A New Direction in Policing: Changing Old Perceptions with a New Reality

Report Crime and Justice

A New Direction in Policing: Changing Old Perceptions with a New Reality

June 13, 2001 28 min read
Joseph Santiago
Health Policy Fellow

I'd like to speak about the City of Newark, the Newark Police Department, and the dramatic changes that have taken place during the past five years. We set out to change old perceptions about our city and our police department and create a new reality.

I would be remiss if I didn't take this opportunity to thank the Mayor of the City of Newark, the Honorable Sharpe James, for the support he has provided to a Police Director committed to change. Mayor James's unwavering support in the face of the controversies and opposition created by the concept and reality of change should serve as a model for other political leaders--as well as being the envy of any police leader embarking on the road of undertaking significant, sustainable change within an organization.

Finally, I would like to thank the men and women of the Newark Police Department who, through their blood, sweat, and tears at those times of the day and night when no one was watching, overcame old, negative perceptions about a great city by creating a new reality and a sense of anticipation and hope in a much safer city.


"A professional police officer must face the great paradox of humanity, accepting the fact that man will never find true justice on this earth because his fallibility makes him incapable of it, yet, because of the dignity of man, he must strive for it as though it were actually attainable." These words, taken from a book whose title I can't recall, have been very important to me over my 32-year career.

As a young police officer trying to learn about his profession, I read these words and wrote them down on a bookmark I used when studying for promotional exams. As a police officer, these words clarified the need to continue to strive and overcome the cynicism created by the harsh realities of police work. Later, as a leader, these words crystallized the idea that the individual officer and, in turn, a focused and committed police department could serve as one of the most important catalysts for positive change in a community.

The idea has special relevance in the City of Newark, a city which after the riots of 1967 was defined in terms of its crime rate. In most older, eastern urban areas, city governments were measured by the performance of the most visible arm of government--the police. Newark was no different. Hence, the idea that striving to attain could in fact make a difference and change how our city was defined was very evident to me throughout my career.

In recognition of the importance of the police in a city like Newark, and in recognition of the idea of continuing to strive in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, the Newark Police Department instituted an organizational slogan to focus our efforts during the past five years. We believe that "the sin is not to fail...the sin is not to try" to make a difference. I would like to tell you our story.


In order to establish some historical perspective on the programs and strategies we have undertaken, it is important to reflect on issues confronting the Newark Police Department in 1995. Where were we?

In 1995, the Newark Police Department suffered from poor police response and the citizen dissatisfaction that comes from it. The problem was historic and systemic in that, for 30 years, the citizens complained about response time and the police--all of us--made excuses as to why we came late or not at all. Response time was measured in hours and days, not minutes and seconds. Police dispatchers when broadcasting assignments, particularly for property crimes like auto theft and burglary, would tell the officers the assignments "had a lot of dust on them," meaning the assignment was from the previous tour or day.

The department also failed to come when called: 28,000 times in 1995, the police did not respond to a confirmed service call. The issue was further exacerbated by patrol officers self-imposing standards on how long to hold assignments. For example, report assignments would take 45 minutes, accident reports at least 60 minutes, and assignments with vehicle tows or injuries would be held for several hours. The greatest criticism from citizens was, "The police do not care; they don't come when we call."

In 1995, our crime rate increased 8 percent while the rest of the country experienced reductions. Certainly in terms of crime, Newark was headed in the wrong direction. In 1989, after having 16,000 vehicles--about one for every 15 adults in our city--stolen, we were declared "the auto theft capital of the world." We had to live with that dubious distinction for a long time.

We had many other issues, and all of them combined led to a referendum by Newark's voters in the latter part of 1995 where they indicated overwhelmingly--two to one--that they had no confidence in their police department. They had no confidence we could deliver public safety services efficiently or effectively. That's where we were in 1995.

Climate Prior to Appointment
In 1996, prior to my appointment in July of that year, things had gotten worse. Upon being named Police Director, I faced significant political, media, and internal opposition.

There were a lot of people who didn't want to see things change in the Newark Police Department. In the confirmation vote before the City Council, I only received the bare minimum of five of the nine votes. There was substantial opposition within the organization. The organization had many fiefdoms, many cores of power, many people that had no interest in realizing significant change.

We had corruption probes. Every Thursday we used to watch the commanders and police officers walk over to the Federal Building for grand jury. My predecessor went to jail. We had officers, about 25 of them, who were still working while they were indicted or under arrest. We had less than 50 percent of our police officers out on patrol. Almost half of our officers were detectives.

Clearly, the department had lost its way. When I went to speak to the community after my confirmation, I asked for their input and support. I discussed our plans, and the reply in every neighborhood was, "We've heard it before; we want results!"


Where are we today? Today, we've experienced a 51 percent reduction in crime since 1995. We reduced violent crime by over 61 percent and non-violent crime by 46 percent during this time. We have adopted a new management philosophy which focuses on achieving results, not merely controlling activity. We have adopted new management practices that work toward those things. We have realized public confidence in the police department. We have realized public confidence in the City of Newark.

We are finally in the midst of the renaissance we've talked about for 20 years. That renaissance has been established in a number of ways.

  • By the fact that we have the New Jersey Performing Arts Center that is the symbol of the renaissance. Prior to its construction, the fundamental questions were "Will it be safe? Will people come?" Over 600,000 people have attended events every year, without incident, since 1997.

  • By the fact that we have a new baseball stadium for our minor league baseball team, the Newark Bears.

  • By the fact that significant redevelopment is taking place: new homes, new office towers, booming real estate.

  • By the fact that we are declared as the future home of the New Jersey Nets and the New Jersey Devils in a new arena to be built in downtown Newark.

  • By the fact that the 2000 census showed that Newark is no longer losing population.

  • By the fact that developers have begun to build market-rate housing in Newark for the first time since World War II.

  • By the fact that Newark was named one of the Six Safer Cities in America for the year 2000 by the National Crime Prevention Council.

That's where we were; this is where we are now. And the question is: What was the difference, and how did we get there?


The issues confronting the police department and the city required immediate and dramatic action. For over one year, the department operated without effective leadership or a plan to address all the legitimate issues raised by every level of our community.

Upon being nominated for the position of Police Director on June 25, 1996, I gathered my staff together and set out to develop a plan of immediate action, as well as a plan to serve as the foundation for what I had promised myself: that if given the opportunity, I would significantly change the way we did business. The plan, which was designed to achieve announced goals within 100 days, was to be presented on July 2, seven days later. The 100-Day Plan, as it came to be known, was created in less than one week, but it had been in the making within my mind for 27 years.

The 100-Day Plan had inherent risks. It set timetables to attack the biggest, most unresolved issues facing the agency for 30 years--response time and the idea that the criminals controlled every street corner.

The risk of failure never entered our minds. Those words I had written down many years before echoed in my mind: Now was the time to strive to attain what appeared to be unattainable. We presented the plan on July 2. It created a sense of urgency; it created anxiety amongst those who were to implement it; it drove us to overcome old ideas of not accepting responsibility for crime and modifying criminal behavior.

In short, it was exactly what we needed.

The main ingredient of the 100-Day Plan was the Patrol Emphasis Program. The concept was simple and fundamental: Recognize that the men and women of the patrol force were our most important resource and empower the commanders to utilize them to suit their needs. Almost immediately, we placed 70 percent of the police department in uniform, on patrol. In one month, we placed an additional 150 officers into uniforms as well as 40 supervisors. We found people behind desks, in investigative assignments; we even found a few hiding in closets. With additional resources in the most important aspect of our business, we set out to attack our two long-standing issues: response time and street-level drug dealing.

Response Time: The Coin of the Realm.

As I indicated earlier, poor police response was rooted in our organizational culture. Upon becoming Police Director, we still had 200 to 300 assignments waiting to be answered in our assignment queue during the busiest periods.

To highlight the issue, I identified response time as the "coin of the realm." It would define how we were measured by the community and how we would measure ourselves. I was aware that there had been several studies regarding response time, particularly the Police Foundation report by a couple of old friends, George Kelling and Tony Pate; but although the report suggested that "Response time is not always a strong, direct determinant of citizen satisfaction," I believed this wasn't the case in Newark. In our city, poor response and the fact that we did not come at all 28,000 times a year were the first signs to the people that we didn't care.

The average citizen very seldom calls the police for service in their lifetime, usually only during a critical negative event in their lives. If the police come very late or not at all, they have no chance of making a difference, particularly a positive difference. Certainly, in the case of Newark, these signals had been sent out loud and clear for over 30 years.

We addressed response time in many ways.

  • The Patrol Emphasis Program placed adequate resources in a position to address the workload.

  • A response matrix was devised to identify the type and level of response for every call, to realize cost-effective police service.

  • We established and monitored response time goals that differentiated between priorities for violent and non-violent crime.

  • We employed differential response for specific requests for service.

  • But most importantly, the department's leadership was held directly accountable for achieving those goals.

Some of our leaders believed that our goals were unrealistic and were too demanding. One commander, the head of Communications, advised me at a command meeting that our goals were "unrealistic." I replaced him at that meeting with someone who believed differently, and within 30 days we solved a problem that had existed for 30 years.

  • In 1996, we averaged 116 minutes, almost two hours, to respond to a robbery or burglary report; today, we average 13 minutes.

  • In 1996, we averaged 14 minutes for an in-progress violent crime; today, we average 72 seconds.

  • In 1996, we did not respond to 28,000 calls; today, and since 1997, we have zero unanswered calls.

The problem was resolved, the change was noticed almost immediately, and the tenor of community meetings changed dramatically. Even today we rarely, if ever, receive a citizen complaint about response time.

Quality of Life: "Drugs Drive Crime."

The other major problem confronting us was the quality of life in our city. In Newark, the community and the police understood that open-air drug sales fostered a climate of crime and disorder. How could you be safe if drug dealing was openly taking place on your corner?

Moreover, the police did not respond to or initiate the enforcement of prostitution, noise, panhandling, abandoned vehicle complaints, moving or parking violations, or a host of other quality-of-life issues. Citizens asked, "Why can't our police enforce the law like they do in the surrounding suburban towns?"

We addressed the issue in several ways.

  • We established and identified these types of complaints as Quality of Life codes in our Computer Aided Dispatch system so we could now measure the level and location of these complaints throughout our city.

  • We established Quality of Life Task Forces in each of the four police districts. One-third of the patrol force was set aside in each command to initiate actions against these complaints.

  • Commanders were held accountable and measured by the elimination of complaints.

  • We adopted a slogan, "Drugs Drives Crime," in recognition that drugs accounted for the vast majority of crimes in our city.

As a result of these actions, arrests increased from 24,000 per year to 34,000 per year; drug arrests constituted one-third of all our arrests; and most importantly, crime fell 14 percent by the end of 1996.

The 100-Day Plan had many other components, including:

  • The development of a mission statement;

  • Amendments to the rules and regulations to facilitate accountability by holding managers accountable for the performance of their employees, not merely for their own conduct;

  • The institution of integrity policies; and

  • The implementation of an assignment policy to focus upon opportunities for advancement and advantages for patrol-oriented officers.

These changes were announced at a town hall meeting for all police officers. We had over 800 police officers in a college auditorium, and for over two hours I told them, from my lips directly to their ears, what the community expected from them, what I expected from them, what was going to change, and how important they were in the whole equation because we believed that the police officer was and is the catalyst for positive change in our community.


Upon completion of the 100-Day Plan, we had established the foundation to begin the process of instituting significant, sustainable change within the organization. In early 1997, we began the process of converting our department into a high-performance, high-integrity organization.

  • We needed to change the way we traditionally conducted our business.

  • We needed to challenge our officers to "think outside the box."

  • We needed to problem-solve, not merely react to demands.

  • We needed to manage toward results, not manage and report activity. In the past, much like other police departments, our managers looked at their statistics to tell them if they were doing well or not: Was overtime down or arrests up?

In order to realize high performance and integrity, we had to change the culture of the organization. Now, I'm not going to fool you by telling you that we managed to change the culture. This is a battle that we're still fighting: We're still trying to make them think outside that box. We're still trying to get them to think and deal with people outside of the agency to solve problems and, in effect, change the way we do business.

We have adopted the Comstat model as a management process to ensure we have coordination within the agency, to ensure we look for partners outside the agency, and problem-solve both crime and organizational problems. Currently, the Comstat process is used for a variety of organizational purposes. We have Internal Affairs Comstat, Personnel Comstat, and Department Comstat, which drills down into every performance measure to assess the state of individual commands.

Comstat: Holding Commanders Accountable

I'll tell you a little story on why we needed Comstat. At my first meeting as the new Police Director, I had all my bureau commanders, my three-star chiefs, come to the meeting. During this first command staff meeting, I asked a series of questions that confirmed change was necessary.

  • The first question I asked was about crime in our city. No one could offer any information about crime.

  • Next, I asked about the clearance rates for crime: Were we effective in solving crime? I was told they would have to get back to me with the information.

  • I questioned them about quality-of-life issues and about how we could attack quality-of-life crime in our city. No one had any suggestions.

  • Last but not least, I asked who were the problem officers, the officers engaging in aberrant behavior and doing the kinds of things that didn't engender community support but actually eroded support for the agency. No one was prepared to discuss that either.

Something had to change. It was the culture: They represented that culture. So we employed the concept of accountability and Comstat to begin changing that culture.

One of the things we did was to reorganize the agency. You recall the deputy chiefs, the three-stars, who were not aware of the business of the police department? I would like to share a related story that signified the need for change. This is a story about "mailboxes."

A series of management retreats were held, and the question arose as to whether certain levels of the organization needed to continue to exist or not. My staff insisted that every level or position was needed. So I posed a question: "If I took that command or that officer and I eliminated him, his staff, his chauffeur, all the people that are in that office, how would it significantly change my life?"

What we started finding out is, there were a lot of command positions that were merely "mailboxes." The paperwork came up through them, and they stamped it and sent it on to us with no decisions being made, no opinion being rendered, and no risk being taken. It made it very clear to me that change had to happen. So we eliminated almost one entire level of management--and it didn't significantly change my life.

A New Vision For Management

We also took the opportunity to create a management team. We created the positions of Deputy Director for Professional Responsibility and Deputy Director for Information and Technology. We created a Special Assistant for Community Affairs. We brought in a civilian to head up crime analysis. We brought in civilians to help us with technology and management information services.

In effect, we tried to make the department responsive and make it reflect the dynamics of our environment. We wanted talent, diversity, and commitment throughout our organization. But most of all, we wanted people who operated as a team in concert with one another and with the philosophy we had adopted.

In terms of creating a high-integrity organization worthy of the support of its community, we found it necessary to take a stance very early on. On my very first day, we had a captain and a lieutenant who were indicted. The captain was a classmate of mine, a friend of 27 years.

Historically, the department did not suspend officers who were indicted, but kept them on the payroll. We had about 25 to 30 officers who fit that description: people who were under a cloud of suspicion. I felt very strongly that the policy should change. Nevertheless, I agonized over what to do. The department and the community were waiting.

I went home that night, and I thought about it, and I asked myself, "What would I do if I didn't know the individual and he wasn't a friend of mine?" And it became very clear: The interests of the city and the department came first. I suspended that officer because I had to set the tone for the rest of the agency. I had to set the tone that certain types of behavior could not be condoned whether or not it was a friend. My first decision as Police Director cost me a friend. I was right then, and I still believe I am right today.

Working Against Dishonesty

We instituted a professional Standards Unit. We adopted an Internal Affairs Comstat. We instituted Professional Standards. We engaged in integrity and compliance testing. And not only did we do all of those things, but we also developed remedial programs. What do you do with officers who have a lot of demeanor complaints? Do you discipline them? Or do you give them the opportunity to find a way not to be the subject of a demeanor complaint? We instituted programs such as Client Relations training and Verbal Judo. Through technology pioneered by the Police Foundation, we utilize the Risk Analysis Management System, or RAMS, to monitor complaints against officers and officer performance. Through these reforms, we are going to give every officer the opportunity to modify their behavior and attitudes.

I'll just tell you one story very quickly about why police leadership must address the negative aspects of the police culture if we are to truly engender the support of our community. We had a situation wherein a police sergeant led a group of officers who engaged in a vicious assault of a prisoner in one of our police districts. The "Blue Wall of Silence" went up: No one would talk.

We undertook a strategy of treating the officers who witnessed the incident, and who took no action or declined to cooperate, in the same manner as the officers who engaged in the beating. We suspended all nine officers. There was a lot of opposition to that decision, but our belief was and still is that the officers who were silent were perhaps more dangerous than the officer who actually engaged in the beating, if that is possible. The officers engaged in aberrant behavior would not engage in that conduct if they were not guaranteed the silence of the good and decent cop.

Clearly, a culture which protects individual officers engaged in misbehavior must be changed. The battle continues. We have to become an open department that is responsive and committed to the idea that we are going to enforce the law and do it lawfully with the support of our community.


During the struggle to institute a new organizational culture, it became apparent that the police department needed a vehicle to set out its strategic goals and objectives. In late 1998, therefore, the Newark Police Department introduced a Business Plan to communicate our announced objectives for a three-year period: 1999 through 2001.

The plan, which identified five major challenges facing our city and police department in the new millennium, was designed to set forth a series of interrelated plans--70 action plans in all--to build upon our past successes. Most importantly, the plan also communicated our organizational intentions in terms of exactly what we were trying to achieve, why it was necessary for us and our city, and who we needed to work with to accomplish our goals.

The Business Plan, which highlights the importance of communications and collaboration among criminal justice agencies and a broad range of groups that comprise the term "community," has been an excellent device to focus the operations of the department upon the needs and the vision of the City of Newark. The five challenges--or, as we now refer to them, opportunities for growth and change--that have helped us do this are as follows:

  • Building Organizational Capacity,

  • Building Community Capacity via Partnerships,

  • Accommodating the Demands of a Changing Newark,

  • Managing External Influences, and

  • Maintaining and Improving Public Safety Services.

Briefly, I would like to review several of these areas to highlight some of the plan's most important features as we manage our way into a new millennium.

The first challenge, Building Organizational Capacity, was identified in an effort to maximize our organizational assets by leveraging our investment in a high-performance, results-oriented management process. The two major aspects of building the capacity of the police in the future are the development of technology and the development of people within the organization.

In terms of technology, the Newark Police Department has made major investments in a new map-driven Computer Aided Dispatch System and computerized Records Management System designed to transmit timely and accurate information down to the level of execution--the patrol officer. We have developed a concept called Mobile Desk to provide every officer with a wide array of information and with the opportunity to make informed decisions in the field. In effect, the Mobile Desk will make every patrol vehicle an office on wheels.

However, in adopting a management process that provides information and mandates accountability, management must be prepared to address the flip side of the empowerment equation: We cannot empower a manager or officer to make decisions, or to problem-solve, unless we provide them with the skills and abilities to act on that power. We cannot expect our present managers or future leaders to "think outside the box" if we have not prepared--and, yes, even challenged them--to engage in creative management practices.

Toward this end, a Leadership Center was instituted within the framework of our In-Service training program for all junior and senior managers. The Center involves internal and external development courses with universities such as Rutgers, Penn State, and Harvard, the Police Executive Research Forum, and others. While still in its infancy, we believe it has great promise.

The second challenge, Building Community Capacity via Partnerships, was developed in recognition of the fact that the task of crime-fighting--and, more importantly, crime prevention--requires the involvement of the community as defined in its broadest terms. We sought to identify what community assets existed to leverage our efforts in taking crime reduction beyond 51 percent.

At the time of the plan, no relationships existed with our clergy, other criminal justice agencies, community-based organizations, or the corporate community. Some of the most noteworthy programs include the following:

  • The Police-Clergy Alliance involves the identification and utilization of the assets of the more than 380 churches within our city. The Alliance also includes the Clergy-Citizen Academy, which has had over 180 graduates in the past two years, as an important ingredient in bringing together the moral and legal authority of the city--the clergy and police--in a positive way.

  • The Safe City Initiative is a comprehensive, collaborative program instituted after two years of planning by Rutgers University and George Kelling. As I have indicated before, no meaningful relationships existed with other criminal justice agencies at any level. Upon enlisting the assistance of Rutgers and George Kelling, we were able to establish an alliance of federal, state, and local law enforcement, the courts, probation, parole, our clergy, social services providers, and corporate partners to focus upon the most violent people in our community in an effort to reduce violence and victimization. The assistance of Rutgers allowed a group of agencies to come together for the first time and to minimize traditional "turf" battles and focus upon a common endeavor. While the initiative is new, it is an exciting development for our agency, and we believe it will serve as a template for the type of problem-solving approach that is needed by law enforcement in the future.

The third challenge, Accommodating the Demands of a Changing Newark, seeks to anticipate, not react to, the changing environment that is our city. In forecasting changes expected within our community, we can anticipate future demands upon the organization and its processes. We also can accommodate and facilitate the changes occurring within Newark in terms of redevelopment, housing, education, service demands, and culture.

Recently, in response to anticipated changes within our business district, the department instituted a new command, the Metro District. The new command, with needs that are different from those experienced in our neighborhoods, is designed to deal with the demands of people coming to Newark as a destination rather than leaving Newark to travel home after work.

The fourth challenge, Managing External Influences, is our effort to anticipate the demands which federal, state, and county policies might place on our ability to deliver police services. When the state passed Megan's Law, which required us to inform the community about sex offenders, we had a plan to notify Newark's population in place as soon as we needed it. When new domestic violence laws went on the books, we were ready then, too. We even look at the external influences in our own county; we're currently in the midst of trying to plan for a new Essex County correctional facility.

The final challenge, Maintaining and Improving Public Safety Services, is the capstone of our Business Plan. The action plans within this challenge focus upon improving service delivery and finding new ways to improve upon our ultimate aim--crime prevention.

Currently, the department has undertaken a pilot program to institutionalize community policing within our agency. This Geographic Accountability Program (GAP) is designed to bridge any gaps that may exist between the community and its police. While the department is already decentralized, the GAP focuses empowerment, accountability, and community "ownership" into smaller areas. Lieutenants and sergeants having "command" of their respective areas are charged with the responsibility of community interaction and problem-solving at that level. Services such as community affairs, quality-of-life enforcement, investigations, liaison with city agencies, liaison with probation and parole are arrayed together, within a smaller geographic area, by officers working the same shift under the command of a sector supervisor. The officers are expected to interact and identify community assets and partnerships within their area of responsibility.

The pilot project, modeled on programs observed in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., is scheduled to be expanded into a second district this year. The success of the program--which upon expansion will manifest true, institutionalized community policing--is linked to our efforts to change the organizational culture and our efforts to maximize information technology, and is contingent on our ability to train our people to problem-solve with their respective communities.


In looking back and reflecting upon what has taken place in our city, we can see that there have been several chapters in our unfolding story.

  • The 100-Day Plan conveyed the need to achieve immediate results and engender community support in a climate of controversy. The most significant reflection underscores the importance of police response and how an agency can transmit a powerful signal to its citizens if it fails to respond to their cries for help or, if they come so late, how they can render a force for good powerless and virtually demoralize a police agency. The 100-Day Plan signified the power of an organizational will to achieve what was previously believed to be unattainable and demonstrated that focused leadership always makes a difference.

  • Changing the Organizational Culture represents the most challenging aspect of the new direction. The process of creating a high-performance organization which embraces integrity and community values and welcomes the active participation of a wide range of collaborative partners continues to represent our greatest internal struggle. The gains made in effecting sustainable change in the way the police department does its business have been made at a price: union strife, personal attacks, and other problems. However, it is a price we would pay again. So much has been gained and is expected to be gained from creating a culture that views obstacles as opportunities.

  • Managing Police Services for the Future is the most recent chapter in our story and demonstrates the importance of establishing a Business Plan that sets forth a series of interrelated, mutually dependent plans to build on past accomplishments and chart a course for future success.

In closing our story, it is important that we recognize that the new reality of a safer, more vibrant, and promising community was not solely the product of the efforts of the Newark Police Department. It has taken and shall continue to require the vision of a forward-thinking mayor and the energies and commitment of people in our neighborhoods, classrooms, and boardrooms to take advantage of an environment conducive to prosperity at every level of the community: an environment of safety created by a police force committed to modifying criminal behavior and supporting the activities of law-abiding citizens.

The future story of our new direction will be told in terms of the police as part of government, not apart from government, working together with other city agencies and community partners to deliver a commanding array of services and realize the promise of community-based government. In Newark, the paradox of humanity, in never finding true justice coupled with man's need to strive to attain it as though it were attainable, will continue because we in the Newark Police Department still believe that "the sin is not to fail...the sin is not to try."

Joseph J. Santiago is Police Director in Newark, New Jersey.


Joseph Santiago

Health Policy Fellow