Somewhere in the basement there’s a cigar box contain-ing military medals and commendations. The only mementos of that period on display in my home are the lone surviving photo of my best friend, killed on the DMZ in 1966, and a wooden boat paddle bearing a small plaque from 1st Recon, delivered thirty years late by a younger generation of warriors. Two boxes full of police awards are … somewhere; I’m not sure. Items displayed from that era are an “Animal of the Year 1981” prize from my SWAT troops, and the “Coveted Copper Turd Award,” which brings smiles and is nobody’s business but mine.
Why? Sure, I’m proud of both my military and LE service, but many of the ego sheets and gaudy gongs of those days amounted to awards for staying alive, unintentionally violating some laws of physics, and Because Everybody Else Got One trinkets. I’m under whelmed by them, but worst are some awards given by high-ranking officials who re-ally didn’t know or understand what I did and didn’t give a damn — they were just tokens tossed in the name of “morale building.” According to a half-dozen of you readers, it’s still happening, and you’ve learned it’s actually bad for morale.
I wrote about “morale-building programs” earlier — explaining how morale-building programs work or don’t work, and the elephant sex connection. FYI, elephant sex is any overly loud, seemingly meaningless activity, which involves ponderous, noisy thrashing at higher levels, and often results in small critters being trampled underfoot. That’s “morale-building programs” in a nutshell.
Two of you said you routinely write up your officers’ extraordinary performance in fields like “putting crooks in jail” — how quaint — to courageous life-saving acts — and they’re just as routinely shot down by figures higher in the food chain, who then turn around and decorate their little sycophant suck-ups for cleaning their plates and “celebrating diversity.” So, what can you do to give your people recognition?
First, recognize an honor doesn’t have to come from an Ivory Tower to have great meaning — in fact; baubles dropped from higher levels can be suspect. Never underestimate the chest-swelling, pride-producing power of the least impressive-looking honor — its value established by its source, and magnified by the light of those who witness it being awarded. If you’ve done your job, that source is you. If you’ve built a good team, they’re the right audience. Try a few of these, which worked for me:
Imagine this scene — you’re briefing your troops prior to putting them in the field. Concluding business, you advise, “I’ve just gone over our activity for the past quarter on second watch, and considering the arrest figures … Williams, Franklin, stand up please.” Reaching into a shirt pocket, you produce two shiny-new handcuff keys.
“Seems to me you two may have worn yours out, and you could use new ones.” Toss `em to the recipients, and start the handclapping yourself. Have someone standing by to grab a couple of photos of `em smiling, holding those cuff keys. Do not pose for stiff, bullshit “presentation photos.” Make sure prints get to the recipients, but don’t make a big deal out of it. If you have a division bulletin board, post copies without comment. Word will get around. Don’t overdo it, or you can sour the effect.
GOT A REAL HARD-CHARGER FOR THE YEAR?
Give them a nice ASP extended cuff key — one of the cool ones with a medal-lion. For the officer or team who handled that screwed-up rape-homicide scene when there were no CSI tech’s available, big four-inch magnifying glasses run about nine bucks, worth nine Gs of morale when accompanied by a brief personal note expressing your respect for their work.
FUN AND MORALE
Recognition doesn’t have to revolve around notable successes, either. Remember, you’re building cohesion as well as earned esteem. Good cops are never offended by immortalizing their memorable if not exemplary moments. In fact, they’re the ones who will laugh the loudest and enjoy it the most.
Small — like 6″ tall — figures may cost ten bucks, but again, the payoff is priceless. One of my favorites, commonly available, is a figure of Albert Einstein. I must have bought a dozen of these over time. Of course, Albert — his feet glued to a paperboard base reading, “NICE GOIN’, EINSTEIN!” — is for your officer who repeatedly tried to kick in a door which opened outward, toward him — and was unlocked anyway — or any action which only demonstrated use of the first ten of his IQ points.
Black-clad ninja action-figures are plentiful too. They’re for your commando who scaled his way to the second story of a house with a burglar inside, crept out onto the flimsy aluminum-framed plastic-sheeted greenhouse addition — and fell through, destroying it. “A Ninja, You’re NOT” is a fitting tribute.
A “Hulk” action figure is for the officer who, to his own surprise as well as yours, kicked the butts of six outlaw bikers who seriously screwed up when one said something about his mother.
Get a “Wonder Woman” figure for your featherweight female who executed “stick drill” on the denizens of a dockyard bar who erred in thinking the police had sent a creampuff to shut the place down. On the first one I gave on my old squad it bore the note, “When Julie was a kid she wore Wonder Woman pajamas. Now Wonder Woman wears Julie jammies. You’re our Wonder Woman!”
A plastic model of a police cruiser comes cheap, and all it takes is a hot knife or soldering iron to create collision damage. For $2.99, add a crumpled model light pole or railroad signal, whichever type your hero hammered. If one of your troops was rolling “Emergency Code 8” and found the bathroom locked with disastrous results, check gag & novelty stores for a pack of “Cork-It Anti-Diarrheal” aids.
The possibilities are endless. Just use your brain, heart and imagination. Good luck.