By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
As a result, a department that was once gonzo-to-the-max has become so jumpy that it frequently engages in no proactive enforcement at all -- particularly in the poorer areas of town. (This is precisely, officers claim, why the city's murder rate is spiking.)
George Gascon's take on the morale issue is both straightforward and heretical. "Our organization is very arrogant," he says. "Not only externally, but internally. Among other effects, this arrogance has made us so rank-conscious that, even though we have extremely talented people at the officer and detective level, we don't pay attention to them. I equate this to the American versus the Japanese way of making cars in the 1970s. If you were working at a Toyota assembly line and you noticed a defect coming through in line, even if you were the lowest-level person in the company, you had the authority to bring everything to a halt until that item was fixed. But on an American assembly line in those days, the thought was, 'Time is money,' so if you noticed a defect you looked the other way, because you had no authority." And as anybody who's read even one best-seller about successful management knows, the authority-poor workers had much lower morale than those who felt trusted and valued.
"So to translate that concept into policing," continues Gascon, "if we give the patrol officers and others who are delivering services day to day room to be creative ä within the law, then I guarantee morale will start to soar. That's one more thing we need to do in this department, give permission to self-actualize."
If self-actualization for law enforcement may strike hardliners as a tad touchy-feely, Gascon insists that it's time the hierarchy was humanized. "An organizational culture," he says, "whether a police culture or a corporate culture, isn't something that you can throw a switch and bam, it's brand new -- especially a culture that is as insular as the LAPD has been for many years. Yet there are certain messages that an organization sends to its people that make a difference. That's what we're trying to do here."
IT WASN'T UNTIL JANUARY OF 2001, nearly a year after his own appointment, that Gascon was able to bring his friend Sergio Diaz over to the Training Group. By that time, in-service classes were doing well enough that attention could be turned to the academy -- the core-level incubator and citadel of LAPD's internal culture.
Nearly from its inception in 1936, the Los Angeles Police Academy has been militaristic in its training. After World War II, then-Chief Bill Parker brought in Marine drill instructors to teach. In the years that followed, recruit training became increasingly martial, emphasizing physical strength and tactics, intimidating recruits into submission, paying little if any attention to human relations. Occasionally some command staff member tried to fiddle with the model, only to find a wall of intransigence. Then, enter Sergio Diaz.
A short, compact 47-year-old guy, Diaz wears his department sidearm throughout the business day, cuts the lunch he's brought from home with a 5-inch elk-horn-handled buck knife and names Victor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaningas the book that influenced him most. Diaz is the common-sense doppelgänger for Gascon, the idea man.
"The LAPD probably has the best training program in the world within the conventional mode," Diaz says as we tour the grounds of the new four-story, glass-and- cement Ahmanson Recruit Training Center in Westchester. "We select the most physically fit young people and teach them to shoot, drive a car fast, go over a wall and run a few blocks, put a lock on a person's arm, look good in a uniform and be polite," says Diaz. "And all that's great. But in today's world, our recruits need a more complex combination of qualities. Among other things, they need to know their own emotions and their own buttons. The last thing in the world we need is police who are not self-aware. We see where that has gotten us. We need somebody who can appreciate the shades of gray."
In the black-and-white paramilitary world of the LAPD, the very concept of gray has traditionally been sacrilege. "But here's the thing," Diaz says. "We're not the military. We treat our recruits in a rigid way, and yet we expect them to be humanistic and even innovative. In other words, we're giving our recruits a mixed message. And frankly, this double-message issue permeates the department at all levels. It's exactly what allowed officers to do the things that got us this consent decree.
"On the other hand," Diaz says, "we're not training people to be UPS drivers. We're preparing them for a job where they may be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice. But, at age 47, I can tell you that it's wise to lead your life acting as if everyone else is a human being. And that's what we have to teach our recruits -- to act as if everyone is an important human being with real complications in their lives, real temptations, real desires to do the right thing, real problems."
Captain Sergio Diaz: He
and Gascon 'Just a couple