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.