©2020 Gail Pursell Elliott
On the sidewalk there was a fight between three sparrows. This was a mobbing as two birds ganged up on the third. It was difficult to resist the urge to break it up since bullying, even among other species upsets me, but I managed to control myself. Two birds flew away and the third tentatively hopped out nursing its wounds and disappeared from view.
An odd noise, similar to the chatter of a flock of geese flying over, lasted longer than it should were it from geese. The noise came from about twenty juveniles who were yelling and clustered in a group in front of an apartment. Other kids ran toward the mob, perhaps curious. One adult emerged from the crowd and pulled a youngster home. Another remarked her kids weren’t there, so she wasn’t going to get involved. A woman emerged from the apartment and tried to say something to the group and was ignored so gave up and watched. Another male adult paced back and forth; arms folded. Eventually, a police car arrived, and the lone officer approached the group but also was ignored. When a second car showed up, about half of the group disappeared into the apartment. The officers talked with people, took down information, issued warnings. The situation was instigated by two ten-year-old girls that were arguing.
A consultation to review a deposition and legal filing on a workplace mobbing/bullying case involved a police officer in a large metro area police force, who claimed to be set up by her fellow officers and precinct administration. She believed that this was largely a result of her gender and wanted to fight legally but felt physically unsafe. Her attorney asked me if I’d heard of the thin blue line, which I had. The thin blue line is a term that traditionally refers to the police as the line that keeps our society from descending into chaos. Since the1970’s the term has also been used with the blue wall of silence, an informal code to cover up police misconduct. (source: Wikipedia) One generally does not associate police misconduct with actions inside a department but more with possible misconduct in the community. In this case, it involved one of their own. As my role was a consultant, I reviewed what the attorney sent me and made some observations and suggestions and we discussed possible courses of action with his client’s lawsuit and that was all. I did not hear any more about this case, but it still comes to mind and is troubling.
Another case involved a state trooper assigned to patrolling an interstate. He had continuously been undermined by his supervisor. The supervisor had taken a dislike to him the first day of training over a disagreement about a pair of shoes. She proceeded to pick on him during training and followed up by assigning him to the most difficult sections of highway, constantly reviewing and re-reviewing his reports to look for any error. Her behavior did not go unnoticed by other officers who were privately supportive but concerned about speaking up. When he left the force, he was asked if he had a gun and if he planned to return and shoot up the place. The trooper was appalled at the question as well as the behavior. It was clear that others in authority knew what was happening and had done nothing to stop it and now feared retaliation.
Law enforcement officers like other professionals in high risk jobs involving traumatic situations have no idea what they are going to confront when sent out on a call. They must be able to trust their team, their equipment, and their skills. When any of these are compromised tragic mistakes can happen. Within any group of people in high stress positions, issues, misunderstandings, and brief confrontations can occur. Knowing when to step in and when to wait to see if those involved work out the situation for themselves requires insight, awareness, and whether this is a one-time situational issue or an ongoing one that resurfaces again and again.
Knowing when to step in and when to step back is a fine line. Being aware of the climate, personality interactions, and willingness to intervene when necessary in a proactive way is essential to keeping your workplace safe for everyone. When tensions are high it is essential to be alert to outside situations that can impact staff working together well.
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Gail Pursell Elliott is known as The Dignity and Respect Lady. She consults with organizations, presents at conferences, and offers programs on Mobbing and soft skills topics with a focus on people treating each other with Dignity and Respect. Gail is founder and proprietor of Innovations “Training With a Can-Do Attitude” located in Eastern Iowa. Contact Gail through her website innovations-training.com
Gail has been recognized as an authority on Mobbing, Bullying and Harassment since 1998 and has been a guest expert on both television and radio programs. Gail is the author of several books, including School Mobbing and Emotional Abuse: See It, Stop It, Prevent It with Dignity and Respect and is co-author of the 1999 book Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace, the definitive book on this subject based on the original research of Dr. Heinz Leymann. Her Food for Thought essays are read by people around the world.