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Remarks of Laurie Robinson, Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs

Police Executive Research Forum Executive Session
Leadership in Action: Developing the Next Generation of Leaders

Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Washington, DC

     Thank you so much, Chuck. I'm really delighted to be here this morning - and I want to join Chuck in welcoming all of you to Washington. I know some of you have traveled pretty long distances! I think this is an important initiative for the field - so we're very appreciative of your making the effort to be here. I'm particularly pleased to see my predecessor (and successor!) Deborah Daniels here!

     I want to give kudos to Chuck and Jerry for organizing this session. PERF has, of course, been an amazing leader in tackling so many challenges in policing, and I think this session is particularly timely and relevant.

     And - equally - I want to give credit to my wonderful colleague, Jim Burch. And this is not just a perfunctory nod. I absolutely love Jim Burch - he is my right hand at OJP. Jim really has been a stalwart OJP - and at the Department of Justice generally - on issues affecting state and local law enforcement. I know that, Eric Holder knows that.

     And of course, Jim has the benefit of a enormously talented and dedicated staff - people like Pam Cammarata and Steve Edwards, who are here today. I don't want to embarrass him, but some of you may know Steve was recently inducted into the Michigan State School of Criminal Justice Wall of Fame for his life work on law enforcement issues - which is terrific and much deserved. Congratulations, Steve!

     I think it's worth noting the irony that we're holding this session on "leadership challenges in law enforcement." After all, as the Attorney General himself has said, our communities are actually safer than they've been in decades thanks largely to effective - and innovative - police leadership.

     So . . . building on your success is, in many ways, a key part of exploring this idea of leadership and the role it plays in ensuring public safety. For one thing, we need to understand what's worked so we know what elements to build on and to take to scale.

     For another, because many police leaders have done such a good job, expectations are high - the field now has to decide how to rise to standards that it, itself, has set. And all this at a time when - of course - budgets are shrinking and demands are expanding.

     Fortunately, I think we've learned some concrete lessons from the last few decades about which leadership approaches make a difference. Some of these frankly - in my view - are tried-and-true qualities that apply to good leaders everywhere - perseverance, willingness to listen and take your ego out of the game, fortitude in tough times, an ability not to be thin-skinned in this hyper-media era, a knack for collaboration, and that quality that great military leaders aspire to and achieve - the ability to inspire devotion to a cause - in other words, making those in your ranks want to follow you.

     These are "foundational principles" of leadership in any field, and I think it's worth taking note of them during these challenging times, because I'd assert they are essentials as we adapt our strategies and approaches to a new climate. Perhaps they mark me as old-fashioned, but so be it. But at the same time, we don't need to be reminded that we're dealing with some complex new dynamics in the world of policing right now.

     Demand for your services has clearly never been higher. My friend George Gasc�n jointly authored a paper as part of the Harvard Executive Session on Policing that NIJ will be publishing soon. He offers some explanations for this increase in demand - whether it's more calls to respond to minor disturbances or the proliferation of new types of crime, or other demands that increase the workload.

     This is all happening even as your resources are being strained - not only because of the financial crisis and the toll it's taken on state and local budgets, but also due to the rising cost of policing. At PERF's meeting in September on the impact of the economic crisis, there was a lot of discussion about cutting specialized units and moving toward a more generalist approach.

     This comes hard on the heels of a trend toward specialization. For example, a recent BJS report found that, in the middle part of the last decade, many large departments had created specialized units to deal with gangs. This is a good example of the complex issues we're dealing with.

     Then, we know, there are greater expectations from the communities you serve. A point was made at the September PERF meeting that 81 percent of what police do is provide services to the community - responding to those minor disturbances or calls for help that don't rise to the level of serious crime.

     Your relationship with your communities and your role as communicators and coalition builders have probably never been so important. I would assert that one of your challenges is to maintain that connection and manage public safety expectations - and that's going to be a challenge for any leader right now.

     Unfortunately, we've seen a political reflex at times to make drastic decisions - reducing staff, cutting pay, limiting training - which seem like palatable options for the short term, but might not be the best approach in the long run. So, I think what's called for here is a willingness on the part of police executives to assert their authority as public figures. I know this has to be done in the context of your relationship with your mayor - you're not an independent elected figure - but I'd argue that there are important benefits here.

     One thing - in my view - we often overlook is that police chiefs are seen as honest brokers with stature and authority, both in the eyes of the community and in the eyes of your counterparts and bosses - the mayors and city managers and council members and heads of other departments. You have the clout to make people listen. This is important, because the ability to meet the challenges of policing will depend in part on the influence each of you wields in the public and private debates about crime and safety.

     Your candor and credibility are sorely needed, because the conversation about our public safety challenges has often become too simple - turning on the question, how can we protect the bottom line? But the quickest answers are rarely the best answers. What we need oftentimes is to think deeply and critically about where the field goes from here - not rushing to solutions, but thinking them through.

     This kind of analysis is a hallmark of effective law enforcement leadership today. It really is remarkable the degree to which police chiefs are immersing themselves in data and research. I've spent a good part of my career trying to draw attention to the disconnect between what we know about effective crime control and how that knowledge is applied in the real world. And this is something Chuck and I - and I know many of you - have shared. So it's great to now see policing in the vanguard of evidence-based approaches in criminal justice.

     Chuck describes the last 30 years as a "golden era of police leadership" because police executives have embraced the pursuit of knowledge. I'll tell you - to see people like Charles Wellford, Lorie Fridell, Wes Skogan, and Tom Tyler sitting here with Chuck Ramsey and Ed Davis and George Gasc�n and other chiefs here. This is a sign that our law enforcement leaders - and our top criminologists - are ready to take policing to the next level.

     And we have support at the highest levels of the Department of Justice. The Attorney General has been the standard-bearer for data-driven, evidence-based approaches. Just last week, he appointed an 18-member Science Advisory Board, which will, among other things, serve as a link between OJP's science agencies and the practitioner community we serve. I'm delighted the Board includes law enforcement leaders like Bill Bratton, as well as renowned researchers like Tracey Meares and David Weisburd.

     So, this is an exciting moment. I think it's an opportunity for us to define what constitutes effective law enforcement leadership. So I encourage you to think boldly about how we meet today's challenges and how we cultivate future leaders. Your experience - and the discussions you have today and throughout this project - can help guide the field.

     Policing is at an important crossroads, and the insights you uncover are going to be critical in determining what law enforcement looks like well into the 21st century. I hope you'll take real advantage of this opportunity to be agents of change for policing.

     Thank you so much, and very best wishes for a productive meeting.

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