Reform Lessons Learned at NOPD

Ed. Note: I found the following article to be very consistent with what I learned during my 20+ years reforming/improving police departments. I have excerpted what I believe to be key paragraphs. A link to the full article is at the end of this post..

Hopefully, today’s police who fee called to lead and improve the service with learn these lessons and others about the steps necessary to implement and maintain reform measures.

Of course, reform does not end with implementation. It takes a large amount of passion, persistence, and knowing yourself (inner work)!


From Bourbon Street To The Board Room: Eight Aids To Sustaining Reform

By: Jonathan Aronie, Partner, Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton

There is no shortage of institutions – public or private – looking to implement reforms these days. A transportation company struggles to rehabilitate its corporate culture after allegations targeted at its leadership team. A financial institution spends massive amounts of time and money reforming its internal practices following a public scandal. An automobile manufacturer rebuilds lost public trust on the heels of reports it falsified safety records. And multiple major city police departments strive mightily to restore their tarnished brand after long histories of unconstitutional policing.

But these are just the tip of the reform iceberg. Countless organizations – from small businesses to multi-national corporations to domestic and foreign governments – engage in systemic efforts to change internal policies, practices, and/or culture all the time. Indeed, it seems “reform” has become the rule, not the exception.

Implementing meaningful, lasting reform, however, is not an easy task. The Internet is littered with stories of institutions heading down the road to reform only to have their path blocked by new leadership holding a new map. As a Government Contracts/False Claims Act lawyer often called upon to implement ethics and compliance programs in the corporate sector – and as the judicially-appointed Monitor responsible for overseeing the New Orleans Police Department’s (NOPD’s) compliance with a 492-paragraph Federal Consent Decree – I constantly am looking for ways not only to implement sensible, practical, and meaningful reforms, but to ensure those reforms are sustained.

While there is no foolproof formula to prevent backsliding in a large organization, there are a number of strategies that can help sustain change over time. Let’s call them our Eight Aids To Sustaining Reform. My colleagues and I use them in New Orleans as well as in the corporate sector. They are simple, logical, and practical. They are useful for any organization interested in self-improvement, and they hold promise whether the reform effort is compelled by a directive from an enforcement authority, “suggested” by the results of an internal investigation, or a purely voluntary act of self-improvement.

Strategy 1: Establish institutions that are difficult to dismantle.

As Newton famously observed, objects in motion tend to stay in motion. Our experience in the public and private sector teaches us this law applies in the C-Suite just as in the physics classroom. Like the rest of us, leaders do not like creating extra work for themselves. This trait can be used to help institutionalize cultural and procedural reforms…

Strategy 2: Establish institutions that the organization’s personnel do not want to dismantle.

. An organization’s personnel, whether police officers, government employees, or corporate executives, have no interest in dismantling reforms that have made their jobs safer, their work easier or their reputation stronger. We put this principle into play throughout our work in New Orleans and in the private sector…

Strategy 3: Change who is “on the bus.

In his book Good To Great, Jim Collins explains how great companies invest time and energy getting the “right people on the bus.” The potential beneficiaries of this principle are not limited to corporations, and the benefits are not limited to profitability and corporate longevity. Ensuring the right people are on the bus can help an organization institutionalize cultural and procedural reforms…

Strategy 4: Let them see the world.

It’s easy to think your problems are unique and to miss opportunities for innovative solutions when you don’t have visibility into how other organizations deal with similar problems. By exposing personnel to the obstacles and innovations of others, an organization makes it harder to revert back to the “old ways” of doing things as time passes…

Strategy 5: Set expectations and lock in transparency.

Over the past few years, the New Orleans Police Department has made an unprecedented volume of data publicly available. Calls for service data and Use of Force data, for example, now are accessible at the click of a mouse. As a result, the New Orleans community has come to expect this sort of openness from its police department. This expectation will make it tough for a future leader to reverse course. What future police chief wants to be the one to tell the community, “I’m going to take away the data you have come to expect from us”?…

Strategy 6: Promote reform initiatives and successes publicly.

It is a challenge to back away from commitments when you share those commitments with others. Last year, a friend of mine was determined to run a half marathon. She never had run one before and embarked upon an impressive training schedule. To help her stay the course, she shared her plans with everyone. Later she confessed she had thought about abandoning her goal several times during the training program, but kept at it to avoid the “public shame” of admitting defeat…

Strategy 7: Formalize reform initiatives into policy.

Whether an organization is implementing reforms due to an enforcement proceeding, as the result of pressure from the public, or voluntarily, at the end of the day, reform initiatives are only as good as the reform-minded leaders in place to enforce them. A change in leadership can bring about a change in organizational direction…

Strategy 8: Implement meaningful measurement techniques, including audits and evaluations.

Peter Drucker, the famed business management consultant, said, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” The concept is a critical one for sustaining organizational reforms over time. A corporate business ethics and compliance program, for example, is far more likely to have legs if the company’s internal audit function regularly measures its effectiveness. A city’s reform efforts will have a better chance of longevity when an inspector general periodically kicks its tires…



Jonathan Aronie is a partner in the Washington, DC office of Sheppard Mullin. Jonathan was appointed by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana to serve as the Federal Monitor over the NOPD Consent Decree, the most comprehensive Consent Decree in the country. He can be reached at

1 Comment

  1. Having worked in institutions for 33+ years (health care) there are two challenges leaders have to address. The first is the natural drift towards the path of least resistance, least amount of effort, lowest common denominator, why bother path, which I’ll call the path of natural entropy. The other is the path toward excellence and sustainability on that path. These eight “markers” for sustainability are, in my experience, spot on for maintaining and sustaining excellence in any organization. Standards of practice are essential and should be made clear to all practitioners to help set a minimum expectation set. Policies need to be established that clarify overall functioning with procedures that reinforce policy positions. Personnel always changes over, but with good policies and procedures in place excellence is sustainable.


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