The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Police Bureaus | Opinion | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Police Bureaus

Running city government like a business

There's been a lot of good economic news for Pittsburgh recently. But perhaps the most hopeful sign for our city is that some of our most innovative business ideas are coming from ... city government. The Bureau of Police especially is demonstrating an entrepreneurial spirit that could be the envy of any CMU start-up.

The irony is that while people complain that "government needs to be run more like a business," public officials who do so end up facing a grand jury. True business visionaries are often misunderstood. But in the spirit of books like The Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun, I'd argue we have much to learn from cutting-edge institutions like the Bureau of Police.

Rule No. 1: Fostering an entrepreneurial culture isn't about what you do, but what you don't do. How motivated are Pittsburgh police officers? The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently reported that some may have been getting an early notice of lucrative "secondary employment" opportunities — chances to make extra money through off-duty security details. There's even a nickname for these go-getters: the "detail mafia." Police brass insist they don't have the faintest clue who belongs to it, and really — why should they? When a staff is properly motivated, being an effective leader often means knowing when to get out of the way.

Rule No. 2: Law enforcement is all about giving people second (and third) chances (assuming those people also work in law-enforcement). Speaking of OT pay, last weekend, WTAE reported that the highest-paid official in city government was Sgt. Eugene Hlavac, who earned $171,000 in 2012. If that name sounds familiar, it's because Hlavac was promoted in 2007 despite a pair of police calls to his home, and was charged with domestic violence in 2010. But not only was he acquitted; now he's earning more than his bosses. Just goes to show: You can't keep a good man down. 

Rule No. 3: Seek out public-private partnerships. Lots of politicians are talking about the pension crisis. Only police Chief Nate Harper is doing something about it, by forming a company, Diverse Public Safety Consultants LLC, with some of his underlings. Although it had its own website, Harper has said the business has no customers yet. But isn't that true of many start-ups? Besides, what could be better for office morale than a boss willing to partner with his own employees?

Rule No. 4: Transparency is vital. When Harper was emailed questions from two Post-Gazette reporters about police conduct surrounding the New Year's Eve murder of Ka'Sandra Wade, he could've just stonewalled. Instead, he had the full list of questions sent to every reporter in town, ensuring that they all had the story and could follow up on it. The P-G was upset, but then who expects Old Media to grasp open-source reporting anyway?

Rule No. 5: Find a niche for everyone. Have you ever wished for a supervisory job that comes with an impressive title, but in which you're never called to account for the mistakes of subordinates?  Such a position actually exists here: director of public safety.

What? You've never heard of this $106,000-a-year post, or the guy who fills it, Michael Huss? Despite all the media attention public safety has been getting lately? Yeah, exactly. The mark of a great manager is that you don't even know he's there.

Rule No. 6: Develop sophisticated accounting strategies. The latest bureau innovation to attract media attention: a bank account that was apparently opened by the chief's office at a police credit union. Naturally, there are all kinds of questions about where the money in that account was coming from, and where it was going. But hey — at least someone knew where to find the cash, which arguably makes it safer than the police records room, where a clerk apparently stole $15,000 over the course of a year.

Rule No. 7: Always have an exit strategy. If you want to leave on your own terms, it takes years of hard work, creating goodwill with voters who might otherwise feel alienated from police. It helps if you can represent a city's commitment to diversity, even if almost all its police recruits are white.  

And then hope that when the shit hits the fan, it happens shortly before an election. 

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