In order to properly implement a mandatory soft body armor policy, one must take into account a number of different factors, including the particular aspects of police culture and unionized police culture. It is critical to address some of the concerns of people resisting this effort, as well as to put in place a policy that supports the culture that has been built within this police department. There will be many issues, but overcoming legal challenges, ensuring the satisfaction of employees, and maintaining a strong culture within the department remains critical.
While some organizations are led from the bottom up, with employees being the primary drivers of policy, law enforcement agencies have a difficult culture, different needs, and ultimately, a different organizational theory that governs their behavior. In short, when it comes to law enforcement agencies, it is critical to have control and a hierarchy. While law enforcement agencies are not like military organizations in every way, there is an element of hierarchy that mirrors the military. The purposes behind this hierarchy are the same as the one found in the military. Officers need to follow orders in order to keep people safe and in order to play a part in a larger social strategy that they may not be aware of or even agree to. With this in mind, the input of employees will tend to get less attention in a law enforcement agency than they might in other settings. Still, it is critical to keep in mind what they think because it is never a good idea to alienate the people working in an organization unless it is absolutely necessary to do so. The implementation of the mandatory soft body armor police must keep these things in mind if it seeks to be successful.
Within organizations, there are always competing interests. Different stakeholders with their own agendas and concerns will make noise and make it difficult for a program to be implemented. In particular, there is often push back within organizations about any policy that is mandatory. When the leadership of an organization is telling the employee base what to do about an issue, the push back becomes less about the issue and more about the principle of being told what to do. This would seem to be lessened in police organizations where officers are used to being told what to do and wear to some extent. Likewise, there are legitimate health concerns. Organizations must, at times, look to accommodate people who have health concerns. Some may have rashes that can make wearing the vests extremely uncomfortable. Others might have back issues that make the vests difficult to wear. However, police organizations have a right and a duty to be very discriminating when it comes to physical condition. Part of the reason why the organizations have stringent fitness tests and health checks is because they do not want to get in a situation where they have to employ a person who puts the public in danger because of that person’s own deficiencies from a physical standpoint. This brings to bear difficult questions for organizations—what do they do with employees who are otherwise helpful but who have some legitimate health issue that keeps them from being able to wear an item that might protect them from harm and make life better on the public at the same time?
The organization should put into place training protocols to help officers deal with issues of freedom of movement. One of the problems for officers is that they do not understand how to move while wearing the vests. If the agency re-trains these individuals on how to move with vests, this may clear up the problem. Likewise, the agency may be able to provide solutions to alleviate the heat concerns. New uniforms could be developed that both allow for the armor to be worn and allow for more breathability in the outfits the officers wear. This could help to keep the heat problems down even with the new added burden. Importantly, if the policy is going to win the support of the officers, they need to feel as if they have had a say in things. What this means is that they should be brought into the conversation not on whether vests are to be worn, but on the design of the vests. They should be allowed to help choose the vests that they will wear. This will give the officers some sense of ownership. As a result, they will be less likely to resist the change both on the individual level and with the power and assistance of their police unions at their back.
Unionized law enforcement culture seeks to put the focus on the needs of officers, but it is also very concerned with officer safety. One of the ways to frame this debate is through the safety of the officers, demonstrating that with the vests, officers will be safer on the streets and less likely to need other union services. Inquiries should be made with the union to ensure that some input is solicited from the officers. Still, the vests should be sold as a safety issue, and their wear should be mandatory as a matter of public policy. This would help to push back against any union action. The relationship should not be all adversarial, though. It must also seek to reach out for the input of officers because they will be the ones wearing the vests.
- Bhatnagar, A. (Ed.). (2016). Lightweight ballistic composites: military and law-enforcement applications. Woodhead Publishing.
- Crank, J., & Crank, J. P. (2014). Understanding police culture. Routledge.