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“Departmental Terrorists” and “Cancerous Employees” Blamed for High Police Turnover

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The study is part of a departmental overhaul. Following Chief William Anderson’s retirement amidst attacks by the mainstream media, the city hired an interim chief, Steve Belcher, from outside the organization. Although city management claims development of the department’s strategic operating plan was in no way reactionary, the consultants refer to the planning process as a corrective action. Having led his department through the process, Fire Chief Scott Burnette was assigned to oversee the development of the police’s strategic operating plan. The city manager’s office and staff from the city’s Human Resources Department directly took responsibility for overseeing departmental restructurings.

At first, the recommendations looked like the consulting firm was out to increase bureaucracy to create more jobs for consultants. They recommended setting up a Chief’s Advisory Committee charged with “developing [an] organizational effectiveness improvement plan which includes an action plan that defines each improvement goal specifically, . . .” and hiring a facilitator. Amidst a host of meeting at various levels, and hiring a communications consultant to help with presentations, department leadership was advised to take a two-day, off-site retreat as soon as the permanent chief can be installed. The added meetings, though, are an attempt to remedy an oft-expressed complaint from officers about poor interdepartmental communications.

The consultants discovered the department already had a mission statement, guiding principles, and an existing strategic operating plan, but officers largely took it as a bunch of hooey. The documents had 208 action items under their focus areas, and these were left in the hands of a few for “development.” The consultants deemed only one of seven goals specific and measurable, and added, “Performance objectives are similarly vague and not clearly tied to a goal or to an identified improvement need.”

The consultants recommended that the department throw out its policies and procedures and replace them with a boilerplate, best-practices package like LEXIPOL. Many of the department’s policies have not been revised in seven or more years. The consultants concluded several were “either outdated, conflicting, or not being carried out the way they are written.” The consultants added, “Even if employees are unsure about the usefulness of these policies, they perceive that the policies are not being applied appropriately.” Among forty policies highlighted as needing updates were “High Risk Response” (1994), “Fiscal Management” (2009), and “Emergency Operations” (1998). The consultants couldn’t stress enough the need to change the department’s disciplinary procedures.

Another recurring complaint was that officers lacked guidance when promoted. In response, the firm recommended creating job descriptions, providing mentors, and investing in management training. They recommended coursework in Leadership and Organizational Change, Community Policing and Problem Solving, Performance Management, and Discipline and Ethics. Kevin Gilmartin’s Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement was recommended reading for all officers. Other suggestions included slowing down on specialized reassignments and implementing a system of succession planning for promoting from within.

Restructuring recommendations included creating a second Deputy Chief position, reducing responsibilities of the Special Operations Lieutenant, routing administrative calls anywhere but the emergency call center, retaining the Treasury Services Manager employed during the overhaul, and hiring more staff to implement the consultants’ recommendations.

Perhaps the most prevalent recurring theme was a lack of trust and the perception that officers were not treated fairly. Many surveyed indicated the same ethical standards were not applied to staff and leadership. While most officers felt they had adequate training, they did not feel all officers were being given the same opportunities for advancement. Furthermore, many did not believe promoted officers were qualified for their new positions, and they charged no test of qualifications had been applied. Whereas most officers gave their immediate supervisors high scores, approval ratings for the highest levels of the department, and the department at-large, were sorry.

When asked to elaborate on the issues with morale and organizational culture in their own words, a number of officers shared that employees were not treated as if leadership valued them. Several advocated for a “complete overhaul” of departmental management to address high turnover. More specifically, some said removal of “departmental terrorists” and “cancerous employees” from positions of leadership would result in automatic improvements.

The consultants found, “At all levels of the organization, there was a strong concern expressed in every group that employees are more concerned about not doing something wrong (fear of discipline/punishment) than having a positive focus on doing the job correctly.” Respondents felt leadership was overreacting to minor issues.

Standout complaints from the focus groups included, “lack of focus on doing police work and too much focus on internal turmoil,” “too many meetings to discuss the same issues without any resolution or action,” “elected officials publicly criticizing the APD instead of showing support for the department,” “[no] consistent review of the need for specialty units as there are too many in the APD and it detracts from effective patrol services to the community,” “the Community Resource Officers needing to be assigned to consistently focus on crime prevention issues instead of being used by Watch Commanders as a personal assistant,” and “too much reliance on consultants and no time to implement recommendations before a new consultant is hired.”

Both the consultants and City Manager Gary Jackson stressed that the problems in the organization took a decade or so to mature, and so reforms are not going to see results overnight. Citing a recipe from Stephen R. Covey’s The Speed of Trust, the consultants argued trust can be restored once broken. In answer to the big question, the consultants determined, “There does not appear to be a pattern of ethnic based complaints.”

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