Speaking Up: Advocacy from a Chief’s Perspective

For Chief Patrick Flannelly of Lafayette, Indiana, his first experience with advocacy had an unexpected start.

In 2013, he was attending a conference when a state legislator came to the front of the room to discuss the issue of expungement. As the lawmaker told the audience impassioned stories about Indiana citizens whose one-time mistakes made it harder for them to secure jobs or move through society, it occurred to Chief Flannelly that, despite the legislator’s good intentions, he was telling only one side of the story.

Some of the crimes the lawmaker described, like the college student who broke into a pizza parlor to make himself a pizza after a night of drinking, may have sounded small to the audience. But Flannelly thought of the business owner who discovered the broken window the next day, who halted his or her business until it could be fixed, and who paid to repair the window, but could not repair the anxiety he or she now felt about the safety of the shop’s employees and security of his or her storefront. Chief Flannelly also thought of the business owner’s community and the shaken sense of safety people must have felt when they saw the broken window. When thought of it that way, the crime didn’t seem so small at all.

Chief Flannelly waited until the lawmaker wrapped up, then decided to raise his hand.

Flash forward four years, and Chief Flannelly is doing more than just raising his hand—he has become an advocate for various policies and programs both locally and across the United States.

In Lafayette, a part of Tippecanoe County, Chief Flannelly has been a critical figure in building youth-police relations and supporting alternative programs to juvenile detention. Like most law enforcement leaders, Chief Flannelly knows the specific needs of his community, and his decision to advocate for these programs was not a simple act of
goodwill—it was part of his determination to use his position to speak up for powerful programs that deliver results for Lafayette’s officers and the city.

Effective Solutions

When Loretta Rush, former Tippecanoe County judge and current chief justice on Indiana’s Supreme Court, heard about the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI) in 2008, she immediately wanted to bring it to her county.

The JDAI aims to reduce the number of incarcerated youths by focusing on alternatives to detention, enhancing data collection, and promoting collaboration among all of the people who are involved in the process of arresting, sentencing, and working with youths. Research shows that alternative approaches are more economical than housing youths in detention facilities and more effective in preventing them from re-offending.1

Justice Rush called Rebecca Humphrey, executive director of youth services for Tippecanoe County, to see if she thought it was possible to implement JDAI in the county. Director Humphrey, who has worked with at-risk kids in Tippecanoe County for years, immediately signed on. However, she told Justice Rush that real community buy-in would require the backing of law enforcement.

The pair found an ally in the Lafayette Police Department, one of five departments that have jurisdiction in the county. With the department’s support, Tippecanoe County applied for funding for JDAI in 2008 and began tracking the work in 2010.

When Chief Flannelly was promoted from lieutenant to chief in 2012, he made it clear that alternatives to juvenile detention would be at the top of his list of priorities, committing to furthering the great results from the first two years of the program.

That commitment paid major dividends: From 2010 to 2016, Lafayette saw a 35 percent cut in juvenile rearrests and 76 percent reduction in juvenile felony arrests. The county halted plans to build a 32-bed, $22 million juvenile detention center, instead shifting focus and funds to more cost-effective programs like Multi-systemic Therapy (MST) and Aggression Replacement Therapy (ART).2 Compared to the $112,555 national average it costs to house a single youth in a detention facility for a year—more than a year’s tuition and board at some of the most expensive colleges in the United States—the programs were not only cutting wasteful government spending, they were keeping kids from re-offending.3

In short, alternatives to detention kept more youths out of facilities, boosted public safety, and spent taxpayer dollars more wisely.

A Chief’s Perspective in Washington, DC

Chief Flannelly knew that his department had discovered a winning strategy. There was no reason to limit its success to a few counties or communities, because the problem certainly wasn’t unique. In fact, juvenile recidivism is a serious problem across the United States, where, each year, $5 billion is spent on keeping juvenile offenders in facilities.4

For many young people, a first-time arrest is only the beginning of run-ins with the law. Studies show that, once a youth becomes a second-time offender, the likelihood of him or her having future encounters with law enforcement increases to 77 percent. But, if police can connect young offenders to the right services, they can cut the likelihood of the youths to re-offend in half.5

Tippecanoe was proof of the latter trend. After the county began using methods like MST and ART in 2008, 427 youths had successfully completed the programs, and 51 percent had yet to recidivate. From 2008, when the program began, to 2016, Tippecanoe’s total number of juvenile arrests per year had dropped from 1,646 to 755.6

Chief Flannelly felt that police departments and communities across the United States would benefit from this work if they knew how powerful the results could be. So, with the help of the national anti-crime organization Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, the chief flew to Washington, DC, in February 2017 to testify at a House Education and Workforce subcommittee hearing on reforming the U.S. juvenile justice system.7

Chief Flannelly discussed the successes he had seen in his own county and called on Congress to reauthorize the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, which would provide states with the funds needed to invest in alternative programs like the ones used in Tippecanoe County.

“Nationwide, 40 percent of young people who come before juvenile court will come before the court at least one more time,” he told the committee. “This cycle damages public safety, drains law enforcement resources, and does not help put those young people back on a better path.”8

Chief Flannelly’s testimony evoked strong praise from lawmakers. Chief Flannelly’s local U.S. representative, Todd Rokita (R-IN), approached the chief after his testimony and commended him for his compelling remarks. Other members of Congress reached out to say how impactful his story was. Months later, Chief Flannelly doubled down on his call to Congress, highlighting the importance of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) bill in an op-ed for The Hill, a newspaper widely read by federal lawmakers in Washington, DC.9 As of January 2018, Congress is closer to reauthorizing the bill than at any other time in the last 15 years—similar bills have passed the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives and now the differences just need to be reconciled between the two chambers.10

Centering Problems—Not Police

Chief Flannelly’s public and vocal support of these programs is just one example of growing advocacy efforts among law enforcement leaders who understand that most problems communities face start long before an officer ever gets involved.

For example, issues like homelessness and drug use often start long before an officer is called. Nonetheless, when someone is sleeping on a street corner or has overdosed on heroin, the public often expects law enforcement to find a solution to the issue.

“Because we are problem solvers and we are action-oriented, it’s easy for people to ask us to do something, and easy for police leaders to assume the responsibility for solving these problems,” says Chief Flannelly. If police take on that responsibility, they’re miles away from where the problem began but still “taking all the heat when things go wrong.”11

That line of thinking isn’t sustainable, says Chief Flannelly. The most effective interventions happen before an officer arrives at the scene. In fact, if the right interventions are made, ideally, an officer would never even need to show up.

Service providers and community members need powerful partners in their call to state and federal lawmakers for the funding and support that can make these interventions happen. That’s why Chief Flannelly says that it’s crucial for law enforcement leaders to speak up.

There are plenty of reasons to be wary of advocacy, Chief Flannelly notes. Law enforcement leaders are accountable to mayors or other local government officials, and they lead agencies with officers who may have differing opinions on these issues. Most importantly, law enforcement leaders have entire communities to serve, and many community members may expect them to avoid activities that can be perceived as political.

“When a police official speaks on an issue, it carries a lot of weight,” Chief Flannelly said. “Sometimes, people are a little leery of engaging in those conversations knowing this.”12

Advocating for specific policies requires the exact same skill set that law enforcement leaders use to assess situations in their job every single day: analyzing the facts, balancing outcomes, and thinking broadly about the various groups of people a decision will impact.

Best practices, in policing and in policy, are forged through constant evaluation of what works and, more importantly, what does not. Officers see firsthand the impact of decisions made by policy makers. This is why Chief Flannelly thinks law enforcement leaders not only have a critical vantage point, but also have a duty to speak up for policies and programs they believe their communities need.

More and more law enforcement leaders are showing up in state legislatures and in the U.S. Congress to leverage their singular expertise in keeping their communities safe. They’re fighting for research-backed programs that cut child abuse and neglect; finding resources to address the growing opioid crisis; advocating for the high-quality early learning programs that will keep kids in school and out of crime; and promoting alternatives to juvenile detention that can reduce re-offending.

Law enforcement leaders don’t need to take action alone. Organizations like the IACP and Fight Crime: Invest in Kids make it easy for chiefs to get involved, learn from each other, and make sure the law enforcement voice is represented.13

Joining any of these organizations can give law enforcement leaders the tactical support they need as they try their hand at rallying around new issues. But, more important, Chief Flannelly says leaders can get a great start by simply asking questions of those around them.

“It’s important for chiefs to seek out those that have common interests and goals and problems,” Chief Flannelly says. “The more people can get engaged, the more they’re going to find the right connections.”14

Nonetheless, law enforcement leaders are unexpected messengers and powerful advocates. Chief Flannelly was already taking strides to affect policy when he stood up and shared his perspective in that meeting with a state lawmaker just four years ago.

Calling for effective and impactful policy isn’t always hard. Sometimes, all it takes is for chiefs to raise their hands.


1The Annie E. Casey Foundation, “Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative.”

2Providing Vulnerable Youth the Hope of a Brighter Future Through Juvenile Justice Reform: Hearing Before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, 115th Cong. 22 (2017) (statement by Patrick J. Flannelly, Chief of Police, Lafayette Police Department).

3Elena Holodny, “Juvenile Incarceration Is Way More Expensive than Tuition at a Private University,” Business Insider, February 24, 2016.

4The U.S.’ Broken Juvenile Justice System,” Youth Justice Milwaukee (blog), March 15, 2017.

5Patrick J. Flannelly, “Dollars and Sense: It Pays to Reduce Youth Crime,” The Hill, Pundits Blog (blog), May 22, 2017.

6Providing Vulnerable Youth the Hope of a Brighter Future Through Juvenile Justice Reform: Hearing Before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education.

7Providing Vulnerable Youth the Hope of a Brighter Future Through Juvenile Justice Reform: Hearing Before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education.

8Providing Vulnerable Youth the Hope of a Brighter Future Through Juvenile Justice Reform: Hearing Before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education.

9Flannelly, “Dollars and Sense.”

10Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2017, S. 860, 115th Cong. (2017).

11Patrick J. Flannelly (chief, Lafayette Police Department), interview with Linnea Bennett, September 19, 2017.

12Flannelly, interview, September 19, 2017.

13Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, https://www.strongnation.org/fight

14Flannelly, interview, September 19, 2017.

Please cite as

Patrick Flannelly and Linnea Bennett, “Speaking Up: Advocacy from a Chief’s Perspective,” The Police Chief (January 2018): 30–32.