The civil unrest, institutional distrust, and anger; while uncomfortable, is the necessary fuel for true societal change. The people of Burlington have witnessed or experienced violence or oppression on the part of the Police. It’s time for a change, and that time is now.
I have lead organizational culture change for the Community Sailing Center and worked as an organizational change agent for dozens of institutions across New England. If there's anything I've learned in 18+ years of change management, it would be this:
Financial scarcity does not alone affect organizational change.
Institutions, especially those who've lasted for hundreds of years, will approach fiscal instability as a speed bump. They'll tighten their belts, make necessary cuts, maintain leadership, preserve institutional knowledge, and wait for opportunities to claw back to their former breadth. It's my opinion that our Police department, along with others nationwide, are perfectly capable of riding out the storm of public opinion, preserve their cultures, and incrementally raise their budgets. In their mind, a 30% budget reduction is a pimple of a problem for an institution whose history extends back to 1865.
If money doesn't affect change, what will? Organizational culture is a system of beliefs, habits, celebrations, and values. If you sincerely want to affect long-term institutional change that will serve as a beacon for our state and country, I strongly suggest we as a city take the following course of action:
1. Audit, Adjust, Accountability, Celebrate
Make the current consultant’s audit publicly available for perusal.
Adjust staffing (create new positions) to meet community needs.
Create new benchmarks for performance instead of drug seizures, traffic tickets, and arrests.
Celebrate wins loudly in public and award BPD staff for meeting new standards of accountability.
2. Outside Leadership
The new BPD chief should not need to come from 30+ years of criminal justice and have a tactical training to effectively lead through change. Deeply embedded police leaders will have a very difficult time shedding the norms, cultural mindset, and behaviors necessary to transform law enforcement. The new BPD leader will need experience in organizational culture change, systems thinking, human services, and have a deep knowledge of issues regarding substance abuse and mental health.
3. Transition to Department of Public Health and Safety
Instead of the Police Department being a standalone department, the organization will be merged with the fire department into a larger single entity: The Department of Public Health and Safety. The work of this new department will include fire safety, traffic control and enforcement, mental health and substance abuse service, crisis officers, drug and law enforcement investigation, CUSI, and Domestic Violence Intervention and Prevention Service. By eliminating the Police Department as a single entity, the work of community safety and health will be spread among a larger department with oversight that looks at policing within the context of human service rather than law enforcement.