Can the Late Dr. Deming Help Police Out of their Crisis?

images-2In the summer of 1980, NBC television aired an documentary that would change America. It was titled, “If Japan Can, Why Can’t We?” and it brought to our nation’s attention the work of an aging MIT professor, Dr. W. Edwards Deming.

The documentary caused America to think about quality, customer service, and continuous improvement. In and of itself, it brought our automobile manufacturing system out of the dark ages and back into international prominence.

And it inspired me to bring the Deming Management Method into the Madison Police Department while, at the same time, Mayor Joe Sensenbrenner was implementing these ideas into city government and, as a spin off, into the educational and business spheres of our city. It was a convergence of the best thinking of industry, business, education, and healthcare into government and, yes, police!

My personal relationship with Dr. Deming over the years and his teaching helped us transform the Madison police department from a good police department to a great one.

Deming’s profound knowledge enabled me to think outside-the-box and apply proven management techniques — especially systems thinking* — to leading a police department — and it worked. [In my book, Arrested Development, I outline how all that happened.]

I am proposing today that using Deming’s methods can very well be the “out-of-the-box” thinking and concurrent action that is needed today in the ranks of our police. Yes, it can bring American policing out of their present crisis. [Deming called his revolutionary book, Out of the Crisis.]


*Systems thinking helps those of us who work in social systems to improve them the same way that people use engineering principles to improve mechanical systems.

  • Systems thinking is especially important when those at work need to see the “big picture” and not just their part in it.
  • Systems thinking is a method to approach recurring problems which have been made worse by past attempts to fix them.
  • Systems thinking is important to use when an action affects or is affected by the environment surrounding the problem.
  • System thinking works especially when approaching problems whose solutions are not obvious. [For more, read Daniel Aronson’s, “Overview of Systems Thinking.”]