High-Performance Law Enforcement Organizations

Focus on the mission.

High-performance organizations focus on four areas First, the mission – that one big thing. The mission transcends all other things and is worth living and dying for. Second, the people factor. The “right people” are your most important asset. Be rigorous in your personnel decisions and processes.

Third, the management culture. The goal is to move on the spectrum from “control and compliance” to “coordination and performance.” Harness the knowledge, skills and abilities of “right people” and let them perform. Fourth, mastering the art and science of policing – the core function of the organization. Do the right things the right way at the right time.

Law enforcement agencies, like most organizations, seem to be impacted by the rule of science that order tends toward disorder and organization moves toward disorganization unless acted upon by a higher force. Unfortunately, many organizations are in need of this “higher force” as they have become lethargic in acting for the good of their communities.

Over time, organizations shift their energy inwardly for mere survival rather than outwardly in pursuit of their original mission. To counter this, those with the “force to act” should to focus upon those four areas to once again achieve a high-performance organization.

The Mission: That One Big Thing
Police Management 101 is that organizations are nothing more than a collection of individuals organized to do one big thing. In law enforcement, that one big thing is public safety: to reduce crime and maintain order. When you boil down why we exist as an organization, it’s as simple as that.

The motivation for a person to apply for a law enforcement position nearly always alludes to the heart of the mission. To the question, “Why do you want to be a police officer?” the typical answer would involve that one big thing like, “I want to help people.” “I want to make a difference.” “I want to fight for justice.” “I want to help the helpless and combat the predator.”

Over time idealism begins to fade under the weight of experiencing tragedy and inhumanity on a regular basis. Or it is crushed under the weight of organizational demands and expectations. Yet, while idealism may lose its luster in the face of reality, the ideals of policing do not have to. Perhaps we should start writing down those pre-employment interview responses and invite our officers or deputies to review them on their anniversary date every year.

This mission is so important that those who make it their life’s vocation swear an oath they will uphold it. They undergo rigorous training to be qualified to do it, and they wear a badge indicating they have the authority to perform its duties. It is a noble calling worth living and dying for. That is why law enforcement organizations were created. That is why we exist today.

The two most important things about an organization are its primary purpose for existence and the people responsible for accomplishing it. Law enforcement agencies’ missions typically remain the same from coast to coast and border to border: to protect lives and property and to maintain law and order. We must write it down, post it, talk about it, and relate procedures and policy changes to it. Let us make the mission public once again.

High-Performance People
It should go without saying that high-performance organizations are filled with highly motivated, highly productive individuals. Motivated officers have a clearer vision of that one big thing. The best way to get an organization filled with motivated people is to hire motivated people. If the carrot and the stick are your prime motivators, you either hired the wrong people or you have a very dysfunctional management style, which has probably contributed to a de-motivated organizational culture.

Rarely do we have the luxury of making all of the important employment decisions. We have inherited people who we would not have hired. Some we would like to “de-hire.” That is the reality we all live with. Over time we can begin to change the quality of our organization by making better people decisions and improving our cultural motivation.

This gap between who we have and who we need reveals the second key of developing a high-performance law enforcement organization: Be rigorous in your personnel decisions. Being rigorous in personnel decisions means when in doubt, don’t hire. Instead, keep looking.

Hire only motivated, qualified people. Better to be short-handed with motivated officers than fully staffed with the unmotivated who will strain and detract from the performance of the entire organization. Challenge the old adage that people are your most important asset. In fact, people are not your most important asset, only the right people are.

Also remember to support those who are committed to the high ideals of policing through formal and informal feedback and recognition. While many agencies dedicate walls within their station to acknowledge officers who have received formal awards, create a “Good Stop” wall that takes notice of good police work that would otherwise go unrecognized. “Simple” does not have to equate to “unimportant” and good police work that becomes commonplace (the goal) deserves recognition, which serves to reinforce that one big thing.

Managing for High Performance
Perhaps the most important element of a high-performance organization is the management culture. Typically, this culture is either dominated by control and compliance or by coordination and performance. The better your people processes are, the more the organization should tip toward coordination and performance.

If you have inherited an agency full of unmotivated people, or the management culture has stifled motivation, management will lean toward control and compliance. Regardless of the quality of the people, management in law enforcement organizations tends to emphasize control and compliance, where the typical mantra is, “They give us guns but treat us like children.” 

With Theory X, “control” and “choke” can be used interchangeably. If an organization has been rigorous in hiring competent, motivated officers, management that tightly controls its members will choke performance, creativity, productivity, job satisfaction; and ultimately, the very effectiveness of the organization in achieving its mission. Ironically, when this occurs, the typical response of management is to add more controls and regulations until the organization barely performs and is completely dysfunctional.

A Theory X manager will not give the “green light” to his / her expert sniper who has a mass shooter in his sights because the manager is not there to size up the situation himself. While the captain is exercising his / her management prerogative, people are dying. But neither will the lieutenant give his / her officers meaningful input on addressing the non-critical internal issues that could improve the overall efficiency of the work unit. While the lieutenant is exercising his / her management prerogative, performance and culture are dying.

Unfortunately, even well-intentioned accreditation processes tend to put a choke hold on organizations through over-regulation. Accredited agencies have met hundreds of standards but in the process may have shifted the focus of the organization away from its heart and soul—the mastery of policing. Although subtle, success may now be defined as “compliance” rather than “exemplary service.”

For healthy organizations, the management focus is coordination and performance related to the pursuit of the mission…that one big thing. Controls are not absent, but they are used judiciously in their application. They are primarily used for those critical issues that relate to high-risk activities and issues…vehicle pursuits, use of force, shooting at moving vehicles, workplace harassment, etc. Accreditation programs may be more beneficial if they employed this same standard and reserved compliance standards for these critical areas.

Getting Started
It takes plenty of space and time to turn a large ship, but it takes skill to even turn a canoe around. So where do we begin in developing a management culture of performance?

First, get out of your office and exercise your influence. This may seem like a small thing, but consider a small rudder can turn a very large ship. Ultimately, leadership is influence. We may find a certain level of comfort in going from entry to entry in our day planner, answering and sending e-mails, and researching policy.

However, to have the mantle of leadership and achieve the uncommon we must go beyond these common management tasks and be direct in the exercise of leadership and influence. This is also called MBWA: management by walking around. One of the best examples of this is William Bratton when he was chief of the NYPD. He showed that MBWA is doable regardless of the size of the agency.

Second, get your department divisions and units talking to one another. By their very name, organizations denote organized systems. Patrol, investigations and special ops may all have their own narrow focus, but all share in one mission, and the responsibility of one unit overflows into the responsibility of another. One of the most effective disciplines we have developed is the weekly meeting where representatives from every work unit sit down at the same table and information is shared. Since the mission comes first, near the top of the agenda are current crime trends.

It is essential that detectives and patrol commanders and supervisors share information first-hand. This multi-directional exchange is essential in effectively addressing crime and disorder problems. Like a CompStat meeting, the straight and vertical lines of the organizational chart are laid aside and information is shared freely up, down and across the organizational hierarchy.

Mastering Policing Strategies
The two areas that came before (the right people and managing people) are part of the arrow’s shaft. But mastery of policing strategies is the spear tip that will hurtle toward the target. Mastering strategies and selecting and implementing them appropriately are the core functions of policing agencies.

If we only have the best people and the best management culture, but do not hurtle them toward the target, our constituencies are not much better off than if they were served by the worst dysfunctional organization. Try to shoot an arrow without the tip and you will have a vivid illustration of an organization that hasn’t mastered its craft.

Mastering strategies (the what, when and how of policing) is at the heart of vocational excellence. Mastery involves the quick identification of crime and disorder trends, and tailoring appropriate response plans that have proven effective in similar situations in other local and national contexts.

Mastery begins with the knowledge, skills and abilities (KSA) of the local “subject matter experts” within your own organization. It is not unusual for these KSAs to lie untapped for widespread use and implementation, even though they have already been effective in a smaller environment.

There is no need to reinvent the wheel. The Center for Problem-Oriented Policing offers information about a wide array of crime and disorder problems and methods, strategies, and programs that have been effective. It is a virtual library of problem-solving at the fingertips of nearly every agency in the country. The Center also administers the annual Goldstein Awards, which recognizes officers and agencies that effectively developed and administered problem-solving efforts in their community.

While there are some good national databases that can assist an agency, such as the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, there may be a lot of innovation going on right next door. Create some avenues of information and innovation exchange among law enforcement agencies in your region. Great ideas and plans can start at the local coffee shop.

Creating a high-performance organization is not a quick process, but it is essential that we are committed to the ideal, our members, and the constituency we serve. The stake is high: the delivery of vital policing services in the effort to maintain the law and order of our communities.

Gary Hoelzer is a captain with the Town and Country Police Department located in the St. Louis metro area. He is a graduate of the 205th Session of the FBI National Academy and is an adjunct professor at Maryville and Missouri Baptist Universities.

Published in Law and Order, Oct 2012

Rating : 3.5



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