Growing Capacity and Legitimacy

A Report from the 2016 Public Safety Summit

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Today’s public safety leaders often feel squeezed in a vise. On one side pressure is ramping up to respond to ever-more-complex crime and public safety threats such as natural disasters, violent extremism, and cybercrime. On the other side are pressing demands for citizen engagement, stakeholder collaboration, and community outreach. Policing leaders can feel torn: Should they focus on fighting crime efficiently? Or should they focus on growing public trust?

Forward-thinking public safety leaders realize that to build legitimacy the answer is “yes” – to improving both crime prevention and public trust. Yet to accomplish both objectives, public safety leaders need to pursue innovations that increase organizational capacity. In a world of limited resources, finding the right mix of innovations will require grappling with tough questions.

To help public safety leaders move forward on this challenge, Leadership for a Networked World and the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard, in collaboration with Accenture, convened senior-most leaders for The 2016 Public Safety Summit: Building Capacity and Legitimacy. Held at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts from April 29 – May 1, 2016, the Summit provided an unparalleled opportunity to learn from and work with policing and public safety peers, Harvard faculty and researchers, and select industry experts.

We hope this report offers new ideas, strategies, and insights to help public safety leaders lead their organizations to new levels of capacity and legitimacy.

“When trying to bridge the gap with the community, communication is the first step.”
Eric Ward
Chief, Tampa Police Department

Report Insights

  1. A Journey of Transformation in Ireland

    On March 24, 2014, Nóirín O'Sullivan got the call: senior Irish officials wanted to know if she would become the Interim Commissioner of An Garda Síochána, Ireland’s national police force. Most long-time law enforcement officers spend their entire careers preparing for that kind of opportunity, but O’Sullivan, who had joined An Garda Síochána in 1981 and was then serving as the agency’s Deputy Commissioner of Operations, knew that the agency’s next leader would face enormous challenges.

  2. A Time for New Measures: CompStat 2.0 and Broader Reform in New York City

    In January 2014, when William Bratton began his second stint as Commissioner of the New York City Police Department (NYPD), he faced a challenge unlike any he had confronted in his 44-year law enforcement career. Although the city’s crime rate was lower than it had been in decades, a survey conducted in spring 2014 revealed that 41 percent of blacks and 31 percent of Hispanics “held a somewhat negative or very negative view of the police.” Since then, the department has employed a multi-pronged strategy—highlighted by an increase in community policing, expanded trainings, and a wider embrace of modern technology—to continue keeping New Yorkers safe while restoring trust.

  3. Leadership Lessons from Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe

    In September 2011, when Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe became the Commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police Service (MET), he faced significant challenges. The agency had had five commissioners in the previous seven years, a spate of discontinuity that had interfered with the development and pursuit of a coherent vision. Making matters more difficult, the agency had to recover quickly because in less than one year, London would host the 2012 Olympics—an event that would place the city on the world’s biggest stage and test the MET’s security and event management capabilities. Hogan-Howe not only helped London to navigate the Olympics without incident; five years into his tenure as commissioner, he has made London significantly safer while pursuing transformation at the MET.

  4. The Importance of Collaboration: Seeding Change and Creating Accountability in Seattle

    In 2012, SPD and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) had agreed upon a consent decree mandating that SPD engage in significant reform to curb the “unnecessary and excessive use of force” and address concerns about discriminatory policing. Unfortunately, the initial reports from Monitor Merrick Bobb evaluating SPD’s progress identified further problems, namely “dug-in” resistance and “foot-dragging” within SPD—in other words, a refusal to work collaboratively with DOJ on reform. But Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, her team, city officials, and their partners at DOJ and the Monitoring Team shifted the tide by fostering a climate that prized teamwork.

“Culture is the thing that sits between capacity and legitimacy.”
Hank Stawinski
Police Chief, Prince George’s County (Maryland)


As public safety leaders strive to lead their organizations deep into the 21st century, they face the question of how to simultaneously make their communities safer and bolster community ties. Adding to the complexity, they will have to discern how to further both of these goals in an environment marked by growing scrutiny, a wide array of complex threats, and in some departments, a dearth of resources. As a result, law enforcement leaders will feel that they are facing difficult tradeoffs, but those agencies that are able to pursue multiple goals and techniques jointly will be best equipped to succeed in this uncertain future.

The dialogue at the 2016 Public Safety Summit pointed to three critical steps that law enforcement officials can take to navigate this challenging time. First, leaders must leverage modern technology, particularly innovations surrounding data and analytics. From the Seattle Police Department’s Real Time Crime Center to CompStat 2.0 in New York City, law enforcement agencies are discovering that technology can help them to combat crime more efficiently and therefore free valuable resources to bolster community ties. Second, listening, engaging in dialogue, and building partnerships is invaluable. As Nóirín O'Sullivan, An Garda Síochána’s Commissioner, said, “Every contact leaves a trace.” The implication is that law enforcement officials have the opportunity to reinforce a positive image and advance their mission with every move they make. Finally, leaders must be willing to embrace reform as a chance to get better, rather than view it as a punishment. As Dermot Shea, Deputy Commissioner for Operations in New York City’s Police Department said, “When you know you have to change, what is going to be your posture? Do you dig your heels in or do you accept it and work with others?”

Beyond mastering data and analytics and the complex process of community relations, law enforcement officials also need something less tangible but nonetheless significant: a sense of optimism. Given the enormous criticism of law enforcement in America today, it can be easy to become despondent about the state of the field or the difficulty of bolstering community ties. However, this crisis of confidence has also created an opportunity: law enforcement officials can develop a clearer sense of what their communities need and at the same time communities can come to appreciate the critical service that public safety departments provide. If public safety leaders and their communities can foster this understanding, America and the world will become a safer, more peaceful place—and that optimistic spirit will have been both rewarded and realized.

The Executive Leadership Group

Leadership for a Networked World, and the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard would like to thank the Executive Leadership Group for their vision and ideas that aided the development of this Summit.

Art Acevedo
Chief of Police
Houston Police Department
James Craig
Chief of Police
Detroit Police Department
Janeé Harteau
Chief of Police
Minneapolis Police Department
Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe
Metropolitan Police Service (London)
Cathy Lanier
Chief of Police
Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia
Jim McDonnell
Los Angeles County
Nóirín O'Sullivan
An Garda Siochana, Ireland
Kathleen O'Toole
Executive Leadership Group; Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland
Dermot Shea
Deputy Commissioner, Operations
New York City Police Department
Scott Thomson
Chief of Police
Camden County Police Department
Eric Ward
Chief of Police
Tampa Police Department
Chuck Wexler
Executive Director
Police Executive Research Forum

Hosted by

Leadership for a Networked World’s applied research, student innovation challenge, and on-campus summit programs are an initiative of Dr. Antonio M. Oftelie, Innovation Fellow at the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard (TECH), part of the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. TECH is a hub for students, faculty, alumni, and government and industry leaders to learn together, collaborate, and innovate. LNW accelerates these efforts by connecting leaders across sectors and developing cutting-edge thought leadership on innovation and organizational transformation.

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