Inviting Outsiders Inside Policing

Joyce pictureBy Nola M. Joyce
Former Deputy Commissioner, Philadelphia Police Department

In many police departments, I would still be considered an outsider.

That might seem striking, given that I have worked in high-ranking jobs at three of the nation’s largest police departments. In Chicago, I was the deputy director of research and development, and while in Washington D.C., I was the chief administrative officer. In my last job, I was a deputy commissioner and the CAO with the Philadelphia Police Department.

But I have never been a police officer. I have never worn the shield , a fact that often surprises my sworn colleagues.

Unfortunately, the strong belief in many law enforcement agencies across the nation is that those who haven’t worn a badge are outsiders with no real understanding of policing. Another belief directly connected to this one is that as long as a person has worn a badge, they have the requisite skills to do any job in a police department, no matter their proficiency or knowledge.

These two beliefs are remarkably limiting. It has built a wall of isolation around too many police headquarters, fostering the status quo and a homogeneity world view. Quite obviously, this severely limits new ideas and prevents alternative policies and programs from being explored and developed that could improve operations.

At a time when the law enforcement profession is under fire throughout the United States, policing needs to find way to be inclusive and transparent, not exclusive and closed.  That means policing needs to find ways to open up their organizations to new people and ideas.

One way is to allow for lateral transfers at all sworn ranks between departments. Today, to climb the ranks in a police department, one must start in that department as a rookie and promote up, or be hired from the outside as a police chief. Is it any wonder that the answer to the question of “why do you do it that way” is “because we always did and we know no difference?”

Now, I will admit establishing lateral transfers at various ranks is far from easy. It means changes would have to come to laws, regulations, and labor contracts. Despite that challenge, it must happen to create a culture of openness and innovation.

Another way of bringing in new blood and fresh ideas into a police department is through civilianization. First off, let me acknowledge that over the years, there has been some effort to involve more civilians in policing. Much of that has led to hiring civilian 911 dispatchers, crime analysts, clerks and crime scene technicians.  However, civilization is typically done intermittently and at the lower pay positions of the police department.

The reality is that the general feeling among police, no matter the rank, is that only sworn officers can offer relevant and substantial insight into both policing policies and the overall oversight of day-to-day operations.

There lies the crux of the problem: police departments have built an insulative wall around themselves, which essentially has contributed to some of the most debilitating issues facing policing today.

So how do we rectify that? We must bring outsiders into police organizations. We must establish hiring practices that allow sworn and civilian employees to join the force and immediately begin to apply their skills, knowledge and abilities at all levels of the organization, including management and executive staff.

By adding more civilians at higher levels of police management and bringing sworn members into ranks other than officer and chief, new views and different experiences and backgrounds will be heard. Innovations will take place. Old problems or issues can be tackled with fresh, new approaches.

Change is never easy, but failing to take contemporary looks at these tightly held assumptions is a failure to adapt to the world today. Are the outcomes we see today really a surprise given that police culture is supported by closed and structured organizational practices? By limiting the entry of talented sworn and civilian into policing organizations, we will only continue to be stymied in terms of innovation and openness.


Nola Joyce is the former Deputy Commissioner and Chief Administrative Officer for the Philadelphia Police Department. She has 25 years of public sector experience. Joyce has previously been the chief administrative officer for the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C. and the deputy director of research and development for the Chicago Police Department. In Chicago, Joyce helped develop and implement the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS). CAPS was one of the most studied community policing initiatives in the country and was a nationally recognized community policing model.

2 Comments to "Inviting Outsiders Inside Policing"

  1. Reply Kevin Morison March 3, 2016 at 3:46 pm

    Well said, Nola. Having worked alongside you at two of those departments, I know exactly where you are coming from. We were fortunate to have worked with sworn leaders who were enlightened and recognized the value and benefit of talented civilian staff. But there is a whole lot of talent out there that departments would be wise to tap into, at all levels of their organizations.

  2. Reply Wilner Piquant March 29, 2016 at 10:51 am

    While I agree with you that law enforcement organizations across the nation should bring outsiders into their realm, adding civilians to the command staff might be challenging if not impractical. Contrary to the popular belief, the training of a police officer is as systematic as that of a neurosurgeon in that they both acquire a particular set of skills critical to performing their duties. The fact is many people do not regard law enforcement as a profession. Considering the intricacies and formal training critical to master a profession, it is no surprise how daunting it can be for the layman to understand the essence of policing or the Theory of Relativity. Indeed, the much-needed knowledge, skills and experience to proficiently perform your duties as a professional cannot be acquired by merely reading the New York Times, playing video games, or by attending a few webinars. It takes many years of training and experience to become a well-versed professional.
    The belief that outsiders cannot offer valuable insight into the field of policing is also common in all the other professions. As human beings, it is in our nature to be ethnocentric. On the other hand, the mere fact that one wears a badge should not bear him the police expert title. All law enforcement officers are not created equal. Some of them are very accomplished while others are on the mediocre side of the spectrum. The same is true for all lawyers, doctors, teachers, just to name a few.
    Can outsiders provide valuable insight to policing? Absolutely! That is the essence of community-oriented policing which promotes an interactive partnership between law enforcement agencies and the community they serve. In addition, civilians are very influential in the policymaking process which often culminates to laws that police officers must uphold. Should civilians be allowed to fulfill management and executive positions in law enforcement? Absolutely! As long as the positions are non-sworn and the candidates have transferable and relevant acumen critical to the day-to-day operations of law enforcement agencies. For sworn positions, even with the right talents, civilians must become P.O.S.T (Peace Officer Standards and Training Council) certified which is required to be an officer and a member of the command staff of a police department. Perhaps, civilians can best serve law enforcement agencies as consultants. Operating as consultants allows access to readily available human capital without having to go through the cumbersome process of becoming a law enforcement officer.
    In the past few years, law enforcement agencies have experienced some serious adversities. Unfortunately, more challenges will come unless the underlying issues are addressed and implementable solutions are achieved. With the panoply of skills and resources civilians have to offer, they can certainly serve agencies in a variety of support functions. Allowing civilians to become part of the management and the executive staff of law enforcement agencies might not be pragmatic unless fulfilling non-sworn tasks.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

Please allow some time for your comment to be reviewed prior to posting.