I’ve recently come across several articles regarding workplace bullying in law enforcement. Articles from media channels such as Courier Mail, the New York Times, and the Guardian have flooded my inbox with sad stories and alarming stats.
Australia’s Union secretary Mick Barnes even called the Gold Coast police headquarters “bully central.”
How sad… and how confusing. How is it that people focused on stopping bad behaviors are actively behaving badly? They’re supposed to protect civil rights, not invite them… Aren’t they?
I don’t get it.
How are organizations supposed to implement a positive workplace when the government, our guidepost and ringleader, can’t even set the example?
Yes – I’m aware of the lingering presence of police brutality and the work that is going into stopping it. I know that activists, along with the government, are doing the best of their ability to end police brutality. Although I don’t discredit this attempt, I don’t think they should view bullying as a tiny slice of the pie. It’s actually a pretty fat slice.
Bullying is the catalyst of police brutality. It invites rage, harassment, and other bad behaviors that trigger police brutality. Unless we put a stop to it, law enforcers will continue to allow the misconduct to thrive.
Bad behaviors are systemic, and are a social phenomenon. They don’t happen in a vacuum. The organization and its culture is what allows these behaviors to thrive.
So… Here’s looking at you, Government. What’s up with your culture?
Something is off, so I decided to do some digging.
What I found
A highly critical report by the College of Policing reported a “macho, arrogant, bullying culture” in the industry. The study, which examined cases of alleged misconduct involving chief police officers and staff, described bullying as a feature of a “’command-and-control” management style.
I found the study informative and enlightening. I’ll leave the facts to the reporters, so I’ll just leave with you with a few of my key takeaways:
According to a police insider:
“[The force] is defined by a macho, arrogant, bullying culture and it tends to recruit a particular kind of candidate in that mould.”
“Being a large force it is possible to shove people around, move them into other roles, and this is used as a threat to force a particular approach, particularly around performance management.”
And… my favorite:
“You get your first chief officer appointment and you suddenly wake up and think, ‘I can be the bully.’”
What I gathered
It is clear as day. Bright workers are promoted, and with their promotion comes a badge of honor in the form of the right to bully. Bullying is being passed on from chief officer to chief officer as if it were a righteous skillset.
Because this behavior has become so engraved in police officers’ brains, it’s going to take a lot for the police department to change its culture – and it’s not in the form of additional laws, regulations and anti-bullying policies. It’s in the form of replacement.
The next step
Negative and aggressive workplace behaviors are systemic. In order to effectively remove them, holistic and system-wide solutions should focus on prevention, not correction.
Police department officers shouldn’t focus on the corrective actions involving eradication of problems and negativity. Instead, they should find solutions that create a safe and civil workplace.
That’s the secret: replacing bad behaviors with positive ones.
Rather than saying no to bullying, police department leaders should be saying yes to a civil workplace. This can be done by facilitating employees’ ability to work together in creating a workplace where positive, professional relationships will thrive.
They can do this by focusing their efforts three areas: policy, culture, and leadership.
Policy: Implementing a healthy workplace corporate policy provides information about what respectful and civil behavior looks like in your organization. This policy also addresses behavior that may not be as egregious as sexual harassment, for example, but is uncivil enough to cause a breakdown in communication and damage work product and customer service.
Culture: Address what behaviors should be seen from the police force, then include these behaviors in the healthy workplace policy. You can use them to create values statements and action items, and intertwine the list with performance management programs. Following the policy, training can be provided on those behaviors, as well as in areas that highlight positive behavior, including conflict resolution, negotiation, interpersonal communication, assertiveness, forgiveness, gratitude, empathy, stress management, leadership, and optimism.
Leadership: Leadership must be transparent about their support for a civil work environment for it to come to fruition. In addition, leaders should be trained on positive leadership skills, coaching uncivil employees, and publicly rewarding those who engage in positive workplace behaviors. They should be trained in building upon employee strengths, rather than finding and correcting their weaknesses.
As long as policies focus on quotas for speeding tickets, NOT engaging in police brutality, and policies that cover discrimination, for example, the bigger picture is being ignored.
And at this point, with bullying spreading around like an infectious disease, it seems culture change is nearly unattainable for police departments. Nearly… but not completely.
Serious changes in policy, culture and leadership must be made, starting with chief officers. It will be quite the challenge, however – if done effectively – it can save the police force’s brutal environment. Better yet, it can save lives.