Leadership Failure: The Exodus Continues
In a startling act of journalism, the Mission Local this week finally wrote about a topic near and dear to my heart, the diaspora of San Francisco cops headed off to greener pastures. In the piece, the author discusses many topics that make up why cops are leaving. Among those in the articles are, police reform, retirements, and “low morale.” While all of these contribute to the exodus, a failure of leadership is the penultimate cause that bears responsibility.
In Jocko Willink’s seminal work on leadership, Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win, he discusses how a leader must own all of the mistakes.
“On any team, in any organization, all responsibility for success and failure rests with the leader. The leader must own everything in his or her world. There is no one else to blame. The leader must acknowledge mistakes and admit failures, take ownership of them, and develop a plan to win.”
I remember the moment I read that line in the book a few years ago. Then when reading the Mission Local piece, all you see is a lot of excuses being offered, not solutions. It’s outside factors like low political support, it’s bad media reporting, it’s unworkable policy. While all of those are pieces that make up the problem, they are all excuses used to distract from a complete failure of leadership.
The true answer is hidden in plain sight but obscured by the excuses. The answer to the problem can be found in this line from the article in which Chief Scott offered, “Scott also acknowledged the morale issue isn’t a new one; he said one Stanford survey made this finding two years ago with members of the police force.”
Where is the report from this Stanford study? Why has the study’s report not been made public? What has happened over the past two years to help fix any of the issues found in the study? Why are we commissioning studies if we are not then using the information yielded to improve the department?
When a public records request was made for the Stanford report, why was the report not returned? The report or its findings obviously exist if the Chief is discussing it. Why does the Department keep stalling on releasing any of this information? Why does the SFPD want to hide this study? I hear from a source with knowledge of the Stanford study’s findings, that it is highly critical of the Command Staff.
The only public information I can find on the Stanford report/findings is the slide below from Chief Scott's presentation to the Police Commission on June 8, 2022.
The “Internal Support” tab speaks volumes. If you were to string them all into a sentence it would read something like:
“Based on voluntary admissions by members of the SFPD, the most common factors impacting morale internally are internal procedural justice, consistency and fairness of Command Staff, Command Staff attention or concern for health and wellbeing of line officers, the level of trust Command Staff has in its officers, and a lack of organizational support for line officers.”
Wow, I wonder why only 20 people per academy class want to sign up to be a part of that department. Don’t you want to work in a place where no one seems to care for you, there’s no consistency or fairness from the higher ups, and the same higher ups do not trust you.
Why can’t we recruit more? It’s staring at us all, right in this slide. In addition, to recruiting difficulties, losing over 10% of staffing, in under 2 years, should’ve been ringing big red alarms that there’s a problem.
This is a leadership failure. This is a major problem that must be addressed before any improvement happens within the department.
Later in Willink’s opus, he offers more insightful wisdom that must be shared:
“The most fundamental and important truths at the heart of Extreme Ownership: There are no bad teams, only bad leaders.”
Credit where credit is due, at least the Mission Local is finally writing about the staffing issue. I have only been writing about it for years now and it seems to keep falling on deaf ears. Maybe now that it’s far too late to try and save hundreds of cops from leaving, and no new cops are coming in, the City will realize the problems that an insane anti-Law and Order DA and the “Defund” movement have caused. The Department management wasted years sitting on its hands, meanwhile having the information it needed to help improve the department. The years of street cop experience that were lost will never be replaced and its inexcusable.
If you think “reform” and resistance to change caused the exodus, well then you might be a command staff member.