Hey buddy, can you spare a paradigm?

The biggest opportunity police leaders have at hand is the budget crisis. It is a crisis of historic proportions. American police budgets, as with all public budgets, are affected by global economics and finance as never before. An era that began with the end of WW II probably ended in 2008. New norms of municipal finance are upon us. The paradigm, Bob Dylan might write, it is a shift-in’.

Opportunity is hiding in the red ink.

Opportunities love crises. So while we mourn the passing of the post-war era of municipal finance, why not seize the opportunities for strategic change made possible by the new financial equilibrium?

The crisis involves our ability to adapt and grow as a service in this new set of environmental conditions. Everyone knows we have to adapt. We do not have a consensus as to how to do so. This makes it easier to ask the big, hairy, fundamental questions.

What is the mission of municipal police in this the emerging social and financial order?

How should police deploy the resources they are given – time, personnel, technology and money to achieve the mission? Are the patrol officer and the detective the right roles? Of so are they best arranged and led in the structure of large, vertical bureaus?

If we think that new expectations for pay, pension and other benefits are affecting who seeks the job, what strategy should we adopt for recruitment? What profession are we selling? What character traits, talents and competencies make the best officers?

In the context of global events shaping local budgets no one, from bureau chief to squad leader, can enjoy the luxury of his old prerogatives and grievances. They always were a waste of resources – time, money, and cognitive candlepower – now they are dangerously obsolete.

Bill Bratton loved a crisis. He said he would never have achieved what he did without crises. When he didn’t have a crisis to capitalize on he created one. That was clearest in his early shaking up of the attitudes of the management of the NYPD. The Commish created a crisis for management at all levels by asserting simply that the NYPD would reduce crime by 10% and that precinct commanders would be held accountable through the plainly named Compstat program. The rest is history: important, paradigm-smashing history.

Medicine is in a similar situation. Harvard Business School professors Robert Kaplan and Michel Porter wrote in the New York Times on April 16 about their efforts working with major health providers like Partners in Boston to figure what health care actually costs. Out of their work, they are finding costs-saving ways to provide care while at the same time realigning the division of labor to have technicians doing technical work and highly-trained MDs and nurses to do the highest-skilled treatment. They wrote,

“Most health care providers have hundreds of these opportunities to use time, equipment and facilities more intelligently. These opportunities have been obscured by existing costing systems that have little connection to the processes actually performed.”

Sound like any systems we know?

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel captured the essence of the opportunity on Charlie Rose’s PBS interview show on April 17. He rejected the defy-the-laws-physics cliché of “doing more with less.” (By the way the last person reported to do this successfully did it with loaves and fishes).

“It’s less about more,” Mayor Emanuel said,” and more about better.”

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About stephenomeara

My name is Jim Jordan. I have had the privilege of working with the Boston Police Department and hundreds more departments over my nearly 30-year career in police administration and city government. I am now teaching and consulting independently at www.sergeantsleadership.org. I have learned the best of what I know from the thousands of smart, dedicated and ethical police personnel and scholars who have guided me along the way. My address is named for the great Reform commissioner of the Boston Police at the turn of the 20th century. Commissioner O'Meara died just a short while before the Strike in 1919. He was replaced by a vicious puppet (of Gov. Coolidge) named Edwin U. Curtis. Had O'Meara lived events may have turned out quite differently.
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