As a businessman and police officer, I have a unique perspective on the problems that plague our nation’s police forces.
Politics are a constant problem. More often than not, when I speak with SWAT guys they tell me they love the job but hate the politics. The second problem I see regularly is the lack of accountability placed on officers. Finally, there is a systemic lack of creativity and modernization that leads to police departments being wasteful, dangerous and often just flat-out crappy places to work.
But politics are the symptom of a much larger and more harmful problem – unprofessional management.
A successful corporation is successful because inter-office politics don’t play a role in who gets promoted, who gets trained or who gets the latest and greatest gadget. Instead, these things are earned. Yet police departments refuse to fall in line with corporate standards. This refusal to modernize leads to lawsuits, an unmotivated work force and often results in the perpetuation of an unprofessional work environment.
Accountability is lacking in many departments. Often there is no rhyme or reason why someone is rewarded or punished. Even worse than that is the lack of communication that stops officers from learning from their mistakes.
A few years ago, an officer was working his normal patrol shift. He hears his fellow officers chasing a suspect on a motorcycle in a residential area. The officers know this is very dangerous to residents so they look to end the chase as quickly as possible by blocking the suspect in. As this officer comes toward the suspect, he realizes the suspect isn’t stopping. Knowing a head-on collision with a motorcycle would be almost certain death for the suspect, the officer veers his squad car onto the front lawn of a house. As the squad car slams to a stop, the officer sees the motorcycle coming straight for his car. The motorcyclist hits the front driver’s side quarter panel and goes flying head first into the neighbor’s front yard. The suspect was surprisingly healthy with only a few scratches.
The investigation later found the suspect simply lost control of the motorcycle and no legal blame was put on the officer. The department, however, chose to severely punish the officer for getting into an accident during a chase. Later, the officer told me he was never told why he was punished – he thought it was just his bad luck. I’m sure the administration’s point of view was vastly different, but that view was not communicated to the officer. As a result, that officer and all the officers at that department never know if their department will back them up if something happens.
Police departments are very different than corporations, to be sure. But some basic principles, such as communication, transfer and should be utilized. If officers were better trained, better motivated and enjoyed where they worked, we would see some big changes.
Think about the millions of dollars a department could save if they weren’t paying as many medical bills, property damage bills and losing thousands to lawsuits that could have been avoided. On top of that, the money saved could go to increasing officers’ pay, increasing the training budget and getting officers better gear.
With police departments under a microscope these days, modernization would go a long way toward avoiding issues and saving money. It’s time departments started communicating effectively, avoiding inter-office politics, promoting and punishing for the right reasons and inspiring their officers to be creative in bettering their work environment.