Saturday, September 03, 2016

On changing policing culture

Perhaps the toughest part of police reform is that one is battling not just a few "rogue" officers nor even merely bad laws and policies, but a self sustaining organizational culture that's reinforced by training, management expectations, and vested union interests. Here are a few links on affecting police departments' organizational culture which Grits wanted to preserve for my own purposes and thought may also interest readers:
One of the counter-intuitive elements of police accountability work - especially for liberals who consider themselves sympathetic to the labor movement - is that the best reforms are those which strengthen management at the expense of workers (read: officers) in order to shift internal organizational culture and expectations.

Reformers want police administrators to be able to discipline or fire misbehaving cops, deploy officers and/or apply resources in creative ways, prioritize community policing, measure deescalation and discourage use of force, shift performance outcomes away from arrest-based metrics, and fulfill a host of other community expectations. But a police chief who really begins to alter departmental culture will inevitably find themselves in a day-to-day ground war with the union over every granular aspect of reform. That's why, at the end of the day, police chiefs must be empowered; if they are weakened, it's the police union, not community groups, winning those small, behind the scenes battles. Administrators must have sufficient tools to discipline officers, be given clear direction and authority to implement change, and then be held to account for outcomes via better metrics and improved public access to data.

If the current police accountability movement succeeds, it will be because police chiefs are selected based on reform criteria, empowered to make change, and supported politically when they do.

This is perhaps the principle reason Grits does not favor civilian-review boards as a primary police accountability strategy for Texas police departments. (The idea is a transplant from northeastern climes and was never really a good fit for Texas' law and culture, not that they ever worked particularly well at native latitudes.) Most civilian-review boards, like Houston's and Austin's, do not have disciplinary nor even investigatory power and thus are neutered and diminished from the get go, leaving citizens looking to them for accountability disappointed and disillusioned. But here's the rub: If civilian review boards were given independent disciplinary authority - taking power from the chief - that would be even worse. There's no guarantee they'd do a better job, some reason to suspect they'd do worse (after all, we're typically talking about volunteers and political appointees), and the switch would severely undermine the chief's leverage, making it harder to reform the department overall.

The stereotype of reformers as anti-police misapprehends their agenda. Rather, many proposed reforms would strengthen and empower police administrators to reduce undesired outcomes and confront persistent negative aspects of departmental culture. Community groups can't do that work. Of necessity, it must be performed by police management. The goal should be to help them do it.


Anonymous said...

The belief that centralizing power is a panacea to cure all ills is an interesting one that history tells us will not work and have many unintended consequences. Some of the comments also show a lack of understanding on how and why things happen as they do, let me shed some light.

Police unions exist because historically, police chiefs in Texas do as they please regardless of the law, regardless of due process, and regardless of fair play. Chiefs minimize problems to the lowest level employee possible as a means of diverting attention for their flawed policies, no expense spared in such investigations to fit the narrative to the desired outcome. Then, when a union provided lawyer points out how a particular policy violation is almost always addressed by a written reprimand or a few days suspension instead of termination, a chief that decides to fire an employee pulls out all stops to publicly vilify the employee, the arbitration system, and proceeds to marginalize the employee by banishing them to a terrible assignment "for the rest of your career", make it clear that they will never be allowed to promote, and spares no effort in bad mouthing the officer.

In Houston, a chief that was later elected to the state supreme court, had a policy of offering officers caught short a "deal" where they would accept a 90 day suspension (in contrast to the maximum allowable amount of days) or he would fire them, stating openly that he knew the department couldn't prove a case. He would then laugh and tell his officers that they might beat the rap but not the ride. How demoralizing is that and don't you think it just might color officer's perceptions as to what was acceptable behavior when dealing with others?

His predecessor was imported from another state and considered a leader in the community policing model. He would spend gobs of money for officers to engage in what were referred to as "wave patrols", the officers forbidden to address crimes they witnessed or answer calls for service as they drove around depressed areas actually waving at people. This feel good program cost millions of dollars and had no impact no matter how much the books were cooked to sell it, officers disciplined for intervening when they stopped robberies or assaults while on the program. This chief also had different standards for how people were treated, minority officers given every benefit of the doubt in most cases while he engaged in a program of expanding racial hiring quotas and preferential treatment. He would even promote sergeants to Assistant Chief, allow them to get college degrees while on the clock, and look the other way at their extra curricular activity while the average officer would be hammered with punishment for the same things.

Some people reasonably believe that the way to build a better cop is to treat them well, train and educate them as to what is expected, and make it clear that they should treat those they encounter in like fashion. Other people apparently believe that removing civil service protections and allowing policing leaders to act like kings is a better approach, the problem being that some of them come to believe their judgement is infallible and should never be questioned. Guess which style results in more shootings, more use of force issues, and more need for unions?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Sigh ... when one reads allegations like "officers disciplined for intervening when they stopped robberies or assaults," why is it, I wonder, that they're always anonymous? Could it be because the claims are one-sided misrepresentations that wouldn't stand up to scrutiny and so the author doesn't want to stand behind them? That's always my suspicion, since the meat of what you say is ridiculous and your history skewed from self interest.

I find it strange that you think empowering chiefs to discipline bad cops "results in more shootings, more use of force issues" - are you saying police would shoot members of the public more often in retaliation for perceived slights from management or greater scrutiny from the disciplinary process? That's a bizarre lens through which you view the world, my friend. I don't understand that any more than I do the Ferguson-effect nonsense, that claims otherwise good cops will stop doing their jobs because somebody criticized them. We're talking about grownups and professionals.

Officers should get due process when accused, but protections for bad cops have gone too far and the police unions have authored most of them.

Finally, of course I want to "train and educate [officers] as to what is expected, and make it clear that they should treat those they encounter in like fashion." But you ended your sentence there! Administrators and the public also expect a final clause - "discipline bad cops when they cross the line." That piece of the puzzle seems to be missing in your worldview expressed here.

Anonymous said...

"He would then laugh and tell his officers that they might beat the rap but not the ride. How demoralizing is that"?

Grits, how long has that proverb been at the top of your page? Funny how when the shoe is on the other foot the complaints begin.

Unions aside, I still like civilian review boards. Maybe not to discipline but to have some citizen group assigned to keep tabs. The one in Austin comes up with recommendations and reviews cases that otherwise wouldn't get attention. Don't know about Houston or other cities.

Anonymous said...

Funny that Grits deletes reasoned, firsthand accounts while allowing spam to remain. Sad commentary on why the legislature should ignore him altogether early next year.

Anonymous said...

You folks won't be happy until the police are merely CSI and the bodies are dropping in the streets. They'll show up after the crime has been committed, the crook is long gone, and they merely draw a chalk line around the body; and "case referred to detectives".

They will take heed from an old adage in the sheriff's departments: "You'll never get fired for doing nothing."

Anonymous said...

After reading the anonymous comments above one can only come to conclusion that Grits is correct. Talk about some knuckleheads wearing a badge.

jdgalt said...

I don't want more power given to police administrators because I don't trust administrators to do any more than the same whitewashing that "police review boards" already do.

I want to see police devolved into neighborhood sized departments and made to report directly to town meetings after every incident -- with the town meeting to have complete authority of employee discipline, all to be conducted in public. Let cops behave as their public wants or go home.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Just noticed the spam and deleted it, 3:16. Otherwise, I haven't deleted any comment on this string. if your comments were deleted elsewhere, it was because they were either off topic, profane, abusive toward others, or libelous. My blog, my rules.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@JDG, problem is, to advocate what you do is to advocate nothing because it's a utopian fantasy, not a viable proposal with a chance to make it through the political process as presently constituted. To reject incremental reform in favor of utopianism in that fashion is to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

As for chiefs, I don't particularly "trust' them to do reform either. OTOH, particularly under a city manager form of government where pols have little ability to apply pressure, I don't see the alternative. Citizens don't have any leverage there, by design. So if you want bad cops reined in, for now, police administrators must do it.

Suggesting we should wait for some neighborhood council discipline system (and I wouldn't want my neighborhood assn anywhere near it, just to say so), amounts to stalling/opposing reform that's actually possible.

David Condon said...

Another similar article:

Anonymous said...

Why anyone would want to put on a badge and take on the responsibilities of any law enforcement agency with a patrol function is bizarre. The moment you do your odds of going to prison increase tenfold. And I can appreciate the commenter above about Sheriff's Departments. Many times I have encountered the do-nothing's and the actually have a future, albeit meager. A proactive officer is a short-lived officer.