Transformative Stories from Kalamazoo: Part 2

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

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

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