To Serve and Protect

Hopefully there is a statute of limitations on non-disclosure agreements, although I think I am okay because I didn’t sign one and the company that did is long gone, and there was no murder involved that I am aware of. Anyhow, this tale falls into the truth is stranger than fiction category.

Several years ago one of my consulting assignments was for a municipal police force. It did not get off to a promising start. One of the rules of working with the police is that you have to pass a background check. I’m guessing that’s a ‘fox in the henhouse’ provision though as it turns out the existing population of foxes inside the building left little room for the chickens to roost. Anyhow, we all filled in the forms for the background check and awaited our clearance to be able to start work. The next day I got a call from the police saying someone on my team had failed the background check. He had neglected to mention a small matter of a criminal conviction – a minor one, but a conviction none-the-less. This was a concern on several levels. First, if you have a criminal record, how does it slip your mind enough to think you could pass a background check? Second, how come the company I worked for didn’t do a check when they hired him? Third, what a great first impression for the client, and fourth, who else could I get to work on the project. I was able to at least solve the latter problem and we started work.

The objective of the project was to help them with process improvement for several key activities including the management of the property room. In case you missed any tutorials provided by Law and Order, the property room is where all physical (i.e. non-biological) things that get into police hands end up. This could be stuff that people find – like bags of cash that somehow fall off an armoured car – or things collected in the investigation of a crime, which may or may not become evidence to eventually be presented in court. You probably gather from this explanation that the property room is a pretty important place.

My job was to facilitate a week’s worth of all day meetings to dissect all of the activities that take place in the lifecycle of an item of ‘property’, from the moment it passes through the threshold of police headquarters until it is returned to its owner or otherwise disposed of. My constituents in this exercise were a room full of police officers (all men, of course), including the head honcho of the property room and some of his lackeys, a few homicide investigators, and an assortment of beat cops. In other words, not an easy crowd.

The meetings proceeded in as much organized chaos as I could manage to contain although by the second or third day I did manage to get them to settle down enough to start participating in a useful way. I thought it was great that they had become comfortable enough with the process to start telling me about the way things really worked and reveal some of the issues with the process, when I found out there is such a thing as being too comfortable. That was the day during our afternoon coffee break when there was a heated discussion about whether or not it was possible for a gun to go off accidentally. One of the homicide guys decided to settle the disagreement once and for all. He opened his briefcase, took out his gun, and slammed it down on the conference room table with enough force that the table fell over and the gun skidded off and landed on the floor with a thud. Luckily he did win the argument.

Somehow we all made it to the end of the week alive and I successfully extracted a process map for the property room and a long list of proposed improvements. A few months later the head of the property room and a few other people I had lived dangerously with for that week appeared on the front page of the paper, charged with a conspiracy to remove valuable items and erase the associated paper trail. Coincidence? I think not.