I work for a department with about 100 officers. I really love my job and feel like things are going pretty well in my career (I've been on the job for a little more than five years).
Recently, our department got a new chief, and he put a new emphasis on accountability and follow-through on calls. I don't have any problem with this, but our labor guys have been really talking the chief down and encouraging some officers to actually slow down their work efforts. They say that if the chief wants more, he should get us something for our trouble, and if he doesn't, we shouldn't do anything that will make the chief look better.
I just don't get it. I thought we were supposed to get out there and protect society and fight crime and all that stuff I felt so strongly about when I got hired. It seems like the "us and them" has changed from cops and crooks to street cops and management. Help me sort this out. I voted for the labor reps, but I just don't get where they're coming from. What's up with this?
Dedicated but Frustrated
Dear Dedicated but Frustrated:
A work slowdown? You're telling me someone in your organization thinks this is gonna make the chief look bad? That's one of the craziest things I've ever heard. Listen up: When someone looks at a chief, they're looking at how the whole department functions. A work slowdown might mean a slower response time to calls, but it also means fewer complaints, fewer uses of force, fewer pursuits and generally a drop in the reported crime rate. So, out of those five categories, the only one that looks even slightly bad for the chief is the response time to calls, and your chief can easily say this is a byproduct of more follow-through and accountability.
Let me break this down for you so you can explain it to the labor reps who have apparently confused police work with some sort of factory labor. You stop doing self-initiated police work and complaints, uses of force and pursuits will halt in all but a few instances. When cops don't get out of their cars and try to find crooks, there's no reason to run, fight or pitch a fit to the department. Then your new chief stands up and takes a bow because his leadership has led to a more professional and customer-service oriented department.
Now I know you're ranting and raving and thinking Bullethead has lost his primer because I also said the reported crime rate will drop. Stand clear of the firing line, son, because I'm about to empty the tubes on that one. I'm lucky enough to live in a place where I seldom see a black and white rolling past. This lack of a patrol presence does not matter where I live because my good neighbors aren't crooks. Thankfully, most of the world looks like my neighborhood, so a bunch of cops sitting in a parking lot engaging in a work slowdown matters about as much as a calorie counter in a donut shop. The same is true for the real hardcore, FBI-index, most-wanted types of crooks: They will commit their murders, rapes and so on with or without the police. The difference in the reported crime rate comes when hardworking cops go out and tear it up and in the process uncover all sorts of things that would generally never make the radar. By not doing so, your department will help its new chief to shine by lowering the reported crime rate along with the complaints, uses of force and pursuits.
I've served as an officer's association board member, and let me tell you, it can be one of the most thankless jobs in any department. There are plenty of police managers who hold grudges against board members and will do all they can to get back at them. There are also lots of cops who will not volunteer their own time to help out their fellow officers as a board member, but will quickly take their union's board to task for the slightest thing.
In my experience, there are many different types of boards but you can basically break them down into two: 1) your meet-and-confer boards, and 2) your pipe-swinger boards. The pipe swingers will take any issue and walk around swinging pipes at the heads of management until they get something done. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't, but it's always entertaining. It sounds like your board may be run by pipe swingers who have decided they don't like the new chief or his ideas about accountability.
I would start by focusing my attention on that. Why is the board against accountability? Don't your labor reps think the taxpayers in your town deserve to know what the department and the cops are doing? We all know public safety takes up the lion's share of any city budget, and if there isn't any accountability, why bother footing the bill?
And what exactly does the chief mean by accountability? Is he looking for statistics only, or more toward something like the NYPD did with their COMPSTAT system? With COMPSTAT, the NYPD charged its precinct commanders to directly address the problems in their assigned areas. They combined mapping and statistical information to track crime problems. This allowed for more effective use of personnel and for holding the precinct commanders accountable for addressing the crime problems in their areas.
The idea that departments should be held accountable to the public we serve is valid, and the NYPD's type of accountability is an excellent first step. Many smaller departments have taken this approach right down to the patrol-dog level by requiring beat accountability over the long haul and not just throughout each shift. I think this is a great idea that teaches younger cops how to track and address community issues and crime trends in their assigned areas. It also gives real accountability to the public and allows police management to figure out which cops try to solve crimes and which ones just want to look cool strutting around with a badge and a gun.
If it turns out your board actually has good reasons to make the chief look bad, I think your reps are way off target tactic-wise and should try the opposite approach. If you can convince every cop to hook every crook they come into contact with, you will work hard, produce stats and completely shut down the city. The radio calls will hold, and the chief's phone will blow up with angry citizens who could not get a cop to shut down a party when they wanted one. Uses of force, complaints and pursuits will go through the roof, and what's the chief going to say, "Stop arresting people?" I don't think so.
Uncover the chief's and the board's true motivations, and if the final word remains "down with the chief," go out and do it the fun way: Hook, book and fill those jail cells!
Got a question or complaint? Let Bullethead hear about it. He'll give you his opinion with both barrels.E-mail him at email@example.com or fax him at 619/699-6246.