An Impossible Dream?

On September 3, 2013, I wrote the following blog to again highlight the importance as well as difficulty of our nation’s police moving from what management guru Jim Collins and I both propose — from “good to great.” This applies to all our nation’s organizations and businesses, not just the police. It is what I called for when I came to Madison as their new chief of police — “the pursuit of excellence!” What I wrote six years ago needs repeating! It applies to how deadly force is used, how protest groups are policed, and why a high-level of trust is essential to democratic (and community) policing.


Moving from Good to Great — Possible?


“Good is the enemy of great.” — Jim Collins

Can a police department be GREAT, not just “good?”

Here’s my thoughts on it in a recent interview with the Capitol Times editor, Paul Fanlund.

In order to be great, most police organizations must significantly change — they must transform! In “Arrested Development,” I wrote:

“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.”

And further about the leader’s vision that drives the big changes that a transformation entails:

“In my experience, one of the biggest transformations I made in Madison was to move the department into a professional stance with regard to handling public protest. The way in which police in a democracy respond to public protest is often a defining moment for them and the community. At the end of 2011 Time Magazine named the protester as its ‘Person of the Year.’ Doing so not only highlighted the centrality of protest today in America, but the important role it is taking throughout the world.

“In the long run, police will ultimately be judged by how well they do this—how they do it fairly and effectively, without regard to whether they agree with the people in those crowds or not.  Overall, police officers should always treat everyone they encounter respectfully, with courtesy, and without regard to their race, gender, national origin, political beliefs, religious practice, sexual orientation, or economic status—and that goes for people in crowds, too. It’s a big job, but the primary function of police is always relational, whether they are responding to a domestic dispute, investigating a crime, enforcing a traffic regulation, helping an elderly person cross a busy street, or handling a crowd. Once this is understood, it is a lot easier to figure out what it is police need to do and how they should do it when it comes to handling public protest.

“Early on, I envisioned a police department in which the officers would become experts in human behavior because much of what goes wrong in policing happens when police are unable to effectively respond to people. Therefore, it is vital that police have access to and understand current research regarding the field of human psychology and established methods to deal with people who are disturbed, angry, grief-stricken, or intoxicated, without having to resort to physical force—or, if physical force is necessary, to use it wisely and humanely…

“It is my hope that the seven steps I described in this book will be discussed, shared, and put into practice, not only by the police, but in their communities as well. I’m not suggesting here anything that police are not able to do. Transformation isn’t an exercise in capital, but in brainpower. It doesn’t cost money to cast a bold vision, or to raise the hiring standards, or to internally train officers and their leaders with existing resources. It doesn’t cost money to listen, and it doesn’t cost money to continuously upgrade the systems in which we work. It may cost some dollars to do outside research, but in the meantime, police chiefs can do their own surveying just like we did. And it doesn’t cost money to sustain an outstanding, community-oriented police department because with the changes I am suggesting comes trust, cooperation, and community support—things no money can buy.”

It’s not easy to make a poor police department good, nor a good police department great — but it can be done and everyone in the community benefits from such an organization — including the police.

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