Can Police Be Improved?

Have you ever heard about continuous improvement? Of course you have. Most every religious or spiritual system has this value — we are to try to improve and keep on improving our lives and our relationships with others. We all ought to be striving in this direction. Right?

So why not our workplaces, too? Shouldn’t they be places that not only are continuously improving the products they make or services they provide? And what about the workplace itself — the inside. Shouldn’t our workplaces be continuously improving in the ways in which we work together, listen to each other, improve things, and create a place where each one of us can personally thrive? I mean, after all, we spend a good share of our life in the workplace.

Well, that’s what I also expect a democratic police to do — improve the way they deliver their services to citizens and, second, improve the atmosphere of, and relationships within their workplaces; that is, helping police officers grow and thrive so that can work even better on our behalf.

But can they be improved? And improved continuously? Can police be transformed into an agency that really does “protect and serve” everyone — and I mean everyone?  Is change really  possible? Or do the historically negative characteristics of police overwhelm any  improvement efforts?

Here’s an excerpt from my book:

“One of the problems inherent in changing any bureaucratic organization—whether it is the military, a corporation, or university—is that there are certain negative characteristics that always seem to infect its leadership. In the spring 2010 issue of The American Scholar, William Deresiewicz discussed this problem in a talk had given to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point the previous year:

Why is it so often that the best people are stuck in the middle and the people who are running things—the leaders—are the      mediocrities? Because excellence isn’t usually what gets you up the greasy pole. What gets you up is a talent for maneuvering. Kissing up to the people above you, kicking down to the people below you. Pleasing your teachers, pleasing your superiors, picking a powerful mentor and riding his coattails until it’s time to stab him in the back. Jumping through hoops. Getting along by going along. Being whatever other people want you to be, so that it finally comes to seem that…you have nothing inside you at all. Not taking stupid risks like trying to change how things are done or question why they’re done. Just keeping the routine going.

“I experienced the same thing, “keeping the routine going,” throughout my careers in the military, police, and now, church. It seems that bureaucracies breed mediocrity and are in short supply when it comes to developing creative approaches to their work. In short, these organizations are populated with those whose focus in life is pleasing their superiors, not asking questions, and, above all, not doing anything risky. The organization in which I worked and spent most of my professional life was an organization in which we tried to turn bureaucratic mediocrity on its head, demanded that employees ask questions, and rewarded those who took risks—an absolutely necessary step to improving police services and anything else!”

A cautionary note here: If we as a society give up on police, we have only ourselves to blame.

So, look for my book early in 2012 in which I outline how police organizations can continuously improve. How? We did it in Madison and it can be done in other cities as well!