“Good enough for government work.” You have probably heard this refrain or even used it yourself when referring to completing a task where a minimum standard has been met. The phrase is more of a pejorative and it is hard to take it as complimentary of government performance.
Although I don’t believe law enforcement personnel overall were a major contributing factor in the development of this thought process, many of our peers likely helped influence it or reinforced this idea over the years. Although police officers account for only one facet of our system of government, we are probably the most visible agent of it and can definitely be a change agent in this perception.
Police leadership and management must recognize the importance of this opportunity to make government work synonymous with consistent high quality that is cost efficient. This effort will require deeper attention to matters both small and large and often it is the little stuff that can have the strongest influence on the perceptions of those we serve. There are a number of ways in which police services can be better recognized as a model of professionalism in government work.
Keep training a priority that is part of an officer’s weekly regimen instead of monthly or quarterly. More training and practice can make for better educated officers in step with current practices. Better use of in-house training is a start to keep training costs down. Officers can often learn more from a department instructor who is attuned to the agency’s demands and the culture of those they serve instead of spending money on outside training that may involve travel expenses and average instructional returns.
Embrace community policing principles. These actions can enhance trust and help develop a more symbiotic relationship with those we serve. Preventing and solving crime is a team effort and true success comes when we work together. Within this context, take special attention requests seriously. Citizens will often make requests for special attention to situations and areas that concern them. Even if we don’t consider their requests serious matters, it is important to demonstrate our commitment to their concerns or fears.
Follow-up with those we serve. Whether it is returning a phone call of a complainant on a small matter or keeping a crime victim apprised of the status of a case, this simple action sends a message that we care and their concerns are not being overlooked or ignored. This includes vendors. Even if you aren’t interested, they are trying to serve a need with law enforcement with their products and a polite return call is a fair thing to do.
Develop officers beyond their current responsibilities and role. Doing so can allow the officer to provide a better level of service and can help assignment transitions be smoother and more effective. Plenty of officers are like sponges eager to absorb knowledge. Too often, I believe management doesn’t recognize their officers have very good potential to do more than they are doing.
Set the bar high. Expect more from your personnel as well as from yourself as a leader. If the bar is set low, many will reach it and not aspire further. Back to that “Good enough for government” mentality. Set it high and watch how many will be able to reach it. Just make sure you give them the tools and support so “setting the bar high” doesn’t become an empty platitude for a mission statement.
The minds of our police leaders and those under their direction throughout the country could certainly add to and improve this short list. By expecting and demanding more of ourselves, we can make “government work” something that our nation’s citizens will equate with value and something private corporations will look to as a model of excellent quality.
Tom Wetzel is a northeast Ohio suburban police lieutenant, SWAT officer, trainer and certified law enforcement executive. He holds a black belt in Goshin Jujitsu. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.