Building Star Performers for Law Enforcement

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: It is an honor to know Captain Bill Richards, he and I serve on the Tucson Police Foundation Board. We are very excited to share this interview with you.

Captain Richards is extremely well respected and one of the most knowledgeable people I have ever worked with about the politics of running a police department. I’m sure that’s from the 25 years of service he has had with the Tucson Police Department and is currently the commander of the Professional Standards Division. He has formerly been the commander of the Training Division.

We are going to talk to him about some of those experiences as well as the 4 years he spent with the Chicago Fire Department, which I’d love to hear more about, and his bachelors of science in criminal justice from Loyola University in Chicago. He also has a masters in education and leadership from North Arizona University.

Welcome Captain Richards!

Cap. Bill Richards: Thank you, thank you very much.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Tell us what the Professional Standards Division does and a little bit about your history with this organization.

Cap. Bill Richards: Certainly. The Professional Standards Division is commonly known as Internal Affairs to most people in the community, but also, I have command of our CALEA Accreditation which is a kudo for the Police Department here. It is an accredited police department and CALEA is the acronym that provides certification, that says we meet a recognized set of national standards, a lot of work. I have a staff of four people that keep us annually certified. The other big portion of my job is I advise the chief and the other commanders through our targeted operational planning unit. That is to look at crime statistics and crime trends and try to get out in front of the curve. Provide those tactics and operations that can stand the tide of violence, provide some crime suppression in target and focused areas. That is pretty much what I do, every day, when I come to work.

My background, as you said, 25 years in law enforcement. With all police officers you start out as a patrol cop and I was fortunate about every 4 years to promote until I made the rank of captain, I’ve been a captain for about 9 years now. I’ve done everything from homicide detective to air support unit, I have been in command above just about every unit/division we have in the police department except for narcotics and traffic. I’m sure if I stuck around a little bit longer I will wind up getting my chance at one of those two places.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: It’s amazing, you make it sound so easy.

Cap. Bill Richards: Well, in retrospect, I think everything probably appears easy. There is a lot of hard work that goes into promoting in any law enforcement agency. A good, dedicated police officer regardless of their rank, spends a great deal of their time learning and applying what they have learned to become the best they can be.

Dr. Relly Nadler: So, Captain Bill, let me ask you. How big is the force? How many folks are you directly responsible for?

Cap. Bill Richards: Well, my division is relatively small because it’s kind of an elite investigative unit. As a Patrol Captain, I have commanded as many as a hundred and forty officers. Here I am relatively small with about 20. The department, as a whole, is right around 1100 strong, and we have a total of about 1500 if you include all of civilian employees.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: I was just wondering if you could just back up a second, and tell us, as we like to do with all of our guests, a little bit about who influenced your choice to become either a fire fighter or a police officer and who have been influencers in your life, in the development of your own leadership strengths?

Cap. Bill Richards: Certainly, it’s an interesting story, at least I think it is because when I was about 7 or 8 years old living on the south side of Chicago, my mom’s cousin had joined the Chicago Police Department. I remember him coming over to the house, he was a rookie cop, fresh out of the academy, had a beautiful red corvette convertible. I remember he showed up wearing a white t-shirt and jeans and he was physically fit and he started talking about some of his adventures there as a police officer in Chicago, and I thought at that time, being young and impressionable that being a doctor might be a great career choice but boy does that police stuff sound like fun.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Did the corvette have anything to do with it?

Cap. Bill Richards: Yeah, that probably had a lot to do with it too, the whole circumstance. He wound up doing about 43 years on the Chicago Police Department and ultimately became the superintendent over the mayor’s body guard detail and had a wonderful career, and just recently retired. So, he obviously made the right career choice, if he can do 43 years at anything, you must love it.

So that was kind of my first impression, my parents had ideas otherwise. They thought I was going to be the first doctor in the family, so they worked really hard and sent me to a college prep high school and then onto Loyola University.

I have to be real frank with you, the current economic times were going through now were very similar to when I was graduating college. Height of a recession, unemployment was through the roof, and I had a couple of buddies that wanted to go down and put in for the Chicago Police Exam, and you had to go down to City Hall and fill out an interest card, then they would go ahead and mail it to you, when it was time to take the test. The secretary that was handing out the cards convinced us all that we needed to take the test for the Chicago Fire Department because it was very similar for the test of the Police Department, it would be good practice. Well, I did and I got hired as a fireman, I was a fireman for, I think, 3 years before they ever tested for Police Officer.

So that’s kind of how I became a fireman, great opportunity, wonderful opportunity, but on the whole, I kind of held to those 8-year-old impressions and wanted to become a Police Officer. So, after putting out a fire one night in Chicago, when it was about 30 below with the wind, I got on an airplane and had business out here in Tucson, some family business. I realized that, 70 and sunny in January was a lot better than 32 and wet in Chicago. The recruiter that I met was a gentleman who now just recently retired as Chief of Police, the rest is history.

Back in ’84 I attended the academy and I have been out here ever since.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: What key traits does the police force look for in leaders today? So what are some of the key characteristics and maybe a sub-question is, has that changed at all?

Cap. Bill Richards: I don’t think the police department is any different than any other organization, in so far as what they look for in their leadership.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: So, you’re saying this is true of business as well, which is fabulous.

Cap. Bill Richards: I, absolutely, have to say so because people are people regardless of whether you wear a gun and a badge or you carry a briefcase and a raincoat every day. The reality is what people look for is, someone who makes decisions predicated I believe on common sense, someone who’s knowledgeable, ethical and someone who is treating people as they wanted to be treated themselves.

So, the answer is relatively simplistic, putting it into practice, when you factor in personalities, politics, the stresses of what we have to do, it exponentially complicates the formula. The reality is, if you are reasonable educated person and you have good ethics and apply good, common sense to your decisions, I think you are more than half way there, to being a good leader. That’s certainly what we look for here in the police department.

Dr. Relly Nadler: What we always say as far as hiring, getting star performers, the best way is to hire star performers. Maybe you can walk us through a little bit of your screening process. How do you bring these folks in? Is there a physical assessment, is there also mental tests that they do? Then, once they are in, what does the training look like?

Cap. Bill Richards: Like all government service, there is an entrance exam that you have to pass. Then there is a cursory background then there is a more detailed background, a physical and a phycological. So, the hurtles that you have to jump to get hired, to be a police officer are relatively tall and there are many. So, we are looking for the best of the best. In one of my previous assignments, I was the commander of our Human Resources Division, I would say, to get a class of 40 we would have to test 400 people. You would have to trim ninety percent through the process to get the 40 best out of the 400 that want a life in public service. The problem that we have here is when you pin on the badge and accept the responsibility of being a law enforcement officer, you’re in the spot light. You lose a little bit of your privacy, you certainly have to live your life entirely different than the people who will go to work in private industry, who can remain relative anonymous in society.

It’s difficult and we have to prime our people from early on that, you’re never off duty. You behavior, both on duty and off duty matter, and you have to live your life in a relative fishbowl. So, we look for the best of the best, and then bring them on and then we spend their entire career talking to them, training them, nurturing them, and guiding them. I think we are as successful as any organization in developing our personal but like all organizations, occasionally, one or two will slip through the cracks and cause you some pain on consternation but there are effective ways of dealing with that, which is essentially the job I have now.

Making sure we provide our own quality control. We are looking at our people always from somewhat of a jaundiced eye, making sure that we are doing the right thing. That we are holding ourselves to the highest standards possible.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: You know, as you talk about this, as internal affairs. Can you tell, perhaps our listener that isn’t familiar with what that organization does. We call it standards, we call it holding ourselves to a higher level of ethics. What might be something that come before you as a commander?

Cap. Bill Richards: Oh, it can be anything from a rudeness complaint, regarding an officer in a traffic stop up through and including criminal behavior. So, run of the full gamut, and like any organization you have to have a complaint department, you have to have a quality control, you have to have an organization within an organization that holds itself accountable.

In essence, what we do here is we police the police. There is a delicate balance to walk because you want to be respected and not feared, but you also want to be effective and not complacent. We are constantly trying to balance the work that we need to do with how we are viewed by our internal customers, and how effective we can be for the chief, the command staff, and the community. It is one of the more difficult assignments that any could hold here, and we take it very seriously.

Dr. Relly Nadler: One of the things you said Bill, as far as never being off duty and I think that relates to many of the leaders that Cathy and I deal with, and I think that same question is a little more profound probably where you are, in your line of work. Leaders say, everything I say has to be measured, in a sense I’m under the spotlight all the time, 24/7. People want to be able to check out, and I think, like you were saying with the police officers, it’s really the same thing.

They are under the spotlight all the time, 24/7. Sometimes that’s a hard thing to deal with. Do you find that for some of the police officers, that they don’t want that spotlight on all the time or they find other ways to deal with it?

Cap. Bill Richards: I don’t know if anybody necessarily wants it, I think that we do a good job of noticing our folks from day one that this is the life that you are now assuming, that you have given up a certain amount of personal anonymity, and it’s difficult.

I think Cathy will tell you, she’s very familiar with cops in law enforcement, we just came off an incredibly successful annual dinner, where of course alcohol is being served. We are very cognizant, you can have a glass of wine dinner but not too much more. Because if you happen to work for somebody that sells clothes for a living and you get stopped for a DUI is doesn’t make the newspaper. You know, if I get stopped for a DUI on the way home, I’m headline news, perhaps national news. Depending on the severity of the circumstance, so you have to be cognizant of that. That plays into your level of responsibility that you have as a leader in the organization, how effective would I be if as a leader or a manager if I can’t display those behaviors 24/7 at my level. I’m paid to hold other people accountable as a commander in the police department, therefore I have to hold myself accountable, first and for most. We don’t want that notoriety, we don’t want that inspection to that degree but we understand that it comes along with the turf.

I told people before cops are kind of society’s referees, and they expect us to be perfect. They expect us to be right a hundred percent of the time.

Listen to the rest of the interview, above.


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