Paper: Tipping Point Leadership

This paper is a case study based on Tipping Point Leadership for my Leadership in Management class. It’s set in 1990 and is about the state of the New York Police Department just as Bill Bratton (who you might remember for his “broken glass” approach to crime fighting) is taking over.


Situation Analysis

In 1990, Bill Bratton has just been appointed Chief of the New York Transit Police. He faces ballooning crime, a public fearing the subway, aggressive vandals and fare evaders, and a police force that doesn’t like to make arrests because of the paperwork. In 1994, he is appointed police commissioner of New York City. He faces ballooning crime, a public without confidence in their police force, and a police force refusing to take responsibility for crime and blaming others for its own failures.

In both cases, the people fear for their safety and avoid areas under his jurisdiction, leading to lower use of public transit and a middle class “fleeing to the suburbs.”

Opportunities & Threats

Amongst all this doom and gloom there are bright spots. While the NYPD as an organization is quite insular, many individual precinct commanders are effective within their domain. The frequent fights over jurisdiction and funding are an easy target whose eradication will improve efficiency. The information revolution has yet to reach policing in the BIg Apple, and the introduction of computerized analysis might have serious benefits. A misallocation of resources to the police (the Transit Police have an overabundance of cars) give Bratton bargaining tools to acquire what he needs. And as Bratton has previously learned, there is probably a disconnect between what upper management thinks and the front-line police know and believe. If this can be eliminated or reduced through good communication and work policy, the situation tends to improve without Bratton taking any other action at all. Finally, the federal government has begun funding of local police departments under certain circumstances, and Bratton is prepared to take advantage of this program to hire additional police.

This is not to say that the police are destined to go up by virtue of having bottomed out, though. If Bratton cannot convince the police that making arrests (with 16 hours of associated work) is always worth their time, or if the powerful courts refuse to handle the arrests that come in, no amount of better planning can make the city safer. Continuing turf wars, though they are an easy target to increase efficiency, will scuttle even the best reform plan. The city has handed down budget cuts in recent years, and if the police are seen as doing nothing the cuts might continue.

Decisions & Analysis

Bratton faces a number of serious choices in his job leading the police. His mission is to make his jurisdiction (first the subway system, and eventually the entire city) safer. He must allocate man-hours to be most effective in meeting that goal. He also needs to take steps to narrow the information gap between patrol cops and upper management, to encourage expertise-sharing across departments and precincts, to reduce political infighting and increase accountability, and to convince the public that the police department is effective so he can maintain resources and achieve goals in opposition to other political interests.

The first decision Bratton faces is how to narrow the information gap. Several possibilities present themselves:

  1. Officers can write reports and memos that go up and down the chain of command.
  2. The organization can be flattened to give everybody more face time with officers at different levels.
  3. Management can be put in situations where they experience what beat cops deal with.

Currently, most information is passed along in reports that are never read. This creates a serious disconnect from reality going up the chain, and makes rumors the primary source of information going down the chain. Flattening would solve this problem, but actually putting beat cops face-to-face with upper management is a logistical impossibility because of the ratios. Putting management in situations that beat cops deal will narrow the information gap at a relatively low cost. However, this approach does not deal with top-down information loss. Any such approach will also need a slight flattening of the structure so that information is delivered and maintains its integrity on the way down.

Bratton’s second important decision is how to increase accountability; his method should also concurrently reduce infighting by making it more difficult to pass blame to somebody else. Periodic performance reviews are the typical solution to this problem, but they do present unique problems in an organization with little trust of peers. However, there are other competent supervisors available to a police force besides their commanding officers: the people they serve and protect. Precinct commanders and other officers could hold regular open meetings to present their work and solicit suggestions from interested citizens. Such an approach has many benefits: blaming neighboring precincts for your own troubles is harder when speaking to civilians who don’t understand the police organization structure, officers would hear directly from citizens about the issues that concern them, and such meetings would also inspire public trust in the police department (satisfying another goal). Of course, feedback on methods from such meetings would hold little use if it could not be acted on, so precinct commanders might also be given increased power to determine methodology within their precinct.

In attempting to reduce political infighting, perhaps the best tool will be to simply make such fights public within the police organization and to prevent them from having utility in the allocation of resources through firm oversight. Making the fights public will prevent group leaders from secretly slandering others without repercussion and bring the opinions of their peers against offending parties. Removing their utility in resource management can be done by influencing only a small group of budgeters and will in turn remove the incentives that caused infighting to flourish in the first place.

Bratton’s third major decision is how to allocate men to the police work. Currently, they have assignments with historical bases that have not been analyzed in the recent past. Continuing these assignments might work, but the proliferation of crime suggest that a new pattern of enforcement is called for. Unfortunately, there isn’t currently available data suggesting how to better deploy cops on beat. Other sub-decisions must also be made. Currently, officers generally let off minor offenders with a warning rather than go through the 16-hour hassle of performing arrests. A zero-tolerance policy has recently been popularized by the broken window theory of crime escalating from simple vandalism, but zero tolerance will require streamlining arrests and other activities.

Bratton can also reallocate cops between departments, changing the proportions between beat cops, homicide detectives, narcotics agents, and other groupings.

Bratton’s final major decision is how to increase expertise-sharing throughout the police force. Currently, sharing expertise has limited benefits but has definite costs in terms of time spent on enforcement and strengthening another officer you may soon be competing with for funds. If the goal is reducing costs and increasing the benefits of information and expertise sharing then one answer is, again, publicity within the organization. By making sharing more public in the form of workshops, costs per transmission go down and benefits go up as other officers credit you for not only your own better performance, but with the techniques that increased their own performance. Alternatively, Bratton can accept the current level of sharing.


The status quo has not sufficed to prevent crime in New York City or its subway system, and Bratton must implement a number of serious changes to help the organization fulfill its mission of keeping the jurisdiction safe.

First, I recommend Bratton solve the communication problem. Management must know what beat cops experience: transit police officials should ride the subway instead of taking cars; general police management should walk the streets in bad neighborhoods and speak to city residents. To deal with top-down information loss, I recommend flattening the organization somewhat, so that precinct commander have direct communication with the police commissioner. Doing this ensures that at least one person in every cop’s circle of contacts knows exactly what the goals and methods are at all times while not overloading administrators with face-to-face meetings.

Second, he must increase accountability. I recommend first making precinct commanders more directly accountable to the civilians they protect by requiring regular community meetings. To go along with this increased accountability, precinct commanders should receive new authority so they can act on community recommendations, and cannot claim the rules prevent them from being ineffective. These meetings should also be used to publicize new techniques the police force is making use of and share positive statistics on crime-fighting to increase confidence.

In order to reduce infighting and increase accountability and information sharing, I also recommend Bratton’s suggested public performance reviews, in which precinct commanders are questioned by both their bosses and their peers on both negative and positive performance aspects.

Third, new information is needed in order to effectively allocate men to police work. Bratton should generate current statistics on where and when crimes are committed, and target the hot spots with increased enforcement to drive up the probably costs of criminality. He should also make enforcement easier on police officers by reducing the effort required to book an arrest.