In The Chicago Police Department, Culture Runs Deep

The demise of Superintendent McCarthy from the Chicago Police Department has caused an article published in February 2015 to resurface. As I read the article this morning posted by NBCChicago.com, “Officers Allege Widespread Corruption Inside Chicago Police Department” I couldn’t help but to think how deeply culture runs in our organizations. In the wake of Superintendent McCarthy’s termination from the Chicago Police Department, it isn’t surprising that allegations such as these will rear its ugly head. And we should expect to see even more in the upcoming days and weeks. However, I don’t want to labor on the allegations as much as I want to highlight the culturally systemic issue within the CPD, and likely police departments all across the country.

Thanks to the Googles of the world, we’ve come to think of culture as a place with ping pong tables, sleeping pods, and play areas for our dogs, but in fact, that’s only a minute gesture of what culture is. Culture is the attitude and behaviors lived out in an organization, and is shaped by the small decisions that are made everyday within that organization. What does that look like? It looks like how decisions are made. Who makes those decisions. How employees respond to the decisions that are made. What behaviors will be rewarded. What behaviors will be penalized, and so on. That’s culture, and that’s what has happened with the Chicago Police Department.

McCarthy denied the officers allegations, but shouldn’t we expect that? What superintendent, who has been a part of the problem, is going to stand up and tell the truth in this instance? The truth that McCarthy came into an environment where this behavior was already the norm, and there was nothing he could do to change it, short of firing everyone and rebuilding a new force. If the allegations in this article are true, trust that the behavior of those supervisors didn’t start on McCarthy’s watch. This culture runs too deep, and has for too many years.

The no snitch culture of the Chicago Police Department didn’t start with McCarthy, and certainly won’t end with him (obviously, since he’s no longer the head). But as mentioned already, to change this culture will mean firing every supervisor, and the officers under them, who find this behavior acceptable, and then rebuilding with new decision-making, new standards for what behaviors get punished, and what behaviors are rewarded. Honestly, it’s a daunting and overwhelming task that no one wants to take on. And just like in organizational cultures everywhere, it’s simply easier to fall in line than it is to fight it, and that’s precisely what Superintendent McCarthy has done, and likely what the next superintendent will do as well.

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