Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Transforming the police - Part 1

Reno Gazette-Journal photo of Chief Steve Pitts

Building safer communities has many dimensions. Police leadership is one of them. I've blogged recently about one excellent example: Indian police Chief Kiran Bedi.

Here's another.

Next month, Reno Police Chief Steve Pitts retires from duty. So what! Police executives retire every day and drop off the public radar screen. Why should we care?

Unlike TV's RENO 911, the real Reno police have been progressively reforming into a community-based, problem-solving agency. A decade ago myself and Gerry Cleveland worked with Pitts (then Lieutenant) and his colleagues to create a new recruit field training program called Police Training Officer (PTO). Technical aspects of the program are described HERE.

A new video has been released called PTO is the answer. It provides testimonials from leading police executives about PTO success.

In the video, Louisville Police Chief Robert White says:

The whole premise behind policing, as far as I'm concerned, is crime prevention and the key to that is to have a relationship with the community…the PTO program with its core values, speaks to the importance of working with the community and making them part of the solution.

To provide scientific evidence, Pat Rushing at the University of Illinois is conducting a PTO Evaluation Study on the impact of PTO. Her preliminary results are remarkable.

PTO officers in her study were able to think creatively, solve problems in their community, complete their duties going beyond the basics and follow-up with members of the community. They searched for non-traditional solutions knowing they had the latitude to do so. Above all that, she writes, PTO turns out to serve as good leadership training.

Those familiar with traditional field training systems will appreciate the vast contrast between these PTO results and what is currently offered elsewhere. Since 2005, PTO has now led to a new transformation in police academy training called Police PBL: Blueprint for the 21st Century.

All good news, right? Not quite. So what's the problem? In short, fear. Specifically, fear of change. The departure of executives like Pitts leaves a vacuum too often filled by a new breed who return Back to the Future. That is dangerous.

We wish you well Steve Pitts. We just wish we didn't have to lose an ally.

Next blog: Where's the danger?

2 Replies so far - Add your comment

  1. I don't know if it's "fear" of change, but certainly there is an aversion. Too often in policing, it takes a crisis in order for an agency to initiate a needed change. We have seen this in agencies that have come to look at our PTO Program. "Thanks, but no thanks. This would be too disruptive to our agency, and besides, our FTO program is doing ok." Real leadership occurs when a chief executive promotes change even when things appear to be "ok." I know that one answer to this problem is a PBL course for chief executives. We couldn't make it happen here last year. Maybe someone on the coasts can give it another go.

  2. Thanks Tim. As usual, you cut to the chase.

    You are absolutely right about PBL for chief executives! Shame they didn't see the need. You are one of those excellent leaders you describe for attempting to bring that course forward.

    Interesting distinction between fear and aversion. The synonym for aversion includes abhorrence and disgust. So maybe you're right.

    To me abhorrence and disgust are rooted in clear-headed choice. I do not hear clear-headed thinking in the choice to avert away from PTO.

    Like you, what I hear is fear of "disrupting" the status quo. They think things are ok because they are not looking. They don't look because they don't want to see…and that is due to the irrational fear of those dark and secret monster hidden in the closets of our childhood - in this case that monster is change.

    I could be wrong. Maybe they are basing their view on research to the contrary. But, as there is no research to the contrary, I doubt it. I think you are right. It takes crisis to change something.

    For me the real monster in the closet is the inability to accept the reality of social change today: major police controversies this past year in Seattle, New Orleans, Chicago, New York; police-related urban riots the past decade or so in Los Angeles, St Petersberg FL, Seattle, Cincinnati and Oakland; and so on and so on.

    If that's the status quo, then it's time for change.


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