Detective Lieutenant Barry M. Baker (ret.) is a 32 year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department
New ideas are something most people may not associate with police due to the traditional nature of police, but the opposite is true. Police departments used to be some of the most well organized and operated entities within state and local governments. However, many have succumbed to a new generation of new ideas which are frequently ill conceived and poorly implemented.
Everybody knows how to do something better, and it’s always been that way. You’re going to make your own observations regarding organizational issues; even though, you’re a brand new police officer. You might even come up with a suggestion that will be appropriated by someone in higher authority and implemented. There’s nothing new about bosses claiming ownership of new ideas originally conceived by the rank and file.
What is different is the frantic pace by which new ideas are implemented. Gone are the days when new ideas, which could significantly impact an organization’s efficiency, are thoughtfully debated and reviewed. This paradigm of little, if any, debate and review can cause the implementation of a new idea that is actually a bad idea.
Are New Ideas Real?
There really are few new ideas. Most are simply old ones that have been forgotten for any variety of reasons. In an efficiently operating department, you’ll notice that changes in organization and systems occur at a slow and measured pace. In one wherein changing people, procedures, and systems occur frequently, you’ll feel the impact of poorly implemented bad ideas.
Change has always been — and always will be — inevitable, and new ideas drive change. You’re beginning your police career during an unprecedented period of social and technological changes. I had the advantage of beginning my career in a stable, well managed organization, and I ended my career in a different place. It had been turned upside down and inside out by constant and radical changes. Part 1 seemed rigid and boring at times, but Part 2 was just plain unpleasant.
You may join a police department where new ideas are frequently implemented, and you’ll become familiar with Officer Somebody. Officer Somebody is an elusive individual, and you’ll never actually meet Officer Somebody. Officer Somebody is the person everyone expects to complete tasks created by new ideas for which no resources exist.
A supervisor may say to you, “Have Somebody do that.” You won’t be able to find Officer Somebody, and you’ll be stuck with completing the task. The task may or may not be of any importance, and the supervisor may not even follow-up regarding its completion. The implementation of too many new ideas has the effect of making things unimportant.
The Good News
Everything is cyclical. New ideas, whether they’re good or just old, bad ideas recycled, are just something you have to accept. You should try to evaluate the police department you’re joining to see where it is in the cycle of change. Is it stable, or is it on a downward trajectory consumed with constant and radical changes.
Police departments are necessary and permanent organizations, and they will always survive the cycles of change and new ideas. Things will get bad only necessitating improvement and a department will eventually regain stability and efficient operation. You may join a department on the downside of the scale, but you can be reasonably confident that things will get better.
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