By: Kevin Townsend
Law enforcement agencies across the state strive for efficiency and effectiveness in an effort to serve their jurisdiction. A public agency with a vital mission such as a police or sheriff’s department calls for a much more effective management of its resources. Even if one can somehow measure “success,” what management system best navigates variables such as community expectations and departmental dynamics? Law enforcement agencies typically have high expectations of accountability. They are hierarchal organizations and employees are expected to follow the chain of command. Many agencies claim to be progressive, however, a paramilitary environment is standard throughout the policing industry. There are debates for and against this type of organizational structure. It can be argued a stringent atmosphere does not promote innovation in the workplace. Authorization for action undermines leading and continually seeking approval for decisions hinders the growth and development of personnel. On the other hand, an authoritarian paramilitary organization systematically upholds accountability (Judge & Robbins, 2011).
The Riverside Police Department (RPD) has gone a step further and employed a system called Management Accountability Program (MAP). The city was broken into “Neighborhood Policing Centers” (essentially quadrants) and a lieutenant was put in charge of each one. Comparable to repetitive, inquisitive crime analysis reviews employed with success in New York, Los Angeles, and many other jurisdictions across the country, every month the lieutenant (assisted by crime analysis) gives command staff a report on activity in his or her quadrant. Those in attendance, including command staff, openly discuss their interpretation of the data and potential responses to remedy problems. The deputy chief in charge of operations is tasked with reviewing city-wide crime statistics but the MAP program brings accountability to a lower level as these lieutenants work quadrant-by-quadrant.
Many agencies across the nation utilize a similar system, so it is worth examining potential issues. First, at least in RPD, the lieutenant in charge of a quadrant does not have direct command over patrol officers, narcotics, gangs, robbery, and homicide, who can be vital in resolving many crime problems and community complaints. Instead, the lieutenant in charge of a quadrant must ask for help from other lieutenants’ personnel. The other lieutenants are accommodating but might have a different objective more specific to their area of concern. For example, the lieutenant in charge of a quadrant might ask for help from the gang unit but that unit’s lieutenant might be more concerned about a larger gang issue in a different quadrant. At the same time, a lieutenant serving as a watch commander in patrol could be more worried about the prompt, efficient handling of the seemingly endless number of calls for service.
The RPD’s MAP system could help to create a culture in which some personnel worry more about their particular section and perhaps lose sight of the bigger picture. It creates ownership and bolsters accountability, but it can be argued that it also hurts synchronization toward the overall goal of efficiency and effectiveness. After all, the consumers of an organization’s goods and services do not care who internally is held accountable. They just want the product. That “product” in this case is police services, which the public wants effectively delivered within the confines of the laws.
The MAP system bolsters the RPD goal of accountability, but can undermine efficiency. Through official directives or informal stressors, separated personnel can become competing interests appeasing their individual lieutenants. The system’s design can push lieutenants away from organizational objectives and more toward the preservation of personal power, possibly allowing the builder better access to resources to tackle their problems and obtain their goals. The issue of empire building can grow in this system. The problem, as President Lincoln asserted in 1858, is that “a house divided against itself cannot stand” (Phillips, 1992).
The public expects community policing to be a central theme in departmental philosophies. The MAP system provides a better opportunity for that to occur given the more localized nature of the quadrant lieutenant’s responsibility. This is significant; however, the potential for unintended consequences and collateral damage in a MAP system is important as well. A top goal in most departments is to reduce crime. In one sense, the MAP system’s more localized accountability should help that ambition. However, the quadrant lieutenants, which the RPD calls Area Commanders, and other lieutenants’ objectives may not always match and may cause friction. The question becomes, does a MAP-type system bolster community policing but undermine the objective of city-wide crime reduction?
Law enforcement is a large consumer of the public’s taxes and is incredibly important in society. It investigates crime, pacifies disorder and can often directly impact life altering events in the community. The magnitude of police responsibility calls for some type of methodical oversight, but do those systems inhibit effectiveness? The answer is yes. Thus, it begs for the examination of what the organization and community want. Residents, business owners or any other consumers of police services should expect a high level of accountability but at what price? Productivity toward delivering police services as ethically and cost-effectively as possible can be difficult to measure. So, which is the true priority in law enforcement: accountability or efficiency/effectiveness?
The answer is both and the key for organizations is making decisions that recognize that fact. Truly changing something as deeply imbedded as a department’s culture can seem impossible but leadership must continuously strive to see that their organizational environment contains less politicking and credit grabbing and more fundamental competencies, team development, community collaboration, and organizational achievements geared toward public service. Management must constantly consider this in its policies, levels of supervision, special assignment selections, promotions, communication strategies, utilization of new technologies, and in every other fundamental aspect of the organization’s system and design.
Theoretical examinations such as this are fine but “It will do little good,” Mary Park Follett noted in a 1926 essay, “merely to get intellectual agreement; unless you change the habit patterns of people, you have not really changed your people.” Therefore, in order to operationalize the command staff’s direction, supervisors should develop strategies to make abstract-sounding strategic plans into simple, actionable practices. Whether seeking accountability, efficiency/effectiveness, or both, leadership must communicate the mission of the organization, synchronize police work toward that mission, and lead a unified effort toward the ultimate goal of being part of a community effort to make their jurisdiction a safer place.
Geuras, D., & Garofalo, C. (2011). Practical Ethics in Public Administration. (Third ed.). Vienna, Virginia: Management Concepts.
Judge, T. & Robbins, S. (2011). Organizational behavior. Upper Saddle River, N.J: Prentice Hall
Leader to Leader Institute (2007). Leadership Lessons from West Point. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Phillips, D. (1992). Lincoln on Leadership. New York: Warner Books.
RPD (2012). Riverside Police Department (RPD) – Safe in our arms: Strategic Plan 2010 – 2015. Retrieved on April 15th, 2012 from: http://riversideca.gov/rpd/ChiefOfc/RPD3_Flash.swf
Shafritz, J., & Hyde, A. (2004). Classics of public administration. (Seventh ed.). Boson, MA: Wadsworth.
Author – Kevin Townsend is a sergeant with the Riverside Police Department. He has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, master’s degree in public administration, and teaches criminal justice courses at a university targeting active duty law enforcement. Kevin can be reached at email@example.com.