A New Year Morale Check-up

Surviving low morale is a skill set in its own right and one that’s critical for a successful career and life, and the first step is honest self-assessment.


What are the traits of an average cop?  A good cop?  How about an exceptional cop?

When we present our class “Police Morale for Supervisors:  It IS Your Problem!” these are questions we always ask to solicit group participation, and the bosses in the class are always able to come up with numerous traits for each category of cop.  In general, the breakdown usually looks like this:

The average cop typically will be described in terms such as “usually meets expectations,” “on time,” “flies under the radar,” “requires direction and supervision,” “writes decent ‘basic’ reports,” and so on.  They describe a cop who does the job well enough but needs the occasional push to go above and beyond, and whose day-to-day performance is generally reliable if uninspiring.

The good cop is obviously a step up from the average and receives praise for greater self-initiative, positive attitude translating into better performance, consistently reliable with investigations and reports, confidence, and above average job knowledge and skills.  They are enjoyable to work with and supervise, and require guidance and mentoring more than discipline and management.

The exceptional cop is the good cop on overdrive; these LEOs consistently go the extra mile, confidently employ creative solutions to complex problems, take responsibility for their own development and job satisfaction, have pride in themselves and what they do, and become leaders on their shift and within the department no matter their rank or assignment.  Bosses love supervising these cops because their self-sufficiency means they don’t have to hawk over them, and the really good supervisors are freed up to become better and more creative themselves.

And then we ask the supervisors in the class to describe what we call the malcontent cop, and this usually provokes a collective shudder, knowing side talk, and plenty of (sometimes colorful) adjectives to describes them.  Words like lazy, angry, confrontational, troublemaking, and difficult describe the attitudes and attributes of the malcontents.  “Requires near constant supervision,” “generates a lot of (legitimate) citizen complaints,” and “difficult to get them to do anything other than show up – if they even do that!” are just some of the common complaints bosses have about these officers.  And there is one word that invariably makes its way into the discussion of malcontent cops:  Poison.  Their presence is described as a poison that begins to infect their teams, their shift, and the department.  In many cases, the poison even seeps up the chain of command, infecting those who are supposed to lead and motivate!

The experience of overseeing and trying to manage and motivate malcontent cops is universal among the supervisors we work with, and the stress it produces wears heavy on all of them.  It becomes too easy to just discount the malcontents as lost causes, until we ask this question:

Look inside yourself now, and be really honest… Who in this room has ever been that malcontent cop?  Who has ever been a pain in the ass to one or more of your bosses?  Who in here might even be a malcontent supervisor right now?

The response is nearly universal.  In every class almost every supervisor, if they are really being honest with themselves and us, will raise their hands.

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How would you answer that question?  Have you ever been that malcontent cop?

I have been and I readily admit it.

Notice we don’t say “bad cop” or “unskilled cop” – the former implies someone “dirty” or dangerous, the latter incompetent – but merely “malcontent cop.”  It has to do not with ability but morale, and the best of us can suffer from low morale.  In fact, it’s a pretty safe bet we all will at some point or another in our careers.  And although the Police Morale… class we teach is directed at LE supervisors and administrators, and designed to help them understand the power they hold to positively affect morale under their commands, you may not be supervised by someone who sees the power within themselves (or they may not care, frankly) and maintaining your morale will ultimately be up to you.

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