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Back to Archives | Back to January 2004 Contents 

Beyond CompStat: Accountability-Driven Leadership

Ronal W. Serpas, Ph.D., Chief, Washington State Patrol

Two years ago this month, the Washington State Patrol (WSP) adopted an accountability-driven leadership model that embraces many elements of CompStat: accurate and timely data, effective tactics, rapid deployment, decentralized decision making, and relentless follow-up to achieve high standards of public service. Like CompStat, the WSP leadership model concerns itself with measurements of efficiency (how many reports written, how many tickets issued, how many people arrested, and so on) and effectiveness (how many fewer crimes committed, how many fewer lives lost in alcohol-related crashes).

But the WSP leadership model is designed to hold the agency's nontraditional policing functions, such as the state fire marshal's office, the state toxicologist's office, and the missing child clearinghouse, to the same high standards. This more comprehensive approach to public safety and general management is meant to address problems that lay outside a narrow understanding of law enforcement, such as the failure of some facilities housing children and senior citizens to comply with fire safety codes; budgetary practices that historically result in overspending, inefficiencies, and underachievement in such functions as accounting, fleet and property management, human resources, and information technology; and forensic laboratories' struggles to provide timely services to law enforcement and coroners statewide while ensuring quality and correctness.

Focus on Effectiveness and Efficiency

When it designed the new accountability-driven leadership model, the WSP drew on its experience with a CompStat-inspired program it called Strategic Advancement Forum (SAF), originally created in 2000 to require district and division commanders to meet twice a year with the chief and others and explain how they were implementing the agency's new strategic plan. Those meetings were valuable, but WSP soon wanted a leadership model that included more of the components of CompStat: emphasis on measurements of efficiency (outputs) and of effectiveness (outcome), timely data, and relentless follow-up.

Under the new leadership model, launched January 4, 2002, the WSP executive staff meets weekly with bureau leadership teams to receive a report on each bureau's outputs and outcomes. In an agency of WSP's size (2,300 employees, six bureaus, eight field districts, a jurisdiction of some 62,000 square miles, 17,500 miles of roadway, 1,700 miles of coastline, and borders with Canada, Oregon, and Idaho), convening weekly strategy meeting of all agency executives and division heads would be impractical. Instead, each bureau has been assigned one Friday each month to make its presentation to the executive staff. For example, the Management Services Bureau and the Forensic Laboratory Services Bureau may conduct their presentations on the third Friday of every month. As a result, each bureau and its division leadership teams come before the chief and executive staff (bureau directors) once a month. This strategy allows the chief and executive staff to meet weekly to ask bureau and division leaders pointed questions about their work. The meetings are still known as SAF meetings for short.

The data collection strategy can, and does, direct much of the questioning during these meetings. But it is the full integration of efficiencies (outputs measured) and effectiveness (outcomes desired and measured) that is used to assess the tactics and deployment strategies through critical questioning. The chief's commitment to these weekly meetings has helped win support for the program from agency employees.

Measurement Strategies

There are many uncontrollable variables at play in the efficiency and effectiveness of law enforcement and public safety initiatives, related to increases or decreases in desired outcomes. Clearly, steps taken by law enforcement and public safety agencies alone cannot account for all changes in outcomes. But law enforcement and public safety agencies can do much to increase public safety, and the WSP's accountability-driven leadership model is designed to help managers and troopers improve their effectiveness by increasing their efficiency.

WSP directed each bureau to create bureau-wide efficiency (output) measures with linked effectiveness (outcome) measures to serve as the basic components of the new leadership model. For example, the Field Operations Bureau articulated four core traffic law enforcement efficiencies to guide the actions of road troopers: DUI enforcement; aggressive driving enforcement; seat belt enforcement; and dangerous speeding enforcement. The combination of these four efficiency measures are believed to be those most likely, taken together, to have the potential of altering driver behavior and thereby preventing collisions.

These four actions do not represent the only valued activities of the field force but serve as a baseline, and a link, to measure and report against the goal of reducing collisions, injuries, and fatalities. The effectiveness is measured by district rates of property damage, fatality, injury, speed-related, and DUI-related collisions. Just as with any law enforcement effort intended to alter behavior, there must be a link to effectiveness (reduced collisions, injuries, fatalities, and so on) through the monitoring of efficiency (increased enforcement).

The identification of core mission elements in each bureau was critical to establishing the measures of efficiency that would be set and then linked to the measures of effectiveness desired. It also led to changes in administrative staffing. To ensure direct accountability of the executive staff to the chief and improve performance, the WSP eliminated the assistant chief's position, created the Management Services Bureau, and civilianized two positions formerly held by captains: administrator of the Human Resources Division and director of the Budget and Fiscal Services Division.

The changes helped establish an atmosphere conducive to collaboration, aggressive decision making, risk taking, and sustainable success. It is important to note that these measurement strategies are constantly changing as new information and ideas become known. As the agency matures in this process, it invariably learns what fresh and evolving issues it desires to measure and ultimately affect.

Decentralized Budget Management

Beyond just measures of effectiveness and efficiencies in activities, each district and division is also responsible for managing and reporting on its budget. Although certain divisions had budget management responsibilities before 2002, this practice was not widespread in the agency, and no division or district had been required to report to the executive staff on their budget. In addition, the new strategy provided that budget management responsibilities were decentralized to the lowest possible level, including district commands. This provided an expanded number of leadership personnel the authority to acquire and expend funds for equipment, supplies, and overtime as needed, while retaining the accountability to the agency by reporting in the SAF meeting on the bottom line. Significant efficiencies have been realized in the areas of supplies, equipment, and overtime, because each commander or administrator is given a dollar allotment to work with and then held responsible for balancing their own checkbooks.

The decentralizing of the budget process also provided managers with a more realistic understanding of what it costs to run the WSP, thereby making them better financial managers and decision makers. Finally, the decentralization provides an accelerated process for ordering and providing supplies, equipment, and overtime at the lowest level of execution without the cost and time of going through the bureaucracy of headquarters. Commanders are free to make budgetary decisions within monthly allotments, across these fund types, in the pursuit of managing their district or division effectively and efficiently.

The following example illustrates the improved efficiencies brought about at least in part by the new decentralized budget process: WSP operates on a July through June fiscal budget year, in two-year biennial budgets. At the end of the WSP's 2001 fiscal year (June 30, 2001), the Field Operations Bureau's overtime fund was overspent by nearly $1 million. During this same time, field force productivity was at 10-year lows. By November 2001, five months into the new 2001-03 biennial budget, field force overtime was overspent by $258,000. At the end of calendar year 2002, the field force overtime budget had a positive variance of $11,500, and field force activity was at 10-year highs. Overtime and supply funds controlled by district commanders were underspent, and the extra dollars were reassigned to purchase needed equipment and supplies. Efficiencies gained in the Field Operations Bureau's budget management of overtime and supplies has allowed for the purchase of new firearms for every commissioned member of the WSP, a $270,000 expenditure, as well as a $211,000 investment in an agency-wide T1 communication lines and e-mail upgrades, all within 2001-03 agency allotments.

Raising the Performance Bar     

The SAF forum provides an unparalleled opportunity for agency leaders to articulate strategies they have created to solve problems. The sharing of successful strategies is critical to raising the bar of performance of all agency leaders. The observation of peers taking chances with their resources and attaining valuable outcomes inspires others to rise to the same level of performance. The cross-pollination of the participants (sworn and professional staff from many different units) at the SAF demonstrates internally and externally to all that a team of leaders is working in a coordinated and collaborative way to ensure the overall success of the agency. Moreover, one leader's success can, and should be, replicated in other areas of the department. This teambuilding also provides a remarkable opportunity to grow risk takers within the agency.

Risk taking can be fostered when the chief and executive staff recognize that efforts made for the right reasons may nonetheless sometimes fail. The response to these failures, in a public and positive way, sends the unmistakable message that risk taking in the pursuit of commendable goals can become positive learning experiences for all, will be tolerated, and in fact is encouraged. This is not to say that error on the part of leaders goes unchecked or unnoticed; it is the intention of the error that matters. Clearly, leaders who are unwilling or unable to perform their duties in an acceptable fashion are not tolerated in the WSP's model of accountability-driven leadership. Holding leaders accountable with reliable and predictable direction from the executive staff and chief is one of the fundamental goals of accountability-driven leadership. The agency's weekly SAF ensures strict accountability of all leaders and provides for a safety net ensuring that errors will not go unnoticed. The combination of these strategies provides an environment that encourages aggressive decision making and the growing of risk takers within the agency, while also holding leaders accountable for the performance of their command.

Dramatic Results

The results of the WSP's focus on accountability-driven leadership in every component of the WSP have been dramatic. Each bureau has realized improvements in efficiencies and effectiveness. It is important to note that during the calendar years 2002 and 2003, the WSP did not experience general increases in staffing or funding. In fact, due to budget constraints at the state level, funding and FTE authorization generally have remained static or fallen. The Field Operations Bureau and Commercial Vehicle Division data covers a 22-month period of review.1 Although space does not allow for even a brief listing of the successes in each bureau, table 1 illustrates the type of changes achieved throughout the agency.

WSP believes that increased efficiency brought about by the agency's accountability-driven leadership model can help produce positive outcomes. Take the example of highway collisions. Studies conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have shown that driver behavior, or human factors, account for more than 90 percent of collisions.2 Other studies have indicated that wearing seat belts can reduce injuries and save lives.3 WSP therefore believes that better enforcement of traffic and safety belt laws can reduce collisions on the state's roadways and reduce injuries and fatalities in motor vehicle crashes.

The data bear this out. According to the Washington Department of Transportation analysis of roadway usage estimates, vehicle miles driven on rural roadways in the state increased 3 percent in 2002 as compared to 2001, and vehicle miles driven on urban roadways increased by 2 percent, an overall increase of 2 percent in vehicle miles driven on all Washington roadways in 2002. Yet as the WSP reported in the September issue of the Police Chief, interstate highway fatality collisions were down 24 percent in 2002, the first year of the accountability-driven leadership model, and injury collisions statewide were down 4 percent.4 Continuing this trend, during the first 22 months of the accountability-driven leadership model, interstate highway fatality collisions were down 21 percent, and injury collisions were down 11 percent. These data suggest that the WSP's focus on its core traffic law enforcement mission, in a coordinated strategy (specifically its directed enforcement of DUI, aggressive driving, speeding, and seat belt laws), played a role in reducing collisions, injuries, and fatalities.
The accountability-driven leadership model may have increased the historically high support the WSP has enjoyed from the public. The Washington State University's Division of Governmental Studies and Services conducts periodic citizen surveys under contract with the Washington State Patrol. According to Michael J. Gaffney, assistant director of the Division of Governmental Studies and Services,

Trends in responses over time indicate that the patrol has not suffered a decline in ratings on these critical indicators despite a marked increase in enforcement activity. Of particular note is an issue addressed in this iteration of the survey-the question of support for seatbelt enforcement under Washington's new "primary offense" law. Even for this area of new, aggressive enforcement activity, the patrol is viewed in a positive light, with very nearly 70 percent . . . of respondents to date approving of the WSP enforcement program. The same response pattern exists with regard to DUI enforcement (77.8 percent), as well. Finally, both this year's responses to date and the trend analysis indicate that the patrol is meeting the needs of Washington citizens, with 87.4 percent of this year's respondents indicating they are satisfied with patrol services and overall performance.

Highlight Excellence by All Staff

The WSP has expanded the CompStat meeting format from its traditional focus on law enforcement to include other public safety-related fields and traditional management activities of any large organization. The WSP leadership team is better informed now about the entire mission of the patrol and how every unit must work in a collaborative fashion. The opportunity to turn sworn and professional staff into one unified force is critical. There can be a friction between sworn and professional staff, each side believing the other does not recognize or value their contribution. This was at play in the WSP in the summer of 2001. The weekly SAF meeting gives each branch of the agency the opportunity to see that other branches' contributions are important, and all personnel see the entire agency moving forward as a result. The WSP model also shows the leadership team that sworn and professional staffs are being held to the same standards of excellence and accountability, thereby demonstrating that every unit is critical to the success of the WSP. Their attendance gives each leader the chance to recognize how his or her unit has contributed to the success of the agency.

Each leader can see that while their personnel's efforts and successes have been demonstrable, other units and personnel are also contributing with great examples of superior performance. As one group rightfully celebrates the success of their contributions, they are reminded that many other groups are also performing at remarkable levels.

Building Teams

When the agency's leadership teams observe members of the executive staff working together to solve problems in real time, team building becomes the standard of the day for the entire agency. In many large and complex organizations, the competition for scarce resources between divisions of labor can cause these groups to work at cross-purposes in search of those resources to fulfill their perceived duty to the agency. At worst, these groups can work against each other's efforts and create isolationist feelings in the agency.

In the WSP's accountability-driven leadership model, it is common for bureau directors to commit immediately the resources under their control to solve a common problem. Gone are the days of endless correspondence, back and forth, between one organizational group and another, attempting to solve problems. In this forum, the chief holds the executive staff to high standards of accountability, collaboration, coordination, and decision making. The public forging of consensus in the SAF meeting is a clear sign to the entire agency that collaboration and execution of coordinated decisions is expected. This creates momentum by demonstrating that different organizational units can and must cooperate to build a successful organization.

Facilitating Honest Dialogue

The SAF forum provides a good opportunity for the chief to lead. In this forum, staff and bureaucracy do not protect the executive. Over time, the chief and executive staff must seek to create and maintain an atmosphere of open and honest dialogue. The chief has to set this tone and be true to the notion of accountability of those empowered to carry out the agency's mission, the chief included. Clearly, there exists the prospect that the chief and executive staff will only hear the good things, but that is not what this process is designed to deliver. Critical questions must be asked, and answers must be given; sometimes those answers will not be what the chief expects to hear. This forum gives the chief the environment to exercise informal authority over the agency, to set expectations of behavior, and to bring diverse people and wide-ranging issues into focus.

Solving Problems Immediately

This forum builds decision-making confidence in the leadership team. This process allows the agency to review the most accurate and up-to-date data available; it brings the most gifted and talented leaders the agency has to one location with this information; it holds all leaders accountable to make decisions and to attack opportunities for making immediate judgment on many issues.

There are unusual or more complex issues that require a formal problem-solving process, but the vast majority of decisions are ensuring that organizational units and their leaders are working collaboratively. Immediate action inspires people to make decisions, and to avoid paralysis through analysis. The opportunity for leadership and staff to see immediate decisions being made inspires momentum on their part.

When these leaders conduct SAF meetings in their own district or division, by modeling the behavior of the executive staff, this momentum can and will continue throughout the agency. Since the accountability meetings are weekly, any decisions made can be evaluated within a week or a month, as appropriate.

Creating Positive Risk Takers

Building decision-making confidence is integrally linked to supporting risk takers. Witnessing the executive staff and chief making decisions in the SAF meeting helps to create risk takers. By modeling the behavior of the senior leadership, managers throughout the WSP experience growing confidence in their actions as well. Observing peers making decisions with resources and being positively recognized by the agency also creates risk takers.

Probably most important is how the agency's chief and executive staff respond to the errors that will occur. The SAF forum is an excellent venue to review an error, learn what went wrong so others do not replicate it, and not embarrass or demoralize leaders. Unwavering accountability is not served by merely conducting an accountability meeting with sarcasm and embarrassment strategies. In a room of professionals, a latent pressure exists to be seen as competent and knowledgeable. Failure by a leader to demonstrate these traits in the SAF forum is embarrassment enough and does not require further humiliation by the chief or executive staff. The overarching purpose of the public component of peer performance during SAF should be critiquing results, strategies, and decisions, not criticizing. Criticism brings resentment and resistance, whereas critiquing brings growth, confident decision makers, opportunity, and risk takers. The chief must provide real examples to demonstrate that taking a risk and failing is not a career-ending process, while at the same time demonstrating an unyielding requirement for accountability and success within the agency.

Dealing with Mixed Reactions

The practice of accountability-driven leadership and the weekly SAF meeting can generate criticisms and complaints. As the light of accountability shines farther and farther into the agency, there will be resistance: "Why are we doing this?" "This takes too much time from my duties on the street." "This is a waste of money." "This process does not make a difference." "We have worked very hard at this SAF stuff, but it does not appear to have worked." This reaction is to be expected. By its very nature, this process highlights that small segment of the organization entrenched in the status quo. Negligible percentages of employees in every organization continually resist change, shun accountability, and work in opposition to agency leadership. Therefore, the effects of these employees must be planned for and managed carefully.

Leadership must focus its energies on the overwhelming majority of employees who want to contribute to the success of an organization. The accountability-driven leadership model allows for personalized remediation and intervention designed to invigorate those who are resistant to change. One of the most effective strategies for combating this negative influence is continuous internal and external messaging of the agency's vision, direction, challenges, and successes. However, in the end, accountability-driven leadership exposes impediments to progress, obligating the agency's leadership to react with the best interest of the organization in mind.

Table 1
Washington State Patrol: Arrests made, infractions issued,
traffic stops made, and complaints received
Arrests made or
infractions issued
March 2000–
December 2001
January 2002–
October 2003
Seat belt81,682144,22762,54577
Aggressive driving30,31180,34750,036165
DRE evaluations5741,11654294
Felony warrant3,3234,4681,14534
Misdemeanor warrant10,86015,9465,08647
Drug arrest—felony2,1783,4671,28959
Drug arrest—misdemeanor7,73913,3375,59872
Asset seizure cases—
traffic stop-initiated narcotics arrest
Traffic stops made    
Commercial Vehicle Division stops218,483288,11769,63432
Other traffic stops2,033,0742,417,058383,98419
Complaints received    
Total citizen comlpaints
filed against troopers
Other misconduct complaints269265-41.9

1 The Field Operations Bureau's data collection effort was more advanced than that of the remaining bureaus for much of 2001. At this time, the data collection system in the Field Operations Bureau is current to within 24-36 hours, depending upon data entry timing. This collection strategy is being adopted throughout the WSP.
2 See U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, "The Relative Frequency of Unsafe Driving Acts in Serious Traffic Crashes," January 2001; and U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, "University of Indiana Tri-Level Causal Analysis," 1979.
3 Washington implemented a primary seat belt law in June 2002.
4 Ronal W. Serpas, Joseph Olson, and Brian D. Jones, "An Employee Disciplinary Ssystem That Makes Sense," The Police Chief 70 (September 2003): 28.



From The Police Chief, vol. 71, no. 1, January 2004. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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