Increasing Organizational Commitment in Police Officers
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By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice, American Military University
Perhaps due to the thriving job market and the public criticism of police officers and their hazardous work, many police agencies are experiencing a major shortage of officers. In the United States, the total number of sworn police officers has dropped by about 23,000 men and women since 2013, according to a National Public Radio report.
It appears that recruitment of new officers is the issue, which underscores the importance of increasing the organizational commitment of the officers that police departments have on their payrolls.
Organizational commitment in policing has a direct impact on employee turnover, job performance and the quality of service that police officers provide to the public. As a result, organizational commitment should be at the forefront of police administrators’ concerns.
Organizational Commitment Challenges Include Stress, Distrust and Budgetary Issues
Policing has some unique obstacles in terms of organizational commitment. These obstacles include police stress, community distrust of the officers who serve there, and budgetary challenges. Police stress can also affect officers’ personal commitment to their employers and their job performance, especially when that stress is perceived to be the result of a lack of organizational support or internal agency problems.
Another factor that can adversely impact organizational commitment is the public’s attitude toward the police. Over the past several years, political figures and members of the community have been highly critical of police officers. This expressed distrust can negatively affect how police officers view their job, which can also affect their commitment to their department and even to the community itself.
How to Increase Organizational Commitment in Police Officers
There are steps that can be taken to counter the low organizational commitment in policing. Supervisors can play an important role in improving organizational commitment. Supervisory support can come in the form of assisting on calls for service, open communication about intra-agency concerns, and displaying empathy toward subordinates who experience traumatic events in the field.
Supervisors’ Positive Feedback Can Increase Officers’ Organizational Commitment
Positive feedback from supervisors regarding officers’ efforts in the field likely will increase their organizational commitment. In addition to verbal feedback, supervisors can foster organizational commitment by providing positive encouragement on employee performance reviews instead of focusing only on areas that need improvement.
Opportunities for career development also can also have a positive effect on officers’ commitment to their agency. Police departments that can offer progressive advancement opportunities through specialized units or promotions in rank, based on a fair and competitive promotion process, are likely to experience an increased organizational commitment. These departments stand out compared to those that either don’t offer promotion opportunities or maintain a highly internal political structure that is used to determine promotions.
Another important step in increasing policing organizational commitment is to recognize any changes in officers’ behavior early. For example, a former high-performing officer who is now exhibiting changes in work behavior, attitude or motivation may be suffering from burnout, problems at home, or mental health problems.
If proactive steps are taken to identify these patterns, it is more likely that resources and support can help these officers address their problems and thereby increase their long-term commitment to the job. Computer software programs can help spot early warning signs including adverse changes in officers’ performance, leave patterns and incidents of increased use of force and citizen complaints.
Such incidents are vigorously scrutinized by the media and the public. When officers are unfairly criticized, police administrators can improve organizational commitment by standing up for their officers, despite the scrutiny and the political climate.
Taking this stance can be a challenge, but standing up for employees who are unfairly scrutinized sends a message throughout the agency that officers can do their job with confidence; they know that their superiors will stand up for them if they are acting in accordance with agency policies and procedures. This is especially important because it reduces the “us versus them” mentality that often separates line officers from higher-ranking police administrative staff.
Compared to other occupations, policing offers unique challenges to maintaining organizational commitment. However, a proactive approach by police agencies can be effective in increasing officers’ commitment to their agencies.
About the Author: Dr. Jarrod Sadulski has been a member of the Coast Guard since 1997 and has experience in two local law enforcement agencies. His expertise includes infrastructure security, maritime security, homeland security contraband interdiction and intelligence gathering. He has received commendations from the Coast Guard and was selected as Officer of the Year by a police agency in South Florida. Currently, Jarrod is a supervisor in the Coast Guard Reserve Program and provides leadership to Reserve members who conduct homeland security, search and rescue, and law enforcement missions. To contact the author, email IPSauthor@apus.edu. For more articles featuring insight from industry experts, subscribe to In Public Safety’s bi-monthly newsletter.