What I Learned About Improving Police


If we as a nation are going to get serious about improving our police we, both community and police leaders, will have to look into the process, steps, and methods that are involved in organizational change.

Just this past week the movement “Black Lives Matter” (BLM) issued the following 10-point platform for police reform:

These are ideas I can support. But, of course, the adoption and implementation of these aspirations can only come about in my experience through police LEADERSHIP.

If we are to see lasting reform in our police, citizens will have to convince police leaders that it is (as I believe) in their own self-interest to do so. Implementing these 10-points will slowly, but surely, start to rebuild trust of our nation’s police among people of color.

Now how to do it. The following is what I learned in my 25 years as a chief of police working toward excellence, innovation, community-oriented policing, and continuous improvement. If police follow these seven improvement steps while implementing the recommendations of the President’s 21st Century Task Force on Police and the issues raised by the BLM movement we will become a safer and happier nation.



Step One: Envision: Police leaders must cast a bold and breathtaking vision to ensure a distinguished future for policing. A good vision statement should be short, bold (even breathtaking), and those hearing it for the first time should be able to clearly remember it the next day. One quickly learns, however, that this is the easiest step. In order for a vision to work, it must be shared with others whom it affects. But having something shared with you is much different than having your vision become theirs…

Step Two: Select: Police must encourage and select the finest and the brightest to serve as police officers. In the not-so-distant past, nepotism was rampant within police departments. This was a protective response by police to make sure that those who joined them were just like them—reinforcing the subculture and the status quo. Police encouraged their friends and relatives who held the same worldview as they did to join their ranks…

Step Three: Listen: Police leaders must intently listen to their officers and members of the community. This book is about more than change – it is about transformation. And transformation involves conversion, inside work, not just a change in appearance. The transformation of a police organization first begins inside its members. Much of what I have written here may be new and startling to some. But it shouldn’t be foreign to those who are watching and listening to what is happening in the world today. The non-hierarchical pro-democracy movements around the world are really harbingers of the future. In order for the American police to attain the high level of professional excellence that I believe they are capable of, they will have to undergo this kind of total transformation…

Step Four: Train and Lead: Police leaders must implement professional training and a collaborative leadership style. To train is to lead, and to lead is to train—the two are inextricably linked. Good leaders are good trainers and vice versa. When I embarked on the huge task of improving the Madison department from top to bottom, I started thinking about the valuable role rank-and-file officers could take in being an active part of this transformation.

Step Five: Improve Continuously: Police must unceasingly improve the systems in which they work–everything they do. Improvement of our nation’s police is possible, but it has got to be a constant and not sporadic occurrence. It is going to take some work from each and every one of us. It is possible to engage police officers in a pursuit of excellence, which is essentially what this is. In the long run, this commitment to improving the systems in which police work is good for them and all of us: police will have more support from their community, they will feel nobler about themselves and the work they do, and their workplaces will be more comfortable, gratifying, and engaging…

Step Six: Evaluate: Police must be able to critically assess, or have assessed, the crucial tasks and functions they are expected to perform. My first efforts to evaluate how we were doing were rudimentary. I knew I had to have frequent and on-going contact with the Madison community I was hired to serve and protect. I should say its communities because no city is just a community by itself; a city today consists of many diverse communities. But for the most part, I became the sounding board for the department. Listening was my first attempt to try and determine how we were doing in realizing our vision and staying on mission…

Step Seven: Sustain: Police leaders must be able to maintain and continue improvements to their organizations. A leader should always be thinking ahead, scanning and listening. And this should be with the intent to sustain the good work and improvements that the organization has accomplished. It turned out that what I was developing almost unknowingly in Madison was something Peter Senge later came to identify in his book The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. When I first read Senge’s excellent definition of the learning organization, it made clear that what we were attempting to do was just that: Organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to learn together. [1] An organization that is learning to learn together can sustain itself…


[The Seven Steps are abbreviated from my book Arrested Development: A Veteran Police Chief Sounds Off About Protest, Racism, Corruption and the Seven Steps Necessary to Improve Our Nation’s Police, Amazon (2012)] [CLICK HERE for more info.]

[1] Peter Senge. The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. New York: Bantam-Doubleday. 1990.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.