Everyone has seen them. The officer who is no longer motivated to work. He or she shows up to work with a bad attitude or just no attitude at all. These officers just coast doing the bare minimum or even less. They have either a I don’t give a damn attitude towards everything police related or are hostile towards anything to do with the police.
If you look into each officer’s case you will find various reasons for this problem. I have seen this from officers with medical problems or those who are under internal investigation or those passed over for positions they felt they deserved or even those who are just fed up with what is known as bureaucratic B.S. Sometimes they are just burned out. Sometimes it is worse and their reactions to police work can be scary to observe.
I have started calling these officers the unmotivatable even though in reality they are not. The department has just come to think of them as that way. Many times the officers themselves, think this is the case. It is a word I created to describe these officers.
So many times these officers are just given up on. They are swept to the wayside and become a problem that most departments would prefer just go away. Depending on the size of the department, a certain number of these officers are tolerated as long as they do not get too out of hand in their behavior. When their numbers get too significant or when their hostility becomes a hindrance to life in the police department they finally become an issue that the department wants to resolve and resolve in a hurry.
Unfortunately the quickest and poorest resolution is to help these officers find a new line of employment by showing them the door. This can be counter productive in that it shows the rest of the officers how little the department or agency cares for them and may create the next potential unmotivatable officer.
These officers are an intellectual investment made by the department that has trained them. They have thousands of hours of experience and training invested in each of their officers. To just toss an officer aside is a waste of resources and money.
Imagine a squad car that has engine trouble. When the indicator light goes on it lets us know we have a problem that needs attention. If you wait too long the engine fails. We should have examined the engine as soon as the light went on but since we failed to we now have to repair the engine. We certainly would not just scrap the car at this point. That would be a foolish waste. The same goes with our officers.
Ideally we see the indicator light go off on our officer early. In these cases it will be a change in attitude towards work. As a supervisor you know who your go to guys are. They are the ones volunteering on the radio and riding along to assist without being asked or assigned. They are the ones bringing in the most tickets or handling the most paper jobs. They are the ones you know you can count on to do a good job when the chips are down. When you read the narrative of their reports they are neat, accurate, concise, and professional.
Then there are the others who do little, complain the most, and cause the most headaches for a supervisor. These are the officers that need to be motivated not the go to guys. The go to guys are already motivated to work. You have your work cut out for you with the unmotivatable, and it is going to take more than a speech at roll call to get them back in line. If you don’t recognize their warning lights early it will be much more difficult to get them back on track later on.
Just as with a new car the first thing that you have to do with a warning light is diagnose the problem. On the car you plug a little computer into a connector and it tells you what the problem is. You made need a new oxygen sensor or thermostat. This is then a quick easy fix. We are not so lucky with an officer.
As a supervisor you need to do your diagnosis work too. Do your research. Listen to what the officer is saying. Listen, don’t lecture. You cannot figure out what is bothering him or her if you do not listen closely. Many times I have found that just by taking the time to grab a cup of coffee with an officer and letting him or her vent I was able to gather great insight and learn what was bothering them. I was usually pleasantly surprised at the positive results with the officer’s behavior.
These are the easiest cases and fortunately the most frequent. However it is the rest that will test you as supervisor.
I have had a great many officers assigned to my supervision with very serious medical issues. These officers have had cancer, spinal injuries, Parkinson disease, heart disease, or any other problem you can find in a medical text. In many cases it could be an eventual death sentence for them. How do you motivate them? Those that find work a great distraction and relief from the worry that their disease puts them through will already be motivating themselves. It is the others that you will have difficulty motivating.
Additionally I have had to supervise many officers who were under investigation for either a department policy violation or possible criminal act. These officers stand to loose their job, pension, and may even go to prison. How do you get them to want to do any work? After all they may be very bitter by the time they get to this point.
You can get them motivated but it takes work. What has worked for me may not work for you as a supervisor as each officer is an individual with different problems and personalities. There are several steps that you can do to help with their motivation.
Fear of discipline does little to motivate in these cases. For someone with a serious illness like cancer all this will accomplish is resentment towards you and your unit. For an officer looking to loose his job and pension a day’s suspension is just laughed at.
Positive reinforcement is needed. But in a public sector agency you are limited as to what rewards are available. Union contracts have to be honored and department policies have to be followed. To start, a “thank you” from time to time is huge and often overlooked. It has to be sincere and it has to be believable. You have to mean it. Remember these people have problems beyond the average officer and when they do something special the fact that you recognize this can be significant. It means that you will really have to closely follow each officer’s work so that you can single them out for that thank you.
Ideally you have to develop a team or family mentality in you unit. You want your officers to feel that they are part of the team or a member of the family. You want them to develop a sense of ownership and pride in the unit. When I was on a tact team we all gathered for dinner at least once a week. The rest of the time we darted off on our own but this helped our team develop. In a larger unit encourage a birthday cake on an officer’s birthday to be shared by the entire unit or watch. Make sure get well cards are sent after everyone signs them when someone is sick. Bring in donuts once in a while as a treat. When someone becomes a new father or mother make sure the unit makes a fuss over them somehow. Flowers to the new mom go a long way.
Once the officer begins to feel part of the team/family they will not want to let down the team and then their performance will improve. It can be a slow process but was a slow descent for the officers in most cases too. When you have developed a good team/family spirit a newcomer to the unit that is one of the unmotivatable will be motivated by fellow officers. Much of your work will be done for you. When someone comes in who is really an unmotivatable officer beyond the normal your officers will let you know. You then focus on that officer.
The point of this is that as a supervisor your job is more than to just sign reports and make sure that officers respond promptly to assignments. Your job is to make sure that your officers have what they need to properly do their job. They have to have the correct attitude towards work to function properly. You can have a great impact on that attitude.
Lt. Robert Weisskopf is a 30-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department. Lt. Weisskopf comes from a law enforcement family, including two uncles, a nephew, and his father. Weisskopf wears his father’s lieutenant’s star. Lt. Weisskopf is a graduate of Lewis University with a degree in criminal justice. He currently serves as commanding officer of the Chicago Police Department’s Alternate Response Section which has approximately 200 officers, a unit bigger than most police departments in the United States.
During his decade-long tenure, the unit has increased officer response from handling three calls per day to 8 calls an hour. He has been a patrol officer, a district rapid response sergeant, and a watch commander in the 17th District. He spent a year detailed to HUD performing public housing narcotics investigations.
Weisskopf is an expert in collaborative leadership and informally mentoring younger officers. He enjoys the constant challenge of policing and problem solving. He just finished a five-year term as President of the Chicago Police Lieutenants Association, the collective bargaining organization for the Chicago Police Department’s lieutenants and was chief negotiator of the current contract.