Getting Left of Boom: Troubleshooting Poor Outcomes

“Prepare and prevent, don’t repair and repent” – unknown

  • Brian Ellis, Sacramento Police Department
  • Anthony H. Normore, International Academy of Public Safety
  • Mitch Javidi, National Command and Staff College

Its another summer night in the big city when a fast-paced call comes out that sends officers charging to the scene. As they respond to a foot pursuit of a felonious suspect, body-worn and in-car cameras are recording the incident as it unfolds.

The chase ends at the edge of an apartment complex, where a fight ensues to get the subject into custody. Onlookers begin to yell and scream at the manner that the suspect was taken into custody and form a small crowd, yelling, recording, and insinuating misconduct. Lying on the pavement the suspect is awaiting medical attention that the officers are hopeful will be quick, as the crowd continues to grow.

The event resolves without further incident, and upon an administrative review of the use of force, many issues are noted and later talked about at a management meeting. The captain is disappointed in numerous missteps captured by the recordings. These missteps include disparaging remarks by an officer about other drivers as he responds to the scene; indelicate responses about the unruly crowd; and an overall tone of sarcasm as an officer deals with the aftermath of the call.

The captain begins to worry about the potential release of any of the video, and what he believes could impact the organization’s professional status. While the use of force was justified and within department policy, the captain remains diligent in wanting to improve in any way possible.

Reflecting on the matter, the captain begins to ask himself if he’s overreacting to think that officers should present themselves differently in this case. Is this a situation where people are being people in strenuous incidents, or is there a way to mitigate potential dings to his organization’s brand? As he thinks about what he will do next, he retreats home to reflect more. The clever captain begins to look for a useful visual tool to help him with an idea that’s brewing. He experiences the following epiphany.

Complexity, confusion, and chaos riddle police organizations and the events they respond to with a never-ending supply of crisis and tragedy. In the mind of every police leader weighs the important decisions they must make for their organizations on a continuous basis. While they at times are the only ones that know the tremendous bear to consider when maneuvering through crisis for the organization, left is the majority who wonder just how the men and women who run their organizations thought the decisions and/or consequences produced were a good idea? It begs the question; are police leaders indeed producing good ideas, or has leadership done a poor job in illuminating leadership for the organization as a whole?

One large responsibility of police leadership is the ability to adequately mitigate a myriad of issues a police organization deals with continuously (Ellis, Normore, & Javidi, 2018).

Frequently, leaders face tough questions due to the optics of events and must weigh multiple factors while ultimately responding appropriately. On the other hand, officers who lack clarity see the event as lawful and question an organization’s intent to improve or criticize an event to produce the necessary learning environment for continuous improvement. Part of police leadership’s role is the ability for leaders to protect the organization from itself (Green, 2014).

Consequently, police leadership bears the responsibility to get it right every time, even when it means admitting mistakes. While speed of outcomes is a natural internal pressure of a leader, getting it right has longer lasting implications for the community and the employees they lead (Northouse, 2013). How, then, can police leadership influence its organization in a way that not only builds understanding for the community and employee, but also has the potential to mitigate issues in the first place?

Left of boom: fact or fiction?

One thing is certain; volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity of public service translates into split second decisions that often come under question (Ellis & Javidi, 2016). The more police work a city experiences, the larger potential for unexpected outcomes and error.

For the last few decades, police organizations have relied on proactive approaches to public safety in their quest for effectiveness. Many agencies can identify the proactive approaches they take for problem solving, although remain stagnant in the ways in which they deal with cultural and employee issues. There tends to be a heavy emphasis on the reactive cycle in employee errors; fixing them after they’ve happened.

Aside from policy and traditional training, what are the proactive resources police organizations can use to leverage the mitigation cycle to reduce its error cycle? The authors posit that police leadership can use “left of boom” strategies as a mitigation tool to reduce poor organizational outcomes.

“Left of boom” was coined in the early 2000s by the US military and used to describe improvised explosive device combatting efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan (Atkinson, 2007). For our purposes, the authors use the context “boom” which refers to negative police outcomes, which can result from a lack of customer service due to poor adaptive decision making and organizational positioning.

To move “left of boom” refers to the ability of a public safety organization to identify chronic issues that stand in the way of police effectiveness with respects to professionalism. “Right of boom” is the position police organizations face after the fact, whereby the only action employed is dealing with the aftermath of an unfortunate event.

Picture this concept as a clock or timeline, where boom represents twelve o’clock. Prior to the clock striking twelve is the ability for an organization to be proactive, and one minute after 11:59, the agency is left to deal with the ramifications of the event and the issues it brings.

Police organizations have a responsibility to their constituents and more importantly; to their employees in adequately building the leadership of line-level employees thus ensuring outcomes are aligned with organizational expectations (Ellis, Normore, & Javidi, 2017). Building that capacity rests with leadership, and often is one of the most challenging opportunities to move an organization from good to great. “Left of boom” focuses on the disruption of the negative event proactively long before it happens, meaning it prims police organizations to seek and employ preventive and interventive actions to reduce the frequency of poor outcomes and potential liabilities.

Troubleshooting Poor Outcomes

Strategic areas for ‘left of boom’

While the proactiveness of left of boom suggests there are many ways in which police organizations can mitigate poor outcomes, the authors will focus on three areas where left of boom can make immediate impact. We will look at our left of boom strategy much like a blockchain, where each block is connected to the one before and after, creating an immutable path for us to follow. If leadership chains these processes together, they have the momentum needed in preventing alteration or another unwanted block being inserted.

Disrupt

At the heart of disruption is the ability to prevent something from continuing. Central to this is the ability to recognize patterns that lead organizations astray. It becomes critical for police leadership to be present and actively involved in the day to day activities of those they lead. This is not a request of micromanaging, more of a manage by walking around. Equally important is the ability to ask yourself enough questions to help readily identify patterns. Questions such as:

  • What are the trigger points for these types of incidents?
  • How can I create a shared value across those I lead to benefit our community?
  • How might I transform my organization to stimulate personal, team, organizational, and most important communal change? 
Engage Enablers

Disengaged employees often have potential and believe that they are not being heard and tie their outspokenness to their reputation; a reputation they believe has bravado.

Leaders have plenty of ways to bring these people into the fold, making them a part of the decision process. Often, the outspoken disengaged have good reputations amongst their peers, and are considered informal leaders. When a leader’s message is being wedged against an informal leader’s thoughts/ideas, it limits the ability of any idea. Creating a culture of opportunities, situational awareness and analysis, even for the naysayers can help eliminate the enablers of disengagement. At the end of the day, we will encourage what we tolerate.

Reducing leverage points

Winning the hearts and minds of employees should be the key initiative of left of boom strategies. When an organization can capitalize on the collective intelligence of their workforce, amazing things are available. Now more than ever police organizations must understand the generational wants of our younger workforces. Millennials seek frequent reinforcement and want a coach, not a boss; and they want to work with people, not for them (Walters, 2018). Finding ways to incorporate the entire workforce, especially in those issues that keep executives up at night is essential in creating outputs leaders want.

Reflections

While there is no way to completely mitigate every potential issue police leadership can ensure employees have the tools, training, and most importantly the competence to recognize areas of concern in the fast-paced fieldwork they experience daily. Being in a service-oriented industry brings upon many challenges, one of which is that service to the customer happens rapidly, leaving little room for quality control at the point of service. It requires leadership to have a robust proactive and reactive toolbelt. Building employees who understand the “ask” of management is our greatest tool against poor outcomes. This means that leadership must envision an organization of leaders who take extreme ownership to deliver results with confidence in everything they do.

At the heart of left of boom tactics for police organizations is for leadership to take an active role in the mentoring of people through the casual conversation of organizational life. Today’s world has become so digitally dependent and fast-paced, that we have lost the significance of the “water cooler” time where people can have constructive conversations that build learning. The hopes of this article are to illuminate the discussion and inspire action to building leaders at every layer of our organizations. If we don’t, we are left to deal with what we get.

References

Atkinson, R. (2007). About left of boom: The fight against roadside bombs. The Washington Post. Retrieved from, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2007/09/28/AR2007092801888.html.

Ellis, B., & Javidi, M. (2016). Capturing the moment: counter VUCA leadership for 21st century policing. Law Enforcement Today. Retrieved from, https://www.lawenforcementtoday.com/capturing-the-moment-counter-vuca-leadership-for-21st-century-policing/

Ellis, B., Normore, A., & Javidi, M. (2017). Technical and tactical philosophy in policing: Making vision statements intentional. CPOA Leading Edge. Retrieved from, https://cpoa.org/technical-tactical-philosophy-policing-making-vision-statements-intentional/

Ellis, B., Normore, A., & Javidi, M. (2018). How police leadership training is an effective tool against civil liability. Police Chief Magazine Online. Retrieved from, http://www.policechiefmagazine.org/police-leadership-training-effective-tool-against-civil-liability/

Green, J. (2014). Decision point: Real-life ethical dilemmas in law enforcement. New York, NY: CRC Press/Taylor & Francis.

Northouse, P. (2013). Leadership: Theory and practice (6th edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE

Walters, J. (2018). Police officer recruiting & hiring: The challenges have never been greater. Police Chief Magazine. Retrieved from, http://www.policechiefmagazine.org/wp-content/uploads/000_PoliceChief_July-2018.pdf

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Brian Ellis is a 20-year veteran of the Sacramento Police Department. Lieutenant Ellis has worked in a number of specialized assignments including with the Problem Oriented Policing Unit, Parole Intervention and Career Criminal Apprehension Teams, Narcotics and Robbery/Burglary divisions. He is currently the SWAT commander and oversees the Metro Division’s Special Operations section. Brian earned his undergraduate degree in Criminal Justice from California State, Sacramento and has a MS in Organizational Leadership from National University. Brian is a life-long student of leadership, and passionate about helping others. He has written articles for several publications, including Law Enforcement Today, Police Chief Magazine, Peace Officers Research Association of California, Police One, The Oxford University Press, The Journal of California Law Enforcement; and has contributed to chapters in IGI Global Publishing textbooks. Please follow him on Twitter @BrianEllis10.  

Anthony H. Normore, Ph.D is President of National Command and Staff College, and Chairman of the Criminal Justice Commission for Credible Leadership Development at the International Academy of Public Safety. A professor emeritus of educational leadership, and department chair of Graduate Education at California State University Dominguez Hills in greater metropolitan Los Angeles, Tony is the author of 25+ books, 150+ book chapters, reviews, and 75 peer-reviewed articles in numerous professional leadership journals. He has published for FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, Police Chief Magazine, CPOA’s California Law Enforcement Journal, and Law Enforcement Today, and presented at 300+ professional conferences. He is the 2013 American Educational Research Association recipient of the Bridge People Award and 2015 Donald Willower Award of Excellence in Research at Penn State University.

Mitch Javidi, Ph.D is Founder & Chancellor of The National Command & Staff College
Professor, NC State University (Ret.), Honorary member, US Army Special Operations Command Mitch is an envisioneer with over 30 years of practical and hands-on experience in diverse industries including Academia, Military, Law Enforcement, Government, and Technology.  As a globally recognized leader, he is the founder of the National Command & Staff College, the International Academy of Public Safety, the Institute for Credible Leadership development, the Criminal Justice Commission for Credible Leadership Development and the MAGNUS Officers Leadership. 

He has trained at the Joint Special Operations Command “JSOC” and the US Army Special Operations Command “USASOC.” He was awarded the honorary member of the United States Army Special Operations Command in 1999 and honorary Sheriff by the National Sheriffs’ Association in 2016.  He served as a tenured Associate Professor at NC State University for 16 years before taking an early retirement but continues to serve as an Adjunct professor without pay (by choice) at both NC State and Illinois State Universities. He is a member of the “Academy of Outstanding Teachers and Scholars” at NC State University and the Distinguished 2004 Alumni of the University of Oklahoma. Mitch is a published scholar with over 890 conference presentations worldwide.  His most recent books are entitled “Deliberate Leadership: Achieving Success Through Personal Styles,” “Handbook of Research on Effective Communication, Leadership, and Conflict Resolution,” and “Moral Compass for the Law Enforcement Professionals.” His coauthored article entitled “Human Factors: Police Leaders Improving Safety While Developing Meaningful Public Trust” coauthored with Dr. Anthony Normore and Lt. Darius Bone was recently published by the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. Mitch was the recipient of prestigious “Person of the Year” award by the National Society of Accountants ~ Senator William Victor “Bill” Roth, Jr. “Roth IRA” received the award in the following year.