Questioning LaFrance: An Author Interview

Source: Flickr user WCN 24/7
Source: Flickr user WCN 24/7

Q1 Who would find your book appealing or useful?

Law enforcement managers, frontline officers, scholars, students of criminal justice and public administration, media officials, and members of the general public would benefit from the frank assessment of the decision-making landscape in which policing decisions must be made.


Q2 What does your book reveal about police accountability in the 21st Century?

Foremost, my book echoes decades of public administration research which suggests that traditional conceptions of accountability are far too limited to be fairly applied to public management. Accountability is not a dichotomous, either-or phenomenon. Instead, it is the work of constantly balancing competing expectations from politicians, citizens, professional

associations, legislation/statute, and internal agency rules. Romzek & Dubnick explain this process as “managing expectations” in their 1987 article explaining the causes of the Challenger disaster. Public administration scholarship going back to the Freidrich-Finer debates of the early 1940s is a showcase of the fundamental tension between controlling bureaucrats and allowing them sufficient discretion to make decisions through the use of their expertise and specialized training.


Q3 Is your book optimistic or pessimistic about the future of policing?

The book is optimistic in tone.  It reveals that change and learning are not only possible, but achievable through a set of simple (in terms of understanding), though not easy (in terms of execution) steps.  The simplest lesson is that more communication leads to more understanding and trust.  This bolstered trust, in turn, creates an environment in which information is more freely shared and the best ideas take root. Being accountable in the 21st century really means being willing to experiment and open up lines of communications within and outside of an agency.


Q4 As a consultant, how has your model been useful to law enforcement agencies?

My model has provided a launchpad for self-awareness about everyday decisions. In order to understand how one’s agency reflects the aggregation of each individual’s decision priorities, one must first be aware of his or her own. My interventions have helped frontline officers to better empathize with the political pressures often absorbed by command staff members and be in a better position to work in earnest to fulfill exogenous demands. These interventions have also helped top managers to remember that it’s never too late to become reacquainted with the streets of their respective communities

and see through the lenses of the officers they supervise. In short, empathy is the basis for the type of open communication that brings healing and fosters adaptation.


Q5 What’s Next for Police Research?


Scholars are anxious to see the degree to which local law enforcement agencies begin to implement the guidelines offered by President Obama’s Task Force on Policing in the 21st Century. This is especially intriguing as the incoming President has expressed ideas that seem to stand in opposition to the task force recommendations. In short, federal-level policies and politics might become more relevant in the day-to-day work of local law enforcement administration.


Q6 What did you learn about police officers in the course of your research?

I learned that, generally speaking, officers put a great deal of effort into using discretion and making effective choices based on bedrock principles and guidelines. Their personal values and experiences tend to be of paramount importance, but they also hold organizational SOPs in high esteem. They also tend to incorporate the concerns, needs, and norms of their host communities into their individual decision calculus. More than anything else, they want the opportunity to discuss various decision scenarios. Rather than fewer hours of training, many of the officers I have studied want more interactive,

hands-on, discussion-based training.


Q7 What is novel about the Target Model compared to other theoretical frameworks?

The Target Model treats discretion as a multi-faceted phenomenon while also allowing each factor that constrains discretion to be appreciated on its own. Rather than lumping all discretionary influences into one aggregate “ring of constraint,” the TM allows for a comparison of the degree to which each of the factors weighs on an officer’s mind when he or she makes decisions.


Q8 How did you become interested in this work?

I became interested in organization development in police agencies when I began to study how sheriffs and police chiefs made decisions aimed at balancing accountability considerations.  It dawned on me that there was an opportunity for fostering better communication between rank levels. Moreover, there was a willingness or even a desire with agencies to do this…they just needed a vehicle for this purpose.


Q9 Is the Target Model relegated to studies of Law Enforcement?

Absolutely not!  The Target Model has potential for application in various other public, private, and non-profit settings.  Since everyone, in all sectors of the economy and at all levels of government, is challenged to make decisions, almost anyone can take the model and apply it to their working lives.