Quality Leadership: The First Step Towards Quality Policing


“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.”

I need to put into the discussion-mix today a couple of “ancient” articles. Today’s comes from the April, 1987 IACP “Police Chief” magazine article on quality leadership. My next post contains the IACP article my wife and I wrote four years later which ties our earlier efforts to effective community-oriented policing.

QUALITY LEADERSHIP: The First Step Towards Quality Policing

Chief David Couper and Sgt. 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 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 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 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:

  1. To work with people who treat me with respect.
  2. Interesting work.
  3. Recognition for good work.
  4. A chance to develop my skills.
  5. To work for people who listen if I have ideas on how to do my job better.
  6. A chance to think for myself.
  7. To work for efficient managers.
  8. A job that is not too easy.
  9. Seeing the end results of my work.
  10. 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 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 despite 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, 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 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 like 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 like 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 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 chart describes key concepts from each of the two styles:


Reform Style                                                     New Style     

Response to incidents                                      Solving problems

Individual effort & competitiveness            Use of teamwork

Professional expertise                                    Ask community

Go by the “book”/ decisions by emotion             Use data-based decision-making

Tell subordinates                                           Ask and listen to employees

Boss as order giver                                       Coach and teacher

Maintain status-quo                                     Create, innovate, experiment

Control and watch employees                  Trust employees

Technology is better than people             Employees are better than machines

When errors occur blame employees     Errors = failed systems/improve them

Organization closed                                   Organization is open



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 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.

  1. This article was written over three decades ago, what has changed between now and then? 
  2. What has continued to stay the same?
  3. Why is this so?


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