Police Morale at an All-Time Low

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Recent studies have revealed the extent of the morale problem in police forces around the world.

The New York Post recently reported that morale amongst NYPD officers is at an all-time low, registering “2.49 on a scale of 1 to 10” (one being the lowest and ten being the highest). Over three quarters of officers said they would not recommend joining the force to family members, and a whopping 89% said they would leave the force if offered higher pay elsewhere.

The findings are similar to last year’s Police Federation survey in the UK. The survey of 35,000 rank-and-file officers in England and Wales found that 70% reported their “personal morale” as low, and that only one in 10 would recommend the job to other people. One in six said they were looking for jobs elsewhere or planning to leave the service within the next two years.

Closer to Home

The Queensland Police Union has similarly reported that morale amongst officers is at a 25 year low. Some of the reasons include threats to job security, lack of opportunities for promotion and lack of faith in complaints processes. Almost 1150 officers have left the Queensland Police Service in the past three years.

In Western Australia, a study found that one in five officers who quit the force in the past two years reported being bullied, while one in 10 saw improper, illegal or corrupt behaviour within the ranks, and one in 10 said they were exposed to sexual or racial harassment. In 2011, two-thirds of WA police reported they had considered resigning from the force in the past two years.

There are also reports that morale amongst Australian Federal Police Force is at “rock bottom”, with cost-cutting hitting the federal agency hard. In 2010, nearly 300 staff and 245 contractors lost jobs, which resulted in the Community and Public Sector Union (CSPU) lodging a dispute with Fair Work Australia. CPSU National President Michael Tull said his members are “very angry” with management, and that “[w]orkloads are through the roof and morale is through the floor”.

In 2014, it was announced that a three-year research project would examine the psychological well-being of police officers. NSW Police Force Commissioner Andrew Scipione said the goal was to look at officer resiliency and assist those suffering with mental health conditions. Police from all ranks and regions are being surveyed about their work patterns, job satisfaction and health status.

Importance of Morale

As in any industry, morale amongst police officers is extremely important in terms of productivity.

Effectiveness and efficiency rely on high morale, which can impact upon almost all areas of performance. Studies in New York and Los Angeles suggest that low morale can lead to officers doing the bare minimum, a practice called ‘de policing’.

In Australia, it has been shown that when morale is low, the use of sick leave increases. The Productivity Commission reported that absenteeism in the federal public service has increased by 20% in the past decade, with police officers leading the charge. Police have the highest rate of absenteeism of any department, at 11.25 days per person, per year.

There are also serious concerns about police turnover. Police are reported to be resigning from the Victorian force at a rate of four per week, contributing to standards for admission into the force being reduced, and dismissals being rare.

Police Misconduct

Poor morale may be a contributing factor to high levels of police brutality both here and overseas.

Research out of the US has shown that, as a general rule, the use of force and civilian complaints increase as morale falls.

Police corruption can also rise as a result of poor morale. During a period when the Victorian force was facing its most intense struggle to retain officers, claims of police corruption and violence went through the roof. Between 2009 and 2012, rogue police were caught committing almost 300 crimes, with the number of assaults by officers tripling over that period.

The exposure of police misconduct on social media may be fuelling low morale amongst officers. By the same token, it may be argued that if officers conscientiously upheld the law – as they are sworn to do – there would be less incidents to expose, and a corresponding improvement in general morale.

Or perhaps the current morale problem has something to do with the increasing ‘us versus them’ mentality (as reflected, for example, in the change in name from ‘NSW Police Service’ to ‘NSW Police Force’) and having to enforce a range of new laws that are clearly unjust.

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