Managing People in the Workplace: How to Deal With Difficult Law Enforcement Employees

Apart from the hazards of the job, police officers and supervisors often have to deal with other officers that are causing problems within the unit. According to a study, police supervisors spend 80% of their time with 20% of their employees dealing with problems or taking corrective actions. Ironically, some who start out as promising officers have become today’s problem cases.

Identifying disruptive personnel 

According to a poll which had 14,000 federal, state, and local law enforcement supervisors across the US identify a problem employee, it was found out that this type of officer is often negative, resents authority, is unwilling to accept responsibility for his or her actions, and is prone to manipulating and sabotaging administrative direction to get his or her way. The problem employee may also have anger issues and can be overly aggressive, abuses alcohol or drugs, constantly complains, is prone to overreaction, is insubordinate, unfaithful, a bully, or narrow-minded.

If you know someone in your unit that has one or a combination of the characteristics or behaviors mentioned above, it’s likely that this officer’s actions have caused a negative effect on the unit’s overall performance. Supervisors must learn how to identify and handle difficult employees before it’s too late, as a problem officer’s bad attitude may not only cause trouble, but it can also spread like a contagious disease. To ensure that your whole unit continues to work well together for the good of the police department and the entire community, here’s how supervisors can deal with problem employees.

Document the bad behavior

Make a note of how many times the bad behavior occurs and if there were witnesses when the problem employee said or did anything that negatively impacts his or her work. It should also be noted whether the behavior has caused offense to his fellow officers or to civilians that he comes in contact with when he’s out and about.

Communicate in a direct manner

Don’t beat around the bush – get to the heart of the matter right away. Tell the officer that his negative behavior and bad attitude has become a cause for concern. During this part of your conversation, don’t hesitate to refer to your documentation, then give examples of acceptable behavior that you’ll expect from now on from the officer.

Determine if stress or trauma is producing bad behavior

It’s possible that the employee is behaving badly due to trauma or stress due to the very nature of the job. According to previous studies, levels of high stress range from 33% to 46% among police officers. The number of officers with mental illness have also doubled over the past 10 years. Supervisors should produce a written plan detailing their preparation on how to manage workplace stress. One way to do this is to make the workplace a more relaxed and enjoyable place to be for everyone in the unit.

Be consistent and inform the employee of the consequences if things don’t change

Consistency is key when managing a difficult employee. If you have documented that a certain type of behavior or attitude is unacceptable, then be consistent with your disciplinary measures. Don’t ignore it when it occurs again just because you’re preoccupied with something else. Set the consequences if things don’t change for the better. Remember that disciplining is part of a supervisor’s job, and your problem employee needs to believe that his actions will have a real negative impact on him or her.

Managing a problem employee can be a challenge, but as a supervisor in a law enforcement environment, dealing with the officer the right way is the best thing to do to ensure your entire unit’s good performance and behavior. It’s also the best way to keep morale high, and doing so may help to get these once-promising officers back on track.

Jackie Edwards is a researcher, editor and writer. Prior to this she worked as an HR Manager for a small finance company, a role that, was complex and at times very stressful. One of the most important parts of working in HR is being able to help understand and manage difficult employees, who may be making their colleague’s working lives a challenge. 

(Photo courtesy Matt Popovich)