Managing Professional Relationships

By Anderson, Jonathan L. | Law & Order, June 2004 | Go to article overview

Managing Professional Relationships

Anderson, Jonathan L., Law & Order

Considerations for the F.T.O. and Probationary Officer

The close associations and interpersonal bonds formed between law enforcement officers are important components of the professional culture. It is this close fraternal order that keeps officers not only safe, but also strong, physically, mentally and emotionally. Perhaps no other theater portrays a dependency on this close association than the training environment shared between the Field Training Officer and the probationary officer.

Hopefully, the field-training period serves to promote a positive and productive learning environment for both F.T.O. and recruit. However, there sometimes exists a tempting potential for such close association to gravitate toward an inappropriate personal level. This poses significant risks for the officers involved. The unforeseen consequences ultimately serve to jeopardize the integrity of the training program, an officer's reputation, and/or one's career.

By virtue of the work and the close training environment, an F.T.O. and a recruit will identify and relate to one another on a professional level, as well as on a personal level. Understandably, there is a natural emotional attraction between the senior officer/F.T.O. and the rookie officer. For the recruit, the F.T.O. often exhibits motivating characteristics- sensitivity, understanding and patience. The recruit is dependant on the F.T.O. and possesses a strong desire to please, to fit in, and to be accepted. The F.T.O. is a mentor, a model, and someone to emulate. For the F.T.O., the recruit manifests energizing characteristicsambition, enthusiasm and positive motivation. The recruit also manifests the emotional attractions of partnership, dependency, trust and loyalty.

Nevertheless, the exercise of personal discretion with regards to personal relationships is no less important than the exercise of professional discretion in the field. Setting limits on personal relationships, on and off duty, provides an important measure of safety for the F.T.O. and the probationary officer. Without clearly defined boundaries an individual's attentions might become unfocused or misdirected. If the agency does not dictate such limitations, then the individual officer (recruit and F.T.O.) must not ignore that responsibility. Understandably, people are sometimes overwhelmed by impulses and feelings. Welcome to the human race! If not controlled, these impulses may result in poor work performance, disciplinary sanction or dismissal.

To understand the destructive potential of such relationships, one must consider the undercurrent of job related stresses. Stresses inherent to law enforcement tend to break down the internal defense mechanisms that protect against self-destructive attitudes and behaviors. These same destructive attitudes and behaviors can negatively influence an officer's exercise of personal discretion with regards to personal relationships. When manifested, these stresses tend to work toward the detriment of domestic relationships as well as professional relationships between peers and colleagues. The relationship between senior/F.T.O. and rookie office is no less immune to such stresses.

The rookie officer is exposed to three types of stresses: Eustress, Distress and Traumatic Stress. Eustress is a positive stress. It inspires motivation. The job is new, exciting, captivating and challenging. As such, the work tends to consume new officers. On the other hand, the rookie is also exposed to distresses. The transition from the academy setting to the reality of the job setting is abrupt. Learning to cope with a healthy balance between job and personal responsibilities is taxing. Assignment rotations, shift differentials, performance stress, supervisory and training evaluations, and the drive to gain acceptance, approval and success are very real monsters. Furthermore, the confrontational nature of the work environment, the actual or perceived threat of violence, and the exposure to traumatic incidents induce a physiological response- traumatic stress. …

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