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Workplace Romances

Written by Robert Roy Johnson

These workplace romances raise issues for police managers.

As is done in some private sector workplaces, chiefs could simply implement written policy prohibiting workplace romance. Realistically, however, love will not be denied. As a police manager, if you occasionally find it difficult to achieve blanket compliance on something as minor as a uniform regulation, how successful might you be in quashing passion?

First and foremost, as with all personnel issues, it is essential that supervisors have personal relationships with their officers that are based on mutual respect and trust. When the lines of communication are open, it is much more likely the supervisors will have the information necessary to address developing situations.

On occasion, a situation may arise involving officers, one or both of whom are married to or seriously involved with other people. Whether there actually is romance, or merely ungrounded suspicion, the police manager should be prepared for an officer’s significant other to request a meeting. The supervisor cannot take this lightly.

Affairs are painful experiences for those betrayed. They often lead to the breakup of marriages and families. Emotions run high, sometimes leading to violence and tragedy. It is the wise captain who is poised to address the concerns of the troubled mate. There are no easy answers. Each circumstance will dictate the appropriate action. But the police manager should be prepared to offer resources, such as counseling or professional intervention.

Where there is romance, one or both of the involved parties may become jealous of interactions the other may have with fellow officers. Jealousy in a relationship takes on an ominous dimension in a workplace where the employees are armed. As law enforcement managers know, it is essential that all of the officers on the watch operate as a team. These officers need to respect each other professionally and personally.

Jealousy is a complex emotion that often leads to overreactions and could compromise the integrity of the cohesive squad the captain has meticulously crafted. What normally would be considered as friendly banter or congenial interactions among department officers can be misconstrued by a jealous lover. This then leads to verbal and sometimes even physical confrontations that create ill feelings among the officers involved.

Here, being accessible and having an open relationship with your officers will assist you to recognize developing circumstances that need your attention. If you are interacting on a regular basis with your officers, you will pick up on the clues that something is amiss. This allows you to proactively step in and diffuse any tension before it escalates.

Captains must be prepared for handling the inevitable repercussions when a workplace romance sours. If it is an amicable breakup, then it may simply be a matter of changing assignments. However, love rarely lends itself to a friendly parting of the ways. If there is acrimony, it may not be enough to simply break up a partnership or change shifts.

Managers must be prepared to handle the fallout of a love affair come to an ignominious end. This, at the very least, may involve a sit-down with each of the officers during which expectations are clearly delineated. The captain must intervene swiftly and decisively to interdict any harmful ramifications.

When there is a breakup, it is possible that one of the partners eventually will move on and put the romance behind, while the other has not. This can sometimes lead to harassment or even borderline stalking. Inappropriate voice mails, e-mails, text messaging or other more serious forms of harassment must be addressed without hesitation. Disciplinary action, the threat of termination, and possibly even the specter of criminal charges may be the tools necessary to ensure that this unacceptable activity does not continue.

What were once welcomed displays of affection may now be viewed in the hindsight of a bitter breakup as sexual harassment. All departments should have a policy in place for these matters. However, the police manager must sift through the facts and navigate the mine field of emotions to determine the proper course of action. Knowing your people—and knowing the law—are critical elements in addressing these situations fairly and appropriately.

Robert Roy Johnson is a 37-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department, currently at the rank of captain. A management consultant and speaker, Johnson is an adjunct professor in the Law Enforcement Management Program at Calumet College of Saint Joseph. He can be reached at robroyj@comcast.net.

Published in Law and Order, Jun 2008

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