In policing, the conversation around innovation typically occurs in an echo chamber where ideas are bounced around by people that are revered as leaders in the field. The term “best practice”, is sacred and is commonly referred to by police leaders as the object we are all in perpetual search of. The “best practice” in any element of policing is boldly presented as something that actually exists. In reality, it is rare that programs, activities or even policies neatly transfer from one department to another without some significant consideration as to how individual departments function differently. This irrational dependency on the part of police leaders simply to emulate what is proclaimed to have worked for others is at a great cost to their department’s efficacy. In many ways this one dynamic alone has stunted true innovation in our profession for the better part of three decades. What the most effective organizations do (in the public or private sector) is optimize the talent from within to produce true innovation. True innovation is that by which is produced by those who are responsible for executing it. In other words, innovation can only be brought into existence from inside an organization.
So, the question is how do we produce true innovation inside police organizations? The answer lies in how the people inside any organization would answer the following two questions.
The first being, how is success measured? Often the key measurement for any police organization is how much crime occurs within its jurisdiction. Seems logical, since it’s an objective measurement that most people can wrap their head around. The problem comes when police leaders seek to tether police activity to crime reduction and that’s it. As long as police engage in said activity, crime will be reduced in this perspective. Unfortunately, this low-resolution thinking about crime and the causal factors of crime places police officers on the “hamster wheel” of perfunctory performance objectives that fail to utilize their individual strengths, talents and passions. This dynamic leads police organizations to be no more effective a decade from now as they are today. Crime rises and falls with no real understanding as to why it does either while police officers fail to be fully engaged and utilized year-after-year and decade-after-decade. This is the dynamic that has produced zero true innovation. I would offer that success for police departments is best measured in two ways: reduction in crime and what new ideas are brought into existence. For new, relevant and innovative ideas to be brought into fruition requires that all members of the department be valued equally and fully leveraged for the individually talented people that they are. What is inevitably produced in police organizations that take this approach is a much deeper understanding of the casual factors that contribute to crime and disorder along with the ability to leverage community assets to significantly increase the likelihood that crime reductions will remain over time. This is a true example of a “win-win” situation, where the primary objective- crime reduction -is attained while creating a meaningful and rewarding experience for police officers.
The second question is: what do we celebrate? What is celebrated within police departments is what occurs. It is that simple. If what is celebrated is simply the activity that is part and parcel to the police function, then that is all that will occur. While ensuring that police officers are focused is necessary, it is how we define success that determines what innovation if any is brought into the organization. I submit that there are two behaviors that should be continually celebrated within police departments: One is collective innovation or the cooperative and collaborative production of new ideas. Second, individual officers making extraordinary impressions on the people they encounter. This is about police officers valuing human interaction and seeking to make every contact with people (both inside the organization and out) impactful.
True innovation can’t be transferred in from the outside. It is produced internally through the intentional design of a culture that encourages innovation and celebrates it. Don’t seek someone else’s best practice, create your own because your own innovation is the only best practice of any real utility to meet the policing challenges of today.