Some Things Never Change

imagesIn 1987, my wife and I were both serving as police leaders. I was chief in Madison and she was a  first-line supervisor with the state police.

To me, it was the “heyday” of American policing. The term, heyday comes from the Anglo-Saxon ‘hey’ and means great enthusiasm and happiness. Looking back, that was it. I was ending my career and thought that police in America were on the move towards achieving greatness in our society. It was, for me, a time of “great enthusiasm and happiness.”

So to capture what we were sensing, we wrote an article in 1987 for “The Police Chief” magazine. The magazine was the official publication of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). In it, we wrote about what we thought was on the horizon for policing and the potential we saw for police. The achievement of that potential, we argued, would be brought about by improving the way in which we led the men and women we were privileged to lead and connected with our communities. Leadership and community-oriented policing was the key to moving us forward!

As I recently re-read this article I realized it was now 25 years old. What happened? Did we miss the mark? Did we over-estimate what should have done during the past quarter century?  Take a look at the article below and judge for yourself. I still believe what we needed then we need now. We need to move forward.


QUALITY LEADERSHIP: The First Step Towards Quality Policing

By David Couper and Sabine Lobitz

     There is something exciting happening in policing today.  It is the same kind of energy that some of us felt as a young patrol officers in the middle sixties.  That energy was generated by the Kennedy years — the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice; the hopes and dreams of a new enlightened police service coming alive in America.

The sixties were a time of vision, hope and expectation — professionalizing the nation’s police.  There was talk about a “super-status” police agent, the promise of technological advances, tuition assistance for “college cops,” and a new view of police, courts and corrections as one integrated system.

Since that time, we, the police, have experienced slow, painful progress with periods of virtual stagnation; two decades of lost innocence since the 1960’s; and a resettling and entrenchment of the police bureaucracy.  Looking in the mirror, we saw that we had become a part of it.  We now had more time as supervisors than we ever had as street cops.

We are both once again energized and excited about the new trends we see in our society which could have great impact on policing.  It is difficult to get a handle on these changes, which are most clearly seen in the private sector.

In that sector, American businesses are being forced to reexamine their ability to achieve quality in order to compete in an international market.  This has led to some dramatic changes in the way in which many of them are being run.  This “quality and productivity” movement, as it is called, is just beginning in America.  It has already taken a strong hold and is building momentum.

A review of the quality and productivity literature today reveals some dominant themes of this movement:  a commitment to people, how people are treated — employees as well as consumers, a people-oriented workplace, and the belief that leadership can and does make a difference.  Authors Tom Peters and Jane Austin in A Passion for Excellence address one of these themes by stressing the need for businesses to get in touch with their customers.  Peters and Austin also talk about the need to get feedback and input from our employees, to encourage innovation in order to maintain a competitive edge.

Craig Hickman and Michael Silva in Creating Excellence see the need for a major change from the “old age” managerial skills of setting goals, establishing procedures, organizing, and controlling, to the “new age” managerial skills which are knowing how to ask the right questions, respecting employees, being a visionary, anticipating and implementing change, and, last but far from least, having a realization that this transformation is a long-term effort.  They also identify a need for “commitment, competency and consistency” in organizations in order to overcome the “deadly diseases” of “short-term orientation, shallow thinking and quick-fix expectations” which have crippled many of our nation’s businesses and their ability to compete.

Not only are American businesses confronted with the pressures from consumers for improved products and services, but they are also confronted by the new values and needs of their workers.  How will companies compete for and, more importantly, retain the best and the brightest?  Traditionally, organizations believed all that was necessary was to offer workers higher wages and better fringe benefits.  However, a recent survey from the Public Agenda Foundation revealed the following top ten qualities people wanted from a job:

  • To work with people who treat me with respect.
  • Interesting work.
  • Recognition for good work.
  • A chance to develop my skills.
  • To work for people who listen if I have ideas on how to do my job better.
  • A chance to think for myself.
  • To work for efficient managers.
  • A job that is not too easy.
  • Seeing the end results of my work.
  • To feel well-informed about what is going on.

Wages and fringe benefits do not appear within these “top ten” job qualities.  We have known for quite a few years that money does not motivate.  These “other qualities” can motivate people if we, as leaders, are willing to respond to them.

To better illustrate this, there are startling and significant differences in the values of younger and older workers.  R. Eden Deutsch, in a 1985 issue of “The Futurist” magazine classifies our nation’s workers into three groups:  those born before World War II, television children of the 1960’s, and today’s computer youth.  Each of these groups appear to have different value sets and preferences regarding their work environment, personal goals, work medium, time values, and how they get information.  He suggests these differences between generations in the workplace will require managers and supervisors who are extremely flexible and adaptive to these workers and their differing needs if we wish to have productive workers committed to quality goods and services.

How does all this discussion relate to policing?  Contrary to what we may wish to think, it is exactly to the point.  Our business is policing, our customers are the citizens within our jurisdictions, and our product is police service (everything from crime fighting and conflict management to safety and prevention programs.)

Given the transitions created by the “post-industrial age,” in which we are entering, and the new technologies of today’s world, we will never have the resources in money or manpower to control criminal activity the way we once did.  It is essential that we overcome these shortcomings by getting help from our citizens and attracting and hiring only the best and the brightest to the police service.  As quality expert Dr. W. Edwards Deming states, we cannot get the job done by working harder, or imploring workers to do so, we must start “working smarter.”

The problems which the business world are confronting are the same problems we have in the police service.  We approach our work with a short-term orientation (in our field we seldom talk about five or ten-year goals for our organizations), shallow thinking (if there is a problem in a particular neighborhood we simply barrage it with more police officers; and, in more cases than not, push the criminal activity into the next neighborhood or jurisdiction) and quick-fix expectations (like “street sweeping” prostitutes).

If we are to cure this we must start to pay attention to the new ideas and trends in the workplace mentioned earlier that are helping America’s businesses;  a commitment to people, how people are treated — employees as well as citizens, the development of a people-oriented workplace, and leadership can and does make a difference.

How can these be integrated into our organizations to make them better?  It is important to be committed to and treat our employees well in order to retain them and insure that they will, in turn, follow this example in their dealings with the public – our customers.  Over the years we have made excuses why many of our “shining stars,” our great employees have faded, burned out, or left our departments.  This loss has cost us dearly, not only monetarily, but in the quality of services we could have provided.

  • We used to say that our employees simply were not very bright.  However, now most all of us who lead police agencies have a great number of college graduates in our ranks, and we, ourselves have pursued and received college degrees.
  • We used to say that the bureaucratic structure works against any organizational development or change.  However, we did not change or abandon the authoritarian organization in spite of the existence of viable alternatives.
  • We used to say that we needed more training.  However, over the years we have dramatically increased our commitment and time to pre-service as well as in-service training.
  • We used to say that it was the low pay.  However, over the past two decades police salaries have risen and are now competitive in most of our agencies with other occupations also seeking quality and committed college graduates.
  • We used to say that people simply do not like the police.  However, today’s surveys show the public has great respect, and even affection, for the police, and policing is now one of the more trusted occupations.

So what possible excuse could there be left for us?  Perhaps if we had more strongly believed in the worth of our employees, encouraged their self-improvement, creativity, and growth.  If we had, there is no telling where we would be today as a profession.

Could it be that our leadership style works against the changes that are needed in our organizations?  It may help us if we can better understand how our present style of leadership evolved.  For lack of a better term we will refer to it as the “reform style.”  (Many of us would like to disclaim this as our style. but, unfortunately, we have spent years perfecting its use.)

Historically, the police in America were conceived in an environment of political patronage.  Much has been said about our nation’s legacy of police corruption, and, too frequently, this problem continues to confront and perplex us.  In the late 1940’s and early 50’s, the old political model of policing (although neighborhood and citizen oriented) was confronted by a new reform model — government by honest and professionally trained practitioners.  Corrupt government and police became an unacceptable condition in American life.  This desire for good government led to many police reforms in the areas of personnel selection, training, ethics, and an effort to “de-politicize” the police.  The reform efforts resulted in a style of policing that was entitled “professional”, it had a code of ethics and proposed a model of a strong, centrally controlled, police organization with the primary function of crime control and scientific investigation.  This, the reformers believed, would improve the police and prevent them from engaging in illegal behavior.

There is no doubt that drastic measures were needed at this time to improve the police and control and eliminate widespread corruption in our nation’s cities and within the ranks of the police.  Unfortunately, in order to do so, the police were centralized and removed from their community-oriented function of providing a wide range of social services to citizens.  At this point in time, control of the police became more important than providing neighborhood services to citizens.  At the center of this model was the strong, authoritarian chief.

There is little doubt that such a strong model of authority and the organizations it produced is very attractive.  It has order, simplicity and predictability.  The problem with this style of leadership, and the organization that surrounds it, is that it literally neglects everything we know about people and their behavior.

Thomas Gordon, in Leader Effectiveness Training, describes how people react when persons in authority use power to coerce others to comply.  People react to coercive power in a variety of ways.  The use of coercive power causes people to reduce their upward communication in an organization.  It can also cause people to engage in rivalry and competitiveness, and to rebel and withdraw.  The use of coercive power costs the leader in time, enforcement, alienation, stress and, eventually, diminishing influence with employees.  When a leader forces others to comply, a tremendous amount    µof follow-up time is spent after orders are given in order to assure compliance.  The use of coercive power also costs organizations that use it because less-than-quality decisions result.  This happens because workers withhold important information that may be necessary to make quality decisions.  We can all think of situations in which we were coerced into having to accept a superior’s decision without our input.  In these situations, many of us can, no doubt, remember having personal responses similar to the ones above.  The use of coercive power in an organization also has a negative impact on ideas, creativity, innovation and motivation. If people react this way to coercion, why do we continue to run our organizations like this?

One of the primary reasons is because the coercive style was created in response to the 19th century industrial revolution.  A time when workers in American were, for the most part, illiterate immigrants who were being asked to work on very expensive machines.  We also did not know a lot about human behavior then.  The objective of this “leadership” style was to tell and control employees.  The industrial model was also transported into our nation’s schools and non-industrial organizations.  It is the way most of us have been supervised during our lives.  We have not learned any other way.  This style of leadership, using coercive power to achieve compliance from employees, has created, is creating, and will continue to create, impenetrable barriers to creativity, innovation, quality service and, ultimately, excellence in our field.  The negative effect of this style of leadership throughout the years on our nation’s workers, especially the police, is incalculable.  We can count, perhaps, all the outstanding men and women who have once served with us and left because of our organizational and leadership style.  We cannot calculate the effect of those highly competent men and women who would have joined us if our organizations appeared more open and supervisors more oriented to meeting their needs.  What would we have been able to accomplish if police service and quality were perceived to be synonymous by our citizen-customers?

Throughout the years, we have been as slow to understand all of this as the next person.  In 1982, when David Couper was writing How to Rate Your Local Police, he had a feeling that something was going on in our field.  His employees were saying a lot of the things about work that were similar to those reflected in the Public Agenda Foundation survey on work qualities.  He knew that a police chief needed to be a leader and needed to be flexible and innovative.  He stated then:

The police chief should be a visible and accessible leader who thoughtfully strives to improve the effectiveness of police services.  The leadership ability of the chief is the single most important ingredient in a good police agency…  Improvements can be made only if the person at the top is willing to challenge the status quo, take risks, be innovative, and build a coalition of support for change.  Improvements are not automatic with a committed police chief, but they are impossible without one.”

He missed the point, however, on how this improvement was going to come about.  He did not know exactly what that “coalition of support for change” was.  Little did he know that he would arrive at the conclusion that the answer rested not only with the community but also within the ranks of his organization.  He did not realize the high degree of ability to improve policing that rested, latently, in  police employees.  He thought the answer for change rested only in the chief; in authority.

Why haven’t we been willing to initiate a new style of leadership in order to effectively use this latent human resource in our organizations?  Simply stated, it is because it is safer not to.  The reform model with its authoritarian leadership does not encourage creativity or risk-taking.  It has no tolerance for even honest mistakes and no room for experimentation.  It is for these very reasons that today’s business world is extremely critical of yesterday’s leadership style.  They are moving to change it as one gets rid of a bad habit.  Quality cannot come about or survive in such an organizational atmosphere.

John Naisbitt and Patricia Auburdene in Reinventing the Corporation, predict some characteristics about tomorrow’s organizations that seem to make them quite different than yesterday’s or today’s:

  • The best and the brightest people will gravitate toward organizations that foster  personal growth.
  • The manager’s new role is coach, teacher, and mentor.
  • We are moving from authoritarian management to a networking, people-style of management.
  • Quality will be paramount in the organization.
  • Intuition and creativity are challenging the “it’s all in the numbers” business school philosophy.
  • Large corporations are emulating the positive and productive qualities of small organizations.

Some important things are being said today, unfortunately, we who manage in the old leadership style do not listen very well.  We are too used to telling others what to do.  We think we know the answers and we think we know what the “customers” want.  The fact is that our employees know the answers and the customers do, too.  Where does that leave us in management?  It tells us to put the needs of our citizens together with the answers from our employees.   It also tells us to look at a new role of manager as coach and teacher; improving and developing the skills and abilities of their employees.  This will enable employees to be successful in the post-industrial world of tomorrow; a world in which knowledge and information will be more important than the machines and factories of yesterday.

One way of looking at the old reform leadership style is to compare the main points of the two.  The following describes key concepts from each of the two styles:

Reform Leadership Style

  • Responds to incidents.
  • Individual effort and competitiveness.
  • Professional expertise.
  • Goes “by the book” or emotional decision-making.
  • Tells employees.
  • Leaders are patriarchs and order-givers.
  • Maintains status quo.
  • Controls and watches employees.
  • Technology is over people.
  • When things go wrong – blame someone.
  • Closed to “outsiders” and media.

New Leadership Style  

  • Uses  teamwork and problem solving.
  • Asks customers and is community oriented.
  • Uses data-based decision-making.
  • Asks and listens to employees.
  • Leaders as coaches and teachers.
  • Goals are to create, innovate, experiment.
  • Trust employees.
  • Employees are skilled and a better resource than machines.
  • Errors mean failed systems or processes – improve them.
  • Organization is open and transparent.

If we change the way in  which we lead the men and women in our police organizations, we  can achieve quality in policing.  However, wanting to change and changing are worlds apart.  The road to change is littered by good intentions and short-term efforts.  We all must make a long-term commitment, from chiefs to police officers, to see these changes through.  It will not survive if it is an idea of the chief, or of the union, or of the mayor; it can only happen if it is our idea — all of us.

  • We must take a fresh look at this new model of leadership to complement the current movement in our field to community-oriented and problem-solving policing being proposed by Goldstein, Skolnick and Bayley, Trojanowicz, Kelling and Moore and others.
  • We must shift from telling and controlling the men and women we work with to growing and enhancing them.
  • We must ask their input before we make critical decisions that affect them.
  • We must make a commitment to listen to them and ask them about policing strategies in the community.
  • We must listen to our customers, our citizens, in new and more open ways.
  • We must look at solving problems and quit reacting to incidents.
  • We must permit risk-taking and tolerate honest mistakes in our agencies in order to encourage creativity and achieve innovation.  We must try new things — experiment.
  • We must avoid, whenever possible, the use of coercive power within our organizations.
  • We need to permit ideas to “bubble up” within the organization and permit development of the skills and abilities of the talented men and women who now police our nation’s streets.

If we learn nothing else about police organizational change let us remember that when change is implemented from the top of the organization, either by coercive force or without real employee input, it will surely fail.  It is only by first changing the “inside” of our organizations that we will be able to effectively implement these new “outside” strategies of policing.

This is, no doubt, a big order.  It is the establishment of a new philosophy and style of police leadership.  This style of leadership will assure the achievement of quality police services, a more community-oriented policing style and the use of new approaches to problem-solving, because it sets an organizational culture that permits not only movement to these new concepts in policing, but gives us the ability and flexibility to move beyond them.  This new style is oriented not only to changing community needs, but also to the changing needs of our employees.  There is flexibility in this style, a built-in survival mechanism that is attuned to the “inside” as well as the “outside” of the organization — employees and citizens.  We will be able to exist as a viable organization in the future and it will help us achieve quality,  a quality defined by keeping the public’s peace and closely serving our neighborhoods; all within the rule of law.


Creating Excellence: Managing Corporate Culture, Strategy, and Change in the New Age, Craig R.Hickman and Michael A. Silva, Plume, 1984.

Leader Effectiveness Training, Tom Gordon, New York: Bantam Books, 1978.

How to Rate Your Local Police, David Couper, Police Executive Research Forum,  1983.

Re-inventing the Corporation, John Naisbitt and Patricia Aburdene, Warner. 1985.

Problem-Oriented Policing, Herman Goldstein,  Philadelphia: Temple University Press. 1990.

The New Blue Line: Police Innovation in Six American Cities, James Skolnick and David Bayley, New York: The Free Press, 1986.

“The Evolving Strategy of Policing,” George Kelling and Mark Moore, Perspectives on Policing, Department of Justice. November, 1988.

The Impact of Foot Patrol on Black and White Perceptions of Policing, Robert C. Trojanowicz and Dennis W. Banas, National Center for Community Policing, Michigan State University, 1985.


Well, that’s it. What would you add?

What would you change to ensure the kind of future many of us dreamed for our nation’s police?


  1. How do we get people to care? When I read your blog you give me hope, but I feel like no one gives a shit about solving the problems, they’d rather just bitch or fight. I ran Occupy Police for a year and half and I’m exhausted. On one side you have the haters, on the other side you have police who seemingly don’t give a shit and then you have that small percentage of civilians and police who are in the middle together making a difference and they are few and far between. What we need to do is get all those middle ground types in one place and start hammering away at the problems as a team. If not then that dream you have the same one I have will be lost in the past.


    1. Absolutely, Danny! It’s the middle that matters. I don’t know what it will take to get mid-America moving again. Let’s face it, their kids don’t have jobs, they can’t afford a college or technical education, and the only health care provided is the Emergency Room in which they receive an exorbitant and inflated charge for services which causes them to go into bankruptcy but then there’s still the college loan that cannot be forgiven and inflates every year it is not paid off. For people of color and the underclass there is another problem heaped upon all this — they do not see the police or the justice system protecting them and their children. And, oh yes, and then there is the “war on drugs” and the battle ground is in their neighborhoods, not other people’s residences… My problem is that I see the nation’s police as, at least, equalizers of the inequality. Our nation’s police leaders need always to speak out about inequality and injustice. Because it is in the matters of inequality and injustice that things start going awry — when we aren’t being and acting like the kind of nation we say we are.


      1. Police leaders with the the exception of you, have never spoken about injustice and inequality. As a matter of fact, they play a huge, important role in maintaining and expanding the injustices and inequality in our country’s history even today.


  2. Thank you for the article. I see a great deal of timeless leadership information here. I have been researching police leadership articles hoping to find something that would bring a ray of hope to my mind-numbingly changeless LE career.

    I accepted a commission as a deputy sheriff after having been part of quality leadership teams as a military officer and business manager. I was tired of moving my family around the world in my early endeavors and believed I could add value to what is clearly an underperforming government service.

    It became obvious from the moment I was hired that the front-line deputies were considered nothing more that pawns to be manipulated. Leadership was non-existent when I began this journey 15 years ago, and has not improved since. I wrongly assumed that my education, leadership, technology, and process improvement skills would be valued and rewarded. I drastically underestimated the entrenched fear-based management style so pervasive throughout law enforcement.

    Looking at the big picture it is clear that the primary barrier to LE improvement is the lack of competition. LE, like all government service, is a monopoly. Each new fiscal year arrives, and with it a large pile of public dollars. There is little (or no) accountability. The primary incentive leaders possess is to promote people who have neither the desire nor the capability to be smarter than the boss. Narcissism is the overriding personality trail. Thoughts of improvement and performance are cast aside with snide looks and body language that clearly communicates, “Do you know who I am…? I’m the boss!” As this article suggests, LE leaders remain deeply rooted in the industrial revolution mindset. Appallingly little has changed between 1987 and 2015.

    There will be no advancement in LE leadership until the reward for improvement becomes greater than reward for failure. It’s too easy for today’s leaders to enjoy their high salaries accompanied by low expectations. They will continue to promote from the small but incessant cesspool of inbred knuckle-draggers who will toe the status quo line. The race to the bottom marches on.


    1. Bob, unfortunately my experience with changing police as both line officer and chief is that it is a counter-insurgency operation. You need to stay. Get pay attention and get out and lead. Though many might disagree with me, lasting change (transformation) can only come from inside the police. That’s why we need quality leaders to push on improvements, transparency, listening to those whom we serve and then — almost above all today– be highly trained yet restrained in our use of force. Some officer have written me and said they will no longer read my blog because they think I am being “mean” and negative. I’m sorry, but every mistake a cop makes on national tv and internet affects every other cop…. I learned that in my first few months on patrol when there was a big scandal in a police department a 1,000 miles from where I worked and heard negative comments toward me during traffic stops. Hey, I’m not that cop, I would reply. To officers who find my blogs offensive, I’d say read on! You need to know from someone who loves you what you are doing that is causing the national problem we are experiencing. Listen to me. In the long run it will be better to hear me than what may be generating on the street. Police need to be honest and transparent during this crisis. They need to listen to their “customers” and then meet or exceed their expectations. It’s that simple — and that difficult. Hang in there.


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