In the early part of the 20th century, the LAPD was one of the most corrupt police organizations in the United States. Corrupt politicians ran the city. Many bought promotions to higher office ranks, and under-the-table payoffs were common.
In the late 1930s, a few brave citizens formed a committee to clean up city hall. The LAPD was also cleaned up, and the new chief of police, William H. Parker, was insulated from improper political influence.
Parker was an honest man, and deeply committed to professionalism and integrity. He also was a brilliant leader. He established clear direction through principles, policies and procedures, and formed a unique organizational culture that began with an exclusive selection process. Only four percent of those applying to join the organization were accepted. The recruitment film, "The 25th Man," was based on that statistic.
The demanding selection process was supported by a strong emphasis on superb academy training and tough accountability. After graduation from the academy, every officer was exposed to a daily roll call training lesson and stand-up inspection. Leather had to be spit shined, not just polished. A very comprehensive policy and procedural manual was almost worshiped. Obs arrests were valued above those made in response to a call for service.
When I became an officer, I was immersed in this distinct culture. Parker seemed almost consumed with the pursuit of integrity and professionalism. In my mind's eye, I can still see him speaking with strong emotion at our graduation ceremony. He pointed his finger at the class. He warned that if any of us violated our trust and became corrupt, he would not only fire us, but he would also ensure we were sent to prison.
Two weeks out of the academy, I was working a B-wagon, a van used to pick up and transport drunks and petty criminals from foot-beat officers to our Lincoln Heights jail. My partner led the group of about 15 prisoners up the ramp from our van to the door of the reception area. As I followed the group, I noticed someone had apparently dropped a large denomination of cash. I picked it up. I told my partner what I'd found and asked him what to do with the cash. He indicated I should give it to the desk sergeant and explain I'd found it.
Then he said, "I'll bet it's an IA (Internal Affairs) operation. None of these derelicts have that kind of cash." Then he asked to feel the bill and stated, "Yep, it's IA all right. Don't you feel the powder? It's been dusted. You've got the powder all over your hands. You did the right thing, kid."
Suddenly, I realized I'd been tested. I knew my organization's cultural values taught in the academy were important to an officer's behavior and actions on the job.
Build Your Culture
Organizational culture is recognized as a powerful force that impacts the behavior of its members. Leaders who want to exert powerful influence on their followers work hard to establish a culture that supports their values. The culture of an organization is often a more powerful influence on the behavior of its members than the explicit orders and directives coming from above.
Organizational culture is derived from customs, rituals and values of the organization, the organization's history and how an organization's members interact with one another and with those outside of the organization. Organizational culture is also influenced by how leaders reward, recognize or discipline behaviors. Regular application of rewards and sanctions forms this culture.
Celebrating an officer's success is a practical way to build culture. An encouraging word, a pat on the back or a congratulatory word at roll call are the building blocks of organizational culture and behavior.
When I first joined the LAPD, for example, I began to notice a pattern of behavior of those in both formal and indigenous leadership positions. There were certain subjects that, when discussed, brought predictable emotion and strong conviction to the surface. I didn't have to be told these were important subjects. The behavior of most of those in rank as well as senior street cops made it obvious.
All organizations have a culture. Build the type of culture that will take you and your organization to higher levels of effectiveness—on point.
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