Transnational Research Associates

Case Analysis: How to Run a Police Department

(George L. Kelling in Lane, pp 401-412)

Art Madsen, M.Ed.

The New York City Police Department (NYPD), along with that of second-ranked Los Angeles, is the nation’s largest and most complex. This fast-moving and well-edited case study, compiled by George Kelling, records the progress that has been made within the NYPD to keep the crime rate in The Big Apple as low as possible. Through a series of programs and strategies designed to ensure honesty, reliability, and professionalism among his huge police force, Commissioner William Bratton is portrayed as a tough, astute, and authoritative leader. His policies, in spite of the State Legislature having diminished police power from a judicial standpoint, are being successfully implemented on the Precinct Level.

Most of the information required to assess the efficacy of Commissioner Bratton’s new approach, patterned on several Harvard-created models (notably devised by the Harvard Criminal Justice Program and the Harvard Business School), is available in the above-referenced case study. The primary model in use is called by Harvard Professor Robert Simons the "interactive control system."

There seems to be a positive tone taken by the case author toward Bratton’s Harvard-inspired programs; and, generally speaking, they seem to be validated by his encouraging conclusions and observations, all of which demonstrate a decrease in crime under the new system of intra-departmental control at the Precinct Level.

The central issues involve how power is to be distributed within the NYPD and how to ensure a unified police culture within this diverse police force, in spite of tensions, pressures, and temptations to revert to old ways. The initiation of so-called "crime control strategies", discussed at periodic meetings, leads to a system of accountability, holding Precinct Commanders responsible for ensuring implementation of decisions reached. By raising critical issues at these meetings, Deputy Commissioners are able to define new objectives and set priorities. There is some opposition to the redistribution of power at the Precinct Level, but because the hierarchical order was handed down from the Commissioner’s office to implement the new system, his decision is implemented and accepted. Ultimately, crime declines and corruption on the Force is decreased.

Of course, the picture is not as rosy as it seems at first glance. Kelling itemizes the struggles that develop, and repeatedly refers to the State Legislature’s actions that have stripped the NYPD of certain powers to enforce key laws. Kelling’s pro-law enforcement case analysis seems very much in favor of the NYPD’s new systematic approach and downplays the extremely unfavorable image that the NYPD, and the LAPD for that matter, have been generating in the media.

Unmentioned in his case analysis of the NYPD, for example, is a recent DISCOVERY CHANNEL analysis of corruption on the New York police force that claimed more than 33% of police officers are still deeply corrupt, with another 50% cooperating actively. Kelling de-emphasizes the impact of the ‘blue wall of silence", although he does mention it en passant toward the beginning of his case study.

There could be some alternatives to Bratton’s approach, of course, such as re-centralization of power; however, this would require massive restructuring and back-peddling, both unwise strategies in ‘mid-stream’. There is no doubt that the Police Commissioner now wields all the power in the NYPD. He has successfully commanded his Deputy Commissioner and all subordinates. Further, he has won the respect of police organizations around the world, by standing up for the innovated, power-diffusion concepts he has championed. There has been a continued decrease in crime under Commissioner Bratton’s leadership; but whether this is due specifically to his Harvard-based model is not, in my opinion, necessarily proven in Kelling. It would seem, on the basis of the fragmentary, but somewhat detailed, Kelling study, that Bratton has, in fact, found the "solution", at least for the time being.

However, it is somewhat astonishing that, in a footnote (p. 412) unrelated to the Kelling analysis, the editor of our text (Frederick Lane) points out that the Mayor of New York, presumably Giuliani, dismissed Commissioner Bratton, and that the crime rate is still declining. Under these circumstances, it is difficult to determine what, precisely, has caused this decline, other than a wild guess at ‘decreasing or age-shifting demographics’ in the Big Apple. Nonetheless, there is virtual certainty in police circles that Bratton's strategies have proven effective in both the organizational and criminological sense.

This case study points out the high degree of complexity in massive public-sector organizations, such as the NYPD, and teaches us, in spite of Kelling’s pro-police stance, that the internal dynamics of such institutions must be continuously analyzed to minimize corruption, malfeasance, and inefficiency among public employees. Minimizing these unfortunate shortcomings will result in overall improvements in the quality of life for all Americans.