Can Deming Save Us Again?



Years ago, the things that W. Edwards Deming learned in Japan after World War II, helped revitalize American industry. Deming’s methods also took root in the city government of Madison, Wisc. and its police.

I was mid-way through my police career when I ran into Deming. And I will say “ran into” because it was a soul-shattering collision between what I thought I knew about leadership, police systems and improving things and what Deming was talking about.

By adopting his methods, I not only improved what I was doing as a police chief, the attitude of my police officers, but how I was living my life.

You can find most of the things we learned in Quality Policing: The Madison Experience (1991) and in The New Quality Leadership Workbook (2014). Mary Walton has also written an excellent overview of the Deming Method.

Could the methods we learned from Deming be applied to solving today’s police problems concerning trust, fairness, and effectiveness?

An excerpt from the March, 1991, article in the Harvard Business Review by former Mayor Joeseph Sensenbrenner, “Quality Comes to City Hall,” provides some insight:


“Government may be the biggest and the oldest industry in the world, but the statement ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help you’ is universally considered a bad joke. Increasingly, people don’t believe that government knows how to help or wants to bother. They find concepts like ‘total quality,’ ‘customer-driven,’ and ‘continuous improvement’ foreign to everything they know about what government does and how it works. They wish government would be more like a well-run business, but most have stopped hoping it ever will be…  As more and more U.S. industries work with and profit from Deming’s techniques, we have to wonder whether it’s not possible to develop a public sector that offers taxpayers and citizens the same quality of services they have come to expect from progressive businesses like Motorola and Westinghouse.

“My answer to that question is yes, it is possible. Moreover, while I was mayor of Madison, Wisconsin from 1983 to 1989, I took several steps to make it happen… In Madison, the most celebrated example was the creation of the experimental police district.

“During the late 1960s and early 1970s, violent antiwar demonstrations turned Madison into a kind of battleground. At one point, the governor called in the Wisconsin National Guard to secure the university campus. The harsh tactics used to put down these demonstrations left much of the community with a distrust of the police.

“The officers themselves felt battle scarred and alienated from the city they were hired to protect. When a young police chief named David Couper arrived in 1972 with newfangled philosophies of conflict management and citizen service, he was assailed with a series of grievances and lawsuits from veterans on the force.

“Couper, a former marine, responded to these tests with what he now calls a typical military approach: ‘You’ll be nice to citizens, or you’ll have hell to pay!’ This got him nowhere, of course, and after several frustrating years he took a sabbatical, rethought his management approach, and familiarized himself with Deming’s quality gospel. He then decided, as he puts it, ‘to run the department for the 95% who did their jobs well, rather than write the rules for the 5% who were difficult.’

“He identified progressive officers interested in transforming the department and rebuilding community confidence. Together they created an elected employee policy-making council, a committee to look at the department’s future, and a police mission statement that made peacekeeping the department’s primary role and put law enforcement second.

“This was a risky move, considering the probable reaction if people thought the police were neglecting detection and apprehension, but the new strategy had broader implications. It meant the department could deploy resources to work on the underlying causes of crime, interact with schools and neighborhood organizations, develop relationships with minority and student leaders, and put a higher priority on outreach. Most important, perhaps, it created the “constancy of purpose” that Deming has always put first on his list of techniques for achieving total quality.

“In 1986, Couper and 50 police volunteers decided to test the new mission statement. They believed that a decentralized police district with a neighborhood headquarters would lead to more effective peacekeeping by giving better service to residents and by encouraging officers to ‘adopt’, the neighborhood and vice versa. Police precincts were an old idea, but this was different: officers in the district would elect their own captains and lieutenants, determine their own staffing and work schedules as a team, and network with neighborhood associations to set law-enforcement priorities. Having worked with Couper for 14 years, the union had learned to trust him, and it accepted the idea.

“Several months of surveys and data analysis resulted in the Madison Experimental Police District on the city’s South Side, with its station house located in the aldermanic district of a relatively junior member of the city council. Because the officers had done their homework, they were able to nip in the bud an effort by the council president to locate this political plum in her own ward. They could show that their proposed location provided the best service to priority areas and populations, including the elderly, as well as the fastest access to all parts of the district.

“Soon, South Side residents were seeing their police on the streets, at neighborhood meetings, and at their doorsteps to interview them about their concerns. Home burglaries decreased 28% between 1986 and 1989, while the rest of the city saw a 15% increase. Other statistics were equally impressive. Dollar savings included the reduction of overtime to 200 hours for the whole experimental district in 1988, compared with 980 hours for an equivalent number of officers from the central office. This savings was achieved after officers in the district ran a study of the kinds of calls that kept police on duty beyond their regular shifts. They discovered that a high percentage of such calls were not urgent, so they arranged with dispatchers to put these calls on a ‘B’ list if they came in less than 45 minutes before the end of a shift. When new officers came on, they would take those calls first and attend to them at regular pay.

“Although this triage meant some delay in police response for some police customers, I never received a single complaint about it. Tax dollars were saved, and surveys showed that citizens were satisfied with police service and that 85% of officers in the special district had higher levels of job satisfaction than in their previous assignments…”

To read the full article CLICK HERE.



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