Friday, April 20, 2007

Do the right thing, Part II

Dr. Boohar's class yesterday was great. I had them work their way through some of my own rather recent ethical dilemmas. A couple of these would make your palms sweat and the veins pop out on your forehead. I explained the ethical decision framework I try to use, and the value of the very discussion we were having in deciding right from wrong.

I drew a rough diagram of our organizational chart on the blackboard. Like most organizations, it resembles a pyramid, with the officers on the bottom, the sergeants and captains in the middle, and yours truly balanced at the top. Then I drew another one, upside down. I explained that although the police department is a pretty hierarchical organization, in many respects our most important decisions are not made at the top. Rather, they are made by the police officers, investigators, and civilian employees on the street. The decision-making structure in policing stands the organizational chart on its head: the base makes the most decisions, and the most important ones. Many of these decisions have monumental consequences for the people they effect. I gave them a couple of examples.

As I told the students, there is a key difference between my decisions and those made by officers on the street. I make mine in a very comfortable conference room, surrounded by seasoned managers with whom I can discuss options. There is a very experienced lawyer right next door to my office, whose job is to give us legal advice. I can let it marinate for a few days in many cases. I can draw upon over 30 years of mistakes to predict what might go wrong. Conversely, officers on the street are making most decisions alone, at night, in the weather, under extreme pressure, with little or no opportunity for consultation, and often with only a few months or years of experience to draw upon. Oh, and forget thinking about it most of the time, you have to decide right now--sometimes instantaneously.

I closed the class by seeking the students advice on a puzzler that is on my plate right now. I've been debating what to do, but the students were quick to pick a course of action, and I have promised to follow their advice. That's what I'll do. This will now probably take a couple of weeks to develop, but they'll know it when they see it or hear about it. When I explained the negative consequences this could have for me personally, they did something truly amazing: they offered their help and support if it backfires!

Anyone who thinks there's a problem with young people these days needs to hang around with me. These were honor students, to be sure, but I had a similar experience on Tuesday, when Officer Kacky Finnell (LPD's public information officer) and I met with Joe Starita's beginning reporting class from the UNL College of Journalism. Officer Finnell and I remarked afterwards to one another about what a great group of students this had been.

I think the future is in good hands.


Anonymous said...

"I closed the class by seeking the students advice on a puzzler that is on my plate right now"

Wow it must be "Top Secret"
Let our imaginations run wild.

Anonymous said...

Too bad all of the decisions that are made by the officers get second and third guessed by the higher ups at the department and then in trouble for their decisions because it was not what a supervisor would have done. These officers work very hard at what they do and in return get punished and written up for a decision they made in a split second. What the public does not see is the Political side of the department which is not pretty. The department needs to stand up for their officers instead of hiding behind a big desk.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, Anonymous said... You are correct!!! As with many places the political side of LPD does sound horrific!!! As a citizen, not associated with LPD I have heard many instances of the promotions granted b/c of the ass kissing, and yes sir mentality, In contrast to supervisors who stand behind officers. (of course if the officer did the correct action.)

Anonymous said...

I've really enjoyed reading all of your posts thus far, whether they involve the more personal or professional aspects of your job. These last two, however, made me sit up and take even more notice, since they apply to me personally as an honors student at UNL. This course sounds really interesting and I'd love to take it as soon as I can fit it into my schedule. I just hope that by that time, you're still available to come speak to the class.

Anonymous said...

"Too bad all of the decisions that are made by the officers.." Perhaps the officers are making bad decisions. It's good that the LPD has a checks and balances system in place. You never hear of any big scandals at the police department so obviously Casady is running a tight ship. Thank you Chief!

I've heard promotions are given to the best candidate. I'm sorry it wasn't you, your relative, or your friend that got a promotion. Perhaps they/you should try harder? Once again outstanding decision making by Chief Casady.

Anonymous said...

WOW, you are really something. Have you ever thought about running for president?