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
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.
Tom Wetzel is a northeast Ohio suburban police lieutenant, SWAT officer, trainer and certified law enforcement executive. He holds a black belt in Goshin Jujitsu. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.