Can Bratton Save New York? Part 3: What do the Players Think?

 

Last week, we published the second in our seven-part series exploring the tensions between the NYPD and Mayor Bill de Blasio. In Part 2, we identified the key players who have a stake in this issue, explored what their perspectives might be and developed a working theory. Our working theory was:

The underlying challenge is a fracture in accountability, specifically how it relates to the use of force and in cases of an abuse of authority.

This week we finalize the Diagnosis Stage of DSX with Step 3: Determine the Challenge.

Up until now, this process has been done in a vacuum. We have brainstormed, surmised and hypothesized. Now, we take our theory to the streets. Did we get it right? Or, is there some critical information that we need to consider? This week’s goal is to investigate the perspectives of the factions. Only by understanding the intricate nuances of each perspective can we confirm or refute our working theory.

When speaking to the factions, we’re interested to know the richness and nuance to each of their stories, but there are two specific things we’re looking for:

  1. Do they agree with our working theory as the underlying cause

  2. What are the pressures they are under that are driving decisions and behavior?

There are two outcomes from this step: validated perspectives for each of the factions and a finalized challenge. The finalized challenge will integrate the best parts of our working theory with new information that we’ve gathered.

Perspectives vs. Motivations

You might have noticed that we frequently use the word perspective. (As a warning, this week we are going to use it a lot!) The word perspective has special meaning for what it is, and specifically for what it isn’t. Perspectives are rational (sometimes noble) beliefs that drive behavior.

From our experience working with clients, almost everyone we meet is driven by good intentions. It is tempting to think that your colleague in the next office wakes up each morning with the sole purpose of making your life hell, but this is rarely the case. They are probably dragging themselves out of bed every morning (same as you) trying to figure out how to do the best for their family, their friends, and their cause.

An example of a perspective we heard often during our research is that being an NYPD officer is an inherently dangerous job. This rational explanation helps us understand behavior. It provides guidance to explain habits and norms. That said, identifying a perspective doesn’t necessarily make it true. Just like any other belief, it is just that: a belief.

Contrast perspectives with motivations. Motivations are personalized, emotional explanations for the way someone is behaving. This distinction is important. Perspectives help us understand the diverse and contrasting viewpoints of a problem and can drive the conversation forward. Motivations are rabbit holes that only lead to analyzing someone’s psychology. This quenches a self-serving desire to deconstruct, but rarely does it further the work.

Step 3: Determine the Challenge

There is both an art and a science to establishing perspectives. On the surface it seems that this would be an easy task. Ask members of the faction what they think and there you have it. The reason that it is rarely this straightforward is that you’re asking people to articulate what they believe. Sometimes this is simple, but a far greater percentage of the time, it can be a real challenge. Perhaps it is buried so far that articulating itself is difficult. Perhaps the belief is not popular or likable. Or, perhaps the person to whom you are speaking is ardently committed to a belief, but his or her actions don’t align with that belief.

Our process for establishing perspectives involved gathering as much information as we could. This included both primary and secondary research. When conducting interviews, we were interested in the answers to our questions, but were just as interested in the body language that people displayed, the language they chose to use, the use of silence in their speech, as well as things that were curiously omitted. All of this information used together gave us the richness required to interpret the perspectives, which will ultimately lead us to a finalized challenge.

Regarding our sources, generous individuals contributed (and are still contributing) their time and perspective on this issue. However, due to the sensitive nature of this case (and the fact that it is still ongoing) we conducted our research on the condition of complete anonymity. Thus, we won’t be disclosing to whom we spoke, or even quoting them anonymously. Their contribution simply serves to inform our analysis and we take complete responsibility for the interpretation.

NYPD

The NYPD faction was the one where we had the most dramatic shift in our assessment. Our hypothesis was that officers and NYPD leadership held the perspective that Mayor de Blasio’s campaign (run on a platform opposing Stop, Question and Frisk) encouraged anti-police violence. Instead, we learned that there are other more material pressures that the NYPD faces.

Productivity
Since the introduction of CompStat in 1994, policing has become increasingly data-driven. Officers are informed and gauged by how “productive” they are in terms of complaints and arrests. This isn’t a quota system, per se, but the results are the same. Officer performance is reviewed based, at least in part, on arrest numbers. This gets particularly tricky when officers are expected to produce increasing arrest numbers, even though overall crime rates are declining.

Court Settlements
Over the past five years, the City has paid $428 million in NYPD-related settlements. The perception exists that the Mayor’s administration is willing to settle cases even when the use of lethal force was justified. In a case of perverse incentives, the message is clear: potentially deadly force against NYPD officers may award a payout.

District Attorney Investigations
Anyone whose watched Law & Order knows that, “In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police, who investigate crime; and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders.” Recently, however, district attorneys have begun investigating allegations internal to the NYPD. What was once a partnership has now become a strained relationship rife with mistrust and suspicion.

Ultimately there is a sense that there is little to no support from City Hall. The Mayor’s administration uses the NYPD to do its bidding, but it’s not shown support. This is particularly acute when it is easy to score political points by demonizing the NYPD.

Mayor de Blasio (and his administration)

We were able to confirm that the Mayor’s campaign platform opposing Stop, Question and Frisk was based on the perspective that such a practice constituted racial profiling and was an overstep of police powers. That said, we were unable to confirm that there is a vendetta between Mayor de Blasio (and his administration) and the NYPD. Instead, much of what is perceived to be antagonism towards the NYPD is a case of competing commitments.

The de Blasio Administration seems to be affected by the one overriding pressure that we commonly see when working in highly political environments: re-election. The reality is that if Mayor de Blasio wants to continue to govern, he’s going to have to win re-election in 2017. Thus, it’s no surprise that it was less than three months after de Blasio took office that he started fundraising for re-election. With a 49% approval rating, re-election is anything but guaranteed and his first year has been plagued with more losses than wins.

If the Mayor’s ultimate goal is to be re-elected, then he is simply the representation of the constituencies that will most likely realize that objective. A number of constituency groups supported him in the last election and continue to do so. However, that support is fickle. For him to keep his supporters happy, he has to continue to vocalize a hard line regarding law enforcement. This is harder than members of the administration believe would otherwise be necessary.

Police Unions

Our research on the police unions revealed that they are representing a highly diverse population. While the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA) and to a lesser degree the Sergeants Benevolent Association (SBA) have been outspoken critics of Mayor de Blasio’s response last Fall, we learned that the there is no unified opinion within the membership. Just as Mayor de Blasio is trying to represent a diverse and disparate set of constituencies, so are Patrick Lynch and Ed Mullins. The one perspective that seems to be common is that members of these groups believe there is value to being collective. Thus, there hasn’t been any splintering.

The divided membership of the PBA has had at least one unintended consequence. In light of there being no collective opinion, this has given way to Patrick Lynch using the PBA as a platform to dictate his own message. We were informed by many reports that Mr. Lynch was not speaking for a significant percentage of the 23,000 member PBA when he made particularly aggressive statements such as the Mayor had “blood on his hands.” While tolerated at first, delegates displayed their anger at the union head during a union meeting in mid-January and critics have already begun to question Mr. Lynch’s re-election chances in June.

Citizenry

With nearly 8.5 million people living in New York, there are a multitude of perspectives that span geography, minority communities and socioeconomic divides. For instance, it was fascinating to us that when the NYPD slowdown occurred in early-January, reports on its effects in the outer boroughs were widely different than those from the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

Despite the sheer population, we discovered three broad perspectives that we used to segment this massive faction into three sub-factions:

Aware and Affected
There is a group of New Yorkers who believe there is a significant problem with the way the NYPD is doing their job and it is tangibly affected their life. These were citizens who had been unfairly targeted or profiled in a manner they believed would not have happened if they were a different race.

Aware but Unaffected
Similar to our first faction, this group believes that a problem exists and that changes have to be made, specifically in what the NYPD is and is not allowed to do. However, they have not personally been targeted and so don’t have any first hand experience of the problem.

Unaffected & Skeptical
There is a third, albeit scarce, group who haven’t been affected by police procedures and are skeptical as to whether a problem exists. They believe that police are doing what is necessary to keep a city as large and as unique as New York safe.

Media

The media helped shape much of the story with newspapers, radio and TV all being prime channels that the city (and the rest of the country) used to remain informed throughout the crisis. Its role was critical in bringing information to the masses and guiding the audience in interpreting the facts. However, despite the considerable impact the media has in shaping a story to either drive progress or fan the flames of unrest, those within the media are responding to pressures that are very much agnostic of the greater story.

The primary pressure that drives the media is ratings. In an ever-increasing media landscape, audience numbers are the coin of the realm. We once lived in a time where there were three network news outlets and a handful of legitimate local papers. With the advent of the 24-hour news cycle and the democratization of broadcasting propelled primary by online, there are now an exponential number of players fighting for scarce audience attention. Thus, ratings pressure (and to some degree advertiser dollars) reign above all else. News directors and journalists have their focus drawn to what will rate well and sustain the largest audience. Most reputable organizations have a standards body ensuring that journalistic integrity is not trampled on in an audience land-grab, but there is little intent being placed behind what effect their reporting will contribute to or detract from an ongoing crisis.

Revisiting our Working Theory

Our working theory was that the rift between the NYPD and Mayor de Blasio is being caused by a fracture in accountability. The wealth of additional information will help us decide whether our theory holds water or needs to be refined. We started by asking the same sweeping question that we presented last week: What do we think is really going on here? What larger, more systemic issue could be causing the tensions? And, we used the same three-question test:

  1. Is the challenge one level above the conflict?

  2. Would all the factions agree on the challenge?

  3. Is the challenge actionable by the client (something he/she can do something about)?

We paid particular attention to Question #2 because we could simply ask it directly to anyone with whom we spoke. Almost immediately, we were told that our working theory didn’t quite hit the nail on the head. Specifically, not everyone agreed there was a fracture in accountability. Those in the NYPD faction and those as part of the unions informed us that it presumed impropriety. And, many in the NYPD believed they were following police procedures to the best of their ability and to the letter of their training.

Our working theory needed to be adjusted because not all the factions agreed on the challenge and also because it didn’t reflect a level of abstraction just above the conflict. For those in the NYPD faction and the Unions faction, it was still deeply embedded in the conflict.

Taking this new information and incorporating it as well as all of the other perspectives, we developed a refined challenge statement:

The underlying challenge is a misalignment in acceptable police tactics, especially in regards to use of force.

We now believe the source of the tensions ultimately distill into a conflict in values amongst the players as to what is and what is not acceptable in the prevention of and response to crime. This systemic challenge is the root cause of the events that we saw last year, and will likely see again if not deliberately addressed. This is the challenge that Commissioner Bratton should be addressing if he wants to prevent another eruption that is currently simmering below the surface. Furthermore, when this challenge was proposed to the members of the factions to whom we spoke, it was readily accepted.

Now that we’ve identified the challenge, what should be done about it? We’ll start there when we continue next week with Part 4: Responding to the Challenge.

In summary, this week we:

  1. Persisted in diagnosis mode, continuing to gather information to get the best understanding of the underlying issues.

  2. Conducted primary and secondary research to identify perspectives (as opposed to motivations), considering both verbal and non-verbal information.

  3. Finalized a challenge diagnosis by refining the working theory through incorporating the perspectives of the factions.

This week, we continue to Step 3 in DSX: Determine the Challenge. When asked, will the factions confirm our working theory? Or, is there additional information that we need to incorporate?

This week, we continue to Step 3 in DSX: Determine the Challenge. When asked, will the factions confirm our working theory? Or, is there additional information that we need to incorporate?

 
The faction map illustrating stakeholders. We established perspectives by speaking to members of the factions.

The faction map illustrating stakeholders. We established perspectives by speaking to members of the factions.

 
Daily pressures for NYPD officers include productivity targets, court settlements and DA investigations.

Daily pressures for NYPD officers include productivity targets, court settlements and DA investigations.

 
PBA Spokesperson Patrick Lynch in December 2014. (Credit: AP/Ken Silverstein)

PBA Spokesperson Patrick Lynch in December 2014. (Credit: AP/Ken Silverstein)