Command College Pointing Cops Toward 21st Century

The futurist who goes by the name FM-2030 appears before California’s emerging police leaders during the first week of Command College, offering a rap they’ll never hear in the squad room.

Wearing a silk shirt open to the waist, he declares that patriotism, family and religion are passe, soon to be replaced by “telecommunities,” personal “linkups” and immortality. The author of “Are You a Transhuman?” is having his body frozen at death, of course.

As for law enforcement, it has earned the public’s hostility by being “oppressive and coercive,” an approach that just won’t work on generations raised not to be in awe of authority. “Humanize,” FM-2030 implores two dozen lieutenants and captains in a seminar room at Cal Poly Pomona.

The language and style would raise the eyebrows of most any audience-much less cops.

“Get out of town,” a lieutenant calls out at one pronouncement.

Changing Society

But Cmdr. Ernest E. Curtsinger later takes home FM’s self-evaluation tests to share with his staff at the Los Angeles Police Department’s South Bureau, one of the nation’s toughest police precincts. Soon they are listing social changes they dismissed five years ago-the increasing openness of gays, for instance-only to see them become widely accepted.

Thus begins perhaps the most unusual police training program in America, one that attempts nothing less than a transformation of the best and brightest commanding officers in California.

Since 1984, when Command College was launched by the state Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, called POST, nearly 300 high-ranking police officials have been selected to participate in a two-year program that prods them to look toward the 21st Century. A series of futurists, Fortune 500 consultants and Japanese management types indoctrinate them in “pro-active” leadership, strategic planning and a new vision of police work: one in which women and minorities are an essential part of the team, as are computers, and intimidation is no longer a staple of the officer on the beat.

`They Know What to Do’

There is hardly a word on such law enforcement topics of today as coping with gangs, Colombian drug cartels or AK-47s.

“We assume that when the phone rings with an emergency, they know what to do today,” says Mike DiMiceli, a POST staff member. “The question is what’s going to come in on that phone in 10 years.”

Command College students joke about how they emerge as “clones,” a different breed of police executives who speak a strange language, view old-line practices with suspicion and prefer to deal with each other.

Although some outsiders worry that the program is creating a new elite, few dispute the trend in law enforcement here-Command College graduates are taking over. About 70 participants now head police departments throughout California and each Command College newsletter lists several more who are being elevated to chief.

“It seems like it is almost going to be a requirement if you’re going to be a police chief,” says Paul Walters, who was a captain in the Santa Ana Police Department when he graduated from the Command College’s second class in 1986. Now he’s the chief.

“We have a new captain in the room.”

To hearty applause, Lt. Katherine Roberts lights a candle on a Danish and carries it around a U-shaped conference table to Upland Police Department’s Doug Millmore, who was a lieutenant at the last gathering of Class 12.

“By the time we’re done, we’ll all get one of these,” declares Roberts, the night watch commander for the Ontario Police Department and one of two women in the group.

Two classes, each with about 24 members, enter Command College every year. Class 12, the newest one, had its first meeting in June, spending a week on “Defining the Future,” covering topics from demographic trends to “thinking globally”-and beyond the globe when FM-2030 started talking about colonizing other planets.

In a pattern they will repeat over the two years, participants returned to their departments after that week and have reconvened two months later at the adult conference center on the campus. There will be 10 seminar weeks in all, culminating in a six-month independent study project.

After one week, they already talk of how they’ve changed.

Lt. Joseph Peavy of San Fernando jokes to several colleagues about how he followed instructions to scrutinize the news to distinguish a mere “event” from a more important “trend.”

“I used to just read the newspaper,” he says. “Now I do environmental scanning.”

Lt. Ken Peterson says he returned to the Milpitas Police Department and suggested “flattening the organization,” eliminating layers of command.

“You don’t need a captain telling a lieutenant to tell a sergeant what to tell an officer to do,” he argues. “It’s hard to justify six levels of hierarchy in a police department. The Catholic Church has less layers than we do.”

His comment drew raised eyebrows from the boys back home.

The roots of the Command College go back a decade, when the executive director of POST, Norman C. Boehm, began looking for something different from the traditional two-week courses offered to each rank of police official, from sergeant on up.

“Those tended to be narrow in focus,” DiMiceli said. “The historic focus in police training is operational, how to shoot, how to drive, what’s the law today, how to conduct an investigation.”

A committee studied training in the military, at management institutes, in Canada and England. The result, with its long-range orientation, was a departure even from the well-respected 11-week training session offered by the FBI for police executives from throughout the country. The FBI has had one optional “futures research” class since 1982, but the curriculum remains nitty-gritty, covering payroll sciences, criminalistic analysis and the like.

Command College also departed from the traditional practice of using instructors from law enforcement. The tone was set by Hank E. Koehn, a futurist from the banking industry who supervised the opening week in January, 1984.

At the end, he had the class stage imagined versions of the evening news in the year 2000. Police captains found themselves playing anchormen, reporting the actions of California’s new governor-a Latino woman.

But one part of that first week did not work out.

“We were still a little conservative then in thinking we needed a cop to teach other cops,” DiMiceli recalled. “So we found a high-ranking police officer to make the bridge between all this fancy stuff and the real world.”

Then they surveyed class members, he said, and “the comments of the class were to keep all the instructors but this cop.”

It was a sign of changing times that Koehn-a gay man who later died of AIDS-was voted the best instructor over the two years.

The topic for Class 12 this week is “Human Resource Management.”

Under the direction of consultant David W. Jamieson, its members discuss the changing work force, leadership styles and discrimination, “subtle ways people who are different don’t get respected.”

Each has prepared an oral report, most focusing on the increasing difficulty of recruiting officers. With population projections showing that immigrant and “minority” groups will become the majority in California by 2010, a common theme is the need to broaden the applicant pool.

Someone foresees accepting people who speak no English. Another sees Asian women as promising, but cautions “this is not something their society wants them to do.”

Peterson says they will have to overcome “resistance from the top levels” to get a full complement of women. “They are not unhappy with the status quo. They don’t want to send a female into a bar fight. They still have the attitude you have to protect little sister.”

A watch commander who weighs more than 200 pounds, Peterson later is asked if he really wants a woman at the bar fight. Perhaps he was just saying what was expected.

“No, no,” he answers. “I’ve known male officers you wouldn’t want to go into a fight with.”

Training programs in law enforcement often are viewed as punishment. Someone did his job wrong? Send him to school.

“You wind up locked in a room with a bunch of 20-year veterans,” says Roberts. “All they want to know is, `What’s for lunch?’ ”

It’s different with Command College.

To make it in, they had to apply, be nominated by their department, then survive a daylong assessment center. It includes written and oral tests and a nerve-racking exercise in which they are observed interacting with other candidates in a “leaderless group.” Up to a third are rejected.

“It’s the first time I’ve been in a school where the students have Ph.Ds,” says Lt. Clifford Nannini of Newark.

It’s a playful jab at Lt. Jeff Cameron of Redondo Beach, who has his doctorate in public administration. Both men are in Class 10, which entered Command College last year and has returned for its seventh weeklong seminar, on Strategic Decision Making/Transition Management. Another classmate has a law degree.

“In your own organization, you may feel you have the corner on the market of talent,” Cameron says. Here, “you quickly learn there are bunches of smart guys.”

When the day’s seminars are finished, the students filter into a huge dining room with a wall of windows looking out on the rolling hills of the campus. After dinner, some lift weights, others run and others gather in hospitality rooms in the motel-like facilities that serve as home during the sessions.

Several members of Class 10 share beers on a patio and soon are comparing experiences that got them here, speculating why others didn’t make it. They decide that some applicants were rejected because they tried to dominate the leaderless group, while others made the mistake of clamming up.

The ones who didn’t make it are spoken of with sadness-losers in the battle for police leadership of the future.

Enhances Career

Five members of Class 10 already are police chiefs. For those in ranks just below, the program takes on an added significance. “I make no bones about it. I’m here because of the promotional opportunities,” says one of the group on the patio.

Each paper and oral presentation is graded, and there is more than casual interest in who will finish first at graduation-this is, in its own way, a Top Gun competition.

When Cameron joins the group after a bicycle ride, someone asks how he’s been doing on his projects. Cameron says he’s nailed the last few assignments, but identifies Cmdr. Gary Bennett of Pasadena as the man to beat. “Gary has all excellents,” he says. “He’s the cutting edge.”

A survey conducted last year of 25 graduates found that 23 believed Command College had measurably enhanced their careers. The other two, according to a POST report, said there had been problems, including jealousy of colleagues and “difficulties getting department heads to `buy’ into the futures perspective.”

Indeed, some police leaders are wary of the program.

Azusa’s Chief Lloyd J. Wood is offended by how Command College people “say the chiefs are resistant to change.”

Most chiefs are “maybe a little more calculating and conservative than people want,” Wood said, but they’re actually hungry for “fresh things, wild ideas.” Command College projects strike him as “not the real innovative things that we were anticipating.”

He worries that a proposal to award a master’s degree to graduates would encourage officers to bypass traditional master’s programs, which they must pay for and attend on their own time. They attend Command College on company time, and the $350,000 annual cost of the program is paid by the state.

“Let’s face it, it’s not a bad deal,” Wood said.

POST-Wrought Changes

But many others are steadfast supporters of the Command College, saying it has changed the way they handle complaints, prompted them to expand volunteer programs and become more willing to tackle head-on communications problems within the ranks, such as between patrol officers and detectives.

“We don’t just send someone out there because it’s nice to do,” said San Bernardino County Sheriff Floyd Tidwell, who has sent six of his officers to the program. “It has been beneficial.”

“They think at a higher level,” he said. “They have a broader view of their job, the rest of the world and the surrounding forces that affect the criminal justice system.”

The instructor for Class 10 this day is James Belasco, who is part management consultant, part stand-up comic and part motivational speaker, bounding about the room while mixing anecdotes and slides with pithy statements:

A halo has to fall only a few inches to become a noose.

The scenery only changes for the lead dog.

His topic is “Handling Conflict,” but it’s really a pitch for management sensitivity.

“With most law enforcement agencies, courtesy is almost non-existent,” Belasco tells the cops, offering as proof the time it takes to reach them on the telephone. He tested it by calling members of previous classes: 7.6 rings for anyone to pick up, then an average wait of 3 minutes, 7 seconds.

Gary Bennett suggests that police might have a better record handling the public “if we weren’t a monopoly, if we had competition. Now an officer can say, `If you don’t like it, tough.’ ”

San Clemente’s police chief, Albert Ehlow, says it’s hard to make younger officers understand that they better treat people well on the street if they want the public to back their salary demands.

“Your job is to fix the vision,” Belasco tells them.

“I used to look at all the people who came through the Command College and say, `What’s the matter with these people?’ It was like they’d been reprogrammed,” Ontario’s Lt. Roberts says during a coffee break.

“Now, I’m starting to talk like them.”

And it’s not just in California that cops now speak of “stake holders,” people with an interest in the status quo, and of “nominal group techniques,” in which committees drawn from the community help police envision and solve problems.

Other States Involved

In recent years, about eight states have included some futures forecasting in their training for police executives, according to FBI Supervisory Special Agent William L. Tafoya, who designed the first such course for the FBI Academy.

As he sees it, if states had been doing this decades ago, “we may have not had some of the problems we have today.”

“If 30 years ago, we had been studying demographic data, police could have inferred the emergence of women and minorities . . . (instead), it almost hit law enforcement like a tidal wave.”

He is amazed that some police officials still are not taking steps to combat an obvious future problem such as computer crime, “who feel it is no big deal” or say “leave it to the feds.” Strategic planning would prompt them to train their own experts now, he said, figuring it will take years to learn the ropes.

“It’s going to require a lot more states to make this commitment if professionalism in law enforcement is going to be a reality in our lifetime,” Tafoya said. “California is the model.”

Belasco asks members of Class 10 to step to the middle of the room in groups of four and form body sculptures to symbolize their experience in Command College. They look around uneasily, then one cluster clasps hands, another forms a pyramid and a third goes for humor-one officer holding his hands over his eyes, the second covering his ears, a third his mouth.

It’s an exercise designed to show how change can be uncomfortable.

Belasco then has each officer write down a goal for his department. Around the room they scribble:

“To create a workplace free of sexual prejudice.”

“To establish a work environment where the lowest-ranking individuals care about public relations.”

“Our only reason to exist is to serve the public.”

WHO GOES TO COMMAND COLLEGE? Since the state instituted a Command College for top police officials in 1984, 13 classes have been selected, the last of which does not start the program until January. The two-year series of seminars is financed by the state’s Peace Officers Training Fund-which is supplied by the fines people pay for motor vehicle violations-and conducted at Cal Poly Pomona. Total enrolled: 297 Graduated: 138 Currently in program: 134 Left program: 25 RANK WHEN ENTERING COMMAND COLLEGE Sheriff: 1 Police Chief: 39* Agency Chief: 1 Division Chief: 1 Assistant Chief: 3 Deputy Chief: 3 Undersheriff: 1 Commander: 18 Captain: 68 Lieutenant: 162 Sergeant: 1 *30 others have become police chiefs after starting the program. EDUCATION High School: 7 Associate Degree: 20 Bachelor’s: 124 Master’s: 134 Law Degree:9 Doctorate: 3 SIZE OF THEIR DEPTS. 1-24 officers: 25 25-49: 39 50-99: 55 00-199: 63 200-499: 45 Over 500: 70* *Includes 12 from the Los Angeles Police Department and seven from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. FINAL PROJECTS

The culmination of the program is a six-month independent study project that applies “futures forecasting” and “strategic planning” skills to a law enforcement issue. Some of the resulting papers: What Will Be the Extent of Drug-Related Corruption Within California Law Enforcement by the Year 2000? What Role Will Local Police Departments Assume in the Investigation and Enforcement of Environmental Protection Laws During the Next Decade? What Is the Future of Authoritarian-Based Police Recruit Training by the Year 2000? What Effect Will Domestic Right Wing Terrorist Groups Have Upon the Resources of California Law Enforcement Agencies in the Year 2000? Source: California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training

Written by Paul Lieberman and published by the Los Angeles Times on September 25, 1989