The Dramatic Impact of Good Policing

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What do you think drug dealers want? Although it’s a rather important question, I bet you’ve never thought about that before. What do you think a cop’s goal is? Well, it would depend which department you’re asking.

The Castle Rock Police Department had a problem - their culture was toxic. Management's main objective was to make sure there were a certain number of tickets written each month, a certain number of arrests made, and a few other arbitrary metrics. When a new officer became Chief of Police - things were going to change. 

Jack Cauley was an experienced police officer who was familiar with the current way of policing at CRPD. A system that rewarded tickets given and arrests made, instead of strategic, long-term solutions. When Castle Rock came calling asking him to be the chief of police, he couldn’t resist. This was going to be his opportunity to build a culture based on trust, not tickets written,

His first order of business was to have a one-on-one with every staff member and police officer in the department. He wanted to know what they were feeling about work. What they liked and disliked was important for him to understand, so he could make changes.  After a few sit downs, he noticed a theme emerging. Among issues such as officers being afraid to speak up and try new things, as well as staff members being scared to speak up about the process of paperwork and booking, everyone was frustrated about one thing - they wanted a fence.

The parking lot of the police department was completely opened and faced the back of the building. There was no safety or protection from anyone trying to harm them. Officers voiced their fear when walking to their car late at night because they never knew if someone was out there hiding, just waiting to attack. The previous management refused to spend money on a fence, wanting to save that money for other stuff that relates directly towards policing. Cauley disagreed and had the fence built in no time. While the officers now felt safe and protected, it sent a loud message saying, “I want to change things.

An organization's culture is combined of the values it holds and the behavior it rewards. The second part of that statement, the behavior an organization rewards is the key to changing the culture. The previous management of CRPD could have valued safety and problem solving, but the behavior it was rewarding was the opposite of that. Meet your ticket goal?  Congratulations, here’s a bonus. You didn’t write any tickets but you helped the community stay safer by changing a few street signs downtown where accidents occur a lot? Good job, but we’re gonna give you more desk work since you apparently can’t police well. Naturally, people are going to write more tickets to keep their jobs.

For Chief Cauley to change the culture, he had to start with changing the behavior he rewarded. The motivation to give out a certain number of tickets each month was replaced with motivation to take care of each other and the community better. Although tickets are still an important metric for measuring what’s happening at CRPD, Cauley gives out Certificates of Recognition to staff and officers who embraced and exemplified the department's values somehow in the past week. Those values are problem solving for the community, initiative, and care. Because those are the values he rewards, what he gets in return is more problem solving for the community, initiative, and care.

Along with rewarding bad behavior, the previous management also made the officers feel they couldn’t do their job in the way they felt was best. Management had rules, systems, and orders for the officers to follow and if they thought they had a better idea, they could simply go to a different department. So, along with changing the reward system, Chief Cauley gave his crew freedom to do their job. Officers now had the freedom to say, “wouldn’t it be cool if we…” when trying to solve a problem, and were able to do that. This created a culture of solving problems, rather than putting band-aids on them.

A culture that puts band-aids on problems might look at a street that continuously gets parking tickets and simply wait there to give more parking tickets. More tickets means people won’t park there, right?

A culture that solves problems will look at that same street and think, “maybe the ‘No Parking’ sign is too far up the road and people miss it.” Or, “Maybe all of these shops are quick stops and people don’t want to walk three blocks to drop something off. Could we make a drop off lane?”

Chief Cauley believed with his whole heart that police officers were not simply rule enforcers for the community, but they were problem solvers for the community. That was his goal - solve problems and make the community a better place.

The new culture at CRPD hasn’t just affected petty crimes, but larger scale crimes as well. One day, the department got a call from someone who thought their neighbor was selling drugs from their home. The past protocol was to do some undercover investigating for a few months. Maybe buy some drugs, see who was running it, park outside in an unmarked car. While this might have been effective, the neighbor never saw any police check the scene out which made them feel ignored or not important enough. Plus, it typically ended in a smashed door that wasn’t fixed for weeks with police tape across the house. Not the prettiest thing to look at. Most of the time, as soon as they were released, they would just continue selling drugs - not a very good long-term fix.

So with this particular call, they decided to go about things a little differently. They simply knocked on the door of the suspected house and told them they got a report about someone selling drugs there. In the weeks to follow, they increased police activity in the neighborhood by making a point to drive by at least once an hour and maybe park across the street for lunch. If you’re a drug dealer, it’s very difficult to do your job with police watching you the whole time. After awhile, the drug dealers simply left. No broken doors, no police tape.

This might not seem very effective because they might be dealing drugs in a different city. Which is correct, but imagine if this is how each police department responded. In a simple manner that made it harder for drug dealers to sell drugs.

A lot of people think that drug dealers and other criminals want to beat cops. That’s false. They don’t care about what cops are doing, they just want to deal more drugs and commit more crimes. So, if the police officers made it more difficult for that to happen, there would be less crime.

By placing excess stress on police or your employees to meet some arbitrary number and offer incentives for the wrong values, creates an environment where short-term performance and resources are the highest priority. This causes long-term performance and trust to decline.

The change in the CRPD policing caused the community to respond in a healthy way. Chief Cauley says, “The community sees us as problem-solvers, not enforcers.” He reports more people waving to them in the street and more free cups of coffee at the donut shops - all by placing and emphasis on building a trusting team and creating a reward system that matches the values they embrace.

Written by
Dalton Mabery