Monday, February 21, 2011

Transforming the police - Part 2

Scene from "PTO is the Answer"

The last blog was on change. A gulf exists today between two policing styles. The Back to the Future crowd want traditional roles: just the facts ma'am; answer-the-call-and-move-on; tactics and weapons. I call them Combat Cops (no slight of professional military is intended).

Combat cops live in a past long gone. They cling to a simplicity that was never there. In the 9/11 era, this style receives funding and attention. I have blogged on this HERE.

Conversely the problem-solving crowd wants critical thinkers. Emergency response is balanced with finding community partners to solve difficult crime problems. I call them the Community Cops.

Why does this matter?

Over a hundred police agencies have adopted the new police training officer program (PTO) described in the previous blog. Over the years a few agencies have dropped PTO. Sometimes they were combat cop agencies. Sometimes they were taken over by leaders sympathetic to combat cop values. In every case they offered up sneers for PTO unaware that isn’t the same as offering up a legitimate critique.

This is dangerous to community safety. Why?

A University of Illinois PTO evaluation study discovered that survey respondents who rejected PTO were worried about the "development of a soft or kind and gentle officer":

"Survey and focus group respondents reported a preference for the officer who responds to a call, prescribes guidance, and serves as report takers, not an officer who collaborates with members of the community or utilizes its resources to solve problems."


You mean like in the 1960s, the good old days of Dragnet? Or, perhaps Terminator 3: The Rise of The Machines?

Dichotomies are fictions. There are critical thinkers who retain tactical skills and combat cops who solve problems. The danger here lies in a pendulum swinging toward the latter and away from the former.

Police leaders in the video PTO is the answer, get how PTO strikes a balance. They get how powerful values (combat vs community) derail forward motion. Far too many executives don't. They cling to the past.

The Police Society for Problem Based Learning promotes PTO

Research about PTO and video testimonials isn't enough to convince Combat Cops. As Rick Shenkma says in Just How Stupid Are We? given the choice between a harsh truth and a comforting myth, most people will choose the latter.

Two of the leaders in the video have retired (Reno’s Ronald Glensor and Charlotte’s Darryl Stevens). Reno’s current Chief will be gone next month. What will happen next? Which path will the next regime follow?

9 Replies so far - Add your comment

Anonymous said...

If it were easy...

PTO has been a long and rewarding journey for our organization. We were at risk of losing our program until it became painfully clear that we were producing better police officers. It turned out (for us) that managers liked cops who thought critically and solved problems. For the managers this meant officers who were mentally self-sufficient after field training (Didn't phone the boss asking what to do after every call.).

I suspect that producing a better police officer ultimately appeals to Combat Cops (The best spend a significant amount of time honing mental skills.); however we tend to get bogged down in symantics or run into implementation issues. Which is the great news with the National PTO Academy; they are spending a significant amount of their resources preparing potential PTO agencies through implementation training.


GSaville said...

"Mentally self-sufficient". I love that phrase, Josh. You should write something about that idea. It's an idea we need to know much more about, especially in policing.

I hope the National PTO Academy is correct in believing implementation training is the key to success. I think it may be one of the keys. But ultimately I believe the best way to unlock that door of resistance is to develop the kind of reform-minded and courageous leader who will insist on community cop values.

I wonder: is it possible to develop that kind of courage?

Thanks for the thoughts.

Tim Hegarty said...

Since Part I of this blog entry, I have been trying to think about why agencies reject PTO, or for that matter something else near and dear to my heart- evidenced based policing. I keep coming back to the word "danger." In the case of PTO, what is the danger? Is it as simple as not want cops to think for themselves? I vividly remember sitting in a staff meeting with a previous chief of police. He learned that as part of a POP project, a line officer had contacted a local school district administrator. He was red-in-the-face angry, and he ordered that no one under the rank of captain should ever initiate such contact. Or the case of another administrator I knew. While he generally accepted the idea that the police can make a difference in reducing crime, to acknowledge that publically might mean that the public would actually expect results from the police, and if results weren't produced, the agency would lose the public's support. Could it all be about fear of failure? Of ridicule because we colored outside of the lines?

One might excuse fear and misunderstanding about PTO. Aferall, it is barely a decade old. For over 30 years, however, we have known that random patrol and rapid response to calls for service have no impact on crime, and yet does that not remain the dominant mode of policing in the US?

As cynical as it sounds, I'd be willing to bet that if the letters PTO were preceded by the letters IACP or CALEA, it would sell like hotcakes. Then again, a nicely pre-packaged "program" like that would be doomed to failure. PTO has to be arrived at through trial and error, failure and success, a messy struggle for the heart and sole of an agency.

In the end, maybe it's just got to be the way that is. Sorry for rambling. My mind is a river of thoughts.

GSaville said...

Thanks Tim.

Aside from the odd scenario and a smattering of group work, most academies remain mired in sage-on-the-stage. War stories get slathered on unsuspecting recruits like butter on toast. Inserted into this edu-muck are multiple choice tests and checklists in the bizarre pretense that recruits actually transfer these skills on the street.

The reality is this: Recruits must learn all over again, from scratch, when their field training officer says: "Forget everything you learned at the academy. This is when your training begins."

It's the triumph of myth over logic.

You tell a fascinating story, ending with: "No one under captain should contact the community?" I hate polemics, so forgive me, but I just cannot resist saying:


IACP or CALEA? Maybe you are right. Then again, IACP and CALEA have been around for ages and have done nothing to truly upgrade police training.

In order to sell PBL to the combat cop crowd you need eye-candy…GPS tracking sensors, infra-red glasses, and robots. Oh wait - they already have those things!

I love your phrase "a messy struggle for the heart and soul of an agency!" That is a poetic truism if there ever was one. Well done.

Anonymous said...

The University of Illinois is right on target with their conclusion but forgot to include one other very important factor; “the ability of police organizations to sustain a long term focus due to the nature of the policing culture and changes in leadership.”

Any traditional police organization that truly undertakes the transition from a reactive to a more proactive crime prevention service delivery model must undertake a long term change management – change leadership process that not only must restructure the organization but change the very thinking of their individual members. The latter being the most important in that most police organizations being a service related industry are primarily made up of people. If you do not change the thinking of your people then you have not changed anything.

I personally see the greatest risk at the top leadership level that shifts its focus due to an actual change in personnel or needs a new and sexy flag to fly to their oversight body. Most police services do not have the long term mechanisms to sustain change management processes that may extend well past ten years. Unfortunately policing itself is the most significant challenge to meaningful changes and as usual our communities suffer.

Greg Mills

GSaville said...

Thanks Greg. You write about "the ability of police organizations to sustain a long term focus". How true. You know what goes on in the business world? Something happens to businesses that fail to sustain progressive change in a changing environment; They go bankrupt!

If only policing was accountable like that.

You say: "I personally see the greatest risk at the top of the leadership level". Ironically you, and others in your executive like your Chief, are among the most progressive in the country. You have sustained the PTO program for years and have embarked on the difficult multi-year journey to transform your learning center toward PBL.

You should write a book on how that's done! We all need to learn from the real leaders in the profession.

Tim Hegarty said...

Change can happen, and our own agency is a testament to that. For most of our existence, we were the very model of a traditional policing agency. Then in 2006, we began implementing the PTO. It almost didn't survive the first year because while we were training officers to be problem solvers, we required them to be merely report takers once they were on their own. Somewhere along the line, a paradigm shift took place, and I'm still not sure exactly how it happened. PTO is now firmly entrenched, we have developed evidence-based policing strategies, and crime is down nearly 20% in two years. For 2011, we are forming problem solving groups to address chronic crime places (we already have a repeat offender progrem for chronic offenders).

This is not to suggest we are a model agency. We are still struggling in some capacity with most every aspect of our operations, but at least now we expect to struggle and sometimes fail, and to quote Stuart Smalley, "that's ok."
We are proof that change can happen, and it's that experience that's worthwhile to share.

GSaville said...

Thanks again Tim for the insight.

I am intrigued by your plan to form problem solving groups to address chronic crime places. In synch with the "community-learning cohort" methods in PBL/PTO, it may be worth asking how many "outsiders" you have as members of your problem-solving groups?

Ironically, by "outsiders" I'm referring to community residents, business owners, property managers, community leaders, and other branches of municipal government. In other words, the very people "inside" the community who actually know how to solve those chronic crime places.

Reaching outside police organizations to authentically share decision-making and problem-solving with others! That's the true mark of the 21st Century "community cop" (vs combat cop) organization!

Your example clearly shows how change can happen in policing. My own impatience sometimes obstructs me from seeing that. Thanks for the reminder.

Tim Hegarty said...

If this link works, it will take you to the rubric we have developed for our problem solving groups. It's a work in progress, and it's not fully formatted yet, but it represents a big step forward for us.