Esprit de Corps
By: Tom Wetzel
Most of us have probably heard the term “esprit de corps” during the academy and maybe while studying for a promotional exam. Other than that, many have probably given little thought to the term itself despite trying to act on its principles. The American Heritage Dictionary describes esprit de corps as “A common spirit of comradeship, enthusiasm, and devotion to a cause among the members of a group.” It indicates it is synonymous with morale.
As managers and leaders, we should reflect on whether our agency is committed to its mission which would require an esprit de corps among its personnel. It is a safe bet that an agency with it will have a respected leadership team that recognizes that maintaining this department state of mind takes continual nurturing and laser focus. For those without it, developing esprit de corps within your agency should be an important objective for long-term success. The following is a basic blueprint that will foster an environment conducive for esprit de corps within your agency.
1. Recognize Good Work but Focus on Group Effort
Officers sometime feel that when they mess up, their errors will get addressed but when they do well, it is overlooked or taken for granted. Managers should not be remiss in recognizing a job well done but should try to put the focus on the team effort as multiple personnel are often involved in major cases getting solved, heroic actions, or the making of dangerous arrests. Involved personnel to include dispatchers should be noted for excellent work when applicable.
2. No Rush to Judgment
When officers are accused of misconduct or failures, it is important not to jump to sudden conclusions even if you suspect that the problem is within your agency. Pressure from local or major media may cause a leader to want to temporarily placate potential community unrest by chastising his/her officers so he/she looks like a disciplinarian. Instead, he/she can clearly articulate that the matter will be thoroughly investigated in a timely manner and if discipline is merited, it will be handled.
If some preliminary information can be disseminated without compromising a fair investigation, it should be, since we live in an information society that will try to glean intelligence from wherever it can, which can unfortunately result in gross misinformation. Leadership will have access to the truth so it is important that the accurate story gets told.
Investing in an officer through training demonstrates a commitment to his/her safety and success. Even with tight budgets, there is plenty of available free training to include on-line training. Also, developing personnel to be in-house trainers can bring long-term returns on an initial investment in an instructor course. Well-trained personnel are a win-win for the officer/dispatcher/records and the agency.
4. Career Development
Following up on training, managers should try to annually assess personnel on their goals and try to develop plans to help accomplish them. Even though some circumstances will not allow every officer to obtain every assignment they want, they should appreciate the effort you gave. Also, these efforts at career development can allow you to help steer an officer toward assignments that best suit his/her skills or knowledge base. Finding the square plug for the square hole can be coordinated through this type of program.
5. Community Policing
By encouraging community policing efforts, an agency can help develop trust between its personnel and the customers they serve. This trust is vital for any real success at making a community safer because it takes a team effort between the server and the served. When officers have the overall support of those they risk their lives to help, it can go a long way in the develop of esprit de corps.
6. Working Conditions
Poor working conditions can demoralize an agency’s personnel, making it difficult to buy in to a common cause. A good start is looking to improve their work time arrangement. Since officers have to work odd hours, holidays and rotating shifts, management should work with them to find alternative shift scheduling (i.e. 10- or 12-hour shifts, the use of switch time) that can improve an officer’s personal health and home life.
Working conditions also include clean and orderly stations and access to more safety equipment (some of which is available through grant programs). And working conditions are not only limited to scheduling and equipment but personnel as well. Unprofessional or corrupt personnel can cause a toxic environment for officers to work in and properly addressing to include termination of officers unfit to wear a badge is vital. Bad cops are poisonous to esprit de corps.
7. Support Good Pay and Benefits
Officers expect their leaders to support them in obtaining and maintaining good pay and benefits. Leadership can often make good arguments on why officers should be paid well. The old adage of you get what you pay for is particularly noteworthy for law enforcement, which is built on trust and the confidence of the public we serve. That support should also include holding officers to high standards so that their work is a good return on a community’s tax investment.
Esprit de corps should be a goal of any police leadership team. By having a plan with objectives and working together with the officers and those they serve, an esprit de corps may be developed, which has a foundation for long-term success.