QUALITY vs. QUANTITY
Folks whose careers have always been in government think differently. Not badly – just differently than folks who work in the private sector. It’s the nature of the beast. The point was driven home to me many years ago. I had been elected to the part-time position of treasurer in my local community. I worked mornings in our family business and afternoons at town hall.
Many days, it seemed as though I needed to ‘turn my head around’ 180 degrees as I migrated from one job to the other. Though a very taxing experience, I learned much from it.
Business focuses on productivity, efficiency and throughput. Reducing expenses, while driving revenue up, is the name of the game. After all, it was those motivators that caused Henry Ford to invent the moving assembly line. He broke every rule during World War II when it came to building bombers for the Army Air Corp (Air Force). Prior to Ford, the best manufacturer could only turn out one airplane a day. Ford’s assembly line produced one airplane every hour. It was incredible output for the standards of its time.
Occasionally, the law enforcement community entertains a leader or a vendor sharing Ford’s focus on production. Unfortunately, in the cop world, it rarely works. It almost always leads to a complete failure. It would be like taking a five-mile hike with your shoes (or boots) on with the left/right feet switched. Ouch!
At the outset, it can be very difficult to detect a leadership misfit – unlike reversing your shoes. You see, business folks and cops all use the very same English language. But, the words have VERY different meaning to each of these groups. It is sort of like listing to a computer nerd attempt to carry on a conversation with a average human. Generally, they need an interpreter if anything meaningful is to be accomplished.
Every now and then, those of us who work in patrol come upon a call that reminds us of why we became a cop and what truly makes the job meaningful. I was working afternoons. We had cleared the call board, with nothing pending. A call came out to check the welfare of an eighty-something female who lived in our community’s senior-citizen high-rise. Her family had been unable to reach her for many hours and they were concerned.
Three of us responded (it was REAL slow). Up the elevator to the tenth floor we went and down the hall to rap on the solid wooden door. From inside, came a very faint female voice, “Help me … help me.” The door was locked. We quickly turned it into kindling wood. In we charged and determined the voice had come from the bathroom. In we went.
Here we were: three guys in uniform hovering over a very distraught, frail and naked female who had fallen in her bathtub. On top of being injured, she was terribly embarrassed. We grabbed a large towel, put it over her, and I scooped her up from the tub. My partner summoned an EMS rig for the needed medical attention. We got her sitting upright in a chair while we waited for the FD and she told us she had fallen about four hours prior.
The fire guys swarmed the place (I think they needed the practice; it was slow for them, too). After a brief time, report numbers and details were exchanged out in the hallway by the first responders. The EMT said bluntly: ‘She probably wouldn’t have made another half hour it if someone hadn’t found her.”
Our job done, us cops sauntered down the hall, away from the scene and cleared the call. I remember one of my buddies saying, “This is the kind of call that keeps me doing this job.” Amen and thank God.
No matter what some might say, it’s generally true that the most important jobs we cops do are those which cannot be counted in a monthly statistic report. It’s not the traffic stops, citations, arrests or other stuff that REALLY matters. And, if being a cop is in your heart, you know it’s true.
Think of the traffic stop which nabbed Timothy McVeigh, the bomber of the Oklahoma City Federal Building.
Then, there is “Sully” Sullenberger the pilot who landed the US Airways jet in the Hudson River without losing a single life.
American History abounds with folks who became heroes while setting out to do something totally different. They were not driven by bean-counters but rather, their compassion, their training and their hearts.
While “goodness” and quality of work can be measured on spreadsheets in many jobs, in cop work, spreadsheets are practically useless:
- Imagine performance evaluations and pay incentives for medical practitioners in your local hospital emergency room being tied to how quickly they closed (or disposed of) each patient case. How’s that for a comforting thought?
- How would you like your doctor to allot four minutes of his/her time to you on each visit because standards required that he see fifteen patients an hour? Not so much, eh?
- Think of fireman. Would your community really want them to be busy on calls all shift long? Probably not. Folks would rather that they simply BE READY to respond to an emergency, should one occur.
So it is in law enforcement. I am amazed at how many providers of goods and services to our small community make a sales call or publish an advertisement stressing how their product will improve efficiency allowing each cop to handle more calls in every shift. WHAT ARE THEY THINKING?
Equally stupid is the agency administration that puts all of their focus on the numbers. They tell the shift sergeant to push the crew for more: traffic stops, more citations, more arrests and more of everything that management can “count.” Yet, when an officer saves a child’s life, very little is said about the heroic act – if it is acknowledged by management, at all.
While no organization can afford to ignore the numbers, if the numbers become management’s primary focus, failure is sure to follow.
Think of walking into a Disney store. Have you ever been to one of their theme parks? How did those experiences make you feel?
Now think about your reaction to the thought of visiting a used car lot. Are you anxious to do that again? I didn’t think so.
No named suspects here. But, there are some companies that cater to cops that ‘get it’ and a whole bunch that don’t. You know which ones are which. Law enforcement administrators also seem to fall into those same two categories. Some of them “get it” and some don’t. Think about where YOUR chief falls on the scale.
If you are caught in one of those agencies suddenly run by a bean-counter or a city manager ass-kisser, you have my sympathy. It may be time to look for work elsewhere. Or, you can just tough it out. Most of the time, true jerks at the top don’t last too long.
Do slug cops exist? You betcha! I’d lay odds that you either have some on your crew or know one. You can identify them by their actions. They hide from calls or milk a fifteen minute call – turning it into a two hour gig and then calling out for lunch while everyone else covers their district/zone/area.
Should supervisors do something about them? Yup. But, trying to flush-out a bad apple by creating stupid numeric goals for an entire agency just doesn’t make sense. Management 101 teaches better methods. More than once, I’ve been sent to do in-car training with a cop who seems to hate everything about the job. On occasion, after listening to hours of grousing, I’ve asked, “Why do you keep doing this job, if you are so miserable?” The various answers are typically astounding.
THE DESIRES OF JOHN Q PUBLIC
When in doubt, I always revert to this time-tested question, “What does my customer (the public) really want?”
If you are a citizen in the community, you might answer with: fast response when I call for help; respect from officers; a cop with solid abilities and positive outcomes. Can we ALWAYS do that? Nope. But, we can ALWAYS try.
If you are listening to a salesman wanting you to buy his stuff, you want the same things: promises that are kept; timely response when trouble erupts; goods that perform as promised and a company behind their products. In a Chief, we want one who understands the most important job of the administration is making officer survival/safety their top priority.
Cops don’t care about efficiency; they care about safety. The bottom line for us is: RESULTS. Excuses mean nothing.
WHAT IS THE GOAL?
There is a terrific book used in many business schools: “The Goal.” It details how managers and organizations fail when the focus on the wrong points of measure.
Agency #1 – has this primary goal: write traffic citations. Secondary: support the need for revenue. Cops are driven to ignore other proactive tasks in order to meet unstated citation objectives (I dare not call them ‘quotas’).
Agency #2 – has this primary goal: prevent crime and make our community safe. They do this with lots of citizen contacts in many different ways: on traffic stops, in neighborhoods and in local businesses. They are always in CONDITION YELLOW. These cops take appropriate action as the situation requires, i.e. citations, arrests, warnings – or just a friendly visit.
Agency #1 – has a demoralized crew. The rate of absenteeism and turnover is excessively high. Many of their cops are quietly looking for jobs in other agencies. Crime rate remains static – or goes up – over time. The elected officials and the citizens become unhappy.
Agency #2 – has a motivated crew. They are allowed to be creative and are satisfied with their jobs (mostly). These cops hear about it when they do well – not just when they screw-up. Crime rates and response times are going down or are already in good order. Citizens are involved in helping to find the bad guys. Cases are successfully prosecuted and the quality of life for everyone improves.
Where do you want to be?
IN THE FINAL ANALYSIS
Law enforcement should not be centered on the pursuit of numbers.
Our efforts should be focused on these time-tested ideas: meeting or exceeding the expectations of the citizens for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
In the final analysis, it’s all about SAVING JUST ONE LIFE.