreciate clear lines of communication and transparency within their agency across the board. This fosters mutual trust which impacts overall morale.
2. Employee Weigh In
“Employees who don’t feel they have weigh-in are not going to buy into the organization.” Chief Andres explained. Communication goes both ways and should never feel one sided. Officers must feel that they are heard and given a venue to be consistently heard by their superiors.
Captain Laflamme confirmed this saying “Our people want to know that they have a voice in which way the agency is going.” He went on to share how his agency actively promotes employee weigh-ins. “We put out a yearly anonymous survey asking the tough questions ‘What can we do better?’, ‘What are we doing well?’, ‘What are your concerns with the agency?” and that starts conversations because people are empowered to say whatever they want to say and they do feel heard,”.
Chief Andres explained that his larger agency took a slightly different approach to the matter by speaking with supervisors, both sworn and professional staff employees on a consistent basis to determine areas of improvement.These meetings not only empowered his staff to share areas of improvement within the organization but the ability to establish KPIs related to these improvement goals. Initiatives such as these affirm their importance in the organization resulting in increased levels of morale.
3. Quality of Life
It goes without saying that Officers are human beings too. They have entire lives and families outside of the badge. Agencies that realize this and accommodate their officers will continually see success. “Our officers usually voice their quality of life issues that speak to scheduling concerns, staffing levels, and being able to flex their schedules,” Captain Laflamme shared. “It goes a long way and they appreciate the efforts that we make to accommodate them. That helps with their attention because it’s a culture that a lot of places don’t have. Listening to them and accommodating those kinds of things is a huge payoff.” Laflamme concluded.
Chief Andres shared that his agency looked into prioritizing the mental health of their officers to further promote positive morale. “We worked with our City Manager’s Office to hire a Public Safety Wellness Manager and bringing in that Mental Health clinician has been a game changer for us as well. It’s very important for us to make sure that we have some support systems in place so they have an outlet for them to work on their mental health and wellness,”Chief Andres concluded. Showing our officers we want them to have a healthy work-life balance and giving them the tools and the flexibility to do so sends a clear message of unique value to our officers.
4. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
What gets measured gets managed. While it is important to speak with staff on effective moral boosting strategies, it is equally important to follow up by measuring the effectiveness of these strategies and maintaining accountability within your agency. No matter the size of the agency, this should be prioritized. Chief Andres’s large agency created morale KPIs based on employee feedback to measure their effectiveness. “At least once a month we’re meeting as a senior management team looking at all of those KPIs and the senior management team is required to report out on what KPIs they accomplish and what blocking factors that may be there so everyone in the organization can see that we all have skin in the game,”.
At Captain Laflamme’s smaller agency he explains they actively measure morale by “Talking to our people. We can actually go and grab an officer at any time of the day and have a conversation and because of the work we’ve put in here we feel that there are honest conversations,”.
These key performance indicators may also extend to community engagement efforts according to Laflamme. “When morale was down we saw less community engagement. And now it’s like part of every day and we don’t even think about it. Our officers are happy when they go out. They greet the public, they’re happy to be out there and the public recognizes it. I can’t tell you how many times we get phone calls or emails from members of the public about the good our officers do. That’s certainly an indicator that we’re doing something right here,”. Keeping track of how your employees feel about your organization in this way reinforces to officers that you take their concerns and experiences seriously.
5. Employee Value and Growth Path
“Today, what has become important especially for millennials is am I valued? Does the Chief care about me? Does the agency put effort into me as an individual? Are they flexible? What are my opportunities for the future?” Churchill explained. Recent studies reveal it is now commonplace for officers to leave an agency, or the profession, if they do not feel valued. Experts say the best way to improve officers’ feeling of value at their agencies is to actively acknowledge their efforts, invest in them and invest in their career path. Approximately 78% of officers stay with an employer because of a benefits program that includes career track programs.
Speak with your team and find out the types of training they would be interested in and look into offering it. Examine their career goals and create a clear career track that officers can follow. In addition to creating career paths, agencies should form programs to actively build strong relationships that acknowledge employee value.
Captain Laflamme shared that his agency has “A whole department meeting where everybody’s in attendance at least quarterly. We will usually incorporate some kind of activity at the end of it, usually something as simple as a luncheon for everybody or a cookout and it just helps build relationships not not just the professional side of it but we’re getting to know our people much better and they get to know us better”. These active forms of formal and informal recognition are a great way of rewarding officers who exemplify themselves by going above and beyond and helps officers feel like they belong at the agency.
Taking an active approach rather than a passive approach towards improving morale with these strategies communicates to our officers that we do care and we are listening. Employee retention then becomes less of a strain for agencies because their employees feel like a valued member of their organization. When overall employee morale is high, they are better producers and agencies get better results which in turn will trickle down to the communities they serve.
- Utility Webinar-Cultivating an Engaged Team: Strategies & techniques to support positive morale in law enforcement
- Police1 Digital Edition: What cops want in 2022
- Police1-Struggling to recruit and retain officers? Find out how these police leaders are turning the tide
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