Transformative Stories from Kalamazoo: Part 1

Unknown-2One Police Department’s Creative Commitment to Change Cop Culture: Part 1

[Editors Note: The following article is by Chuck Remsberg and from Force Science News #283,  and The Force Science Institute, Chicago.] 

For a heart-stopping moment during his foot pursuit of an ADW [Assault With a Deadly Weapon] suspect, a gang member with a long history of violence, Officer Rick McCall was a sitting duck.

His gunbelt hung up as he tried to scale a wobbly chain-link fence, pinning him at the top. The suspect lay on the ground five feet below, having fallen when he cleared the wire. Looking up at the officer, he grabbed the butt of a semiautomatic and pulled it from his waistband.

Then as he raised the gun, he recognized who’d been chasing him. “McCall!” he exclaimed, “I didn’t know it was you!” He laid the gun on the ground and after McCall extricated himself from the fence, submitted to handcuffing without resistance.

McCall of the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Department of Public Safety had arrested his near-assailant at least three times before. Chatting amiably on one of those occasions, they’d discovered they share the same birthday, a trivial coincidence the officer used to build rapport and a sense of respect between them.

Now walking to McCall’s patrol car, the suspect remarked, “Out of all the cops, you’ve always treated me decent.”

The R-word–Respect–is the lynchpin of an award-winning initiative in police-community relations underway in Kalamazoo, a diverse city of 75,000, with demographics and crime problems typical of today’s urban areas.

The approach there exemplifies a creative style of policing that capitalizes on conscious, surprising service as well as dedicated crime-fighting to build trust and cooperation for local law enforcement. And as demonstrated by Rick McCall’s dicey fence encounter last fall, officers are proving to be as much the beneficiaries of this quiet revolution as the city’s civilians.

As departments nationwide seek new ways to burnish their image with their constituents in the jarring wake of Ferguson and Baltimore, the growing successes of Kalamazoo’s community engagement practices are well worth examining.

BRAND BUILDING

The acknowledged driving force behind KDPS’s efforts is Capt. Jim Mallery, a 24-year department veteran who was named to head the agency’s Operations Division and its 153 patrol officers in 2013. He says he inherited something of a stagnant leadership culture and a “lot of new officers starving for direction” after a study of traffic stops revealed that minorities throughout the city were being targeted disproportionately for enforcement.

Mallery holds a degree in business administration from Western Michigan University and is the son of entrepreneurial parents who have run a profitable antiques mall for some 30 years. The idea of conducting patrol with a business perspective in mind intrigued him.

“I wanted officers to look at the department as a service business,” Mallery says. “Our product is the service we provide to our citizens and visitors. The emblems of our product are our badge and our shoulder patch. We build the reputation of our brand and customer loyalty to it contact by contact.”

The top priority of patrol is–and always should be–fighting and reducing crime, Mallery emphasizes. But informal polling convinced him that on average Kalamazoo officers rarely spent more than half their 12-hour shifts in enforcement activities. “That leaves plenty of time to find opportunities to provide exceptional service,” he told Force Science News.

“I wanted them to look for ways to serve that people don’t expect–something that would make my mother say, ‘Wow! I didn’t know cops did that.’ ”

In group work sessions and 1:1 conversations with supervisors and officers across seven weeks in the fall of 2013, Mallery conveyed his concepts. Communication techniques for building rapport and de-escalating conflicts were rehearsed in Verbal Defense & Influence instruction led by Force Science graduate Gary Klugiewicz of the Vistelar conflict management training group.

Mallery’s foundational concept was drilled and re-drilled: In both enforcement and service contacts, “everyone–everyone–needs to be treated with dignity and shown respect. Even in a use-of-force situation, after force has been appropriately used there’s a definitive moment when the subject deserves to be treated as you’d want a member of your family to be.”

The first groundbreaking “Wow Moment of Service” came that December.

BUS TROUBLE

With the outside wind chill temperature below zero, some 20 passengers waiting for a long-delayed Greyhound bus connection were about to be kicked out of the Kalamazoo transportation depot because it was closing time. The irate passengers, some who’d been traveling all day and some with small kids, balked; the attendant on duty wouldn’t budge; cops were called to deal with the troublesome impasse.

When Sergeant Dave Juday and Officer Larison Stuglik failed to persuade the attendant to allow an officer to stay with the group and lock up after the bus came, they didn’t just abandon the passengers to wait outside for more than two hours in the biting cold.

Instead, at Stuglik’s suggestion, Juday went to a nearby maintenance garage for the local transit system and convinced the supervisor to loan him an out-of-service city bus they could use as a warming shelter. Another responding officer, Kyle Ahrens, brought the stranded group food and water from McDonald’s, paid from his own pocket.

In continually speaking with their “guests,” the officers learned that two highly emotional college-age girls were trying to get to a hospital a hundred miles away to be with their dying grandmother. With clearance from Mallery, Stuglik volunteered to drive them in her patrol car, since the awaited Greyhound was still just a distant and uncertain hope. When the officers explained this special treatment to the other passengers, the group rose up in a standing ovation.

“Later, Sgt. Juday told me this was one of the most profound moments in his 13-year career,” Mallery says. “That night had a positive impact on all the officers’ hearts–the nobility of our job, our profession and what it stands for.”

PROFUSION OF “WOWS”

Since then, with officers urged to “look for every opportunity,” Wow Moments have flowed in a cascade of impromptu creativity, usually small, compassionate touches that cumulatively “build the brand.”

  • After officers busted the operator of a marijuana grow in an apartment house, they passed out coloring books to the children of other tenants. “The residents were very thankful,” Mallery notes.
  • At a crime scene where a burglar had kicked in a couple’s front door, officers used wood and tools that were in the house to fix the frame, then replaced the hinges, rehung the door, and moved disrupted furniture back in place. “Awesome,” the homeowner told the local media. “None of that was required of them. They’re not carpenters or movers.”
  • A sergeant encountered an English tourist who told him “she was enamored with the wail of our police sirens.” She was “ecstatic” when he helped her install the sound as a ring tone on her phone.
  • A woman was “very shaken up” when her car was egged as she stopped at an intersection. Responding officers had her drive to a precinct station, where, to her gratitude, they thoroughly cleaned her vehicle inside and out.
  • A couple showed up at the courthouse to get married, only to find the building closed because of a blizzard. Huddled in the police department lobby next door trying to figure out a Plan B, they were approached by an officer heading to his shift who happens to be ordained to perform weddings. To their delight, he conducted a quick ceremony in a conference room before roll call.

As motivation, Mallery enthusiastically describes legions of such incidents, along with examples of praiseworthy enforcement actions, in a back-patting bi-weekly bulletin that’s distributed to all Operations personnel. Officers are as eligible for formal commendations for “Wow Service,” including the city manager’s coveted All-Star Award, as for traditional police work, and can be recognized too with uniform ribbons and gift cards.

“Building a good brand is like maintaining a good marriage,” says Mallery. “You have to work at enhancing and solidifying it day after day, in small ways as well as large.”

AMPED UP CONTACTS

The captain has introduced a series of other innovative methods for significantly expanding positive police/citizen contacts. “Policing in a smarter way,” he puts it. These include:

Neighborhood canvassing.

In a geographically designated area of Kalamazoo, two teams, each consisting of a sergeant and an officer, are assigned to go door to door for a block apiece during each shift. After a seven-day saturation, the process is moved to a new territory. Mallery estimates it will take more than a year to cover the whole city.

“They tell people they’re there just to get connected to the community, not to conduct any investigation,” Mallery explains. “They try to get a feel for how people view the neighborhood, what they think about the police service they receive, how we might improve. The goal is to be cordial–and listen. The reaction is very often the same: ‘I didn’t know you did this.’ ”

Sometimes the return on this time investment is immediately tangible. As a team left one home where the adult male had initially seemed stand-offish, the man pressed a note into the sergeant’s hand. He’d written the name of the gunman in an unsolved gang shooting.

“I couldn’t believe you’d make us do this,” one veteran cop told Mallery. “I was at the point where I thought everyone was a shithead. Now I realize you can find good people even on the most hardened blocks. You’ve rejuvenated my career.” 

Follow-up calls.

Twice a month, sergeants are required to follow up on calls in their sectors, to elicit feedback on the service rendered by officers and the department. “In the private sector if you have a beef, you want to talk to the boss, and in policing, sergeants are the first level of leadership in contact with citizens,” Mallery explains.

These personal solicitations allow the department to “get a gauge on our product” from more than 400 “customers” each year. Most are complainants, victims, or witnesses. But Mallery insists that recent arrestees be interviewed too.

“No discipline comes from this, no entries in an officer’s file,” he says, “just a teaching moment if we get bad feedback.” (Of more than 100 arrestees contacted, incidentally, only seven have voiced negative comments, Mallery says.)

Operational explanations.

When a major incident–like a shooting, a raid, or an extended SWAT call-out–provokes a high-visibility police presence, supervisors are expected to go door-to-door in the vicinity to explain to residents what happened. “If six or eight squad cars show up at two o’clock in the morning,” Mallery says, “people maybe alarmed and wild rumors can start.” Candid communication can be calming and reassuring and help build trust in what he calls the “police/community partnership.”

Downtown meet-and-greet.

Starting last month, one officer at a time is pulled in from other areas of the city to spend an hour walking with a permanently assigned officer in Kalamazoo’s downtown mall area between 10 AM and 11 PM, chatting with business people and visitors. The idea, Mallery explains, is to greet people in a friendly manner under everyday circumstances, not on a traffic stop or a call for service when they might be in their worst moments.

“In debriefings,” he says, “every officer has come back with a positive story. In the past, it would have been all negative–the problems they had with drunks, and so on. Now they love this assignment, and some citizens say they’ve returned to shopping downtown for the first time in years because they know more police are there.”

RECOGNITION.

Last November, KDPS received the first annual Community Partnership Award from the Vistelar Group for “outstanding community relations, customer-oriented service, and non-traditional problem solving.”

Interviewed later by a news reporter, a sociology professor from a local university who specializes in studying race and ethnic relations noted that “compared to many other communities, [Kalamazoo police] are taking issues very seriously to make sure we don’t have a Ferguson on our hands.”

“Front-line officers and sergeants have embraced the initiatives with results that have far exceeded any expectations,” Mallery says. “They deserve the credit.”

So far, he acknowledges, the city has not been tested by a racially explosive encounter, but there have been officer-involved shootings that still could have spun bad.

Officers shot and killed a subject who was wielding an Airsoft gun, for example. Quickly afterward, Mallery’s troops conducted a “specifically targeted walk-and-talk” in which officers showed residents in the vicinity photographs of an Airsoft gun and a real weapon so they could better understand how a mistake-of-fact shooting could occur.

Moreover, crime in some of the most troublesome neighborhoods, including gun violence, has sharply declined, with some observers crediting the new policing approach with having an impact. For a newspaper report on this improvement, click HERE.

“IT’S TIME.”

Of course, much work remains to be done, Mallery admits, and his fertile mind is honing other initiatives he’s eager to try. Changing a culture, he says, is a matter of “eating an elephant one bite at a time.”

“Jim Mallery has made officers believe they can change things,” says Gary Klugiewicz, who keeps in close touch to provide support and brainstorm ideas. “Cops don’t only have to be enforcers, they can also be what Mallery calls ‘guardian servants.’

“Any department or any individual officer can buy into this approach. They just have to decide it’s time. With everything that’s going on these days, this is where policing needs to be.”

  • For more information, Capt. Mallery can be reached at: malleryj@kalamazoocity.org.
  • To watch a free 35-minute podcast about the changes he has effected, CLICK HERE
  • For information on Gary Klugiewicz’s Verbal Defense & Influence training, go to: www.vistelar.com