It’s Not About Defunding … It’s About Redesigning

6 mins read
Photo credit: Fred Moon via Unsplash

Organizations work in exactly the way in which they are designed.

If your workplace seems bureaucratic, inefficient, dysfunctional, or even toxic – it’s because it is designed that way and functioning on those design principles, regardless of whether the design is intentional or desired.  In fact, organizations can experience a significant amount of slippage over time if organizational stakeholders are not vigilant about keeping purpose, processes, and accountability measures in check.  When organizations become dysfunctional, they are redesigned.  Organizational development processes are something many people are familiar with through change initiatives in their workplace.  The same concepts hold true when we want to examine the need to change the ways in which police departments function.  

Each community will have different needs, so one-size-fits-all solutions are not possible. But there is a general sense for demilitarizing police departments and looking at the wide array of responsibilities police are expected to accomplish.  Police officers are often tasked with mental health, domestic or child abuse, and other social service interventions they are not well trained to perform.  As the saying goes, if your only tool is a hammer, then every problem is a nail.  We also see toxic cultures of violence, corruption, and privilege. Addressing these types of issues within police departments is at the heart of what is meant when we talk about redesigning the ways in which departments function.

Organizational development interventions are most successful when they include all stakeholders and changes are considered from the bottom up.  The national conversation on policing and justice was raised by those stakeholders in the communities which are most affected and who are most vulnerable to the consequences of cultural toxicity and dysfunction.  Only recently has the need for change been echoed by politicians and others who hold power and authority.  This is as it should be, yet politicians must be conscientious about not applying their time-worn solutions to a social problem and listen to all voices in seeking new perspectives.  Importantly, they must not co-opt the process and push the original voices for change out of the conversation in favor of those who prefer simple tweaks that essentially keep the status quo intact.  The status quo is the dysfunction.

There is always resistance to change.  People will say they do not like change, which isn’t true if we dig a little deeper.  Getting married, starting a new job, having a child, or winning the Powerball are all big changes people welcome. The real objection is not to the change itself, but the perceived consequences of change on their personal power, self-efficacy, or other potential losses.  Change in the workplace can mean job loss, new and unfamiliar duties, loss of autonomy or power, and broken relationships as functional roles are changed.  These perceptions about potential losses are exactly what police officers are fearing when they hear talk about changing the way in which they do their work.  Consequently, they and their allies will fight to keep the status quo through whatever tactics they can devise. From symbolically tossing out a ‘few bad apples’ to sowing fear in the community about lawlessness and chaos.

Resistance can be overcome, and change can occur.  A famous formula by Kathie Dannemiller goes like this:

C = D x V x F > R

When Dissatisfaction (D) times Vision (V) times First Steps (F) is greater than Resistance (R), Change will occur.  Each must be greater than zero or change will not occur. We clearly see the level of dissatisfaction with the way policing is enacted in the United States through the past weeks of protests across the country.  But we do not have a consensus on the vision of what we want policing to look like in the future nor the first steps to achieve that vision.  We will certainly get there, but we are not there yet.

And this is where we must stop talking about defunding the police and start talking about redesigning policing. Whether police departments get more or less money is immaterial.  The critical objective before us is to reimagine how policing can be more effective and beneficial to the communities they serve. We need to collectively create a vision for the future and identify the first steps toward that vision to overcome the resistance to change and bring about the sorely needed changes of how policing functions in the United States. 

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