Addressing Leadership Dysfunction
By Christoper Scilingo
Leaders of poorly managed law enforcement organizations don’t typically like to admit their departments are poorly managed. They often act like everything is OK or prefer the head-in-the-sand mentality when the subject is brought up. But the reality is that not every organization is run successfully, many are failing, and many could turn around for the better, but they have to get past the constant excuses and negativity.
My favorite excuse is past practice—we’ve always done it that way. I call it an excuse because that is exactly what it is. It is an excuse used to suffocate concepts of looking for new ways, better ways, or more efficient ways to improve business. Remember, we are in the service business. This discouraging management culture that does not support looking for new ways to become more effective as a law enforcement organization hurts officers plus the communities they serve. Then again, a poorly managed law enforcement organization is probably not thinking about providing top tier services at all. They are probably thinking about ways to maintain the bare minimum mediocre services while suffering from limited organizational continuity.
What I mean by that is, it seems that management within a poorly managed law enforcement organization is more concerned with regulating every move that officers make, rather than empowering them to do their jobs successfully. This is not a new discovery; look up on the Internet about troubled and dysfunctional law enforcement departments. Why can’t police officers police themselves? Odds are it is because they are members of a poorly managed department or organization. I have said it before and I will say it again that it starts at the top. If problems within a department are identified but no attempt is made to correct them or measures put in place to prevent the problems from arising in the future, then you have a failure of management.
For the most part, law enforcement is a public sector business, but that does not mean that we can’t take a few tips from the private sector. That’s the sector that strives to be successful and efficient and often removes employees who aren’t contributing to their success. I am not saying that law enforcement organizations should fire cops who don’t write enough tickets or don’t arrest enough criminals. But we should learn from private sector businesses that are constantly searching for new ways to operate better to provide a higher quality product or service.
Improvement is the key term here; why don’t poorly managed law enforcement organizations want to improve? What makes them want to continue using bad past practices and encourage the corrosive mindset of doing things the way they have always been done. This isn’t policing in the 1970s, not the 1990s; we are policing in the 21st century where information is moving at tremendous speed. Poorly managed law enforcement organizations that are stuck in the past are policing behind the curve and will never get ahead.
There are so many factors involving a failing police department. Are the wrong people being promoted or moved into management positions? Is there an outside influence that, once at the top, encourages management to run an ineffective organization? Does the phrase “forget where you came from” actually occur? These are questions I ask myself sometimes when I become aware of poorly managed law enforcement organizations. I say to myself, “What are those folks doing wrong over there that can’t be fixed with a little bit of trust and communication.”
Dysfunction at the top, bottom and in between of a law enforcement organization must be treated like cancer. It must be aggressively approached with care, and all options must be considered. It must be isolated and rooted out. Lastly, it must be monitored to prevent recurrence and lessons must be learned to prevent it from spreading throughout the organization in the first place.
Chris Scilingo is a police officer in NJ since 2011. He’s a Marine veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is near completing his bachelor’s degree at Fairleigh Dickson University; where he also plans to pursue a master’s degree. Chris aspires to teach higher education after transitioning from law enforcement.