Diversity, Education, and Professionalism: Arlington's Path to Exellence in Policing

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Diversity, Education, and Professionalism: Arlington's Path to Exellence in Policing

October 24, 2001 22 min read
Theron Bowman
Senior Research Fellow in Health Economics

I'm proud to associate with a fraternity of police leaders where great servants have made sacrifices to improve democratic policing. But my challenges as police chief are markedly different from most.

I head a police department that has evaded most of the public scandals, drama, historical antagonism, violent crime waves, and controversies so prevalent in the chronicles of police's greatest servant leaders. In Arlington, Texas, we have never had a major scandal involving on-duty behavior of more than one officer and have never experienced a mass civil disturbance. I'd like to talk today about how I became chief and about Arlington, how my department became the way it is, and what we hope to achieve in the future.

My Life

I entered policing at the Arlington Police Department in 1983, two weeks after I was graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington with a degree in biology. I developed an admiration for policing as a boy while working at my dad's gasoline station. My perception of police officers was positive despite growing up in a predominantly minority, high-crime, and economically depressed area of Fort Worth, Texas. I admired the stature, professional demeanor, and zeal for helping others police officers exemplified. That same zeal has been a driving force throughout my career, even as I rapidly rose through the ranks.

A key turning point in my career came in a visit with Arlington City Manager Bill Kirchhoff in 1987, four years after I joined the force. I asked Mr. Kirchhoff for direction on advancing my police career. He advised me to obtain graduate education. I enrolled in a master's degree program the following semester.

Two and one-half years later, I completed my Master of Public Administration degree, followed by a Doctorate of Urban and Public Administration. My graduate educational experience taught me the value of continuous learning and improvement. It convinced me that ignorance and isolation from the broader body of knowledge limited me individually, and my department collectively, to inbred service delivery paradigms.

My department has been stable, innovative, and effective in public service. Thus, my challenge as chief has been to continue that tradition, even through periods of dramatic social change. My successes have come as a result of defining and applying the formula that allowed my predecessors to facilitate and manage change. My city is changing.

The City of Arlington, Texas

Arlington is located in north central Texas, encompassing 101 square miles, approximately 15 miles equidistant from Dallas and Fort Worth. A mayor and an eight-member city council govern the city. The mayor and three of the council members are elected at large, with the remaining five elected from single-member districts. The city manager appoints the police chief.

The City of Arlington, Texas, has ranked among America's fastest growing cities over the past 20 years. Since 1980, the population has grown from 150,000 to 340,000. During that same period, minority representation in the population increased from 5 percent to over 40 percent. The African-American, Latino, and Asian populations all more than doubled relative to the rest of the population between 1990 and 2000. The police department has more than doubled in workload and staffing. The budget has increased approximately 500 percent. Among America's 35 fastest growing cities with more than 100,000 residents, only one--a Florida city full of retirees--reduced crime as quickly as Arlington.

Tom Vandergriff brought rapid growth to Arlington. As mayor in the 1950s, he visited Anaheim, California, and decided he wanted to pattern Arlington, then a sleepy suburb with a small college, after that city. Subsequently, we dammed rivers to form Lake Arlington and attracted a giant General Motors assembly plant. Population booms in southwest and southeast Arlington resulted. Six Flags Over Texas amusement park opened in 1961, launching the city into the entertainment and tourism industry. The Washington Senators baseball team moved to Arlington and became the Texas Rangers in 1972, spurring more economic growth and development.

Arlington is home to the University of Texas at Arlington, a 23,000-student institution of higher education that began as a small agriculture college. With major urban centers Dallas to the east and Fort Worth immediately west, Arlington became a popular bedroom community for many commuters. Many vintage 1970s apartment complexes were constructed to accommodate the young and rapidly growing mobile population. Consequently, Arlington never developed a traditional "downtown" central business district. Much of the business and commerce activity occurs at strategically located regional malls and neighborhood strip shopping centers.

Arlington is challenged to deal with both our past and future. Residents continue to build bigger and bigger houses while some older residential areas and apartments have begun to show manifestations of urban decay. This dynamic mix of new and old housing stock, stable and transitional neighborhoods, and rapidly increasing numbers of residents for whom English is their second language has forced the police to seek new and innovative ways to address neighborhood quality-of-life issues.

History of the Police Department

The Arlington Police Department has a history of stability, innovation, and successful management. I am only the city's fifth police chief since 1934.

Our first police chief to attend the FBI National Academy graduated in 1941. The department was fully immersed in crime prevention and community relations in the 1960s and 1970s. We conducted an annual "Safety Town" summer camp at a local mall in the 1960s. This camp taught children crime prevention and vehicle safety strategies. The department had a decentralized Crime Prevention Unit that by the mid-1970s was conducting business and residential security surveys.

In 1985, under the leadership of police chief David Kunkle, the department adopted the community policing philosophy. In 1986, we made a bachelor's degree the minimum education requirement for officers without prior law enforcement experience. The department implemented a vigorous work force diversity campaign in 1987.

Through the early 1990s, the department developed several innovative technologies and community-oriented policing projects. In 1991, we developed the Southeast Arlington Community Action Team. This was the first major effort to involve citizens in policing their own communities. In 1992, we implemented our first bicycle patrols and police storefront. That same year, every police employee received "Valuing Cultural Diversity" training. We also formed an apartment owners' association to address endemic problems in multifamily dwellings.

In 1994 and 1995, we focused on technological improvement by upgrading our computer-aided dispatch system, Automated Fingerprint Identification system, Mobile Data Terminals, and Gang Intelligence PC network. In 1996, we developed and adopted geographic policing and problem solving while opening a new full-service decentralized police service center. In that same year, we were named by Good Housekeeping magazine in an article about "America's Eight Best Suburban Police Departments."

In 1998, the department began a "road rage" initiative. In 1999, I became the city's first African-American police chief. We increased educational minimums for police assistant chiefs to master's degrees and required all new hires to have bachelor's degrees. Last year, we implemented one of America's first vehicle stop data programs, selected the first female motorcycle officers, and participated in both national and international officer exchange efforts. Earlier this year, we picked the city's first female deputy chief of police.

During the mid through late 1990s, the department obtained grant funding to assist with many staffing, automation, and technology initiatives. For instance, we participated in many U.S. Department of Justice initiatives, including the Universal Hiring Programs, COPS More, Troops to COPS, Problem Solving Partnerships, Domestic Violence Reduction, and School-Based Partnerships.

After 67 years of stability, and especially since 1985, corporate expectations of success and innovation remain high. We've enjoyed an almost corruption-free history. History tells us that enhancing public safety and neighborhood quality of life also reduces crime.

How We Achieve

By the professional policing and crime-fighting standards of the 1980s, the Arlington Police Department was a good and successful department. The 1980s brought tremendous population growth to my city. Arlington was originally designed to build out at 50,000 population: a big suburb. Now it's a city--our population is comparable to places like Minneapolis and Miami--and our police department recognized it lacked the historical foundation to operate effectively in an urban context.

Though proud of the department's history of stability, newly appointed Police Chief David Kunkle established the course the police would ultimately follow. Kunkle recognized that the community it policed granted police authority. He, like Sir Robert Peel, believed that to the extent that police earn the public's respect, the need to use force to achieve police objectives lessens proportionately.

Finally, Kunkle believed that police officers capable of adjusting to change would provide desirable short-term policing solutions. More importantly, he recognized that police officers and supervisors who were inclined to adjust and adapt to sociological changes were essential components of a culture of professional stability and publicly ordained successes. Simply stated, the Arlington Police Department was expected to consist of a competent, professional work force responsive and accountable to, and reflective of, the community.

A competent, professional work force, by Arlington police definitions, consists of knowledgeable, learning, thinking, and experimenting executives and supervisors who lead and manage. The line consists of intelligent agents who are representative of the service population. Achieving this mix of human resources has been the key to my organization's success.

We have learned over the years that the recipe for assembling and maintaining a competent and professional work force contains three ingredients: total commitment to higher education, work force diversity, and professional management. The three ingredients are distinct but interrelated. The linchpin, thus most significant of the three, is the minimum entry-level educational requirement of a bachelor's degree.

A Commitment to Higher Education

When I became an Arlington officer in 1983, police officers were expected to be militaristic, submissive to authority, and follow policy and supervisory directions. Policies attempted to address every conceivable situation so as to release officers from the necessity of thinking for themselves. Decisions were made at the top of the organization. Communication flowed mostly one way: from the top down. That authoritarian style of management stifled creativity and innovation, but was necessary when employees were expected to fail.

Today, we have greater respect for the autonomy of police officers. We recognize that police officers must be able to understand and apply the law, the nature of social problems, and the psychology of the persons whose attitude toward the law may differ from theirs. According to the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies:

Officers who have received a broad general education have a better opportunity to gain a more thorough understanding of society, to communicate more effectively with citizens, and to engage in the exploration of new ideas and concepts.

Officers with bachelor's degrees tend to accept change more readily. The college experience prepares officers to understand that success breeds failure, and thus that continuous learning and improvement is essential for long-term success. It teaches employees respect for differences and engenders the ability to handle difficult or ambiguous situations with greater creativity and innovation. It forces communication with people from all walks of life, thus sharpening those skills and lessening reliability on physical confrontation to resolve differences.

The degree brings with it an air of self-respect and professional demeanor that builds organizational morale. It tends to enhance their research and analytical skills, preparing them for solving complex problems without the need for strict supervision. Educated officers tend to have a better grasp of organizational imperatives and are inclined to work toward altruistic goals.

Finally, the bachelor's degree requirement has enhanced our work force diversification efforts more than anything else we can identify.

We phased in the college degree requirement over time. In 1986, new recruits without police experience immediately were required to have a bachelor's degree. New recruits with at least two years of police experience with at least an associate's degree were also eligible for employment. The policy was updated in 1999 to require all new hires, regardless of prior experience, to hold a four-year college degree.

A college hour requirement for promotion to police captain that culminated in requiring a four-year degree by 1989 was imposed. Candidates in all promotional processes beginning January 1, 2000, are required to have four-year college degrees.

The police department in 1987 was 92 percent Anglo, 3.5 percent African-American, 4 percent Hispanic, and less than 1 percent other; 7.6 percent of sworn personnel were females. There was one female sergeant. One Latino sergeant was the only minority supervisor. Fifty-four percent of the department had at least a bachelor's degree. Today, the department is 71 percent Anglo, 12 percent African-American, 12 percent Hispanic, 3 percent Asian, and 2 percent other; 16.1 percent are females. Twenty-two of the department's 97 supervisors are ethnic minorities, and eight are females.

Eighty percent of sworn personnel and 85 percent of our patrol force now have bachelor's degrees. Only one other sizeable city in the country--Lakewood, Colorado--has a significantly higher percentage of patrol officers with four-year degrees. Our work force now is more educated, empowered, diverse, and productive than ever before. Raising our educational standards didn't hurt diversity. It helped.

Arlington officers have a great amount of autonomy. Officers are expected to be computer literate, conduct community meetings using PowerPoint for presentations, and to read, interpret, prepare, and analyze statistical data. Supervisors are expected to analyze trends and data using contemporary sociological research methods. Sergeants and lieutenants routinely employ survey research to determine citizen priorities for service delivery options.

Most requests for changes in police policy or protocols submitted to my office by line-level employees are accompanied by thorough research documentation. Officers are expected to recognize trends and develop cost-benefit analyses in weighing operational options. The result is very well-reasoned, high-quality, and dependable decisions, mostly attributable to a well-educated work force.

A Commitment to Workforce Diversity

In Arlington, rapid population growth has resulted in major demographic changes in the city population. Many critics believed that raising educational standards would adversely affect department diversification efforts. To the contrary, our department has the highest entry-level standards in Texas, yet is the most racially and ethnically diverse among major cities. We are rated 16th nationally by the International Association of Women in Policing and are climbing in gender diversity.

Optimal police service in a democratic society cannot be provided to a community without police officers who are fluent in its language and culture. A culturally diverse work force is difficult if not impossible to attain without support from the various constituent communities. Obtaining the requisite community support often hinges on building a trusting relationship. A trusting relationship is built over time as mutual respect accrues.

An educated and sophisticated work force is better at understanding cultural differences even when they don't have experience with the other cultures. During a recent visit to the department, for example, The Heritage Foundation's Eli Lehrer rode along with an officer who responded to a noise complaint caused by a practicing Samoan dance group. The group didn't have a church and practiced in back yards in the daytime so as to disturb as few people as possible. The officers understood this and negotiated with the neighbors to reach a solution that left everyone pretty happy and let the practice go on. The officers also stayed for a few minutes to watch the practice and see what was really going on. This is a good example of respect for diversity, but neither of the officers involved was Samoan.

Work force diversification cannot successfully proceed without recognizing these historical challenges. Too often, police departments decide to start up massive recruitment campaigns without addressing historical rifts with ethnic communities. Images of police activity in minority and immigrant communities 30 to 40 years ago vividly depict the police as racist and oppressive.

Those images live today in the minds and hearts of many people in those communities. No amount of pay, promises, or professionalism will overcome the impact of history unacknowledged, unaddressed, and unresolved. Equal protection under the law requires equal representation under the badge.

Many ethnic minorities are first-generation college students. Consistent with Gresham's Law of Economics, college graduates want to achieve maximum value for their college degrees. They perceive that an employer who requires a degree recognizes its value. Arlington's experience proves that you can raise educational standards, improve police service, and increase diversity at the same time.

Building a solid police work force involves lots of hard work, but it does not involve lowering standards. In fact, we found that the best way to increase diversity is to raise standards. We didn't accept the fable that lower hiring standards were necessary to increase departmental diversity. Every minority and female officer I've spoken with has been staunchly opposed to lowering standards. Low standards sends a message to minority communities that the department believes they are not capable of achieving at "normal" levels.

A good start is for more departments to follow recommendations published by The Police Executive Research Forum in a 1991 discussion paper on work force diversity. The article proposed that any discriminatory effect from the college requirement could be overcome through innovative personnel management programs. Recommended techniques included eliminating programs based on, or that give weight to, ranking on a single written exam, eliminating residency requirements, and being more flexible and accommodating in scheduling exams and interviews. Arlington successfully adopted all of these recommendations.

Our degree requirements encouraged many of our officers to pursue higher education. Let me tell you about officer Lonnie Wright. He grew up in a single-female-headed household in the ghetto on the south side of Fort Worth, Texas. He frequently reflects on the days when he was involved in gang membership. He came to work for APD in 1983 as a jailer, then became a police officer.

The education requirements motivated Lonnie to enroll in college and obtain his degree. He, like so many other officers, has done that, and today he is a sergeant in the North District. He also is senior pastor of the Arlington Baptist Church and is instilling in his six children, some of whom are adopted, the importance of a college education.

I had an opportunity to welcome a new police academy class of 24 recruits to the department on July 23. The 14 ethnic minorities and females in the class of 24 new hires, without exception, cited Arlington's degree requirement as the primary factor that led them to the department. One person talked about the Arlington School Resource Officer who motivated him to attend college and become an Arlington officer.

Professional Management

The final ingredient of this three-pronged recipe for success is a professional approach to managing the organization. This professional management requires a culture of winning, leading by example, democratic governance, authority commensurate with responsibility, high standards, working with the rank and file instead of against them, selling ideas instead of generating mandates, and perseverance. This can be observed in our process of transitioning the APD from community-oriented policing to geographic problem solving.

Geographic policing is a community-oriented policing strategy built on problem-solving methodology. Police administration started moving the work force into geographic policing approximately one year prior to implementation.

We knew the entire work force would see enormous changes. Community policing asks officers to partner with community groups and to see arrest as only one of the tools at their disposal. It's an important and valuable idea, but it alone often lacks accountability measures necessary to produce the results we were looking for.

Rather than decreeing the whole organization would adopt a new philosophy and then diving in head first, we conducted internal focus groups with employees from various segments within the department and separate groups involving citizens in the community. These focus groups were designed to demystify the transition process.

After completing approximately two months of focus groups, a monthly newsletter detailing elements of the new policing methodology was circulated. We gathered employee input and addressed questions in other newsletters.

Approximately six months prior to implementation, supervisors together, followed by patrol officers and detectives in their peer groups, received intensive training. They learned about problem-oriented policing. This is the idea that police officers should confront crime not as sterile categories of offenses like burglaries or auto thefts, but rather as particular problems which affect individuals in particular neighborhoods. For example, instead of attacking burglaries on a citywide level, an officer trained in the POP model would look at the problem of house break-ins between the hours of 3:00 and 5:00 p.m. by youth gang members riding bicycles.

Geographic Policing

We also incorporated principles of geographic policing by stressing that our command staff would have responsibilities not only for shifts full of officers, but also for getting to know and understand the problems of particular parts of town.

All other sworn personnel then received geographic policing training so that every employee in every position within the police department would be able to articulate his or her role in successfully implementing and adopting geographic policing. Non-commissioned, non-supervisory "front-line" employees were invited to management meetings so they could see and take pride in the fact that their work supports the successes of geographic policing.

Geographic policing then was implemented in East Arlington, the oldest, most vocal, politically active, and arguably the most challenging residential area to provide police services. Six months and many successes and buy-in at the officer and community level later, we decided to implement geographic policing citywide.

Under our system, patrol sergeants have geographic accountability for service delivery to their beat 24 hours daily. A detective works closely with the team of officers assigned to every beat in the city. Lieutenants are 24-hour sector commanders. Arlington's geographic policing model clearly defines the sergeant's role as the primary beat manager.

The lieutenants' role is much more flexible and subjective. Sergeants manage beats while lieutenants are responsible for sectors. Sectors are comprised of three police beats. Lieutenants have both geographic sector responsibility and operational responsibility for a patrol shift. They have take-home cars, a flexible schedule, and mobile phones and pagers. They are expected to respond to critical incidents no matter when they happen. Arlington police lieutenants are senior department commanders. They report to the deputy police chief. Both sergeants and lieutenants have the responsibility for scanning, analyzing, responding to, and assessing problems.

Every other week, we hold a managers' meeting, modeled on New York City's Compstat. In the meetings, we view maps and statistics from the citywide down to the neighborhood level, and we ask commanders questions about what they are doing to address crime problems. Crime analysts report on a litany of crime and non-crime issues, including natural deaths, violent crime, property crime, and disturbances. We strongly encourage collaboration between different parts of our department and collaboration with other city agencies. Unlike New York, the atmosphere is low-key and non-confrontational.

The process produces real results. Patrol Lieutenant Mark Weibel recognized a dramatic increase in loitering, vagrancy, and public disorder offenses in his sector. He noticed a concurrent increase in the homeless population. He formed a special coalition involving his sergeants, area business owners, neighborhood associations, social service providers, and beat officers. He found that two new day-labor businesses had opened in his sector and served as magnets for the homeless population.

Lieutenant Weibel's efforts worked. The city council passed new restrictions on locating day-labor businesses. Social service agencies provided day and night shelter for the homeless populations. Grocery storeowners, determined to combat litter and broken glass, agreed to ban sales of bottled beer. Neighborhood associations' "Amigos in the Park" program created jobs for the poor children by paying them to keep the neighborhood and parks free of trash.

Let me tell you a story of another success stemming from our new geographic approach. Sergeant Jerry Hataway noticed an alarming increase in alcohol-related driving offenses in his beat. Numerous arrestees identified a large nightclub in his beat as the source of the problem. Sergeant Hataway arranged a meeting involving club managers, Alcohol Beverage Commission Enforcement officials, area residents, the Nuisance Abatement Team, and other police personnel.

Nightclub management agreed to strictly enforce underage drinking requirements, refuse to serve intoxicated patrons, and require all employees to complete classes on recognizing and handling intoxicated patrons. The citizens were able to articulate the need for the business to be a good neighbor. The Nuisance Abatement Team and Alcohol Enforcement officials articulated the severe legal consequences of failing to address the problems. Alcohol-related problems fell drastically in Sergeant Hataway's beat.

Today, three years after full implementation, many city departments and services have followed APD's lead and adopted the geographic concept of service delivery. Some critics along the way tried to convince us that the concept would not work. Pertinacity, persistence, and perseverance overcame any pessimism. Professional management paid off.

Chief Kunkle recognized a need to professionalize and diversify the department's management in 1985. He examined existing promotional systems and replaced them with assessment center processes that selected for desirable management traits. Artificial barriers that impeded minorities and females from competing for promotional opportunities were removed. Two such barriers were seniority and written-exam-based selection systems.

Police unions favor selection systems that award points based on seniority, but those systems tend to have an adverse impact on minorities and women. Minorities and women are relatively new entrants into the police profession. Seniority-based systems tend to favor older, less educated employees. Our experience also indicates that selection systems based solely on written examination scores adversely affect minorities. A pass-fail written exam, combined with an assessment center process, has proven a more valid solution.

In eliminating barriers, a promotional process was created that, over time, has created ethnic and gender diversity up and down the chain of command and throughout the breadth of the police department. These supervisors double as community ambassadors and role models. I communicate with large numbers of young people who commit to attending college so they can achieve their goal of becoming an Arlington police officer. Many Arlington police officers who instruct criminal justice classes at one of several area universities have observed the same phenomenon.

A final key element in professional management is a compressed hierarchy of command. At APD, sergeants are line-level supervisors. Lieutenant is the next higher level, and is the highest rank to which one can competitively promote. Deputy chiefs followed by assistant chiefs are the subsequent higher ranks.

The police chief appoints all incumbents in both executive ranks. The ability to appoint executive staff grants the chief the ability to handpick professional managers with a track record of superior performance without the constraints of a rank-ordered system. This forces the police chief to be entirely accountable for the performance of his administration.

In Arlington, professional management is a continuous process. We subscribe to management journals, continually review management literature, and hold membership in professional associations. We recently reviewed a case study detailing why the Container Store was named as the "Best Employer to Work For" in America. Not satisfied with being a great police department, we continually seek to be the greatest organization of any kind.

In Conclusion

My vision for the APD is driven by a personal experience in 1991. The day before the birth of our second child, my wife and I spent several hours at her medical doctor's office. We knew that day he'd had little sleep the night before. We also knew that our second child would be delivered the following morning.

When we arrived at the hospital around 4:00 a.m., her doctor was already there. We found he had been called away from his office earlier the prior evening and had been attending to patients all night long. He had obtained little sleep for two days now, but came into our hospital room, sat down, and patiently talked with us until we ran out of questions. When he left our room approximately 20 minutes later, my wife Denise said something to me I'll never forget. She said, "My physician is one of the busiest doctors in the area, but every time he sees me he makes me feel like I'm his only patient."

I believe every citizen whose life is touched by the police should have this same testimony. It can happen when you employ a competent, professional, and intelligent work force. Total commitment to higher education, work force diversity, and professional management conceives a results orientation, winning culture, constant learning, valued diversity, and impeccable service delivery.

Another day has been added to the rich and thrilling history of American policing: rich because the police mission has grown and changed over the past 160-plus years. It is thrilling to see the work of great men like Neil Behan, Lee Brown, Daryl Stephens, Chuck Ramsey, Bill Bratton, David Kunkle, and Ed Flynn, police chiefs who committed their lives, intellect, and honor to define and uphold the nobility in policing. Policing is made rich again with the contributions of other professionals like Chuck Wexler, Sylvester Daughtry, Dan Rosenblatt, and Hubert Williams, who work tirelessly to help law enforcement professionals master the art and comprehend the science of contemporary policing.

--Dr. Theron Bowman is Chief of Police in Arlington, Texas.


Theron Bowman

Senior Research Fellow in Health Economics