The Seven Improvement Steps: Still Valid!

The Seven Steps Needed to Improve Our Nation’s Police

The Seven Necessary Improvement Steps to Improve Our Nation’s Police

These steps are still valid, still important after all the years that have passed and all the errors, mistakes, and deaths that have occurred… Yes, improvement is possible. Once upon a time it was done in Madison, Wisconsin. You should know about it.


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 and 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 creating a vision statement is the easiest step. For a vision to work, it must be shared with others whom it affects. It is one thing to cast a vision, another to be able to convince others that your vision is also their vision…

Step Two: Select

Police must encourage and select the best 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. The goal today is to continue to staff the ranks of the police with persons who reflect the community served…

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. 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. Therefore, I had to be able to attract, hire, and promote to leadership positions the finest people I could find…

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 constant and not a sporadic occurrence. It is going to take some work from 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 came to understand that I needed a more official and systematic way to find out how we were doing. To find a way beyond just listening at community meetings, receiving comments from elected officials, or reading letters to the editor in our daily newspapers… I knew this: citizens who have had no contact with their police tend to rate us quite high; out of sight, out of mind. Conversely, those who have had contact with us don’t rate us quite as high as those who have not. And, disturbingly, the more contact citizens have with us, the lower they tend to rate us…

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…”


These are the seven necessary steps that communities and their police must take together.


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