Good Cops, Bad Cops
Most of us have had jobs at one time or another where there is always THAT person or THAT clique that doesn’t seem to be pulling their weight, or, who are so toxic that they are hard to work with. They ruin morale and in the worst cases, seem to embarrass everyone around them.
Then we get into law enforcement, and of course, that never is a problem again.
In the real world, those issues exist in policing just like any other industry. Of course, the degree of how bad these conditions are will vary by agency. Some police cultures see more, some less. Some care, some don’t. That has a lot to do with where we see law enforcement today, when a bad light is shed on the job.
All of us have seen more vitriol and turmoil surrounding policing in the last two years, than most of us would have ever thought possible. While it is true that the vast majority of the criticism is the result of a small group of people with loud voices (by virtue of social media and a complicit media), we still have to look in the mirror and accept those situations and incidents that we own, as bad as they may appear.
The bad cases, where any of us with enough pride in what we do and respect for our profession cringe, have to be looked at closely and honestly.
The difficulty is determining what to do. In the business world, everyone in an organization either adds value or erodes value in an organization. Incompetent or poor performing employees usually don’t stay around long. Not so much in policing.
Every one of us know what good employees look like, in the form of how we are treated when we buy goods or services. Whether we are in line at a fast food joint, or replacing an expensive HVAC system for our home, we make our decision as to who to return to and continue doing business. Loyalty. It’s the goal of virtually every business.
The public looks at policing the same way, except of course they have no competitive options, because in essence we are a monopoly. When a consumer has no other option to choose, the only thing left is resentment and distrust. Welcome to our consequence.
The police are out of Mulligans in the eye of the community. The bad cops destroy everything that the good and great cops go to work everyday to obtain: trust, confidence and respect.
A co-worker recently told me that during a conversation with a friend (who was very successful in the business word), the friend asked him how often people were fired from the police department. The answer was of course very rarely. The successful businessman’s was one of disbelief. A valid observation.
Posted: No Head Hunting Allowed
Before I continue: a disclaimer. I would never advocate for firing any employee over ‘mistakes of the mind’; those things that have not been grossly detrimental or that will respond to remedial training. As well, no one’s job should ever be on the line because they do not follow ideologies of the leadership to a ‘T’, or find change difficult now and then.
However, in cases of ‘mistakes of the heart’, where the employee (cop) is toxic, criminally bound or abusive: adiós amigos. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
I have thought about this topic for some time, but I brought it to the front burner after watching a concerning theme in social media with regard to police officers. While some of us cringe at bad police work, there are many in the business that rush to excuse if not support really crummy police work in social media. The most recent example was when the trooper that arrested Sandra Bland was fired. The comments of officers that thought he was treated unfairly or that he was a scapegoat were alarming.
Just Why Are So Few Cops Fired?
I cannot pretend to know all of the reasons, nor can I point to any research right off the bat, but some ideas might include:
- It’s culturally unacceptable. The Thin Blue Line in many police cultures and subcultures simply have no taste for it. It’s seen as traitorous, a rat out. “There but for the grace of God go I…” seems to be the moral shielding of bad behavior.
- Weak leadership. This is part of the cultural problem. Many people blame police unions for creating an environment where marginal or bad employees have no consequences. Union leadership will candidly reveal that some failed disciplinary cases for a department were due to poor and inaccurate documentation on the part of PD.
- Fear of the attrition monster. Departments that are tight for staffing (most are these days given the challenges of attracting and retaining quality people) fear losing that one more officer.
- Loss of return on investment (ROI). Recruiting, hiring, training and maintaining a police officer is incredibly expensive. Having to write off that cost as a loss when an officer is terminated is understandably expensive, and the costs are incurred again when the replacement is made.
Who Is This Jack Welch Guy?
To the point of this post’s title.
When I was completing my grad work I was intrigued to learn about Jack Welch, specifically when he was the CEO of General Electric.
Jack developed and used a system known as the “20-70-10” system. Using a performance appraisal system, employees were differentiated into groups: the top 20 percent of performers, the middle 70 percent, and the bottom 10 percent.
“You should take the top 20 percent of your employees and make them feel loved,” Welch advised. “Take the middle 70 percent and tell them what they need to do to get into the top 20 percent.” Managing out the bottom 10 percent of performers is necessary not only for the organization’s continued success but also for the sake of employees affected by the rigorous appraisal system. “People need to know where they stand,” Welch said. “Failing to differentiate among employees — and holding on to bottom-tier performers — is actually the cruelest form of management there is.”
Think about your agency for a minute, or a bureau or division if your agency is really huge. You don’t have to ponder long before this makes sense. You know who you could consider in those three segments, sadly, that bottom 10% might be the easy one. These are the officers everyone ‘knows’ about.
This system could work in policing. It would make great strides in improving the police culture by making sure the needs of the agency and in turn the community, come before people in the agency that are the next flash-point for an inexcusable and controversial incident. When the 10% know they are the 10%, and see the benefit of where the 70% and 20% live, they are more likely to try to not be the bottom feeder, especially if they see bottom feeders disappear every year.
Good police officers, the vast majority of men and women that make up policing in America, deserve to be supported. Support is not just in terms of emotional uplifting, good pay, good equipment and defending good work, it is also the concept of ensuring that these officers only work with the best peers, all the time.
Much like the old TV sign off broadcast at the end of the night that asked ‘do you know where your children are?’; do you know where your 10% are?
© 2016 DAVID A. LYONS
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