Killing Police Morale

Verbal and physical attacks on officers are taking a toll on the officers and on the nation's safety.

David Griffith 2017 Headshot

Editor David GriffithEditor David GriffithPhoto: Kelly Bracken

There's a funny sign you will see in a lot of American offices. It reads: "The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves" and is underscored with a skull and crossbones. The humor is based on the fact that any employer or manager knows that abuse is not a way to improve anyone's morale.

But it seems to be wisdom that was never passed on to the people who employ law enforcement officers. By that I don't mean chiefs and sheriffs. I mean the mayors and councils and supervisors and citizen commissions and even the public. And here's a warning to those folks: Your thin blue line between society and chaos is fraying.

Heck, even using that term "thin blue line" or displaying any outward support for law enforcement is now considered racist. Last month in York, ME, a family of police survivors set out a Thin Blue Line flag on their street. And the York Diversity Forum (I kid you not) got triggered and said because the flag was displayed by some white supremacist know-nothings in Charlottesville back in 2017 that it was a racist symbol.

I have multiple things to say about that to the York Diversity Forum. 1. Your town is about 98% white, so best get working on that diversity. 2. Hundreds of different flags were carried on the streets of Charlottesville during that mess, including Old Glory herself. 3. The argument that being a law enforcement officer and supporting law enforcement makes you a white supremacist must come as some surprise to African-American cops.

Then there's the water attacks. (And let's not call them "dousings" or "soakings" or any other euphemism. These are attacks.) They started in New York City with groups of teenagers and young men throwing buckets of water on uniformed officers. They have spread to other locations. What convinced these idiots that they could do this without any repercussions? I have no scientific proof, but I believe it was the anti-police sentiment expressed by City Hall. The targeted cops retreated from the attacks because they knew any action they took would be punished. This is not a criticism of the officers because they were in a no-win situation. But there should have been some arrests on the scene, even if that triggered a riot. Sometimes, you have to take a stand, even if it makes things worse in the short run.

With such disrespect and lack of support expressed toward officers, is it any wonder that we have a shortage of police in many of America's largest cities?

Case in point, Seattle. The Emerald City government is not just having a hard time hiring new cops; they're losing the ones they have. So, like a lot of employers dealing with an exodus of their workforce, the city conducted exit interviews with its officers who were moving on.

A local public radio station (KUOW) acquired the interviews through a public records request and published them. In the interviews, departing officers blasted the city for "hyper-aggressive oversight," "an increasingly spineless legal system," and for having a city council that "sucks." The city council sucks according to at least one officer because Councilmember Kshama Sawant literally called a police shooting a "murder" without waiting for an investigation.

In a separate mayor's survey of 76 officers only six said they would recommend the department to a loved one. One said, "The culture is toxic, morale is low, and you can make just about the same amount of money at other departments."

Not every officer's comment from the interviews or the mayor's survey was negative. One praised the department for its training that was "the best in the country." Others expressed great affection and admiration for their fellow officers and love for the city and its population.

But one of the more telling comments was: "It is hard sometimes to stay positive when some days it feels like some people of Seattle don't want you there." Your soaking wet colleagues in New York City know how you feel. As do a lot of officers nationwide.

Police morale is becoming a nationwide crisis, especially in big cities. And that has the potential of leaving these agencies with extreme shortages of officers. Which may be the goal of many of the people slandering officers as white supremacists and murderers. They want the police to stand down or even go away. Word of warning to those folks: You may not like the results.

David Griffith is the editor of POLICE Magazine/

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