Can Bratton Save New York? Part 4: Responding to the Challenge


We’ve reached the mid-point of our seven-part series examining the tensions between the NYPD and Mayor Bill de Blasio. If you’ve been with us since the beginning, now is when the momentum really starts to build. Last week in Part 3, we took our working theory into the field, speaking to members of the factions. We immediately discovered that we had aimed too low in our initial assessment. Our initial premise of accountability was off. This didn’t surprise us since it’s rare to get an adaptive challenge defined correctly before we’ve interviewed the factions. By the end of Part 3, however, we had refined the challenge and were far more confident due to its widespread approval:

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

This week we move to the Strategy Stage of DSX with Step 4: Develop the Strategy.

It’s not surprising that we’ve spent the first three steps in DSX focused on diagnosis. (It is named the Diagnosis Stage, after all!) Our experience has shown us that the most common, and most costly, mistake that organizations make is to set out on a course of action before really understanding the problem they’re trying to solve. In an effort not to fall into that trap, we’ve now spent adequate time and effort to understanding symptoms of the conflict and decouple them from the underlying challenge.

Now that we’ve assessed our systemic challenge, it’s time to respond to that challenge. What strategies can we employ to start making movement on this issue? Will one overarching strategy suffice, or will there need to be several? This week’s goal is to combine our research and analysis and direct our efforts specifically to the misalignment in acceptable police tactics.

As you might expect, the outcome from this step is a strategy that addresses our finalized challenge. Elaborating further, the strategy should be comprehensive, addressing the perspectives of each of the factions.

Dowling Street differentiates itself by uniquely combining classic management consulting with political strategy. We see value in blending these two disciplines to generate disproportionate results, greater than either could produce alone. Up until this point, we’ve focused heavily on the political strategy arm, leveraging the Adaptive Leadership Framework. Now we switch gears.

Classic Management Consulting

At our disposal is a rich menu of management consulting frameworks and models that assist in analyzing problems by systematizing the process. For example, if this were a marketing analysis, we might start with the 3Cs and 4Ps. Faced with competitive strategy, we’d likely start with a Porter’s Five Forces analysis or a SWOT analysis and move to game theory. The frameworks provide a foundation, and we bring our capabilities and experience to produce sharp insights. With DSX, we’ve developed our own methodology for sustainably solving persistent problems.

In this case, there aren’t any ready-made frameworks that lend themselves to solving tensions between a Mayor’s administration and a police department due to systemic disagreement in what are and are not acceptable police tactics. Just another compelling reason this is not a technical problem and will require adaptive efforts to solve.

Though technical fixes aren’t available, we did do a best-practice analysis using resources available from the U.S. Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) and documented case studies of communities who have faced similar circumstances. On the former, COPS is the dedicated body that promotes the criticality of mutual respect and alignment between police and the communities they serve. On the latter, the communities of Rajasthan (India), Chihuahua City (Mexico), Mexico City (Mexico) and Karachi (Pakistan) have all demonstrated tactics that have resulted in varying levels of success in the sphere of reform of policing tactics.

Most notably, Bogota (Colombia) has seen tremendous results and public perceptions of law enforcement have done a complete reversal. Over the last 30 years, Bogota residents have gone from 73% having a negative image to 85% having a positive image. Further, 86% reported the community-policing program has addressed their needs and complaints, 99% said community police were friendly toward the public, and 87% percent stated that the police’s performance had improved. We’re not implying that the level of confidence in the NYPD is anywhere close to where it was in Bogota, but such a turnaround does beg the question: are there practices that we could adopt?

Finally, we have been keeping a close eye on the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. On December 18, 2014, President Obama signed an Executive Order establishing the Task Force to “identify best practices and make recommendations […] on how policing practices can promote effective crime reduction while building public trust and examine, among other issues, how to foster strong, collaborative relationships between local law enforcement and the communities they protect.” Its interim report was released on March 2nd and the recommendations are currently under review by federal law enforcement agencies.

Step 4: Develop the Strategy

Our process for developing a strategy is largely an organic, experimental and iterative one, leveraging the tools of design thinking. Design thinking, evangelized by the d. School at Stanford University, is a solution-focused problem solving process that allows for the exploration of multiple alternative paths while incorporating both known and ambiguous aspects of the challenge.

We use design thinking during the ideation process of strategy development. This can take a variety of forms, but is usually some variant of brainstorming. Whether it’s traditional brainstorming, bodystorming, mindmapping or something else, the purpose is the same: create the widest range of ideas while deferring judgment. This creates the universe rich with options. Later, we can evaluate to whittle and narrow, but during ideation, imagination and creativity is most valuable.

After we have generated the widest set of possible solutions, we begin to prototype. Prototyping a strategy is different from prototyping software or a gadget. In our context, this is when we organize. This is done through copious discussions. Some are heated, some are comical and some are nonsensical. It is an analytical grind to which everyone commits. Through the conversations, we separate technical components from adaptive ones and we begin to pace & sequencing candidate strategies. One rule reigns supreme: for the strategy to be comprehensive, it must incorporate engagement for each of the factions. Since all of the factions were critical for the diagnosis of the challenge, a strategy would be incomplete if it excluded one or more factions.

For this case, we developed the a three-pronged strategy consisting of NYPD Internal Reforms, Community Engagement and Institutional Mobilization. This is a comprehensive strategy that Commissioner Bratton is able to action in order to make progress on our challenge: creating alignment regarding acceptable police tactics.



Commissioner Bratton has the most direct authority over his Department, so we start there. We saw almost unanimous agreement, both internal and external to the NYPD, that reform was necessary. Simply put, the pressures placed on NYPD officers are creating a set of perverse incentives. The resulting norms have created a dysfunction that will not be tolerated for much longer. In light of this, we start with the following recommendations for internal reforms:

  1. Overhaul the use of CompStat (and train accordingly) so that data-driven policing is less focused on productivity-based policing

  2. Reintroduce neighborhood beat policing without cars (on bike or on foot)

  3. Create a separate division for Quality of Life / revenue-generating policing

  4. Review Police Academy training for consistency of training program / protocols

  5. Conduct ongoing (annual) training for consistent escalation of force tactics including escalation points

  6. Assign accountability to point of autonomy (i.e. consequences shouldn’t be assigned to those following orders)

It is important to note that we have not proposed tactics. The tactics will have to come from the department itself, to optimize the chances for a successful implementation. However, it is our strong belief that clearly outlining the processes that need overhauling is the critical first step.


No effort of this nature will be complete without direct and robust community engagement. The community should be regarded as a full and equal partner as any solution will require sustained and continuous collaboration. This will be particularly challenging in such a diverse and large community, but it is possible and necessary. Our recommendations for Community Engagement are:

  1. Conduct a public education campaign through PR and PSA channels that broadcast non-confidential police training and procedures (e.g. escalation of force hierarchy and protocol)

  2. Audit decades-old community-building initiatives, keeping those that continue to be effective and eliminate those that are achieving little-to-no benefit.

  3. Identify neighborhood community leaders and create liaison relationships between leaders and NYPD.

  4. Drive NYPD participation to a cross-section of community engagement / activist groups across boroughs, ethnicity and other affinity groups.

  5. Design events or initiatives where community can interact with the NYPD in a non-enforcement capacity.


The remaining factions of the Media, the Unions and the Mayor’s administration represent institutions that are constituency-based. As we explained last week, we encounter these often when working in a highly politicized environment. Power in these sorts of institutions is derived directly from the constituency. As such, they should be engaged in a very specific manner. Our recommendations to mobilize these institutions are:

  1. Create a ladder of collaboration between the NYPD and the Mayor’s administration where members of each faction at similar levels in their hierarchy are assigned to one another to communicate and collaborate.

  2. Regularly liaise with union leadership and delegates to identify common goals and work towards those while avoiding public shouting matches.

  3. Understanding ratings pressures, create a news-friendly division that develops relationships with news directors and can relay transparent and neutral information.

Now that we’ve outlined a strategy, how does it get implemented? Do we really think that such large and entrenched institutions, not to mention public perception, can change? And, how does one even start when the players seem so divided on the issue? We’ll begin there next week with Part 5: Preparing for Change.

In summary, this week we:

  1. Moved from diagnosis into the strategy stage to develop a comprehensive proposal that aims to make progress on our challenge (and not just addresses the conflict).

  2. Incorporated management consulting frameworks and models to systematize analysis and lean on best practices that have been established across borders and industries.

  3. Leveraged design thinking to guide the ideation and prototyping processes, enabling imagination and creativity before evaluating and organizing into our final strategy.

This week, we continue to Step 4 in DSX: Develop the Strategy. How do we respond to our finalized challenge and create an actionable plan?

This week, we continue to Step 4 in DSX: Develop the Strategy. How do we respond to our finalized challenge and create an actionable plan?

Classic management consulting frameworks provide proven processes to systematize analysis.

Classic management consulting frameworks provide proven processes to systematize analysis.

Dowling Street uses design thinking to ideate and prototype as part of its strategy development process.

Dowling Street uses design thinking to ideate and prototype as part of its strategy development process.