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What's Wrong With the LAPD : Management Is Too Far Removed From the Basic Function of Law Enforcement : TED HUNT

September 12, 1993|Cathy Varela | Ted Hunt has been a training officer with the Los Angeles Police Department since 1981. He was interviewed by Cathy Varela

I have been a Los Angeles Police officer since 1975. I have seen the morale of the Department rise and fall numerous times. Morale is at its lowest ebb.

It is the nature of most of us to try to look for one causal factor and find fault. When that "one evil" has been found, we can focus on that wrong and design a quick fix. After curing that one evil, we are surprised when we discover that the situation has not been resolved and that errant behaviors continue.

There are many causes of the low morale at LAPD. It is not possible to find just one reason, put it in a box and throw it out, hoping that the act of disposal will cure the LAPD ills. In effect, that was the movement behind the effort to get rid of Darryl Gates. Throw him out and all will be better. Things are not better. In fact, morale has sagged even lower.

I want to speak to only one of the multiple issues driving low morale, that of the LAPD management paradigm. A paradigm is a model, an example, a pattern; some have defined a paradigm as a way in which things are viewed, a perspective or a belief system.

The LAPD management paradigm needs to be modified, if not simply replaced.

It is based on a 1940s military model that the military abandoned long ago. That design is vertical and the decision makers are insulated from the practitioners. Practitioners are micro-managed and second-guessed. Authority is enforced through manage- ment by fear. The paradigm supports form over substance, with absolute adherence to proper appearance.

Decision makers are distantly removed from the basic function of law enforcement, not only by many layers of bureaucratic insulation, but by many years of not performing the basic function. Some managers have obtained only a minimum amount of field experience before moving into administrative positions, and they have had little practical experience. Police experiences are constantly changing.

The basic law enforcement function is to respond to calls for service either as a patrol officer or as a desk officer and follow up investigations of crime. Everything else is in support of that function.

What has occurred at LAPD is the support function has become more important. Benefits, bonuses and promotions go to those who work support functions. That was spelled out quite clearly by the Christopher Commission.

LAPD management should redefine, and then refocus on, the basic police mission. Are police officers crime fighters or crime preventers? Managers should determine from the people we "protect and serve" what it is that the community expects by way of police services. Obviously, not everyone will agree. Management should also reconsider what measurements should be used to appraise success or failure in meeting the basic mission. And micro-management needs to stop.

I believe that Willie L. Williams is committed to a management paradigm shift. The chief sponsored a series of leadership workshops for all LAPD managers that incorporated these ideas and more. The workshops were presented by Dr. Marshall Goldsmith of Keilty, Goldsmith & Co. of La Jolla, and Frances Hesselbein, president of the Drucker Foundation.

I do not understand why Chief Williams has not advised those outside of the commanding-officer rank about this notable and significant step toward a paradigm shift.

The rank-and-file want a paradigm shift. Both the Los Angeles Police Protective League, which represents the rank-and-file, and Williams seem to be trying to accomplish a transition. Are they in conflict with one another?

There is a third interest group. It is the thick, multilayered middle, between the League and Mr. Williams: the department managers who have the most to lose in a paradigm shift because they have the most to maintain if the present system remains intact.

Managers enjoy numerous perks and the latitude to make unchecked, subjective, inconsistent and imprudent decisions.

Those pernicious decisions have a dramatic impact on the lives of police officers and their families. Additionally, there is a spinoff effect of lowered morale. Lowered morale leads to a lower quality of service to you and the Los Angeles community.

The ordinary field officer wants to do nothing more than to "protect and serve" the Los Angeles community. But officers are increasingly afraid to do their jobs. Rank-and-file officers make incredible sacrifices to be there for you when you need them. In return, most officers want only two things: appreciation and a decent wage.

As police officers we picture ourselves as the hero, the defender, the supporter and all-around champion of good over evil. That may sound simplistic and naive, but it is nonetheless true and a real motivator. Not many officers would ever admit to it in public; such an admission connotes vulnerability. But it is a fact.

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