How to Run a Police Department
George L. Kelling
rom Plato in Athens to Police Commissioner William Bratton in New York, experts on public order have ce
control the police who maintain that order. Truly, it's a conundrum. The police, unlike almost everyone else
force, even deadly force. But unlike other groups licensed to use force—prison guards, say, or soldiers—t
They don't operate in groups under close command. They are dispersed throughout society. And as they p
pairs, their power exposes them to mighty temptations.
Citizens and politicians constantly urge them to "do something, now," about drugs, crime, and violence. Ha
and at times by the lack of authority or resources, officers feel pressure (even from the administrators of their own depa
to abuse their authority by settling matters with their own version of street justice. In addition, police become enmeshed
as well as with its most vicious and most depraved. Their immersion in the world of vice and misery can breed cynicism
tempt them to commit crimes like accepting payoffs not to enforce the law or even shaking down drug dealers.
Recently, Commissioner Bratton has had more reason than ever to ponder this problem: even as his aggressive anti-cr
rate—with murder down an astonishing 32 percent and robbery down 22 percent—the NYPD's well-publicized instance
Precinct, along with officers' unwillingness to finger their colleagues who made a drunken shambles out of a Washingto
hard it is even for a successful top cop to keep his troops in line. The solution Bratton brings to that problem is as innov
In fact it is, at bottom, the same strategy. If you can devise ways of reducing crime that work dramatically, most police o
own self-image, their pride in being part of a winning organization, will serve as an internal bar to misbehavior. If you se
everyone focused on the department's core crime-reducing mission, that in itself will go far to controlling officers. And if
do the job properly, they won't feel pressure to exceed their authority, and they won't develop the cynicism that comes f
in irreconcilable conflict.
But here's the rub: this winning strategy is so far in advance of the conventional wisdom that New York State's legislato
June the State Legislature, pushed by the state's judiciary, blunderingly passed a little-noticed amendment to the budge
the legal authority they need to police in Bratton's twenty-first-century style. New York City officials are scrambling to un
subvert the city government's biggest success in years. As Bratton told me, "If this is not corrected, it has the potential t
Bratton's solution to the problem of control flies in the face of an orthodoxy that goes at least as far back as the early tw
prevent corruption and control officers has shaped virtually every aspect of police organization, administration, and tact
throughout the United States had established a rigidly hierarchical command structure designed for this purpose, a stru
Rules and regulations cover every conceivable aspect of organizational life. Extensive training socializes not just recruit
departments kept officers in cars to prevent "contamination" by citizen contact, and regulations prohibited cops from ma
by the mountains of money involved in drug dealing. A central 911 emergency call system screens requests for police s
asked to do improper things. A powerful, secretive internal affairs bureau penetrates every nook and cranny to guard ag
have tried to restrict cops to dealing with only the most serious crimes, since enforcement of laws against minor crimes
plunges patrol officers into ambiguity and requires them to exercise considerable discretionary judgment.
Given all these tools of control and socialization, managers should be able to shape a powerful, unified culture that wou
corruption. But no. Instead, police departments—the NYPD included—have two separate cultures: the cop culture and
most visible manifestation is the blue curtain—the protective allegiance of cops to one another, their in-the-trenches loy
protecting comrades than on professional standards of conduct. But the cop culture, as researcher Elizabeth Reusslann
deep into police departments, it shapes how cops view citizens, public managers, and their work. Line officers believe th
and that they have "sold out" to politicians, the media, civilians, and others who don't understand "real" police work, with
to "do something, now." Officers believe they are on their own, forced to do society's dirty work with little understanding
Recent internal surveys in the NYPD confirm the deep-rootedness of this culture: 91 percent of patrol officers believe th
problems; 75 percent disagree with the statement that the police and the community have a good relationship; 81 perce
believes that police use too much force; and 72 percent disagree with the statement that the Internal Affairs Bureau is fa
How do such cynical views perpetuate themselves? Why do so many of the idealistic young men and women who ente
citizens and tolerate corruption and brutality?
We can begin to answer these questions by looking more carefully at officers' experiences as they do their jobs. Take a
cabdriver and a patron in a dispute. It is vehement and might erupt into violence. A good officer will step in and resolve
occurred; no arrests. Officially, nothing has happened. Although the event does not exist officially, it is typical of routine
that have the potential for mayhem but that the officer exercising skill and good judgment can resolve without fanfare.
Now change the scenario slightly. Suppose the officer ignores the dispute, and it turns violent. Then the officer moves in
official has now occurred. According to the traditional law-enforcement view, the officer has achieved a valued outcome
officer ignored his responsibility to keep the peace. The officer who does his job well goes unrecognized, because noth
officer gets credit for an arrest.
Change the scenario again, and it becomes apparent that the officer's incentives are even more perverse. Suppose the
something untoward happens—the officer makes a mistake, or one of the disputants is dead-set to cause trouble. One
officer. Then too the event becomes official, at considerable risk to the officer's career. We begin to see the officer's dile
unofficial, unrecognized, and unrewardable, but the official outcome of much of his work can only be trouble.
The patrol officer's dilemma goes deeper still. Many police believe that managers exploit them by sending double mess
policing—when the message comes down to cops from on high, "Bums are bothering secretaries in the park; don't do a
officers nod and smile ruefully. They understand the real message: "Do what you gotta do and cover your ass." Doing "w
vagrants, drug dealers, squeegee men, or whoever—is tacitly understood in policing as an underhanded deal in which p
may be a desirable goal. This dilemma has progressively deepened since the 1960s, as the courts, under militant press
Liberties Union, have outlawed many traditional and appropriate techniques of maintaining order.
More than anything else, the disparities between "official" police work and actual police work are what breed frustration,
among officers. When officers say that "citizens don't understand" or "you had to be there to understand," when they vie
are expressing their deep frustration at a system in which success or humiliation can so often be based on random luck
encounters with citizens.
A recent example from New York City illustrates the kind of administrative action that breeds rank-and-file cynicism. In 1
Metropolitan Transportation Authority, asked transit police management to develop plans to deal with the "homeless" pr
the problem was the illegal disorderly behavior of individuals who mostly were not homeless.) After fussing about what
maintenance crews should go into subways with high-power hoses to "clean" the areas in which the "homeless" congre
operations, would eject the "homeless." This, of course, was a transparent ruse designed to evade serious constitutiona
keenly aware of the duplicity and the risk for them. When things went wrong, the "white shirts," as officers called manag
nicely home in bed, while line officers would face the glare of cameras and the wrath of advocates. Officers could hardly
protection. Instead, they would do what they had to and pull the blue curtain around their activities. Happily, Kiley reject
Police pundits have argued that the self-protective culture of line officers persists because police managers don't carry
for their part, blame police unions—though the blue curtain long predated unionization. But in fact the cop culture is an u
the simple reality that the management practices that have dominated policing for most of the twentieth century don't wo
As Bratton understands, the control strategy is fundamentally flawed. And for a simple reason: most police activities are
at all. To be sure, the command-and-control paradigm of management has an impeccable pedigree. From Adam Smith
the principles of task routinization and simplification, the assembly line, and bureaucratic notions such as layers of contr
regulations were at the forefront of organizational thinking. Yet however well this model once worked in factories, it has
After all, police work cannot be broken into simple tasks. Police deal with extraordinarily complex human interactions. F
by overseers. Most police work is performed either by an officer alone or with a partner. The nature of their work require
dangerous and confusing circumstances, usually by relying on their internalized values, knowledge, and skills rather tha
In ignoring these factors, police leaders have constructed control systems that leave the vast majority of police work un
most obvious example. Up to 80 percent of rules cover the internal manners and mores of the organization: issues like
handling property. The rest deal with very important but rare events: use of force, hot pursuit, and processing arrests. W
"What has all of this to do with policing?" he is only slightly exaggerating, since actual police work consists primarily of h
Most police officers, for their part, would give a cynical answer to Bittner's question: "What all these rules and regulation
be used to 'get' officers when they make a mistake or when things go wrong and it gets publicity."
Nonetheless, in the 1960s and 1970s a conventional wisdom developed not only among police managers and policy ma
The reflexive solution to every police problem was more centralization and stronger controls. Even chiefs who wish to m
paradigm can't, for fear that they'll be labeled "soft" on corruption. In New York City's current public debate about how to
goes largely unchallenged. The only question is how to do it: one side of the debate favors strengthening the Internal Af
We can't solve the problem, however, merely by pointing out that traditional control measures don't work. Somehow, lin
forces that corrupt police may change over time-machine politics yesterday, drug money today—they are always power
police effectively is not to focus primarily on controlling them. Instead, police departments must concentrate with utter d
crime and keeping order. If managers win officers' commitment to that primary goal, cops' own internal values will make
kind of officer they are dedicated to being.
Evidence is accumulating that Commissioner Bratton's new solutions to the problem, based on this principle, are beginn
Moore describes it, the trick for any leader trying to change an organization radically—to transform its culture so comple
relation to the whole enterprise—is to find methods of change that will shake the organization it to its core. Bratton has d
message to his officers about their work, and by devolving authority down so as to encourage creativity, while establish
important instances, he uses the same technique to achieve both goals.
First, the message. Bratton has made sure that everyone understands the business of the NYPD: to reduce crime—not
after taking office. "I don't want a 2 to 3 percent reduction in crime this year—I want 15 to 25 percent." And he got it.) Po
they needn't wait for new cars or computers, more cops, bigger budgets, or more overtime. But meanwhile, of course co
because they deserve the best equipment and, with training, they can be trusted to use it properly. Cops deserve smart
smartly—because they represent both the city and the profession. When cops come under criticism for doing their job p
Bratton also sends strong messages about his disgust with corrupt police. When cops are corrupt, the commissioner g
taking their shields, symbolic of their oaths, from them personally. Reinforcing the message, Deputy Commissioner Jac
lie to get an arrest." If an officer inadvertently conducts an illegal search, he should admit it. "Don't start making things w
powder was sitting on the front seat alongside the driver when I made the traffic stop.' Don't ruin your career by escalati
Bratton's most powerful message is about the seamless web that connects disorder, fear, serious crime, and urban dec
that James Q. Wilson and I developed: disorder and petty crimes, left untended, signal that no one cares, and lead to fe
Broken Windows flies in the face of the assumption that serious crime is the only proper business of the police, an assu
ideologies: the traditional law-enforcement view of the police as crime solvers and felon catchers, and the radical individ
nonviolent deviance, lawful or not. The Broken Windows theory emphasizes instead that the best way to prevent major
crimes—panhandling, youths taking over parks, prostitution, public drinking, and public urination. Bratton's message go
urinate publicly (or drink in public, or engage in prostitution, and so on). If they do, cite them. If they do it again, arrest th
search them; and, in any case, question them about other neighborhood problems. (Police ask suspects questions like:
know where to buy drugs?) If information about other problems surfaces, relentlessly pursue it.
For many officers, steeped in the traditional police culture, this is a hard sell. In their minds, they are so busy dealing wi
bothered with trivial offenses, regardless of how bothersome they are to citizens. Real policing is arresting felons.
But now the NYPD troops are buying Bratton's message. Anecdotes about how well the policy works abound in the dep
same enthusiasm that transit police felt five years ago when they started arresting fare-beaters at the orders of their the
seemingly inconsequential lawbreakers often turned out to be carrying illegal weapons. In the 9th Precinct, a man arres
about a neighbor who was handling stolen property, especially guns. Police arrested the man and recovered a stash of
What makes these experiences in the NYPD so convincing, even in advance of formal research, is that the department
would improve the quality of life in New York, and it is doing so—the virtual elimination of the squeegee nuisance is just
streets, and preliminary evidence suggests that it is doing so: in August 1995, for instance, the proportion of arrested su
lower than two years earlier. The department has said that taking guns off the streets would reduce violent crime, and s
successes are not random, it's hard to attribute them to luck or to anonymous "larger forces," such as demographics.
One place where the NYPD calls its shots is in its published anti-crime strategies. Distributed to everyone in the departm
journalists, and interested members of the public, the strategies target specific issues: illegal guns, youth violence, dom
corruption. "Police Strategy No. 5: Reclaiming the Public Spaces of New York" puts forward the underlying premise of N
systematically and assertively to reduce the level of disorder in the city, the NYPD will act to undercut the ground on wh
even permissible." It then goes on to document particulars: precinct commanders will have the authority to maintain ord
operations against prostitution, 'boom box cars," sales of liquor to minors, and other forms of disorder. It's crucial that th
authority to control such problems, first, by allowing them to arrest persistent offenders; second, by seeking new legal to
third, by training officers in the use of civil procedures, like injunctions and nuisance-abatement laws (for which the thre
criminal laws), to deal with problems such as crack houses and prostitution.
These published strategies amount to a contract between the NYPD's leadership, its officers, and the citizens of New Y
thinking while communicating directly to patrol officers what the department expects of them and what steps the departm
can be monitored by those who will be accountable for success or failure. They commit the department to report publicl
Police officers may be buying Bratton's strategy, but neither the Legislature nor New York's judges seem to have any id
crime on Bratton's watch. In the name of cost reduction, they have pulled the rug out from under Bratton's winning meth
the criminal courts deal with minor offenses against public order is costly and inefficient. The courts, they claimed, could
offenses to administrative rather than criminal jurisdiction. The more likely reason is that judges feel as reluctant to deal
were before Bratton won them over. In any event, legislators bought the argument and made the change, which took ef
The result: New York's cops have lost their principal tool for order keeping. Until October 1, officers could control public
squeegeeing because they could arrest people who failed to answer summonses for such offenses. They could require
identify themselves and could then check if they had any warrants outstanding. But with these offenses moved to admin
authority to make arrests. They can hand out tickets, but if offenders don't answer them, as most don't, police can do ...
identify themselves. As a practical matter, the Legislature has made the laws against such offenses unenforceable.
New York City officials are desperately trying to repair this incalculable damage. The NYPD's legal staff is scrambling to
people for some of these offenses: public urination, for instance, may qualify as a misdemeanor violation of the health c
restore some offenses to criminal jurisdiction by elevating them from administrative offenses to misdemeanors. But the
important offenses to the Bratton strategy—such as public urination, drunkenness, and squeegeeing. Officials have ask
and meanwhile they have asked the courts to stay the new arrangement. If nothing is done, the Legislature will have co
interest in many years. "It's obvious," Bratton says, "that judges and legislators haven't gotten the message from citizen
Drawing upon the re-engineering experience of private industry, Bratton has made changes in the department's manag
merely cure bureaucratic paralysis and organizational bloat. The crucial goal is to create a unified police culture that bot
ensures that they will do if properly—reflexively, out of habit. Bratton's most important move has been to push decision
the closer to the ground the decision makers are, the more likely that they will be focused on and responsive to neighbo
making seems to be the precincts, geographical entities with histories and traditions. With 200 to 400 employees, they a
their minds around them.
Consequently, Bratton has moved aggressively to devolve authority to precincts. Early in his tenure he sent the messag
would head precincts. The transfer of power from the department's 55 chiefs to these new precinct commanders has be
Criminal Justice Program, has conducted focus groups with precinct commanders to help Bratton understand their prob
heady, almost giddy experience that young and highly motivated commanders are having with their newly acquired pow
concerns commanders have voiced in these focus groups—lack of some basic equipment, uncertain authority, staff sch
specialized police units—chiefs, the commanders' superiors, now guarantee that legitimate needs will be met in a speci
satisfy the precinct commanders. This idea, picked up from business, is another revolution in police thinking.
How will police leaders ensure that precinct captains' new authority will be used to implement Bratton's strategy to prev
powerful new management tool—crime control strategy meetings—has become the primary means of translating Bratto
precinct commanders, as well as other personnel, accountable. These dramatic meetings have not only captured the im
attention around the world. Mayors, police chiefs, and scholars from San Diego to Singapore to Saudi Arabia have com
learn firsthand how this new technique works.
Participation in the three-hour, twice-weekly meetings is mandatory for all 76 precinct commanders, super-chiefs, deput
department's high-tech command and control center, the operational "guts" of the NYPD during riots or other calamities
looks out over tables arranged in a U. A placard to the left of the screen lists the "4 Steps to Crime Reduction" in bold p
Deployment; Effective Tactics; Relentless Follow-Up & Assessment." To the right hangs the slogan, "We're not just repo
the U sit a dozen or so precinct commanders and the detective lieutenants from the borough that will be the focus of thi
of Detectives Charles Reuther, Chief of Patrol Louis Anemone, Chief of Narcotics Patrick Harrnett, Chief of Organized C
Commissioner Maple (specially appointed by Bratton and known by everyone to be one of his closest and most loyal sid
the sides of the room sit or stand representatives of schools, district attorneys' offices, and the parole department, along
staff. Outside observers fill out the standing-room-only space. Maple runs the meetings: whether he is sick, hoarse, or s
middle of the night, the show will go on.
Steaming coffee cups in hand, people flow into the room to typical cop talk: aggressive humor, teasing. Maple calls the
The first of the five or so precinct commanders to speak on any given day takes the lectern. On the screen above appea
the commander's precinct: the crime rate over time as reflected by index crimes (murder, rape, robbery, aggravated ass
shooting victims and incidents; lists of precinct residents who are on parole or have felony or parole warrants outstandin
violations like public drinking and public urination. A map of the precinct displays the geographical distribution and clust
printouts that include data about precinct citizen complaints, overtime, and the proportion of calls for service that prove
precinct commander may be cooking the books to make the crime rate appear lower than it is). A picture of the precinct
information about him, appears in the upper-right corner of the printout, making clear who is in charge and has to answe
A few minutes into the commander's presentation, Maple begins to probe: "Your commercial robberies are up. How ma
How many are guys walking in with Uzis?" The commander begins to unpack the robberies, describing them in detail. H
but Maple continues to scrutinize the data. "What about household burglaries? They're down." The commander shoots
active burglars, so we targeted on them." He provides details about how the police recognized the pattern, gathered info
The commander's peers break into applause.
Another commander steps up to the podium. "You had eight rapes this month, four above last year," Maple says. "Wha
disaggregating: "Four rapes involved friends and family, one was a date rape, and three were stranger rapes. Two of th
Maple turns to the detective lieutenant assigned to the precinct and standing beside the commander. "Tell me about the
podium and describes the investigation. Maple interrupts and addresses another precinct commander seated at the tab
months ago, didn't you? How did you handle it?" Later in the presentation, while discussing auto theft, the commander a
common method of theft). Several people call out a jumble of opinions. Maple cuts them off. Nodding to the head of the
quick response: "We're not sure. Legal will get back to you with an answer by the end of the day." Finally, after half an h
wrap up his presentation.
Before he steps down, though, the commander recognizes two patrol officers: "I would like to introduce officers Jacques
having particularly vicious robberies in Queens and Brooklyn.
Crime analysis identified that robbery pattern 27 in Queens and 40 in Brooklyn were virtually identical. [The NYPD assig
of operation, number of offenders, descriptions, and so on.] There were also similar robberies in Nassau County. The vi
was only a matter of time until someone was killed. We convened a special crime control strategy meeting [of super-chi
heads of special units, and Nassau police]. We shared information and developed a coordinated response. We alerted
Officers Guillois and Bakke, while patrolling in an unmarked car, recognized the license number [which had been identif
and arrested two persons—the driver for being unlicensed and the passenger for having three bags of marijuana. Guillo
victim could make a positive identification. The pair was identified as the robbers we were looking for by a Burger King e
Along with the rest of the participants and the audience, chiefs, super-chiefs, rise and applaud—applaud patrol officers.
special duty in the detective unit, a career-enhancing honor.
In another case, participants in a meeting were perplexed by a burglary pattern in Washington Heights: burglars were c
Anemone pushed the issue, instructing the commander of the 34th Precinct to find out where the boxes were going and
precinct, the commander assembled a team of officers who put together a plan: youthful officers posing as burglars wor
actually supplied by the cable company. Finally they found someone willing to buy them. They obtained a warrant and s
found a cache of stolen boxes that he planned to resell. At the next meeting the precinct commander proudly announce
suspect, police had shut down the market for the stolen boxes. He introduced the team of officers, who received a hear
The crime control strategy meetings have captured the imagination of the New York City Police Department and have ri
department on neighborhood problems. Those familiar with contemporary management theory will recognize the meetin
Simons of the Harvard Business School calls an "interactive control system." In an elegant and simple way, the meeting
commanders and the corresponding increase in their accountability. They dramatize the department's new processes fo
immediacy and urgency to crime control (not "Send your request to legal," but "We'll have an answer for you"); and they
to controlling disorder, fear, and crime in the city's neighborhoods.
These changes will permanently alter the police culture if the Legislature restores the legal authority the department ne
Anyone familiar with policing can feel the re-invigoration of officers. Like the transit police before them, officers througho
successfully restoring order and preventing crime. Some have heard their efforts applauded at One Police Plaza; many
citizens they serve. The lesson is overpowering: deal with the little stuff, and the big stuff will follow.
Nothing will change cop culture so fast as adopting a management culture that understands and affirms the true nature
now preoccupied with what is happening on the ground. Woe to the commander whose attention is not riveted on precin
to the commander who is not scanning the entire city to see if similar patterns are developing elsewhere, and quickly wo
As the NYPD devolves authority to precinct commanders and below, how will it prevent corruption? Police leaders are s
be a culture of integrity. The message to officers is: management will not subtly ask you to make dirty deals and be dup
authority to deal with a problem, it will not ask you to "do what you have to do." Instead, it will seek legitimate authority—
with panhandling, as the department is now doing. There's no reason for you to worry if you've made an honest mistake
Bratton believes, officers will be less prone to, and tolerant of, corrupt behavior.
Moreover, precinct managers have also been made directly responsible for keeping their personnel clean. Each precinc
the commander have the power to launch a corruption investigation. Just as they are learning to scan for neighborhood
learning to scan complaints against officers for patterns that may indicate corruption.
Bratton's message has inspired officers, and the processes he has established have changed the accountability structu
responsibly, could these changes be wiped out by a new police administration? Certainly, for Bratton's effort to change
step will be for precinct leaders to come up with ways of devolving authority to their staffs, especially to patrol officers, t
and the new mission. Yet it is hard to overturn dramatic success. Recall that since Bratton reoriented the transit police i
in the subway, but felonies are down 75 percent in four years. This pattern now is repeating itself on the city's streets an
report takers—they're the police. And proud of it.