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There is a saying to the effect that the only thing worse than your enemies are your friends. I thought Jim Murphy was my friend. Jim, a former NYPD officer before he joined the FBI, had been one of my colleagues on the bank robbery squad in New York, and we spent the better part of five years chasing bank robbers and terrorists together. Jim, also on his first tour at FBI Headquarters, was assigned to the Office of Program Evaluation, a sort of research and special studies unit. The FBI at that time had 40 years’ worth of manuals that told you how to do everything (e.g., format a letter, investigate a kidnapping, or display the American flag in the reception area).
Jim had been tasked with reviewing and reformatting these manuals and had been empowered to seek out volunteers. I should have been smarter, especially since Murph assured me the entire project would take about three weeks.
For five months we labored in a barren room in the basement of FBI Headquarters, with copies of these many manuals spread over a sea of gray metal government-issue desks. We took each manual and physically chopped it into paragraphs. Yes, paragraphs. We then tried to track the paragraph back to the headquarters unit that had produced it so many years ago. Of course, many of the people who had been in those units were long gone, but if we could track it, then the unit was responsible for determining if the rule was still viable, needed
to be updated, or could be deleted. Some were easy—a rule about the proper procedures for investigating a bank robbery went to the bank robbery unit, even if the rule in question had been written 20 years ago.
Others were more difficult. Some we resolved and found their owners. Others, we did not. When the process was through, we were unable—in a big organization that keeps track of everything—to locate where 30 percent of the rules had come from. Such is how organizational rules accumulate. We need to be mindful of this situation when we start writing new ones. We should be mindful also of the “bop the weasel” tendency of many organizations—the idea that when one is hit with a problem or an incident it is solved by writing a new rule. As with the FBI and its manuals, rules, like junk in the garage, have a tendency to build up over time. Going through them is interesting archeology—Why did you ever buy that metal detector on the beach trip 16 years ago?—but promotes sloppy or inconsistent management. Rules create clutter, just like 1,300 calls for service at a street corner in Boston many years ago, and can obscure what is truly important.
I offer such observations because I believe they are important to any consideration of organizational controls. We must have such controls, but we should develop them with thought and wisdom and, once they are in place, we should apply them consistently and fairly. There will always be discretion and judgment calls, just as there are with patrol officers observing those drivers going but a few miles over the speed limit. To do otherwise, I believe, seriously weakens and dilutes our message and our efforts.
It is probably fitting to conclude our discussion on controls with a reference to law enforcement, for to some degree they function in a highly similar manner. Most people do not appreciate the subtleties of law enforcement and how misleading some of the terminology is if taken literally.
When we see a uniformed police officer, we may rightfully think of him or her as a law enforcement officer. While that is technically true, and these officers do enforce the law, their primary function is crime prevention. To some degree, of course, this is accomplished by writing tickets and making arrests; however, the bulk of their mission is accomplished through their presence and visibility. That is one of the reasons, police sartorial instincts aside, that they try to wear highly visible and distinctive uniforms. There is a logic to those large badges, Sam Browne belts, and Smokey the Bear hats. The theory is that by their very visibility, crime is prevented.
Detectives, on the other hand, try to dress much like civilians, but do not really detect crime; they investigate it after it has already occurred. What they are trying to detect is not the crime itself—that is already known. They are trying to detect who committed the crime. Even sworn law enforcement officers are affected by the existence of rules, or perhaps more accurately, the proliferation of rules. Authors Robertson and Simpson have cited a survey by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation in which 2,700 police officers in 16 states were
queried regarding their views on the DWI violation arrest process. Referring to the study, Robertson and Simpson note:
Virtually no other criminal charge requires as much documentation as DWI. These arrests may take many officers an average of two to three hours to complete and much of this time is consumed by filling out a multitude of forms. Many police agencies have 10-15 separate forms that officers must complete. Sixty percent of officers report that extensive paperwork discourages them from making a DWI arrest. In light of this, it is not surprising survey results show that, on average, only 50 percent of investigations result in an actual arrest.20