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Autumn 1995
   
How to Run a Police Department
George L. Kelling
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From Plato in Athens to Police Commissioner William Bratton in New York, experts on public order have ceaselessly worried over one key problem: how to control the police who maintain that order. Truly, it's a conundrum. The police, unlike almost everyone else in American society, are commissioned to use force, even deadly force. But unlike other groups licensed to use force—prison guards, say, or soldiers—they are not sequestered in prisons or on bases. They don't operate in groups under close command. They are dispersed throughout society. And as they patrol the streets unsupervised, singly or in pairs, their power exposes them to mighty temptations.

Citizens and politicians constantly urge them to "do something, now," about drugs, crime, and violence. Hampered by constricting criminal procedures, and at times by the lack of authority or resources, officers feel pressure (even from the administrators of their own departments) to do "what has to be done"—that is, to abuse their authority by settling matters with their own version of street justice. In addition, police become enmeshed with society's most troubled and most needy, as well as with its most vicious and most depraved. Their immersion in the world of vice and misery can breed cynicism and contempt for those around them and can tempt them to commit crimes like accepting payoffs not to enforce the law or even shaking down drug dealers.

Recently, Commissioner Bratton has had more reason than ever to ponder this problem: even as his aggressive anti-crime push has dramatically cut the city's crime rate—with murder down an astonishing 32 percent and robbery down 22 percent—the NYPD's well-publicized instances of lawlessness and corruption in the 30th Precinct, along with officers' unwillingness to finger their colleagues who made a drunken shambles out of a Washington police convention, have dramatized just how hard it is even for a successful top cop to keep his troops in line. The solution Bratton brings to that problem is as innovative and promising as his crime-busting strategies.

In fact it is, at bottom, the same strategy. If you can devise ways of reducing crime that work dramatically, most police officers will find success so gratifying that their own self-image, their pride in being part of a winning organization, will serve as an internal bar to misbehavior. If you set up a managerial structure that keeps everyone focused on the department's core crime-reducing mission, that in itself will go far to controlling officers. And if you make sure officers have the legal tools to do the job properly, they won't feel pressure to exceed their authority, and they won't develop the cynicism that comes from trying to do a job whose requirements are in irreconcilable conflict.

But here's the rub: this winning strategy is so far in advance of the conventional wisdom that New York State's legislators and judges don't begin to understand it. In June the State Legislature, pushed by the state's judiciary, blunderingly passed a little-noticed amendment to the budget that inadvertently stripped New York cops of the legal authority they need to police in Bratton's twenty-first-century style. New York City officials are scrambling to undo the Legislature's blunder, which threatens to subvert the city government's biggest success in years. As Bratton told me, "If this is not corrected, it has the potential to undermine the whole effort."

Bratton's solution to the problem of control flies in the face of an orthodoxy that goes at least as far back as the early twentieth century. Since then, the effort to prevent corruption and control officers has shaped virtually every aspect of police organization, administration, and tactics. By mid-century, police and political leaders throughout the United States had established a rigidly hierarchical command structure designed for this purpose, a structure that remains in place today.

Rules and regulations cover every conceivable aspect of organizational life. Extensive training socializes not just recruits but also seasoned personnel. Until recently, departments kept officers in cars to prevent "contamination" by citizen contact, and regulations prohibited cops from making drug arrests, so as to forestall seduction by the mountains of money involved in drug dealing. A central 911 emergency call system screens requests for police service to ensure that individual officers aren't asked to do improper things. A powerful, secretive internal affairs bureau penetrates every nook and cranny to guard against corruption. And police administrators have tried to restrict cops to dealing with only the most serious crimes, since enforcement of laws against minor crimes like panhandling and disorderly conduct plunges patrol officers into ambiguity and requires them to exercise considerable discretionary judgment.

Given all these tools of control and socialization, managers should be able to shape a powerful, unified culture that would dominate their departments and prevent corruption. But no. Instead, police departments—the NYPD included—have two separate cultures: the cop culture and the management culture. The cop culture's most visible manifestation is the blue curtain—the protective allegiance of cops to one another, their in-the-trenches loyalty that places a higher value on solidarity and protecting comrades than on professional standards of conduct. But the cop culture, as researcher Elizabeth Reusslanni has shown, is more than that. Penetrating deep into police departments, it shapes how cops view citizens, public managers, and their work. Line officers believe that managers' only concern is getting ahead, and that they have "sold out" to politicians, the media, civilians, and others who don't understand "real" police work, with its constant ambiguity and relentless pressure to "do something, now." Officers believe they are on their own, forced to do society's dirty work with little understanding from the public and little support from their leaders.

Recent internal surveys in the NYPD confirm the deep-rootedness of this culture: 91 percent of patrol officers believe the public has little understanding of police problems; 75 percent disagree with the statement that the police and the community have a good relationship; 81 percent agree with the statement that the public believes that police use too much force; and 72 percent disagree with the statement that the Internal Affairs Bureau is fair to police officers and exonerates them when they're innocent.

How do such cynical views perpetuate themselves? Why do so many of the idealistic young men and women who enter policing turn against their organizations and citizens and tolerate corruption and brutality?

We can begin to answer these questions by looking more carefully at officers' experiences as they do their jobs. Take a concrete scenario: a police officer sees a cabdriver and a patron in a dispute. It is vehement and might erupt into violence. A good officer will step in and resolve the dispute. That's the end of it. No crime has occurred; no arrests. Officially, nothing has happened. Although the event does not exist officially, it is typical of routine police work: relatively unremarkable events that have the potential for mayhem but that the officer exercising skill and good judgment can resolve without fanfare.

Now change the scenario slightly. Suppose the officer ignores the dispute, and it turns violent. Then the officer moves in and makes an arrest or two. Something official has now occurred. According to the traditional law-enforcement view, the officer has achieved a valued outcome by arresting someone—never mind that the officer ignored his responsibility to keep the peace. The officer who does his job well goes unrecognized, because nothing has happened officially, while the negligent officer gets credit for an arrest.

Change the scenario again, and it becomes apparent that the officer's incentives are even more perverse. Suppose the officer intervenes in a potential conflict, and something untoward happens—the officer makes a mistake, or one of the disputants is dead-set to cause trouble. One of the disputants files a complaint against the officer. Then too the event becomes official, at considerable risk to the officer's career. We begin to see the officer's dilemma: not only is the vast majority of his work unofficial, unrecognized, and unrewardable, but the official outcome of much of his work can only be trouble.

The patrol officer's dilemma goes deeper still. Many police believe that managers exploit them by sending double messages. Thus—to use an example well-known in policing—when the message comes down to cops from on high, "Bums are bothering secretaries in the park; don't do anything illegal, but get them outta there," officers nod and smile ruefully. They understand the real message: "Do what you gotta do and cover your ass." Doing "what you gotta do"—whether dealing with vagrants, drug dealers, squeegee men, or whoever—is tacitly understood in policing as an underhanded deal in which police use illegal means to accomplish what may be a desirable goal. This dilemma has progressively deepened since the 1960s, as the courts, under militant pressure from groups like the New York Civil Liberties Union, have outlawed many traditional and appropriate techniques of maintaining order.

More than anything else, the disparities between "official" police work and actual police work are what breed frustration, cynicism, stress, and a wary, isolated culture among officers. When officers say that "citizens don't understand" or "you had to be there to understand," when they view citizens as actual or potential enemies, they are expressing their deep frustration at a system in which success or humiliation can so often be based on random luck, departmental politics, or wildly unpredictable encounters with citizens.

A recent example from New York City illustrates the kind of administrative action that breeds rank-and-file cynicism. In 1989, Robert Kiley, then chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, asked transit police management to develop plans to deal with the "homeless" problem in the subways. (This was a misnomer: the problem was the illegal disorderly behavior of individuals who mostly were not homeless.) After fussing about what they couldn't do, police managers proposed that maintenance crews should go into subways with high-power hoses to "clean" the areas in which the "homeless" congregated. Police, in support of "cleaning" operations, would eject the "homeless." This, of course, was a transparent ruse designed to evade serious constitutional, moral, and practical concerns. Officers were keenly aware of the duplicity and the risk for them. When things went wrong, the "white shirts," as officers called managers, would either be closeted in their offices or nicely home in bed, while line officers would face the glare of cameras and the wrath of advocates. Officers could hardly look to management for support and protection. Instead, they would do what they had to and pull the blue curtain around their activities. Happily, Kiley rejected the idea.

Police pundits have argued that the self-protective culture of line officers persists because police managers don't carry out their control strategy very well. Managers, for their part, blame police unions—though the blue curtain long predated unionization. But in fact the cop culture is an understandable though troubling response to the simple reality that the management practices that have dominated policing for most of the twentieth century don't work.

As Bratton understands, the control strategy is fundamentally flawed. And for a simple reason: most police activities are not under the control of central administrators at all. To be sure, the command-and-control paradigm of management has an impeccable pedigree. From Adam Smith through Frederick Taylor to General Motors, the principles of task routinization and simplification, the assembly line, and bureaucratic notions such as layers of control, span of control, and extensive rules and regulations were at the forefront of organizational thinking. Yet however well this model once worked in factories, it has never worked well in police departments.

After all, police work cannot be broken into simple tasks. Police deal with extraordinarily complex human interactions. Furthermore, police work cannot be scrutinized by overseers. Most police work is performed either by an officer alone or with a partner. The nature of their work requires officers to make fine judgments, often in dangerous and confusing circumstances, usually by relying on their internalized values, knowledge, and skills rather than on direct oversight.

In ignoring these factors, police leaders have constructed control systems that leave the vast majority of police work uncontrolled. Departmental regulations are the most obvious example. Up to 80 percent of rules cover the internal manners and mores of the organization: issues like wearing uniforms, filling out forms, saluting, and handling property. The rest deal with very important but rare events: use of force, hot pursuit, and processing arrests. When sociologist Egon Bittner asks indignantly, "What has all of this to do with policing?" he is only slightly exaggerating, since actual police work consists primarily of helping people manage crises and conflicts. Most police officers, for their part, would give a cynical answer to Bittner's question: "What all these rules and regulations have to do with police work is that they can be used to 'get' officers when they make a mistake or when things go wrong and it gets publicity."

Nonetheless, in the 1960s and 1970s a conventional wisdom developed not only among police managers and policy makers but also within the elites and the press. The reflexive solution to every police problem was more centralization and stronger controls. Even chiefs who wish to move away from the command-and-control paradigm can't, for fear that they'll be labeled "soft" on corruption. In New York City's current public debate about how to deal with corruption, this centralizing impulse goes largely unchallenged. The only question is how to do it: one side of the debate favors strengthening the Internal Affairs Bureau; the other, instituting a system of external review.

We can't solve the problem, however, merely by pointing out that traditional control measures don't work. Somehow, line police must be controlled. Although the forces that corrupt police may change over time-machine politics yesterday, drug money today—they are always powerful. But paradoxically, the only way to control police effectively is not to focus primarily on controlling them. Instead, police departments must concentrate with utter dedication on their principal mission: preventing crime and keeping order. If managers win officers' commitment to that primary goal, cops' own internal values will make them resist corruption as inconsistent with the kind of officer they are dedicated to being.

Evidence is accumulating that Commissioner Bratton's new solutions to the problem, based on this principle, are beginning to work. As Harvard criminologist Mark H. Moore describes it, the trick for any leader trying to change an organization radically—to transform its culture so completely that employees feel a profoundly changed relation to the whole enterprise—is to find methods of change that will shake the organization it to its core. Bratton has done this in two ways: by sending a powerful message to his officers about their work, and by devolving authority down so as to encourage creativity, while establishing a process to hold key staff accountable. In important instances, he uses the same technique to achieve both goals.

First, the message. Bratton has made sure that everyone understands the business of the NYPD: to reduce crime—not just a little, a lot. ("Think bold," he said shortly after taking office. "I don't want a 2 to 3 percent reduction in crime this year—I want 15 to 25 percent." And he got it.) Police can reduce crime now, within constraints—they needn't wait for new cars or computers, more cops, bigger budgets, or more overtime. But meanwhile, of course cops should have semiautomatic weapons, because they deserve the best equipment and, with training, they can be trusted to use it properly. Cops deserve smart-looking uniforms—and should wear them smartly—because they represent both the city and the profession. When cops come under criticism for doing their job properly, as they do on occasion, they deserve wholehearted support.

Bratton also sends strong messages about his disgust with corrupt police. When cops are corrupt, the commissioner goes out to arrest and publicly shame them—taking their shields, symbolic of their oaths, from them personally. Reinforcing the message, Deputy Commissioner Jack Maple reminds police over and over: "Do not lie to get an arrest." If an officer inadvertently conducts an illegal search, he should admit it. "Don't start making things worse by inventing stories like: 'The bag of white powder was sitting on the front seat alongside the driver when I made the traffic stop.' Don't ruin your career by escalating a simple mistake into perjury."

Bratton's most powerful message is about the seamless web that connects disorder, fear, serious crime, and urban decay. He makes the Broken Windows argument that James Q. Wilson and I developed: disorder and petty crimes, left untended, signal that no one cares, and lead to fear, serious crime, and urban decay.

Broken Windows flies in the face of the assumption that serious crime is the only proper business of the police, an assumption that unites two utterly opposite ideologies: the traditional law-enforcement view of the police as crime solvers and felon catchers, and the radical individualism of the sixties that tolerated all forms of nonviolent deviance, lawful or not. The Broken Windows theory emphasizes instead that the best way to prevent major crimes and urban decay is to target minor crimes—panhandling, youths taking over parks, prostitution, public drinking, and public urination. Bratton's message goes something like this: People should not urinate publicly (or drink in public, or engage in prostitution, and so on). If they do, cite them. If they do it again, arrest them. If they appear to be carrying a weapon, search them; and, in any case, question them about other neighborhood problems. (Police ask suspects questions like: Do you know where to get a gun? Do you know where to buy drugs?) If information about other problems surfaces, relentlessly pursue it.

For many officers, steeped in the traditional police culture, this is a hard sell. In their minds, they are so busy dealing with "important" problems that they can't be bothered with trivial offenses, regardless of how bothersome they are to citizens. Real policing is arresting felons.

But now the NYPD troops are buying Bratton's message. Anecdotes about how well the policy works abound in the department, passed on from cop to cop with the same enthusiasm that transit police felt five years ago when they started arresting fare-beaters at the orders of their then-boss, Bratton, and discovered that these seemingly inconsequential lawbreakers often turned out to be carrying illegal weapons. In the 9th Precinct, a man arrested for public urination provided information about a neighbor who was handling stolen property, especially guns. Police arrested the man and recovered a stash of weapons.

What makes these experiences in the NYPD so convincing, even in advance of formal research, is that the department itself has called the shots. It publicly declared it would improve the quality of life in New York, and it is doing so—the virtual elimination of the squeegee nuisance is just one example. It said it would take guns off the streets, and preliminary evidence suggests that it is doing so: in August 1995, for instance, the proportion of arrested suspects who were carrying guns was 39 percent lower than two years earlier. The department has said that taking guns off the streets would reduce violent crime, and statistics show that it has. Because its successes are not random, it's hard to attribute them to luck or to anonymous "larger forces," such as demographics.

One place where the NYPD calls its shots is in its published anti-crime strategies. Distributed to everyone in the department from sergeants and up, political leaders, journalists, and interested members of the public, the strategies target specific issues: illegal guns, youth violence, domestic violence, quality-of-life crimes, and police corruption. "Police Strategy No. 5: Reclaiming the Public Spaces of New York" puts forward the underlying premise of New York's anti-crime strategy: "By working systematically and assertively to reduce the level of disorder in the city, the NYPD will act to undercut the ground on which more serious crimes seem possible and even permissible." It then goes on to document particulars: precinct commanders will have the authority to maintain order and will be free to conduct their own operations against prostitution, 'boom box cars," sales of liquor to minors, and other forms of disorder. It's crucial that the department is enhancing individual officers' authority to control such problems, first, by allowing them to arrest persistent offenders; second, by seeking new legal tools, such as antipanhandling ordinances; and third, by training officers in the use of civil procedures, like injunctions and nuisance-abatement laws (for which the thresholds of evidence are different from those of criminal laws), to deal with problems such as crack houses and prostitution.

These published strategies amount to a contract between the NYPD's leadership, its officers, and the citizens of New York. They expose citizens to departmental thinking while communicating directly to patrol officers what the department expects of them and what steps the department will take to achieve its goals—steps that can be monitored by those who will be accountable for success or failure. They commit the department to report publicly on the results of its efforts.

Police officers may be buying Bratton's strategy, but neither the Legislature nor New York's judges seem to have any idea what lies behind the city's amazing drop in crime on Bratton's watch. In the name of cost reduction, they have pulled the rug out from under Bratton's winning methods. Judges persuaded legislators that having the criminal courts deal with minor offenses against public order is costly and inefficient. The courts, they claimed, could save $1 million a year by moving such offenses to administrative rather than criminal jurisdiction. The more likely reason is that judges feel as reluctant to deal with such seemingly trivial dirty work as cops were before Bratton won them over. In any event, legislators bought the argument and made the change, which took effect October 1.

The result: New York's cops have lost their principal tool for order keeping. Until October 1, officers could control public drunkenness or public urination or squeegeeing because they could arrest people who failed to answer summonses for such offenses. They could require people they stopped for such offenses to identify themselves and could then check if they had any warrants outstanding. But with these offenses moved to administrative jurisdiction, cops have lost the authority to make arrests. They can hand out tickets, but if offenders don't answer them, as most don't, police can do ... nothing. Nor can officers compel offenders to identify themselves. As a practical matter, the Legislature has made the laws against such offenses unenforceable.

New York City officials are desperately trying to repair this incalculable damage. The NYPD's legal staff is scrambling to identify other sources of authority to arrest people for some of these offenses: public urination, for instance, may qualify as a misdemeanor violation of the health code. Officials persuaded the City Council to restore some offenses to criminal jurisdiction by elevating them from administrative offenses to misdemeanors. But the Council refused to recriminalize the most important offenses to the Bratton strategy—such as public urination, drunkenness, and squeegeeing. Officials have asked the Legislature to reconsider the change, and meanwhile they have asked the courts to stay the new arrangement. If nothing is done, the Legislature will have committed its biggest offense against the public interest in many years. "It's obvious," Bratton says, "that judges and legislators haven't gotten the message from citizens that police departments have."

Drawing upon the re-engineering experience of private industry, Bratton has made changes in the department's management structure that aim to do much more than merely cure bureaucratic paralysis and organizational bloat. The crucial goal is to create a unified police culture that both empowers officers to do police work and ensures that they will do if properly—reflexively, out of habit. Bratton's most important move has been to push decision making downward, under the assumption that the closer to the ground the decision makers are, the more likely that they will be focused on and responsive to neighborhood needs. The most natural level of decision making seems to be the precincts, geographical entities with histories and traditions. With 200 to 400 employees, they are small enough that commanders can wrap their minds around them.

Consequently, Bratton has moved aggressively to devolve authority to precincts. Early in his tenure he sent the message that the NYPD's most capable mid-managers would head precincts. The transfer of power from the department's 55 chiefs to these new precinct commanders has been real. Frank Hartmann, director of Harvard's Criminal Justice Program, has conducted focus groups with precinct commanders to help Bratton understand their problems. Hartmann has described to me the heady, almost giddy experience that young and highly motivated commanders are having with their newly acquired power to administer their districts. In response to concerns commanders have voiced in these focus groups—lack of some basic equipment, uncertain authority, staff scheduling problems, lack of support from specialized police units—chiefs, the commanders' superiors, now guarantee that legitimate needs will be met in a specified way, by a specified date, and in ways that satisfy the precinct commanders. This idea, picked up from business, is another revolution in police thinking.

How will police leaders ensure that precinct captains' new authority will be used to implement Bratton's strategy to prevent crime and keep cops clean? In the NYPD, a powerful new management tool—crime control strategy meetings—has become the primary means of translating Bratton's vision of policing into action and of holding precinct commanders, as well as other personnel, accountable. These dramatic meetings have not only captured the imagination of the NYPD; they have attracted attention around the world. Mayors, police chiefs, and scholars from San Diego to Singapore to Saudi Arabia have come crowding into the NYPD's meeting room to learn firsthand how this new technique works.

Participation in the three-hour, twice-weekly meetings is mandatory for all 76 precinct commanders, super-chiefs, deputy commissioners, and borough chiefs. In the department's high-tech command and control center, the operational "guts" of the NYPD during riots or other calamities, a lectern beneath a huge projection screen looks out over tables arranged in a U. A placard to the left of the screen lists the "4 Steps to Crime Reduction" in bold print: "Accurate & Timely Intelligence; Rapid Deployment; Effective Tactics; Relentless Follow-Up & Assessment." To the right hangs the slogan, "We're not just report takers; we're the police." Along the sides of the U sit a dozen or so precinct commanders and the detective lieutenants from the borough that will be the focus of this particular meeting. At the end of the U, Chief of Detectives Charles Reuther, Chief of Patrol Louis Anemone, Chief of Narcotics Patrick Harrnett, Chief of Organized Crime Control Martin O'Boyle, and Deputy Commissioner Maple (specially appointed by Bratton and known by everyone to be one of his closest and most loyal sidekicks) face the speaker at the lectern. Around the sides of the room sit or stand representatives of schools, district attorneys' offices, and the parole department, along with heads of NYPD special units and support staff. Outside observers fill out the standing-room-only space. Maple runs the meetings: whether he is sick, hoarse, or simply exhausted from being called out in the middle of the night, the show will go on.

Steaming coffee cups in hand, people flow into the room to typical cop talk: aggressive humor, teasing. Maple calls the meeting to order—on time. The banter stops. The first of the five or so precinct commanders to speak on any given day takes the lectern. On the screen above appears every conceivable bit of information about the commander's precinct: the crime rate over time as reflected by index crimes (murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, larceny, and car theft); arrest data; shooting victims and incidents; lists of precinct residents who are on parole or have felony or parole warrants outstanding; and data on summonses for quality-of-life violations like public drinking and public urination. A map of the precinct displays the geographical distribution and clustering of crimes. Meeting participants receive printouts that include data about precinct citizen complaints, overtime, and the proportion of calls for service that prove unfounded (if too large, it's a signal that the precinct commander may be cooking the books to make the crime rate appear lower than it is). A picture of the precinct commander, along with background information about him, appears in the upper-right corner of the printout, making clear who is in charge and has to answer for what's happening in the precinct.

A few minutes into the commander's presentation, Maple begins to probe: "Your commercial robberies are up. How many of the robberies are kids stealing cupcakes? How many are guys walking in with Uzis?" The commander begins to unpack the robberies, describing them in detail. He tries to get back to the formal presentation, but Maple continues to scrutinize the data. "What about household burglaries? They're down." The commander shoots back: "Yeah, we got wind of about four really active burglars, so we targeted on them." He provides details about how the police recognized the pattern, gathered information, devised a plan, and made arrests. The commander's peers break into applause.

Another commander steps up to the podium. "You had eight rapes this month, four above last year," Maple says. "What's going on?" The commander begins disaggregating: "Four rapes involved friends and family, one was a date rape, and three were stranger rapes. Two of those appear to be the work of one person." Maple turns to the detective lieutenant assigned to the precinct and standing beside the commander. "Tell me about the investigation." The lieutenant moves to the podium and describes the investigation. Maple interrupts and addresses another precinct commander seated at the table: "You had a similar problem a couple of months ago, didn't you? How did you handle it?" Later in the presentation, while discussing auto theft, the commander asks if it's legal to stop tow trucks towing cars (a common method of theft). Several people call out a jumble of opinions. Maple cuts them off. Nodding to the head of the legal department, he guarantees the captain a quick response: "We're not sure. Legal will get back to you with an answer by the end of the day." Finally, after half an hour or so, Maple allows the commander to wrap up his presentation.

Before he steps down, though, the commander recognizes two patrol officers: "I would like to introduce officers Jacques Guillois and John Bakke. Recently we were having particularly vicious robberies in Queens and Brooklyn.

Crime analysis identified that robbery pattern 27 in Queens and 40 in Brooklyn were virtually identical. [The NYPD assigns a number to every robbery pattern—mode of operation, number of offenders, descriptions, and so on.] There were also similar robberies in Nassau County. The violence was worsening with each robbery: it was only a matter of time until someone was killed. We convened a special crime control strategy meeting [of super-chiefs, borough chiefs, precinct commanders, heads of special units, and Nassau police]. We shared information and developed a coordinated response. We alerted units in Brooklyn, Queens, and Nassau County. Officers Guillois and Bakke, while patrolling in an unmarked car, recognized the license number [which had been identified in the robbery patterns], stopped the car, and arrested two persons—the driver for being unlicensed and the passenger for having three bags of marijuana. Guillois and Bakke arranged for a lineup so that a victim could make a positive identification. The pair was identified as the robbers we were looking for by a Burger King employee. Officers Guillois and Bakke, please stand up."

Along with the rest of the participants and the audience, chiefs, super-chiefs, rise and applaud—applaud patrol officers. The officers have been assigned to a month of special duty in the detective unit, a career-enhancing honor.

In another case, participants in a meeting were perplexed by a burglary pattern in Washington Heights: burglars were concentrating on cable TV boxes. Maple and Anemone pushed the issue, instructing the commander of the 34th Precinct to find out where the boxes were going and report back at the next meeting. Back in the precinct, the commander assembled a team of officers who put together a plan: youthful officers posing as burglars worked the street trying to sell "hot" cable boxes actually supplied by the cable company. Finally they found someone willing to buy them. They obtained a warrant and searched the buyer's residence, where they found a cache of stolen boxes that he planned to resell. At the next meeting the precinct commander proudly announced that the problem was solved: by arresting the suspect, police had shut down the market for the stolen boxes. He introduced the team of officers, who received a hearty round of applause.

The crime control strategy meetings have captured the imagination of the New York City Police Department and have riveted the attention of everyone in the department on neighborhood problems. Those familiar with contemporary management theory will recognize the meetings as the NYPD's version of what Robert Simons of the Harvard Business School calls an "interactive control system." In an elegant and simple way, the meetings portray the devolution of authority to precinct commanders and the corresponding increase in their accountability. They dramatize the department's new processes for extending services to communities; they give immediacy and urgency to crime control (not "Send your request to legal," but "We'll have an answer for you"); and they reinforce Bratton's vision of policing as central to controlling disorder, fear, and crime in the city's neighborhoods.

These changes will permanently alter the police culture if the Legislature restores the legal authority the department needs. Indeed, the culture is different already. Anyone familiar with policing can feel the re-invigoration of officers. Like the transit police before them, officers throughout the NYPD have had the experience of successfully restoring order and preventing crime. Some have heard their efforts applauded at One Police Plaza; many others have received applause from the citizens they serve. The lesson is overpowering: deal with the little stuff, and the big stuff will follow.

Nothing will change cop culture so fast as adopting a management culture that understands and affirms the true nature of police work. Managers, or "white shirts," are now preoccupied with what is happening on the ground. Woe to the commander whose attention is not riveted on precinct crime and problem patterns. Moreover, woe to the commander who is not scanning the entire city to see if similar patterns are developing elsewhere, and quickly working to coordinate efforts if they are.

As the NYPD devolves authority to precinct commanders and below, how will it prevent corruption? Police leaders are striving to ensure that the new police culture will be a culture of integrity. The message to officers is: management will not subtly ask you to make dirty deals and be duplicitous. If the department doesn't have the authority to deal with a problem, it will not ask you to "do what you have to do." Instead, it will seek legitimate authority—by, for example, proposing new laws to deal with panhandling, as the department is now doing. There's no reason for you to worry if you've made an honest mistake. If the NYPD itself is scrupulously honest, Bratton believes, officers will be less prone to, and tolerant of, corrupt behavior.

Moreover, precinct managers have also been made directly responsible for keeping their personnel clean. Each precinct has an integrity control officer; both he and the commander have the power to launch a corruption investigation. Just as they are learning to scan for neighborhood problems and street crime, managers are now learning to scan complaints against officers for patterns that may indicate corruption.

Bratton's message has inspired officers, and the processes he has established have changed the accountability structure of the NYPD. Even if the Legislature acts responsibly, could these changes be wiped out by a new police administration? Certainly, for Bratton's effort to change the department remains incomplete; the final step will be for precinct leaders to come up with ways of devolving authority to their staffs, especially to patrol officers, to win them over irrevocably to the new culture and the new mission. Yet it is hard to overturn dramatic success. Recall that since Bratton reoriented the transit police in 1990, not only has order been re-established in the subway, but felonies are down 75 percent in four years. This pattern now is repeating itself on the city's streets and in its neighborhoods. Cops truly aren't just report takers—they're the police. And proud of it.

 

 

 
Get cops to care about what they’re doing, and they’ll do it right.
City Journal Autumn 1995.
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