Ownership & Productivity in an Era of Less

Ownership unleashes productivity and creativity. It makes accountability possible.

In an era when police and other CJ agencies must do better with less, Paul Evans’s legacy in the Boston Police Department is instructive.

When Paul Evans served as Boston Police Commissioner from 1994-2004 he created a new art form of executive leadership called “ownership and accountability.”  Evans repeated these phrases everywhere he went.  At roll calls, in testimony before Congress, in community meetings and in senior staff meetings he pounded home these concepts until they sank in across the Department.

You can’t have accountability without giving people a stake in the outcome, i.e. ownership.  Giving them a stake liberates their productivity and effectiveness.  In the most creative period of Evans’s tenure, from 1994 to 2000, BPD experienced a renaissance: a flourishing of creative, effective innovations.  Freed from burdensome micro-management talented personnel created initiatives such as Operation Scrap Iron and its world-famous offspring, Operation Ceasefire; Operation Nite Lite; and citywide implementation of Neighborhood Policing.  Evans acted as the consummate CEO.  He set the vision, the philosophy and the mission and asked his organization to take ownership for the outcomes.

The vision: safe neighborhoods.

The philosophy: we need to work with other stakeholders to create safety.

The mission: our goals will be prevention and deterrence of harm attained by applying focused, tailored interventions.

Then he said to police and partners:

“I am not going to tell you how to achieve the mission. I am going to ask you how you plan to do it and then hold you accountable for you said you were going to do.”

Line personnel did achieve.  They created a new paradigm of police-probation practice, with the active support of Evans and a similarly gifted leader, then-Deputy Probation Commissioner Ron Corbett.  Sgt. (now superintendent) Paul Joyce and the gang unit threw David Kennedy and some more researchers from Harvard into a Crown Vic and brought them to the unit HQ in Roxbury.  They thought and analyzed together and created a new paradigm for addressing youth firearm violence.  Ceasefire became the absence of shooting heard ’round the world.

As but one example of the international impact of the PC’s ownership idea, The Boston Globe reported in 2012,

After Evans retired from the department, the South Boston native was hired by the British government to inject some of the lessons of Boston into the English law enforcement community.”

The ownership and accountability created at the district level are also an enduring achievement.   Captains in Boston were glorified clerks when Paul Evans started.  A top-down administration retained all decision-making authority at the headquarters level.  District managers had control over nothing, not even how to deploy their personnel.  They got a patrol plan for every shift from the Bureau of Field Services.  Evans put his money where his mouth was.  In 1996 he brought in skilled facilitators to assist in a strategic planning and community mobilization process to move ownership and accountability out and down in the organization. (Organizational psychologist Dr. Joan Sweeney and I coordinated the project and Dr. Sweeney began making her well-deserved national reputation).  Captains would be, and remain, “chiefs” of their geographic districts.  Crime plummeted.

Building ownership and accountability takes time. It is a great investment of that precious resource.  For CEO’s it is an investment that will pay dividends for decades.


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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