It’s no secret that being a cop is hard. Living the life on duty and off duty is draining. The job itself is challenging and not to mention the effects it has on our loved ones.

One thing the academy does not prepare you for is how to deal with the interpersonal relationships of coworkers on the job. Police “coworkers” take the term to another level. These people literally sign up to take a bullet for you and vice versa.

However, in some cases they also seem to be the first to stab you in the back.

How does this happen? Moreover, how does this affect not only the police officers, but the agency itself?

This occurs due to lack of leadership, lack of mental strength and years of being around a negative environment. This is the “cop culture” veteran officers will tell you about. It is no secret that being a police officer causes you to become cynical. As a result, you can become extremely negative if you let the job take over.

As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, it’s because of the type of people officers are forced to deal with daily and the kinds of issues they face multiple times throughout their shifts. A negative mindset comes easy after you’ve spent a little time on the road.

emotional skills

(Milwaukee Police Department)

Yet, the common misconception is that leadership needs to come from people in leadership positions. And when this doesn’t happen, officers tend to get critical and put all of the blame on the supervisor as to why their shift sucks. But the truth is that officers need to take a step back and realize they can step up and be the leader their shift is lacking. Even rookies can do it.

Police officers are leaders right out of the academy whether they want to be or not. Officers are looked up to in society to do the right thing and to be a protector. If you are a cop, you are already a leader. It is time for you as the officer to step up and act like it.

Officers don’t realize the kind of impact they can actually have on their fellow coworkers by stepping up and leading. At first there will be some resistance because let’s be honest, cops hate change, but after that they will truly appreciate a good leader and it will inspire them to step up as well.

family time

(Photo courtesy Rick Nauman)

Here are a few ways that every officer can begin to step up and help build the morale within their shift:

  1. Have some fun with your coworkers. This doesn’t mean picking on them or teasing them. This means go out there and work together and have fun. Have competitions, clear buildings together, conduct two person traffic stops, whatever your fancy, just have fun.
  2. Train together on duty and off. Training is an excellent way to build morale especially if done the right way. It doesn’t mean picking the weakest link and making fun of them the entire time. It does mean collaboration regarding team strengths and weaknesses; always working together. Think about a professional sports team and how they know exactly what every member of the team is going to do and where they’ll be before they even get there. This is exactly the kind of chemistry officers can create within their shifts and really change any kind of negativity going on. Getting together off duty to do productive and fun activities and incorporating their families will also help boost morale.
  3. Be optimistic. Be the kind of person you’d want to be around. Don’t be salty and negative. Don’t talk smack about anyone you work with. Focus on having a positive outlook and mindset even when its hard because the truth is, the negativity is like a cancer and it spreads easily. Focus on the positives in the present moment. Encourage your fellow officers; lift them up, and most importantly if you see one feeling down, don’t kick them when they are there, help boost them up. The easiest way to do this is to stay focused and stay busy.

We are in a day and age where the officer retention rate is low. People are getting out of the job quickly and most aren’t staying long. There are a multitude of reasons for it. Having low morale doesn’t need to be one of the reasons contributing to this.

You no longer need to depend on anyone outside of you to “fix things.” Right now you can start to be the change. And the truth is, its like a domino effect, once you step up and lead your shift, be positive and fun to be around, others will want to be like you and around you too.


Autumn Clifford is law enforcement officer who was injured in the line of duty. She went from working in a full time capacity, to now working in a part time capacity. Autumn has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and is almost done with her masters degree in the field. Autumn has taken her passion for law enforcement and is now helping officers and spouses to understand both sides of the badge. She runs a podcast called The Sheepdog Nation, trains officers in person and virtually to continue to support law enforcement. Autumn is available for in person and virtual trainings upon request. You can reach her by following her on Instagram @theladysheepdog or emailing her at [email protected]