Three-part series: American Policing - Striving to be "world champions."

July 22, 2017

 

The following is an original, three-part series by Virginia Beach Deputy Police Chief Patrick L. Gallagher.

 

 

Part One

 

 

               The administrative complexities of managing a major police department in the 21st century are immense. 

 

               Describing the multitude of functions that occur while running an agency of over 1,000 employees, with a $100,000,000 budget, is boring to even an academic. Imagine a text book entitled, Police Management 101. 

 

               I asked myself, what would make a topic like police management interesting enough to devote a few minutes to read? Akin to adding sugar to medicine, I needed to find something that would make the subject matter more tolerable.  If sugar can make a bitter pill taste sweet, what would be an alternative solution for this subject matter? 

 

               If you guessed football, you sir or ma’am are correct.  If football was added to the Surgeon General’s report on smoking in 1964, I theorize that more people would have read it and more might have heeded the warnings to quit, just saying.  

  

               This is unorthodox but you have to admit, if you have read this far, your curiosity is peaked.  If we accept, as I do, Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms’ statement that “Virginia Beach is the greatest city in the world,” I would proffer an addendum that goes like this, “the VBPD is the greatest police department in the world.” 

 

               That is a bold statement and many would accuse me of extreme bias and embellishment.  I am hopeful that by the end of the article, I can make a case that the VBPD is American Policing’s version of a “World Champion.” 

 

               From a community-police perspective, I hope to create an effect in which our citizens can envision “rooting for the home team.”

 

               Football champions are determined on the field of play.  Identifying commonalities between winners is critical in determining whether there is a magical formula unique to champions.  My first challenge was to identify a model champion to compare the VBPD with.  I could have selected a college football team like Alabama or Clemson, but since the NCAA student athletes are not professionals, I didn’t see a meaningful comparison.  I opt, instead, to focus on the National Football League. The world champion New England Patriots became the obvious comparison for my purposes, since they are objectively the “best.”

 

               For many of us, when it comes to football we gauge the year from two perspectives.  There’s football season and then there’s waiting for football season.  From a police managerial and leadership perspective, our true season is largely driven by tourism; although we are a 24/7, 12-month-a-year organization, we experience the heaviest demands for police services as the temperature rises.            

 

               Conversely, we see a decrease as the weather cools.  The summer season is our busiest, while the winter provides opportunities to prepare for the next year (season).  If we had a “true” season, it would be kicked off on the 17th week of the year, during which the annual College Beach Weekend is scheduled.  Our busy season generally ends after Labor Day.

        

               In football, success can be found in the “win” column.  Ultimate success is a Super Bowl win and the presentation of the Lombardi trophy. For a municipal police department, the comparison for what is a “win” and a “loss” has to be carefully interpreted.  Factors that include, reducing and solving crimes, positively impacting social conditions that influence the quality of life for our citizens, or improving police-community relationships are good criteria to judge success, especially when juxtaposing the VBPD with other agencies. 

 

               Obtaining success in any of these would be, in essence, the functional equivalence of a “win.”  Failure would be analogous to a “loss.”  At the end of the year, like a football team, we hope to have more wins than losses.

 

               The New England Patriots are arguably the best-managed and coached team in the National Football League.  They have perhaps the best athletes in the league and they have a proven track record for success.  This does not happen by chance or by luck. It is part organic and part precision. 

 

               The business model of the New England Patriots seek to maximize potential, through building a team of undervalued talent, by employing a sophisticated sabermetric approach towards scouting and analyzing players.  These metrics seem to work for the Patriots as indicated by the program’s continued success. Talent is introduced, developed and utilized to its fullest potential.  Players are added and released at just the right time to maximize the talent pool and minimize the salary cap. 

 

               The 2016 New England Patriots were not just given a championship. They had to find a way of overcoming a-25 point deficit in the third quarter to defeat the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl 51.  Perseverance, faith, tenacity and teamwork were the cornerstones to a miracle ending.  

 

 

 

Part Two

 

The New England Patriots and the VBPD should be considered

American Policing’s version of a world champion.

 

               In Part One, I proffered the theory that winning teams may possess instinctive characteristics that could account for success. With that in mind, I sought to test that theory by comparing the Virginia Beach Police Department (VBPD) with the National Football League’s (NFL) World Champion New England Patriots. In this second installment, I will begin to make the case that the VBPD is American Policing’s version of a World Champion.

 

               Identifying relevant traits common among both New England Patriots organization and the VBPD was remarkably easy. The challenge wasn’t how to find the commonalities, but rather how to articulate the relevant and important variables in measuring success. Some common characteristics are meaningless, such as the similarities of the dark blue uniforms worn by both the Patriots and officers of the VBPD; an interesting and comparable variable, but one with no associated relevance.

 

               The first and most important comparison pertains to top leadership. For the Patriots, that person is their head coach, Bill Belichick. For the VBPD, that is the chief of police, James “Jim” Cervera. Both began their careers at the age of 23. Both were born in April and are close to the same age. Both are highly respected in their fields. A head coach, like a chief of police, is responsible for setting the formal culture of his or her organization.

 

               Coach Belichick and Chief Cervera have created systems that work. Whether it is acquisition of talent, employee development, strategic planning, environmental scanning or coordinated systems development, the outcome has to advance the organization in a positive manner or success is compromised.

 

               These, along with culture and teamwork, create organic options that create momentum for success. Every person in the organization must “buy-in” to the program. Buy-in occurs as a result of strong leadership on all levels coupled with proven history of success. A football game is not unlike life. Success is achieved incrementally. The objective in football is to gain at least 10 yards, within three or four attempts, in pursuit of a touchdown or field goal. Failure to achieve the needed 10 yards after three attempts results in a critical decision to gamble on another attempt or play it safe and “punt.”

 

               In police work, similar incremental processes occur. There are very few successful “Hail Mary” plays in life, especially in police work. Planning, similar to game planning in football, is critical in determining how to create and sustain success. Because police resources are limited, how officers are deployed can have a substantial bearing on probability of success.

 

               Take, for example, a real life approach to addressing a rash of burglaries. The Hail Mary play would be to hope that an officer would come across a burglar in the act, arrest and then successfully prosecute the offender. Not realistic, and although it has happened before, the likelihood of this approach resulting in much sustained success is ridiculously low.

 

               A more likely outcome includes police initiatives such as analysis of trends, crime prevention strategies, saturation and/or undercover patrols just to name a few. New England Patriots coaches and other staff members spend an equal, if not more, number of hours off the field in game planning through a set of analytical approaches. Whether it’s “game preparation” or “intelligence led policing,” the mantra of “work smarter, not harder” is the key.

 

               In 1991, VBPD police officers responded to 4,162 burglaries throughout the city (averaging over 11 a day). Today the number of burglaries has reportedly dropped by over three-fourths (2.5 a day). The approaches taken over the years in implementing successful burglary abatement strategies created systems that not only improved our deployment tactics, but resulted in a greater sense of security and safety for the residents of Virginia Beach.

 

               Bill Belichick and Jim Cervera are not unlike orchestra conductors. Talented musicians are only as good as the conductor who leads them. The coordination needed to maximize each individual component, separate from the collective whole, requires deliberate leadership. Football teams, orchestras and police departments are essentially a collection of subdivided specialists whose roles and responsibilities are different but critical to each other.

 

               This specialization and division of labor is a business model that is replicated in hundreds of other professions. The critical element in achieving success is how each subdivided component is leveraged in pursuit of a common goal. In football, the goal is to outscore the opponent. In policing, it is achieving the safest community possible while adhering to the constitution of the United States. A football team or police department is an assortment of diverse components.

 

               A great example would be the contrast of a running back and an offensive lineman; or, a patrol officer and a detective. An average running back is 5’10 and 220 pounds, whereas the average offensive lineman is 6’5 and 312 pounds. Both are critical to the mission but each performs two totally different functions. In comparing a patrol officer with a detective, there are important differences, albeit not in terms of height and weight. The patrol officer is a first responder. Considered a “jack of all trades,” capable of triaging any situation in advance of additional help or supervision. Detectives are specialists who are highly skilled crime scene managers, whose functions include such aspects as evidence detection and interview and interrogations.

 

               Chiefs, like head coaches, rely on a hierarchical approach in structuring their organization to subdivide leadership components and areas of responsibilities. In football, these sub-leaders are referred to as position or assistant coaches. The VBPD implements its own rank structure. This is often times depicted by way of an organizational chart, on which the different leadership levels are reflected vertically; low ranks and authority on the bottom and high ranks and authority on top.

 

               Culture is one of the most critical components of an organization. If organizations could be seen from a genetic point of few, those that are successful could be said to have a good cultural DNA.  An organization’s DNA defines its personality and is the bedrock by which success is built. Culture can be described as a stool with five legs: history, behavior, values, metrics and communications. Each leg represents part of the stability by which everything else originates from. A closer inspection of the New England Patriots and the VBPD will reveal that, although not perfect, each has created a cultural of “winning.”

 

               In the third and final installment of this series, I will illustrate some of the most important aspects of why I feel the VBPD is American Policing’s version of a “World Champion.” This will be accomplished through statistical comparisons and real life examples of why Virginia Beach citizens enjoy one of the safest communities in the country.

 

 

 

Part Three

 

The VBPD deserves several Lombardi trophies; only 64 citizen

complaints out of 243,642 official police contacts.

 

 

         In the first two parts of this series, I proffered the theory that winning teams may possess instinctive characteristics that could account for success. I further began to make the case that by comparing the Virginia Beach Police Department (VBPD) with the National Football League’s (NFL) World Champion New England Patriots, I could demonstrate that the VBPD is “American Policing’s” version of a “World Champion.”

 

         In this third and final installment, I continue making the case that success in policing, or winning in football, is achieved through leveraging the right balance of culture, first-line leadership and strategic planning.

 

         The fact that the New England Patriots have another Lombardi Trophy on display is a testament to their dominance within the NFL. How do I defend a claim that would suggest that the VBPD is positioned atop the policing profession? By continuing to compare the high qualities of the Patriots with the VBPD, I hope to accomplish that task.

 

         If I were to suggest that an NFL quarterback was the equivalent of a police sergeant in the Law Enforcement profession, what would that suggest to the reader? If the quarterback in question is Tom Brady, my proposition denotes something a little different. Whereas the position of quarterback is the same for every team, not every team has Tom Brady. If all VBPD sergeants are equivalent to a Tom Brady type quarterback, most would demand proof.

 

         In football, the 11 players on the offensive side of the ball are tasked with scoring. These players are sometimes referred to as a “squad.” The quarterback is the leader. Within policing, the uniform patrol component of the department is similar to that of an NFL offense. The police sergeant is the leader of a patrol squad. Tom Brady completed 67.4 percent of all of his passes in 2016.   This is only 4.2 percentage points from achieving a new NFL record for pass completions.  Some might equate this as a 32.6 percent failure rate. Clearly this is acceptable in the NFL, but not in American Policing. 

 

               If VBPD sergeants failed to achieve success in one-third of every decision they made, the agency would fail.  In this comparison it is clear that our first line supervisors are more successful in how they lead the men and women on their squads then does a pro-bowl quarterback leads there teammates in the NFL.

 

         In 2016, the VBPD patrol officers responded to 178,929 police calls for service. Without context, this doesn’t carry much meaning or weight. Virginia Beach is the largest city, by population, in the Commonwealth of Virginia but has one of the lowest officer-to-citizen ratios (1.8 officers for every 1,000 population) in the country.

 

         According to 2015 FBI UCR data, only six other comparable cities in the nation (San Diego, Portland, Mesa, El Paso, San Jose and San Antonio) have a lower ratio than Virginia Beach. This comparison is somewhat disingenuous as San Diego, Portland (Multnomah County), Mesa, El Paso and San Antonio (Bexar County) all have a sheriff’s department that performs law enforcement functions, essentially offsetting the police department’s staffing limitations. Although Virginia Beach has a Sherriff’s Office, they do not have the same law enforcement responsibilities as the VBPD. Needless to say, VBPD officers are not lacking for work. Constant oversight is needed to adjust and re-adjust to changing conditions. The front line leader, like Tom Brady, is the police sergeant.

 

         Our VBPD sergeants are highly educated. All VBPD sergeants hold, at a minimum, an associate’s degree. This is a mandatory requirement to become a formal leader in our agency. Many of the 90 sergeants on the VBPD have a bachelor’s degree and some have master’s degrees. Formal education is supplemented by advanced leadership training. All sergeants are also required to attend IACP’s (International Association of Chiefs of Police) Leadership in Police Organizations (LPO). This is among the most recognizable leadership development training programs within the country. It is widely believed that the New England Patriots’ success is largely due to Tom Brady’s ability to manage the game and to optimize the team’s game plan. The same can be said for the sergeants who lead the men and women who patrol Virginia’s largest city.

 

         In the NFL, penalties denote violations of the rules. Referees determine those violations. We can make a similar comparison in that the media, and by extension, the public, functions in a similar fashion in relation to police departments. In the 2016 football season, the New England Patriots were one of the least penalized teams in the league.

 

               During the same period, the VBPD had only 64 citizen complaints out of 243,642 official police contacts. In order to bring context into how vastly different these figures are, a visual scale is needed. When converting these numbers into feet, we can see the monumental difference in actual size. The result would be exactly the same as comparing the size of an average adult with Mt. Everest, the largest mountain on earth.

 

         This overwhelming difference cannot be understated as it provides a clearer context into the professionalism of the men and women who interact with the community throughout the year. Translation: in football as in police work, the game (mission) is easier when there are fewer penalty yards (complaints) to overcome.

 

         In the NFL, instant replay is an equalizer that provides objective oversight. The speed of the game has always created errors in interpreting the true outcome of a play. In policing, Chief Cervera does not have the ability, as does Coach Belichick, to stop the “action” and review dozens of high definition cameras from a multitude of angles. Although this is a limitation, the VBPD does have limited options. The ability to slow down the action and view a situation from other angles provides more clarity.

 

         The VBPD is in the final stages of implementing its body-worn camera program to provide similar opportunities. NFL coaches have options of challenging a call on the field. The desire to “get it right” is, at its core, the main reason instant replay is important to the integrity of the game. In life, perception can be a form of reality that is hard to overcome. Expecting the mind’s ability to recall events in absolute clarity is not reasonable. The VBPD’s body-worn cameras will create the ability to review and potentially challenge the actions of a police-citizen encounter and have the ability to objectively view events through the lens of a

video camera.

 

         As stated earlier, the primary goal of a police department is to achieve the safest community possible. There are many measurable metrics within the law enforcement field but objectively the most important is safety. The New England Patriots won a championship because they achieved their primary goal of outscoring their opponents. If we measure the VBPD against other departments, we find there are limitations. Determining what variables are appropriate in measuring safety is critical.

 

               The number of reported crimes is one metric. Case clearances (crimes solved) are another. These are relevant and important statistics and can provide some context. The FBI uniform crime reporting (UCR) data has tracked reported crimes since the 1930s and currently collects data from 18,000 cities. Cross-referencing that data by population (crimes per 1,000 residents) reveals that in three of the past five years, Virginia Beach has been the safest city of its size in the nation. In addition, VBPD detectives have solved well over the national average of Part 1 crimes. VBPD detectives solve 25 percent more homicides than the national average, double the national average for solving robberies and burglaries and almost quadruple the national average for solving rape cases.

 

         Over the course of this series, I have admittedly and shamelessly “plugged” the VBPD. My formal role in the agency is well understood. That stated, I have accepted other informal roles that are not found on any police related job description. One that is amongst my most important is that of “cheerleader.”

 

               In keeping with the football comparison, I am but one of many who enjoy cheering for the men and women who wear the Virginia Beach police uniform. Like the men and women who serve our military, VBPD officers are constantly approached by members of our diverse community who are proud to say, “Thank you for your service.” I have seen the profession of American policing change over the past quarter-of-a-century.

 

         The VBPD has been on the forefront of many of these changes and as a result, we have assembled what I consider to be the best police “team” in the country. Like the New England Patriots, we are successful. Unlike the Patriots, we do not have a trophy to show for our successes. What we do have is an appreciative community that supports the men and women in blue. Today’s crop of new police officers is akin to college All-Americans.

 

        After completing the police academy (translation into football talk -training camp) the young officers are positioned to help the team achieve its goals and mission.

 

        If there were such a thing as a Lombardi trophy for policing, it is my belief that the VBPD would have several of these on display at police headquarters.

 

 

Virginia Beach Deputy Police Chief

Patrick L. Gallagher

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Virginia Beach Policy Chief

James A. Cervera

 

 

 

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