“Nobody denies that the principles according to which a police department is operated differ essentially and radically from the principles applied in the conduct of a profit-seeking enterprise”.
He was about to do it again; the jowl shake. The Lieutenant had a special way of stammering over words while shaking his head that made the fat above his collar just sway and convulse in a way that let me know he was struggling with the issue at hand. Decisions always seemed to impact the new district commander in that way.
You see, Bucky had reaped a windfall in the recent Sheriff’s election. Being part of the Good Ol’ Boy network paid off for him as the new Sheriff came in and rescued him from the pits of the evidence room. There was a reason, of course, why during previous administrations Bucky was kept in the evidence room, away from field work or having to deal with the public. I never quite knew that reason until he was thrust into a leadership position overseeing road patrol operations for half of the county, but the wisdom of his sequestration was becoming evident as the tasks of leadership overwhelmed him on a near daily basis.
The new Sheriff was also a longtime bureaucrat, Good Ol‘ Boy and political wrangler who was more interested in securing a second term than empowering the organization to deliver professional law enforcement services. A clear Hayekian example of the worst getting on top, he also hadn’t been a real cop for over twenty-two years and had no clue as to how to conduct field investigations or author effective reports, let alone, lead a professional policing organization. This didn’t stop him from micromanaging though.
As an administrative investigator for the prosecutors office, he had been far removed from the field and had learned that political spin was more important than the successful prosecution of criminals. The grandiose promises he made the the voting public as a candidate meant little with regard to delivering services once at the helm of an organization with a multimillion dollar budget, this Sheriff only valued the consolidation of power.
“This machinery for selection sometimes bars the most competent men from the job and does not always prevent the appointment of an utter incompetent”.
Mises, Bureaucracy, Ch. 2: Bureaucratic Management
The Sheriff sought to micromanage the internal workings of the office through authoritarian rule, all the while ignoring the experience of those enmeshed in carrying out the day to day operations of the office prior to the new administration’s arrival. To assist in this task, the Sheriff appointed a cadre of self interested yes-men (and women) as administrators and senior leaders to unquestioningly carry out his writ of intimidation. This is how Bucky was granted a reprieve from his evidence room exile.
“It kills ambition, destroys initiative and the incentive to do more than the minimum required. It makes the bureaucrat look at instructions, not at material and real success.”
Mises, Bureaucracy, Ch. 2: Bureaucratic Management (5. Personnel)
Today, I was being admonished for efficiency. Efficiency in the reports system was an irrelevant factor for Bucky, since he had no idea about the paperwork system for reporting actual criminal cases. He wouldn’t know what a solid case package looked like and certainly had no ideas about improving workflow for the actual law enforcement officers tasked with navigating a mountain of largely superfluous documents.
For years he hadn’t been privy to anything other than chain of custody receipts and, to his way of thinking, the finer points of reporting requirements for successfully prosecuting criminal cases were overshadowed by keeping the new boss happy. Bucky’s strategy for this was to not make waves. Mises aptly described this phenomenon in 1944:
“Their main concern is to comply with the rules and regulations, no matter whether they are reasonable or contrary to what is intended. The first rule of an administrator is to abide by the codes and decrees. He becomes a bureaucrat.”
Cops exist within the first phase of the bureaucratic criminal justice “people processing” system. They operate at the law enforcement end. The second phase is the domain of the courts, with jails, prisons and “correctional” facilities being the third phase. Prosecutors are uniquely situated as the interface between the first and second phases. While they are also tasked to enforce the law, the realm of the prosecuting attorney working safe and sterile offices bears little resemblance to the harsh realities of the street cop. It comes as little surprise then, that the prosecutors have their own priorities, divorced from those of law enforcement. They look at the criminal complaints and case packages with different eyes than the cops that make these cases. Unsurprisingly, they would also prefer an entirely different paperwork system.
Thus it was that, years prior, a deal between the prosecutor’s office and the administrators of law enforcement agencies within their jurisdiction saw additional paperwork requirements heaped upon the backs of those working the streets so as to appease the lawyers; the case outline.
“They shun innovations and improvements. They look on every project for reform as a disturbance of their quiet.
Mises, Bureaucracy, Ch. 2: Bureaucratic Management (5. Personnel)
Rather than adding new information to the case package, the outline was simply a rehash of information stated elsewhere, but in a new format. It was seven pages of handwritten, duplicated effort that was often scratched through with a lot of “not applicable” or “see narrative” grudgingly filled in to simply check the block.
It also did not facilitate greater understanding between the cops and prosecutors as additional requests for information, months later, would often reveal how the latter had read in full neither the original report nor the case outline. During many candid conversations with prosecutors, most had admitted to me that they didn’t bother looking at the case outline since our office’s paperwork system had been revised several times since the outline’s introduction to more fit their needs. Yet the outline remained.
After months of completing this redundant task in full recognition of its wasteful nature, I decided that an alternative to a seven page, poorly written addendum to the case package was in everyone’s interest. I would make my case outline in a more streamlined, legible and professional manner. Using the magic of a simple word processor, I typed out the case outline, ensuring that all of the same information was included in exactly the same order as in the handwritten form. In so doing, and in employing simple copy and paste technologies, the case outline was complete in a single page and was finished in mere seconds. I was pleased with not only the neatness of the product, but also the efficiency of saved time and paper. Greater efficiency in completing reports allows for more time on patrol serving the needs of the community. One would consider this win-win.
However, innovation was a disturbance to the status quo. Indeed, the nail that stands out gets hammered down. Several days after the report submission, Bucky approached me in the patrol officer’s room to say that all case outlines were to be filled out on the designated form without modification. It was then that I asked him if he thought it looked better typed and consolidated that he began to stammer, shake and splutter, this was a process of independent thought, after all. His opinion and mine mattered little in light of the long established peace offering brokered between the law enforcement heads and the state attorney’s office.
I asked about who had difficulties with accepting the one-page format and he simply referred to the “front office”.
“Yes, I understand, but who specifically took issue with it? Perhaps I could talk to them and see if we could…”
After his faced changed to a deeper shade of red and the lard between his chin and collar took another back and forth voyage he managed to come up with, “that’s the way they want things done”.
“Yes, but who, certainly not the prosecutors?”
It was becoming entirely clear that the new Sheriff’s administration, operating through mid-level managers like Bucky, and some younger sycophants jockeying for position, were not open to feedback and creativity from the field. This one story may sound like a petty issue or sour grapes, and it is all that, yet it serves as a small illustration of how bureaucratic law enforcement fails to adapt, fails to incorporate technology and fails to responsibly employ resources as stewards of tax dollars.
Without profit to signal customer satisfaction, personality conflicts have the luxury of time. The paycheck comes every two weeks whether you save lives, solve crimes or simply mope around the office complaining about the trash not being taken out. As Mises stated, “The expenditures of a police station are not reimbursed by its successful management and do not vary in proportion to the success attained” (Ch.2: Bureaucratic Management).
These disincentives to innovation and productivity lead to not only morale issues by the line officers, but also a systemic lethargy, with the public receiving an ever dwindling quality of police services at ever increasing costs. Layers of bureaucracy continue to grow while the guys in the field learn that they are better off not taking action. They will learn to patrol with blinders on and simply wait for a service call rather than actively solve problems. Years of realizing that you can collect a paycheck while not actually engaging in police work leads to the “retired on duty” phenomenon.
As one colleague summed up the mentality, “big cases bring big problems, small cases have small problems, no case means no problems”. It is no wonder then, that cops become jaded. It is no wonder that the public is generally dissatisfied with the criminal justice system. It leads one to wonder about a better way of doing business.
Mises, Ludwig von. 1962. Bureaucracy. http://mises.org/document/875/Bureaucracy.