Leadership: Thinking About What Others Think

by Matt Forck, CSP & JLW

“You can pretend to care,” an old quote from an anonymous author reads, “but you can’t pretend to be there.” Or another management quote on caring, this one from leadership expert John C. Maxwell says, “Your people don’t care what you know unit they know you care.”


Joanne Jaffe is a bureau chief for the New York Police Department (NYPD), and is responsible for one of the more challenging areas in the entire department. Jaffe oversees hundreds of public housing developments. While only about 5 percent of the city’s population lives in public housing, about one in five of all violent crimes take place in them.


As 2007 approached, Jaffe was looking, as she always does, for ways to connect with residents and to lower crime rates. She noticed a spike in robberies committed by teenagers. These crimes were mostly in two public housing areas of the city. Jaffe knew that for every juvenile arrested for a robbery, the same juvenile had probably committed an astonishing 50 to 100 crimes in which he was not arrested. In other words, if she could find a program to intervene with these youth, she could greatly reduce crimes. Juvenile Robbery Intervention Program, or JRIP was born.


Initially, JRIP aimed to mentor and monitor just over 100 of the highest risk youth who had been arrested for robbery. In December 2013, Public Broadcast Station (PBS) interviewed Jaffe. About the beginnings of JRIP she said, “The idea was now we were going to go to every juvenile (in the program) and we were going to give them a message. If they continued to engage in criminal conduct, that we were going to do everything in our power to make sure they stay in jail. The second component to the program was really to get involved with them and their families and identify resources to assist the family as a whole.”


The program started slowly. There was no trust between the police officers assigned to the program, the youth in the program and their families. For all of 2007, Jaffe and the assigned officers struggled to gain momentum. Then, something unexpected happened. Jaffe explains the breakthrough in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, David and Goliath.


“There’s this one kid,” Jaffe said. She made up a name for him: Johnnie Jones. “He was a bad kid. He was 14 or 15 then. He lived with a 17- or 18-year-old sister. His mother lived in Queens. Even the mother hated us. There was no one for us to reach out to. So now, November of the first year, 2007, Dave Glassberg comes to my office, Wednesday before Thanksgiving.


“He says, all the guys, all the people on the team, chipped in and we bought Johnnie Jones and his family Thanksgiving dinner tonight.


“And I said, you’re kidding. This was a bad kid.


“And he said, you know why we did it? This is a kid that we’re going to lose, but there are seven other kids in that family. We had to do something for them.”


Jaffe asked the police commissioner for $2,000 to purchase turkeys for the remainder of the families—he agreed.


Jaffe continues the story: “We’d knock. Momma or Grandma would open the door and say, Johnnie, the police are here. Just like that, I’d say hi Mrs. Smith, I’m Chief Jaffe. We have something for you for Thanksgiving. We just want to wish you a happy Thanksgiving. And they’d be, what is this? And they’d say, come in, come in, and they would drag you in. Every family—I did five—there was hugging and crying. And I always said the same thing: I know sometimes you can hate the police. I understand all that. But I just want you to know, as much as it seems that we’re harassing you by knocking on your door, we really do care, and we really do want you to have a happy Thanksgiving.”


Turkeys are a nice touch, but one also needs to ask if the program worked. It did. In Brownsville, the first area where JRIP was rolled out, the number of robberies fell 77 percent between 2007 and 2011. The JRIP officers also took their first Thanksgiving experience and let it drive other interactions such as toy drives, summer basketball leagues, and activities among families in the JRIP program. In fact, two years later, the NYPD Commissioner expanded JRIP to other parts of the NY City, and other major cities are looking to implement this type of program.


So, what does this have to do with employee safety? Results in employee safety have much to do with relationships—and leaders can find a number of pointers from this story. Here are five key points to remember.


Grassroots: In a 2009 press statement, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly said, “This type of grassroots policing is essential to reducing and ultimately preventing juvenile crime. We have already seen success from JRIP and we expect that will have similar results working with young people and their families in East Harlem.” The heart of this program is building a grassroots program, which in effect extends the police department—are you extending your safety department.


Breakthrough: Jaffe has a strong emotional tie to what could be called the program’s breakthrough, the 2007 Thanksgiving Turkey program. It actually started when front line officers took a proactive step to buy a turkey for the highest risk of the high-risk youth. And the overall 2007 Thanksgiving Turkey program was driven, for the most part, by front line officers with strong support from executive leadership. Where will your breakthrough come from?


Compassionate Accountability: JRIP works because of the strong accountability for those youth enrolled. If you screw up, you go to jail. But, that side of the program is balanced with the compassion of the officers who work it. They take youth on job interviews, check on grades, and otherwise provide opportunities and mentoring that they would otherwise not have. The program works because there is both compassion and accountability. Is that true of your safety accountability?


Innovation: If JRIP had been put to a public vote before it was allowed to be executed, I’m guessing it would have failed miserably. Think about it, enroll the toughest juvenile offenders into a close watch program and provide mentoring and services that other youth who have not been arrested don’t receive—and a Thanksgiving turkey, too! It took a lot of courage for Jaffe and other leaders to write and then execute a plan they knew was unorthodox, but one that would also yield results. “You can’t solve a problem with the same thinking that created it,” according to an old saying. Are you innovating your safety program?


Caring: We will close where we began. “You can pretend to care,” an old quote from an anonymous author reads, “but you can’t pretend to be there.” Or another management quote on caring, this one from leadership expert John C. Maxwell, says, “Your people don’t care what you know unit they know you care.” Do your people know you care?


Today, spend some time thinking of what others may think.

Source: Glawell, Malcolm, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2013

Matt Forck, CSP and JLW, is a husband, dad, safety professional, keynote speaker and author who resides in Columbia, Missouri. Learn more about Matt at www.safestrat.com.

 

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