Thinking Outside the (Blue) Box



And by that I mean not only THINKING about it, but SHARING your ideas within your department and with your community and IMPLEMENTING the good ones.

What do I mean by thinking “outside the box”? It is an open process of problem-solving and identifying a preferred and more effective future.

For example, what would the very best police department in a society such as ours look like? What would it do? What wouldn’t it do? How would it relate to and with the community it serves?

In further pursuit of this, what are our major functions; the important things we do? Are they what the community expects us to do? Looking at the agreed-upon functions (as collectively determined by us and our community) is what we are doing today the best way to do this? Are there other ways? Have we ever tried out any alternative ways? Why not?

Here are some examples of police functions that I think need re-thinking and, if necessary, going “outside the box.”

  • Response to standoffs involving the mentally ill persons with edged or blunt weapons.
    • What are we doing now?
    • What is our objective in these situations?
    • How effective is our current response?
    • How might we collaborate with other agencies in the community?
    • How might our overall response be improved?
  • Policy on use of deadly force.
    • What does it say?
    • Do our practices reflect our stated objectives?
    • Do we have a stated commitment to preserve life?
    • Should we?
    • How could our current policy and training regarding deadly force be improved?
  • Response to protests and angry crowds or demonstrators.
    • What are we doing now?
    • How is the Constitution being served?
    • How are we training for these events?
    • How effective is our current response?
    • How might we do it better?
  • High-speed pursuit.
    • What is our current policy?
    • How effective is it is assuring safety of the public?
    • How many of our pursuits have been cancelled due to public safety concerns?
    • Would we be willing to institute a “no-pursuit” policy?
    • How might we better handle the problem of pursing fleeing vehicles?
  • Recruiting, selecting and training of new officers.
    • What are we doing now?
    • Who are we attracting?
    • How diverse is our recruiting pool?
    • How effective have we been in diversifying the department?
    • How might we do it better?
  • Our in-service training of senior officers.
    • What police skills need to be periodically reinforced/re-trained?
    • What are we doing now?
    • How might we institute a more effective system of in-service training?
  • Trust and respect.
    • Does our community trust and respect us?
    • How do we know?
    • How important is this to both police and citizens?
    • If we find discrepancies here, how will we correct them?
  • Our style of leadership.
    • Honestly, what is our preferred style of leadership?
    • What are we teaching our leaders to use it?
    • What does our rank-and-file think about our leadership style?
    • How might we lead more effectively?
  • Our connections, collaboration and relationships with the community we serve.
    • What is our current method and systems of connecting with the community?
    • How effective is it?
    • What do community leaders have to say about our relationships with them?
    • How might we better connect and relate?


Note: The following is an example of thinking “outside the box.” It began with forming a group of younger officers and asking them to visualize a preferred future for the department.

I wrote this in Arrested Development:

“We needed to think about the kind of department in which we wanted to work and the kind of department the community wanted. This was the direction I was going. Now I needed people to help me look to the future… The officers who served on the committee met two to four times a month for a year before they issued their report. This kind of work is immensely significant for the success of sustaining any organization. For us, it set in motion the energy to think about tomorrow, how we might need to alter or change the organization, and how we might keep our effort going. In their report, the committee made three formidable recommendations with supportive material:

  • Move closer to the community.
  • Make better use of technology.
  • Improve workplace wellness.[1]

“Those recommendations gave substance to my dream for decentralized neighborhood patrol districts that I first envisioned when I came to Madison. This now would more effectively move our officers closer to the people they served.

“Very soon construction was begun of our first decentralized police station—the Experimental Police District. The EPD was to be our field laboratory. Their recommendations also caused us to examine our structure, internal practices, and the overall direction in which the department was moving.

“Ultimately, that early effort to create a future vision for the department resulted in complete decentralization of patrol and investigative services into four stand-alone district stations that serve the City of Madison. The origins of this idea first began with my vision back in 1973 and the creation of a neighborhood patrol unit in the early 1980s, which assigned foot patrol officers to a number of our city’s key residential and business areas.

“This was a new idea for Madison. Our department had always operated out of one centralized building in the downtown area. The EPD, however, was located on the far south side, in one of the most active policing areas of the city. The officers who volunteered to work out of it had a hand in not only deciding the location but also the new station’s building design and cost. But the most remarkable move made was to let officers who volunteered to work there select their leaders. This would be the place where the new leadership style and problem-oriented policing methods would be solidly exercised.”


[1] The Learning Company: A strategy for sustainable development, M. Pedler, J. Burgoyne, and T. Boydell (1997) and “Managing Learning: what do we learn from a Learning Organization?” The Learning Organization, D. McHugh, D. Groves and A. Alker (1998).


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