Lowell, Massachusetts

David Thacher
Harvard University
John F. Kennedy School of Government
Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management

Case Study Prepared for the Urban Institute


The Lowell Police Department has undergone rapid changes over the past four years. Throughout the 1980s and into the early 1990s, the department was organized largely on the “professional model” of policing: Patrol work focused on emergency calls, management was fairly hierarchical, and relations with the outside world were formalistic. But by 1997, the LPD operated much more in the image of community policing, emphasizing community problem-solving, team-based management, and an open dialogue with the public. Pockets of the professional model still remain, just as pockets of the community policing model existed in the old LPD. But on balance the changes appear to be dramatic.1

The LPD was pushed from the outside by state and federal policy, which influenced the department through the grants it began to need when the city’s largely industrial economy faltered; it was also pushed by local government itself, which pressured all Lowell agencies to work in a more neighborhood-oriented fashion. But most important, the LPD was driven from the inside by two forces. First, and most visibly, by a talented and articulate chief with a clear vision and effective management style; and second, by many committed staff whose innovations were allowed to prosper (some of these actually emerged well before the department officially tried to “transform itself,” but they were not supported by the previous administration).

This paper will describe and explain the changes that have taken place in Lowell. Descriptively, I will try to reconstruct the LPD of the 1980s and early 1990s (section I)2 and to describe how the department operates today (section III).3 Those descriptions revolve around four major elements of the organization: Its relationship with its environment, its operations, its support services, and its management.4 In section II, I will try to explain why and how the LPD changed. That discussion will focus on the role of leadership and the COPS grants in effecting the LPD’s changes, but it will also consider other environmental influences, as well as the way in which the existing organizational structure and culture impeded or accelerated change.


1. Relating to the Environment

Observers typically describe so-called “professional” police departments as “autonomous,” and that description does fit the LPD of the 1980s and early 1990s in many ways. The department apparently tried hard to remove itself from the more obvious forms of political and community life, minimizing its relationships with elected officials, other government agencies, community groups, the press, and even (in some ways) the general public. But elements of the LPD seem always to have maintained relationships with these groups, at times against explicit department policy. And even where formal policy is concerned, the LPD has never been able to be completely autonomous.

The Authorizing Environment

Public agencies must inevitably submit to some public controls; the question is what forms those controls will take. The Lowell Police Department of the 1980s and early 1990s apparently followed the dominant strategy of twentieth century policing, one reminiscent of the ideal political theorists call “juridical democracy.”5 In this ideal, the public does not influence police operations directly: The agency tries as much as possible to keep politicians and community groups at bay, and it does not pay particular heed to public opinion. It answers instead to clearly-stated policies that elected officials have set out in advance—like the laws the police are directed to uphold, the budget that authorizes their expenditures, or the employment regulations that govern their staffing decisions. But before considering the ways in which the public did have influence over Lowell’s police, consider first the relationships that the department downplayed.

City Government

By all accounts, the LPD did not maintain a high profile in city hall. An employee of the DA’s office during the period described the department’s reputation in city government as “aloof,” “separate,” or even “untouchable.” The department did not, for example, produce an annual report—the exemplar of government oversight. A previous city manager remembers relations with the police during this period in terms of occasional civil suits brought against the department, together with the ever-present budget issues.

To be sure, city government had some formal authority over important police issues. The council ultimately controlled budgeting, giving it great control over staffing and equipment purchases. This element of government control over the police became important in the early 1990s, as Lowell’s declining tax base forced the city to cut services. But during the relatively prosperous 1980s, a period when police staffing stayed fairly constant, these issues were not nearly so salient as they would become. In any case, city hall technically had input on other personnel matters, such as promotions. But in practice these decisions were governed by civil service rules. Even the superintendent was traditionally chosen through a competitive civil service exam, putting Lowell in the minority of cities that removed its police so dramatically from “politics.”

Community Organizations

The LPD also minimized its relationships with organized community and business groups. Like many police departments since the 1960s, Lowell did have “community relations” officers whose job it was to air community groups’ concerns and provide safety-related information and training. Jeff Davidson, the chief community relations officer in Lowell, still works for the LPD, and he is highly esteemed by many both inside and outside the department. In fact, early participants in Lowell’s community policing efforts credit Davidson with preparing the way by establishing links with many community organizations and even organizing some neighborhood watch groups on his own.

But the community relations position apparently absolved the rest of the department from such responsibilities. Community groups report that other police personnel seldom attended their meetings, and officers confirm this account; one who considered himself outside the mainstream, in that he did do something like what we now call “problem-solving,” recalled: “I was never involved with any type of neighborhood groups or working with community groups to [do problem-solving]. That was unheard of.” Isolated exceptions existed; for example, in the early 1990s the Deputy Superintendent began attending monthly meetings with the Downtown Businessman’s association. But these were decidedly exceptions.

Moreover, the community relations position itself was limited by its mandate and by its position within the department. Through Davidson the department could give information to the community—he does safety training that community groups still value highly. But it could not get information back as easily. As Chief Ed Davis explains it, a community relations officer “would never come to the chief and say, ‘Hey Chief, you know, there’s a problem over there.’ Because he’s in the chain of command and has a boss to answer to and they just don’t do that.” In the end, with the LPD’s community relations specialized in an institutionally-constrained position, community groups had little access to the department.

The Press and Public Opinion

So in the end the department did develop some formal channels for dealing with the press. But it did so reluctantly, and only after much internal strife over the “leaks” that had sprung. The practice that emerged was one in which the department maintained strong centralized controls over media communications, discouraging their overuse. There were exceptions, notably then-Lieutenant Edward Davis, who as head of Special Investigations consciously maintained close ties with the press; Cook remembers that Davis was, “clearly, more than anyone in the department, very press savvy at the time, much to the consternation of some of the people who were here.” But overall, Cook remembers his job as a frustrating one:

Cook himself believes that the department’s isolation actually exacerbated its poor image in the media.

The story is important because it echoes in many of the LPD’s relationships. True to the “professional” model, the department tried to strike an autonomous posture. But at the same time, it maintained some formal connection with these groups out of necessity. And informally, in pockets throughout the department, it often maintained fairly strong relations with outside groups. Because of their informality, there was no way to monitor them, and favoritism was always a possibility. But ultimately these pockets became important as the LPD made the transition to community policing.

The department did not emphasize other forms of public relations either—for example, the extensive youth programs the department maintains today were essentially absent during the 1980s and early 1990s. To be sure, individual officers report performing acts of charity and community service in this period. One tried to project a positive image of the police by buying Christmas gifts for children on his beat, which was located in a poor area of the city. He and other officers played sports with local youth on Sundays. But such officers remember little support or encouragement from the department: “There was no incentive. Like, you weren't being asked by the administration, you weren't being supported.” Another who coached sports teams in his private life echoed the sentiment: “If, at any point, I felt I could have started a sports program, with my background I would have done that. Because I enjoy that. . . . But it was never brought up, `geez, why don’t you try this or why don’t you try that.’” The LPD simply did not privilege community relations and public opinion.

Juridical Policing

In sum, the department did not directly negotiate relationships with city government, organized groups, and the public at large. Instead, public controls followed the model of professional policing, in which the department was governed primarily by three kinds of law: The criminal law that constrains the police response to crime, the civil law that governs police liability (citizens brought a number of civil suits against the department for brutality), and the administrative law that governs any public agency (notably Massachusetts’s strong civil service laws governing hiring and promotion).

But the core way in which the LPD responded to public demands—the “front door” to the police department—was the calls-for-service system, a rationalized and egalitarian screen for public requests.8 We will see below that emergency calls commanded great deference in the LPD.

But the entryway itself was not very welcoming. That became particularly clear in the early days of community policing when the department began to listen closely to community groups’ concerns. After addressing some basic problems like response time and on-scene behavior, problems in the calls-for-service system came to the fore: “It wasn't concerns that the police weren't getting there quick enough or that they didn't arrest somebody for stabbing somebody,” the LPD’s community liaison remembers. “It was, ‘We don't like the way we're being treated when we phone.’” Many blame the problem on personnel. At best, officers got assignments as dispatchers because they were injured; at worst, they got them as punishment for their misdeeds on the street. (For many years every dispatcher was a sworn officer, though as call volume increased the department began adding civilians as well.) One Lieutenant explains that officers “were not going into the radio room because we said, this person's going to be a good person in the radio room; it was because he's not good somewhere else.” The current head of communications describes the results:

The department tried to channel public demands through the calls-for-service system, but it seemed that the system itself was flawed.

It is hard to convey the sincerity with which officers, even today, defend the integrity and good intentions of the Lowell Police department during this period. But the LPD, like many other police departments, was committed to a dominant ideal of policing that viewed public relations dimly, as a superficial and expendable frill.

The Task Environment

Leaving the question of public control aside, police departments face a more practical need to forge external ties. Like any organization, a police department’s ability to do its job depends or potentially depends on the actions of outside groups (like city agencies and property owners). But with a few exceptions, the “professional” ideal of autonomy governed this domain as well.

A twelve-year veteran of the Department of Inspectional Services (which enforces building and sanitary codes and is now one of the LPD’s most prominent partners) maintains that in his early years, “there was no cooperation [between the two agencies]. You know, they did their thing, and we did our thing.”9 Several other agencies did interact with the LPD in some ways: Public Works, the Department of Social Services, the public schools, and the Housing Authority all apparently had some connections with the LPD. But these relationships were often informal, in that the administration did not particularly encourage, recognize, or control them; and they were not nearly as strong as they are today.

As one might expect of a police department operating in the professional mode, its most common partners came not from these agencies of local government, but from the criminal justice system and its offshoots. Lowell had the usual team of detectives that worked closely with the District Attorney’s office, and officers and detectives had the usual daily interaction with the courts and other police agencies. The department also had ties to police professional organizations like the IACP and the FBI (for example, Chief Jack Sheehan sometimes sent staff to these organizations’ training programs).

Still, conflict riddled some of these relationships. Most notably, the criminal bureau and the DA’s office were at loggerheads into the 1990s, and mending the break became a major task for Ed Davis when he took office as chief. And other criminal justice relationships were strangely absent. In the early 1980s, the LPD had little contact with federal and state law enforcement agencies, despite Lowell’s status as a major center of interstate drug trafficking. It did maintain a good working relationship with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, but the department had very little contact with agencies like the FBI, ATF, INS, and the Massachusetts State Police—all agencies with which it works closely today. According to Davis, the department “was pretty parochial about enforcement and they looked at another agency that came in to assist, or to be involved in an investigation, as people who were intruding on their territory.” As he rose to the head of Vice and Narcotics, Davis began to change this attitude in his unit, working with every applicable federal and state law enforcement agency.

Finally, though we do not normally think of them as “partners,” it is worth noting that criminal offenders played the same role in the LPD that they do in almost every police department (even those oriented to community policing). Perhaps in part because little information flowed in from the community, the department tended to rely heavily on informants to solve many types of crime (though the LPD still relies heavily on informants today). This relationship is important to take note of because it created some minor problems in implementing community policing.

Perceptions of the LPD

Whether or not as a result of the LPD’s aspirations to autonomy, the department suffered in the forum of public opinion. Officers themselves remember that “ten, twelve years ago it was almost like we were just like an occupying army in the city . . . and there was, I think, very little support for the police department.” A management consultant who guided officers through a strategic planning process (which in part took stock of the department’s current state) reports that even those who tended to glorify the past admitted that the community viewed Lowell police “dismally.”

Outsiders confirm these judgments of public opinion of the time. Perceptions of the police were reportedly especially poor in Lowell’s minority community—particularly in its rapidly growing Southeast Asian community, as the department had no Asian officers who could speak Khmer or other important languages.10 Finally, the business community gave the department a serious no-confidence vote in the early 1990s, when an association of downtown businesses voted to hire private security to patrol Lowell’s rapidly-deteriorating commercial district.

2. Operations

The Lowell Police Department grew gradually during the 1980s, from 174 sworn officers in 1982, to 195 in 1991. But as Lowell’s economic fortunes declined, department staffing did too. By 1993, on the cusp of the LPD’s transformation,. the department had only 159 officers left. Throughout the period, the department also employed about 20-30 civilians.

Until Davis’s reforms in 1994, the organization of the Lowell Police department had remained essentially constant since 1975. Operations were spread across six separate divisions in the department. One was the radio room, which employed the department’s dispatchers, located in the computer division of the technical services bureau. The previous section described dispatch and its problems; here we turn our attention to the other five divisions—vice/narcotics, patrol, criminal investigations, traffic, and juvenile. Each of these divisions was headed up by a captain reporting directly to the deputy superintendent. (See Figure 1) Specifically, we will focus here on patrol and the three investigative divisions.


Taking time out to do what is now called “problem-solving”—or for that matter personal business or anything else—created a reaction from one’s fellow officers.


During much of this period the LPD delegated investigations to three separate units—juvenile, criminal investigations, vice/narcotics—, each usually headed by a captain (except for juvenile) and reporting directly to the deputy chief.

Criminal investigations was the largest of these divisions, employing about 20 detectives over three shifts for much of the period. The detectives were mostly generalists, though a few specialized in specific crimes like rape or bad checks and credit fraud. The detective bureau was primarily reactive in the sense that its priorities were set by reports that came in from patrol. The division’s commanding officer would assign priorities to the reports that came in according to how serious the crime was, and how much there was to go on. “Less serious crimes, if there was absolutely nothing to go on, then we would pretty much file it,” one detective from the period explains. For example, burglaries would often go uninvestigated, since evidence was usually slim. Specialized cases were parceled out to the other three investigative divisions: Vice/Narcotics (though its workload evolved somewhat differently, as described below), traffic (which employed officers specially-trained in serious and fatal accident investigation and reconstruction), and juvenile (a three-man unit that investigated cases in which a juvenile was a suspect or victim).

Juvenile did get some work in different ways: In the course of their jobs, the division’s detectives developed relationships with some school principals, and one reports that the principals would call them occasionally about “ongoing things . . . gang-related problems, ethnic problems [i.e., ethnic conflict],” and so on: “We would stay around for a couple of days and guide them through if it was a real hot time or something like that. We would be there after school for dismissals to try to give them some extra assistance, do some car stops after school if they were having a lot of problems with non-students.” But as this detective remembers the period, 90% of his time was spent on investigations of juvenile-related crime reports.

Investigations in all divisions were typically retrospective: The assigned detective tried to identify a perpetrator, based on interviews with witnesses and the responding officer’s report (or occasionally, though not usually, direct communication with the officer).11 Sometimes surveillance tactics were used—for example, detectives might stake out a shopping area that had reported a rash of robberies or vandalism. But none of the detectives from this era whom I spoke with reported any truly proactive investigations, in the sense that all these investigations were triggered by complaints from outsiders about specific incidents. For example, according to the captain who took over the detective bureau during Chief Davis’s tenure, even organized gangs were investigated only in response to specific crimes.

Towards the end of this period, as the city’s budget crisis grew, the detective bureau suffered. Staffing reached a low of eight detectives concentrated on one shift. Equipment suffered too; the division did have funds for equipment during the period, but it apparently did not spend much of it because it was too busy dealing with an unmanageable workload. Finally, as described in the previous section, the division’s relationship with the DA’s office deteriorated to the point where the DA sometimes refused to work with it.

Vice and Narcotics

The vice and narcotics division was consolidated out of its two constituent parts in the early 1980s, and it handled the cases its name implies (though Lowell’s thriving drug market seems to have generated most of its workload). Vice worked differently from the other investigative divisions because of the nature of its target crimes. Its workload came less from patrol officer reports than from informants and citizen complaints, both of which typically came directly to the vice division itself.12 Vice gave top priority to cases that involved dealers further up the drug distribution pyramid.

Detectives from the division remember investigations as focused on surveillance and informants. One sums up the typical memory of drug house investigations: “You know, we’d typically watch a house, get an informant, get a buy out of a drug house, and go in there and make a couple of arrests.” Areas with heavy street-level dealing, like the regionally-renowned “triangle” in Lowell’s Acre neighborhood, made easy targets, as Lieutenant Billy Taylor explains: “It would not be uncommon to go in there and conduct an operation and make twenty- five arrests in a single day. Sometimes you are only limited—and I am not being facetious about this—we were sometimes limited by the number of handcuffs we had. It was tough.” Finally, particularly when high-level dealers were concerned, investigations often became quite elaborate, as Davis began involving federal and state law enforcement agencies in major drug investigations.

Vice was clearly a well-respected and exciting place to work at the time, and in some ways it got considerable organizational support (as described below). But many that worked in the division remember frustrations as well. Ed Davis, who headed the unit for most of this period, recalls:

We had put together an excellent Narcotics Enforcement Unit. We worked with all the Federal Agencies and the State Agencies. We did high level cases. We were probably the only Police Department, outside of Boston, from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, that was frequently in Federal District Court. . . . But no matter what we did, the city still got worse every year. No matter how many drug dealers we put away, no matter how many organizations we took out, no matter how far up the chain that we went in the distribution of drugs, . . . the neighborhoods got worse and worse every year and the local narcotics were increasing. We changed tactics to try to better arrest these guys and nothing worked.

Many blamed the failure on problems in the criminal justice system—especially the courts’ perceived leniency—and this diagnosis spurred the unit on in new directions.

Indeed, those who worked under Davis in the vice unit remember their commander as an innovative man. One recalls:

He came up with this idea that he dubbed “The Welcome Wagon.” And what we used to do is put on our raid jackets, and we'd all pile into one of the vans or all the cars in the morning, 9:00, 10:00 in the morning. We'd go out, but we wouldn't have any search warrants with us. We'd go out and we'd have a list of drug houses that we were going to go to. We'd go knock on the doors of the drug dealers and invite ourselves in. And we'd talk to them. And we'd run checks on them and find out who the hell they are and let them know that this is the opportunity that they're going to get to move out of the neighborhood, or else next time we're going to come back, we're going to be back with a bag of handcuffs and a search warrant and they're going to go to jail. And some of the officers thought it was kind of—I don't know, kind of a crazy way to do police work. But, believe it or not, it worked. Not everybody moved out, but a lot of them did move out.

The Welcome Wagon also began to work with outside agencies. With the blessing and help of assistant city manager Brian Martin, Davis began bringing building code inspectors from the Department of Inspectional Services along on raids.13 The inspectors could often close down apartments that hosted drug-dealing on the grounds that they were uninhabitable (particularly since dealers would modify them extensively), and they did so more and more after some early experiments. Property managers were also brought along to determine whether or not those in the building were actually tenants. Overall, the Welcome Wagon was an early approach that bypassed the criminal justice system altogether. Its officers were not concerned with arrests but with shutting down drug houses.

One other non-traditional approach was emerging on the fringes of the organization. A young sergeant, Debbie Friedl, was assigned to the Vice squad in the late 1980s, mainly investigating sexual assault. Through a chance event, Friedl wound up getting involved with a local battered women’s agency:

It was a female victim one day that needed some services and the two male officers that were dealing with her figured, “Let's call Debbie. She's a woman, she'll know what to do” . . . I didn't know but I knew where there was a phone number to call. And one thing sort of led to another. The battered women's program . . . had had an interest in having a police officer serve on their board to get that law enforcement perspective, but they weren't really certain. They didn't have any contact or they didn't know anyone. When it was a female officer that they suddenly interacted with, it seemed like, “Oh, this makes a lot of sense. Let's approach her and see if she's interested.” And I was.

Friedl joined the agency’s board of directors, and in the process began to learn more about domestic violence and issues facing victims—an education she began to supplement by taking classes on her own initiative. At the time, the LPD was like many police agencies, in that it did not give domestic violence much attention. According to Friedl, “if it was a domestic violence incident short of a homicide, there was no investigation.” There was some discussion with then-Superintendent John Sheehan in the early 1990s about creating a domestic violence unit, and Sheehan reportedly agreed that the department needed such a unit. But staffing was extremely low at the time, and the administration decided that it simply did not have the officers to create the unit. Absent organizational support, Friedl’s growing interest in the issue had no outlet at work; she speaks of her involvement with domestic violence during this period as part of her “civilian life.” But it positioned her well for developments that were soon to come.

Coordination and the Division of Labor

These two major operational branches—investigations and patrol—worked under a fairly stark division of labor. The CO of criminal investigations describes the bureau he inherited as “very territorial,” in that it frowned upon any activity resembling investigations by the patrol force. The patrol officer’s responsibility for a problem ended with the report he took. One officer explains that “it was your responsibility to go to the call, get the person's information or whatever it was that he was complaining about, and get out. Write a report and pass it in, and hopefully somebody else would take care of it.” Indeed, the report was the lifeline between the two branches. As one Captain remembers, “The flow of information [between investigations and patrol] decreased to where it was almost nil.”

3. Organizational Support

The department’s support services partly confirm and partly qualify the description of the LPD as operating under the “professional model.” Training clearly favored professional ideals. But support services seemed to hark back to an even earlier era, in which the crucial ingredient of policing was an alert and resourceful individual officer. With a few exceptions, analyzing records, elaborate equipment, and other forms of organizational support played a fairly limited role.


The Massachusetts State Police provided training for LPD officers at five locations around the state, as it did for all but a handful of the largest Massachusetts cities that had their own academies. The academy sought to instill a strong commitment to professional ideals, organized as it was in a military style that included short haircuts, clothing inspections, and strict regulations. The substance of the training was similar to most police academies, covering accident investigation, fingerprinting, defensive tactics, and the like. Even today the state academies only devotes 4-6 hours to community policing (though Lowell itself has started its own academy).

The state also mandated 40 hours of in-service training per year, which since 1983 had been offered at the Northeast Regional Police Institute in neighboring Tewksbury. But the department provided its own in-service training as well, at least to the circle of command staff close to Superintendent Sheehan. The department sent these officers to a variety of professional development courses, seminars, and the prestigious FBI training academy. One narcotics investigator recalls, “when I was in the narcotics unit for that long stretch of time as a detective, we were well taken care of in the department.” Sheehan’s substantial commitment to professional development had an important benefit for Ed Davis, whom Sheehan sent to the Police Executive Research Forum’s Strategic Management Institute for Police (SMIP) seminar—a seminar that would be Davis’s first exposure to community policing.


The LPD of this period did not value the same sort of information it values today. Superintendent Sheehan distrusted crime data to the extent that the department did not submit Uniform Crime Reports for nearly a decade. Others say that the department lacked resources to devote to technology, and that the administration was not particularly interested in the new information technologies, believing that officers should get their information on the street. Crime analysis as it is known today would have been difficult, as the department lacked a computerized dispatch system, and most records were on paper; in any case the department did not do it.

As suggested in the previous section, reports were the major information resource in the LPD of this period. The department did, of course, maintain the usual information on known offenders. But all of this information was kept in paper files (the department is only now inputting most of the information into computer databases), and the system for accessing them was cumbersome. As a consequence, some think, the information that was available was underused. Arthur Ryan, the head of MIS explains that officers often “wouldn’t bother” getting background information about people they stopped “because it would require them to stick around, call into the radio room, the radio room would then make the inquiry. And then, when they got around to it, get back to them.”

At the time Ryan worked under Davis in the Vice Squad, which was a bit ahead of the game with respect to information, as it was in operations. For a time the Vice Squad was the only part of the department to use computers substantially, and one of Ryan’s duties was to oversee them. He explains that the division mostly used the computers for word processing, but it also began to use them for “a little bit of data . . . and kind of crude record-keeping.” But gradually the computers spread throughout the department—the city sponsored a computerization initiative, in partnership with Lowell-based Wang laboratories, in the late 1980s—and Ryan began to spend more and more of his time on the issue. But the department did not become fully involved in the city’s program until just before Davis became Acting Superintendent.


Again, much of the problem stemmed from the city’s growing budget crisis. But not all of it did. Billy Taylor, who took over the detective unit under chief Davis, recalls that when he took over

Nevertheless, Taylor found that the division had unspent equipment funds from previous years.

Other Support Services

Fleming helped other officers out not only with his growing list of referrals, but also with what he describes as “peer counseling” and “critical incident debriefing.”

4. Organizational Management

Then as now, the LPD’s management consisted of a Superintendent of Police, a Deputy Superintendent, and a number of Captains, Lieutenants, and Sergeants. The Superintendent had primary control over department policies, while the Captains (reporting to the Deputy Superintendent) oversaw the department’s major subdivisions (the investigative divisions and patrol, as well as the administrative services and technical support bureaus). Lieutenants either headed smaller departmental units or oversaw a shift of patrol officers (with responsibility for day-to-day issues like juggling assignments when an officer called in sick), while sergeants typically supervised three to five patrol officers on the street. In addition, two unions—a patrol officers’ union and a superior officers’ union—had input into many important LPD decisions.

Decisionmaking and Control in the LPD

Some of the department’s management was highly centralized. Most major decisions—making policies and procedures,14 assigning staff to important positions, allocating department funding, and so on—were made by the LPD’s appointed Superintendent. The full management staff rarely met in one place, with the exception of monthly meetings that were held during one two-year period. And the organization’s hierarchy permeated even those events. One who attended recalls: “The Chief would still sit there and say, I want you to do this, I want you to do this, does anybody have anything to say to me? And everybody would say, ‘No, we need more people, we need more money.’ That was the meeting.”

The Superintendent did not make all decisions alone, however. Many in the department report the perception that there was a core of command staff and others who were friendly with chief Sheehan. This cadre seems to have had influence on important policy decisions, and many think that they also got privileged treatment in assignments. Similar perceptions surround Superintendent Davis today, as they must surround most police chiefs (and for that matter, most heads of organizations). But for a while in the 1980s the split between “ins” and “outs” became severe. One observer explains that at one point “you were either viewed [as] being in administration or you were one of the malcontents.” In any case, high-level decisionmaking was mostly centralized, whether in the hands of the Superintendent or in a more extended group that included some of his command staff.

The same pattern characterized discipline in the LPD, with an important qualification. One manager from the period remembers:

But this was only true of the internal affairs complaints that reached the chief—which turned out to be a very small fraction. Many complaints were turned away at the desk on the grounds that the officer’s supervisor had to take the complaint personally, while complainants might come in when the supervisor was off-duty. (This process reportedly became a problem on several occasions, as citizens who had been rebuffed at the front desk took their complaints to city hall or the press.) Other complaints were simply handled informally at the desk, never entering the formal internal affairs system at all. Thus although the chief did exercise centralized control over the disciplinary cases that came to his attention, the organization beneath him kept many of these cases for itself.

A similar pattern governed many operational decisions: the department’s hierarchy ostensibly controlled them, but in fact that hierarchy was something of a paper tiger. One story out of department lore, here told by chief Davis, illustrates:

If I was a Patrol Officer on the street and I made an arrest, I would call for the patrol wagon . . . and they would call back and say the wagon’s tied up right now at the booking window. . . . If the situation was very violent and there were a lot of people gathering around, I would call my Sergeant and I’d say, “Car four to Sergeant so and so.” Sergeant would say, “Go ahead.” And I’d say, “I’d like to transport the suspect by cruiser.” The Sergeant would say, “Standby car four.” Then the Sergeant would say, “Sergeant so and so to Captain at the main desk, the commanding officer.” And the Commanding Officer would say, “Go ahead”—there’d be this big voice—“Go ahead.” And the Sergeant would say, “Captain, car four is asking permission to transport a suspect from the location to the station.” And the response was inevitably these words; “Tell car four it’s okay to transport if it’s safe to do so.” So basically what was happening was the guy who actually knew what the circumstances were has made a decision to transport the prisoner. But to do it, he has to call a Sergeant who has to call a Captain who has absolutely no idea what’s going on out there in the street, who sends back a response that says, “Yes, if the guy thinks it’s a good idea, he should do that.”

So although the command staff formally had control over this decision, this control was ultimately superficial.

Given such variation, it seems clear that the sergeants’ supervisors did not exercise much control over them. And indeed, those who were sergeants at the time report that they did not have very explicit marching orders from above. One explained that street supervision meant “basically being available to the officers, responding to calls with them. Basically just making sure that everything was running okay out on the street”; and of course collecting reports.

Indeed, it would have been difficult for centralized control to influence street-level work much, because accountability was ill-defined. For example, the head of Criminal Investigations explained that before geographic organization of his unit it was hard to fix responsibility for problems—anyone with citywide command simply could not keep tabs on his entire domain:

If a particular section of the city really started to get out of control, or a couple of streets were experiencing problems that would really impact the neighborhood there, whose fault was it? Or who does the Chief hold responsible to say “Hey we have got to do something over there, this situation can not be tolerated.” Well he called me, but I cannot watch the city, it is too big.

So in the end, although the LPD centralized important policymaking decisions—like internal budgeting and general orders—in the hands of the Chief and his associates, street-level work was driven by other forces: Mostly 911, informants, and—within the limits imposed by the previous two—the impulses of the occasional patrolman, detective, or sergeant.

All of this was enforced by a definite sense of mission, which the department does appear to have had throughout this period. This mission came from the professional ideal (most officers use the term “traditional law enforcement”)—specifically, an interpretation of that ideal that placed the highest value on rapid response to calls.

The Union’s Role

The one way in which patrol officers could influence department policy (primarily around contracts and discipline) was through their union. The most important decision the union became involved in came as Lowell’s economic crisis mounted and the department had to absorb its share of budget cuts. The relevant decisions were made jointly by the chief and some from the command staff, the unions, and city hall (though after running a $13 million deficit the city lost some discretion to a state-initiated control board, which had veto power over budgeting until the city returned to the black). At the beginning of the 1990s, the department decided to freeze hiring and offer some two dozen officers early retirement—the number of sworn officers dropped from 195 to 159 from 1991 to 1993— and it saved money in other ways, like making promotions without pay raises. But in 1993 the city (apparently egged-on by press stories about the officers’ “excessive” benefits) demanded further cuts from the police: The officers would have to give up their holiday pay—some $3-$4,000 per officer—or the department would have to lay off staff to reduce the budget by the same amount (which worked out to 32 officers).

The city left little time after its ultimatum, and when it came time to make the final decision the union—whose approval was needed to suspend the holiday pay—had not voted on the issue. The city decided to suspend the officers, but Tom Meehan, the president of the patrol officer’s union, wanted time to get a vote from his body. Jerry Flynn, who was the union’s treasurer at the time, remembers that Ed Davis was instrumental to the negotiation, and the episode earned the Superintendent-to-be enormous credibility in the department:

Meehan and Davis got their extension, and the union ultimately voted to suspend the benefits. Many officers believed that to cut staffing from its already bare-bones levels would have put them in danger on the streets. Others simply felt sympathy for the large number of officers—some on the force for years—which would be laid off.


I have tried to suggest that some of the seeds of change already existed in the Lowell Police Department during the 1980s and early 1990s—Debbie Friedl developing contacts and expertise dealing with domestic violence, individual officers doing something like “problem-solving” before the idea was in good currency, and so on. But the immediate force for major changes in the department came from two converging strands.

1. Development of a Vision

Ed Davis had clearly been an innovative force in the LPD throughout his tenure in the vice squad. He developed a solid working partnership with federal and state law enforcement in an agency that had previously been suspicious of these outsiders. He developed a strong relationship with the press in a department that treated the media with distrust. And he encouraged many tactical innovations in fighting drugs in the city, including the “welcome wagon” and the use of building code enforcement to deal with drug houses, in a department focused on arrest and prosecution.

Davis himself does not emphasize this aspect of his work during this period: “I was a reactive cop,” he remembers. “I was out there to take names and lock people up. That's what I did. I prosecuted people, that was my mission.” But two things conspired to change his philosophy.

The first was a growing frustration with the ineffectiveness of traditional methods. This frustration had, of course, led Davis and his vice squad to a number of innovations. But Davis remembers the innovations he did try as dead-ends:

I mean, it was always—it wasn't strategy, it was tactics. It was always, they'd barricade the door, we'd get a bigger hammer to knock the door down. They started to barricade the windows because for a while we were breaking the windows and going in through the windows. So then they put plywood over the windows and screwed the plywood in so we couldn't, we'd break the windows and hit plywood. So we wouldn't be able to get in that way. So then we brought the SWAT Team in and we started to use the SWAT Team on every entry that we did. And they would bring in these hand grenades that they'd throw into the apartment and blow the place up.

By early in 1993, the frustration had boiled over, and Davis remembers one particular incident with the force of an epiphany:

Prevention was always something that—my eyes would glaze over when I heard the word . . . But after I went to SMIP, I got a new perspective on what prevention meant. Prevention, in that sense of the word, is allowing police officers to do more than just arrest people. It's a real nuts and bolts approach to crime fighting. The theory behind it is, it's more preferable to prevent a crime than it is to effectively prosecute it. In a phrase, that's what we're attempting to do here. That's what I said since day one to all my bosses and to all the police officers I come in contact with. I want them to prevent the crime. Now if preventing the crime requires locking someone up, then great, do that, that's perfect, that's exactly what I want you to do. But if preventing a crime means removing those conditions that lead to a feeling of disorder in the neighborhood, then do that too.

We will examine Davis’s emerging vision in greater detail below. Here it is enough to note that after years of innovations on the margin in the vice squad, and growing frustration with his failure to make a dent in the city’s drug problems, this self-described “reactive cop” had refocused his attention completely.

2. Development of an Opportunity

During this time, Superintendent Sheehan found himself increasingly out-of-phase with events around him. The first harbinger of this problem traveled down the road of economics.

Community Policing in State and National Policy

What Davis quickly found, however, was that the grants were not simply for more officers—they were specifically for more officers doing community policing. Thinking in particular of the Byrne grant, Davis recalls: “It was very specific. It talked about a new philosophy. It talked about problem solving. It talked about empowering officers and teams of officers.” This suited Davis personally just fine; by this time he had attended the SMIP seminar and been “converted” to the cause of community policing. But chief Sheehan thought differently, so Davis brought the grant requirements to the Superintendent’s attention. Davis recalls Sheehan’s response: “I remember one conversation he had with me at his desk. . . . he said to me, ‘I'm going to tell you something. You can write all these grants you want. There will never be community policing in this police department as long as I'm the Chief.’” But Sheehan clearly faced a dilemma: He had made a commitment to the elected officials that he would go after every funding option available, but all of those options seemed to require a style of policing that he rejected.

When the LPD received the state’s Byrne grant, the conflict of philosophies arose in a meeting between Davis, Sheehan, and city manager Richard Johnson, as the three discussed what the city would do with the $75,000 it had received. Sheehan formally accepted the need to follow the grant requirements and use the money for community policing, but it was clearly not what he wanted to be doing. Johnson remembers, “I’m not saying that Chief Sheehan fought [community policing], but he didn’t accept it readily.” And Davis recalls: “As I was leaving the meeting, he agreed to do that [follow the grant’s requirements]. But he started to talk a little bit about filling portable fifteen and portable thirteen and portable twelve,” which were the cruiser routes in Lowell. “He was stuck in the old kind of idea of, ‘Well, if we have more men, then we have to put them in the old routes.’” Concerned, Davis raised the issue with Johnson on his way out:

Throughout this period Davis felt torn: “I felt a lot of allegiance to Jack,” he explains,

Indeed, Davis found himself in the middle of a major rift in the philosophy of American policing. He was pulled in different directions—on the one hand by a man who had been a personal friend and his superior officer for over a decade, and on the other by the crystallizing ideal of community policing, which was becoming a matter of state and federal policy. In any case, this was clearly a turning point for Sheehan: His uneasiness with the grant requirements made clear just how distant he had become from the new trends in policing.

Neighborhood Power in City Government

Given the neighborhoods’ concern with crime, Johnson quickly tried to get the LPD involved. And the LPD did oblige the Manager as he went to the neighborhood meetings: “The Chief would come with me. He would bring his personnel with him that were working those neighborhoods.” Still, the collaboration was not all it might have been: “Chief Sheehan was working with it happening, wasn't overly excited about it, but at the same time, I think he recognized that it had to happen.” But as he had told Davis, it wasn’t going to happen under his leadership.

Superintendent Davis

Given a growing realization that Sheehan was not comfortable with the direction the LPD needed to move, Johnson apparently began looking for a replacement. Sheehan himself was skeptical at first: “When I talked to the Chief initially about retirement, he wasn't convinced that there was anybody that was ready to take his place that he felt solid about,” Johnson remembers.

Davis himself believes that he became a candidate during the meeting he, Sheehan, and Johnson had when the state awarded them its Byrne grant. The position was hardly in his sights at the time, but the vice squad Captain thinks his aside to Johnson (when he conveyed Sheehan’s discomfort with the grant requirements) was significant: “That was the only conversation that I had with Johnson that might give him an indication that I disagreed with the Chief. It was literally a couple of sentences, but I think he may have started to think that I might be a candidate for the job after that conversation.”

From Johnson’s perspective, Davis’s reputation had preceded him: “Davis . . . really was a leader prior becoming Acting Chief . . . . [He] recognized the importance of neighborhood police stations, community policing, reaching out to the public, the neighborhood groups, and everything that came along with that,” he explains. Patrick Cook, then a reporter for the Lowell Sun, remembers that as the city’s neighborhood initiatives took root, Davis was a strong participant, and his visibility in the city swelled:

In any case, Davis also had the good word of a number of people who had Johnson’s ear, notably Middlesex District Attorney Tom Reilly, who had worked with Davis in his capacity as head of the Vice squad.

Johnson and Cox ultimately gave in to Davis’s position, but it meant that they had to pass special legislation to give Sheehan his full retirement benefits, which he was not entitled to for several years. That done, Davis still had to take and top the civil service test (which Johnson organized under the newer “assessment center” model, which provided more flexibility than a strict written test), and he eventually did so. But in the interim, as part of the deal with Sheehan, the chief took an extended leave of absence, and Davis became Lowell’s Acting Superintendent of Police on February 11, 1994—a position he would hold for over a year before becoming Superintendent the following April 7th.

But before taking either office, Davis had one more important piece of business to perform as Captain: Opening the LPD’s first community policing precinct. That experiment was to set the course for many of the most important operational changes Davis would make when he finally became chief.

3. The Centralville Precinct

A Vision for the New Precinct

Davis did not have a specific agenda for the team to carry out, but he did have an overall vision to guide them in creating one. That vision was shaped extensively by his experience at SMIP and by extensive reading he did afterwards (much of it funneled to him by a management professor at U Mass Lowell named Linda Hart, who he had begun to work closely with when he had applied for the grant ): “I read all the management books,” Davis remembers. “For a six month period, I don't think I came out of my room. I just sucked down everything I could on teams and team based management and TQM and all that stuff that was out there.”

The vision that would guide Centralville began with a simple goal: Dealing with the problems that concerned the community. As simple as that sounds, Davis believes it represented a radical departure from the department’s previously-dominant goal—which he describes as “arrest and prosecution.” In his words:

I changed the mission. I changed it to: Our ultimate goal is responding to what the community needs. To fix a problem that they've identified. They have clearly identified a problem, they call us every day and they say the man who's living at sixteen Third Street is dealing drugs. Our response to that complaint was to arrest them. But he would literally be out on the street before we finished our paperwork. And he'd be back selling because he had to make his bail money back. So that, I recognized that what we were doing wasn't what the people wanted us to do. They didn't care if we arrested them, they just wanted us to stop the drug dealing.

Moreover, where in the past detectives had tried to focus their attention on the top of the drug distribution pyramid, Davis ordered his officers to focus first and foremost on the street-level dealers who were the immediate cause of neighborhood disruption.

With the change in goals came a change in means as well. Davis did not expect the six officers to “stop the drug dealing” alone. They would have help not only from the rest of the department, but from the rest of the city. “I told these guys that they were now in charge of that street, that the decisions that they made would be followed up on.” As he told his officers:

I want you to tow cars, I want you to call the DPW and clean up buildings. I want buildings boarded up that aren't habitable. I want you to go into the yards and take the mattresses out of the yards and the garbage out of the yards. Call the DPW right down there and do that . . . And I'm going to tell you that this small section of the city is the focus of the Police Department. So if you need the SWAT team, they'll be there. If you need the Narcotics Bureau, they'll be there. If you want a search warrant done on a place, they will direct all their attention to your operation.

Organizationally, this was possibly the most radical of Davis’s proposals, for it meant that this new, ostensibly isolated unit of the LPD would actually have a great impact on the day-to-day functioning of the rest of the department and even the rest of city government. That was a complete break with the way things had been done. “In the past, the Patrol was always the lowest rung in the police department,” Davis explains. “They were subservient to detectives. They were subservient to all the bosses. They were pretty much the lowest rung.” His job was to break down this hierarchy, to put patrol on top and make the other divisions act as support services for them. “That flipped everything upside down,” Davis maintains.

Securing the Resources

According to Davis, getting the LPD to go along with his plan was not actually very difficult, partly because of the position he himself held. As head of Vice and Narcotics, he had direct control over perhaps the most important support service the department could offer the Centralville officers. And over the years that role had given him a lot of indirect influence as well. He was the contact officer for the SWAT team, since his unit had worked so closely with them over the years. And though the criminal bureau was organizationally separate from Vice at the time, its commanding officer had been Davis’s partner many years ago. “There was probably some grumbling,” Davis recalls. “But we just did it. We sort of had a mission going on.” Of course, Superintendent Sheehan had expressed his opposition to community policing quite strongly, and he might have been expected to interfere with all this activity focused on the new precinct. But by this time Sheehan was already distancing himself from the department’s business: “There were a lot of problems going on at the time and he was not actively involved in a lot of this stuff that went on,” Davis explains. “He'd get involved in the major decisions, like assignments. He was very concerned about who worked where so he'd get involved in that. But he had walked away from a lot of the day-to-day management of the police department.”

Davis describes the process of getting outside resources as somewhat more complicated. But he already had the cooperation of one important agency, the Department of Inspectional Services, which had already begun to work with Davis’s Vice squad to close down drug houses (as described in the previous section). “We had done that prior to the Centralville experiment,” Davis explains, “so we knew that that worked. But we had never done it to the degree that we did it in Centralville.”). Here the continued cooperation of Assistant City Manager Brian Martin was crucial, as Martin was ultimately in charge of inspections.

But Centralville soon got the cooperation from other city departments as well. At the meeting with Bernie Lemoine some months ago, Johnson had given the department a mandate to do whatever was necessary to clean up the drug problem, so Davis reports feeling empowered: “I knew that I had the support of the City Manager's office, so I kind of ran with the ball.” And in the event, the Manager did deliver, as DeMoura explains:

We had the ability, through the City Manager's office at the time, to contact various agencies. And those agencies were instructed to follow-up immediately with the concerns of that precinct because that was the first one . . . . And that determined if we were to get additional grant money. So everybody in the city got together and said, “You know something, if we don't stick together and take care of these problems as they come in, we're not going to get any more money and this city won't be a safer city to live in. And it could be a potential other city that's declining really bad.”

DeMoura remembers this sense of collaboration as crucial, not just for Centralville but for the future of community policing in Lowell: “I can't downplay that position because that was the catalyst of everything that's occurred since then, that togetherness.”

One final way in which Davis paved the way for Centralville was with the press. In his years running Vice and Narcotics, Davis had developed the strongest relationship with the press of anyone in the LPD at the time, and he used that relationship on the eve of the new precinct’s opening. “I recognized that we had something here that we had to tell the people about,” Davis explains, “and the best way to do that was through the newspaper.” Davis mostly spoke about Centralville with Patrick Cook, the Lowell Sun reporter he had worked with over the years. Cook was able to run a number of articles about the new precinct, and public attention was stirred.15 Cook remembers:

When they opened, the Centralville precinct couldn't make a move without the media covering it because it was under quite the microscope. . . . They got tremendous coverage about just routine issues. They had a fire and some victims were burned out, they had the toys for tots type thing and that ran for a couple of days on the front page. They opened up a basketball school for the kids. Got that right on the front page.

Cook remembers the period as a transitional one; a lifelong resident of the city, he recalls: “Literally for the first time that I had ever seen. the tide turned toward positive publicity” about the police department.

Carrying out the Plan

With a guiding vision and the necessary resources and publicity in place, the new precinct hit the ground running. True to its vision, the precinct began by holding a community meeting, which was organized through and held in the local St. Michael’s Church, and advertised in the news media. Residents were furious about the neighborhood’s growing problems, and a huge number—most of them not associated with any organized group at the time—turned out to air their grievances. DeMoura recalls: “I'll never forget the first meeting that we had. There were approximately 500 residents there. And they were up in arms. . . . People were sick and tired of being propositioned for either drugs or sex in that area. . . . And they wanted immediate action.”

DeMoura promised that they would get it, but he also asked for their help. “I told them that it was very important that we continue the meetings on a bimonthly schedule so we could keep abreast of [the] problems out there, not problems that we perceived as problems as the police, but you perceived as a neighborhood.” It was in those meetings that the team identified particular buildings or other targets to focus on week-by-week, even day-by-day. It was not that the team itself did not quickly learn where the problem areas were on its own. “They knew,” DeMoura explains. “They knew the areas. They knew most of the drug houses from rats and informants. So it wasn't a thing that we didn't know where the serious problems were. We did.” But identifying problems jointly with the community became a matter of philosophy:

Following Davis’s model, the officers would then bring the concerns that had been raised back to their precinct and talk strategy about specific houses. “I wasn't there barking orders out as a Captain,” Davis maintains. “I was asking the people who were actually doing the job, what they needed to stop the problem from occurring.” What emerged was a toolkit of ways to deal with the problems that were identified: The officers would put a narcotics case together against a particular apartment; try to condemn the apartment with help from the Building, Fire, or Health inspectors; carry out traditional sting operations against prostitutes; or try techniques reminiscent of Davis’s old “welcome wagon” to frighten away drug dealers, as DeMoura recalls:

The dealers in particular did not always give up easily. “You know, we had some fights,” DeMoura admits. “This wasn't easy. There were some times when officers got on foot chases. We arrested tons of people on drugs and prostitution charges . . . The officers were out there full-time, doing it constantly.” Indeed, DeMoura and Davis both put great emphasis on consistency and follow through; according to DeMoura, that was precisely what differentiated Centralville from Davis’s Vice squad, which had used similar tactics: “Once they did a warrant they left. The Drug Unit left. We stayed. See, that was the difference.”

By all accounts, the results were staggering and quick. DeMoura remembers of the unit:

It cleaned up the area in a real, real short time. People were astonished with the time. It took two weeks, that you could actually walk down the streets again. . . The calls came from stabbings, fires, drugs, prostitution, to dog complaints and kids playing in the street. That's how drastic the change in calls were. It was really hard for the officers to realize, “Hey, wait a minute, Jesus Christ, we just took care of the serious problem and now you're complaining kids are playing basketball in the street.”

Residents were thrilled as well. One explains, “This was a neighborhood that was like a war zone. Now it is quiet.” Davis vividly recalls one example of gratitude, in this instance from a woman living in southern New Hampshire who, like many commuters, used Bridge Street to reach the major freeways that passed through Lowell:

In less time than anyone had expected, the new precinct emerged as a success.

When the most glaring problems with drugs and prostitution had been solved, the officers began to pay more attention to other concerns. For example, the unit would call in the Public Works Department to clean up deteriorated areas that it had cleared of drugs or prostitution: “They sent over guys with trucks to clean up the garbage, hallways, alleyways, and everything,” DeMoura recalls. “You know, abandoned houses, we cleaned up abandoned houses just to make the facade look a little better. Our sign department went over there and put up signs.” And the officers spent time simply getting to know the community, starting after-school activities with neighborhood youth and the like.

Soon the community itself took over many neighborhood improvement projects. Out of the bimonthly meetings DeMoura had called, a number of residents—spurred on by the police department’s work to clean up the area—banded together to form organized groups. One resident’s group became very active not only in neighborhood watch, but also in physically improving the neighborhood—receiving state grants to landscape some streets, working with various agencies to get lights installed, and so on. Other organizations pitched in as well, like a number of Bridge Street merchants who formed a group and began to decorate their street.

Centralville’s Impact

The fledgling precinct became a model for how the LPD would operate its future precincts, but its legacy was broader than the tools it field-tested. The ways in which it cemented ties between the police department and several other city agencies were clearly important, as DeMoura testified. The experiment had a similar effect on others, primarily by demonstrating what might be accomplished.

Perhaps most important, Centralville’s quick and dramatic success seemed to give community policing legitimacy within the department—even among many skeptics. As Davis explains, “Centralville was such an incredible success that nobody could argue with it,” echoing the sentiments of many in the department when asked about the early reception of community policing in the LPD. The Centralville officers did not take a “soft” approach to fighting crime—they attacked it with at least as much vigor, and more success, than the many more traditional officers who had preceded them.

Centralville had a similar effect on the citizenry of Lowell, though here the effect was sometimes more than anyone wanted. Johnson remembers that after Centralville, “getting a precinct” became a hot political issue in many neighborhoods:

When that station opened, it was a matter of weeks—not months or years—I'm talking about a matter of weeks, when you knew of the positive effect and response from the people and from the business community and from the neighborhood groups. So now you get more money, and you can do one more. Who's going to get it? . . . It does become a political problem. And then when you decide who's going to get it, where does it go? Everyone wants it as close to them as they possibly can.

Gone were the halcyon days when Davis had more or less free reign in siting Centralville because “nobody knew what it meant.” But for him and for others invested in community policing, there was a silver lining to this sometimes unwanted pressure: The approach had developed a constituency that would push mightily to expand it throughout the LPD. As one Lieutenant remembers, “When the city at large saw how good Centralville was working, then there was no stopping. . . . It just went through the city like wildfire.”

The final, and probably most surprising “demonstration effect” that Centralville seemed to have was on Lowell’s drug dealers. That effect became apparent when the next precinct opened in the Acre—arguably an even more troubled area than Centralville. Lieutenant Billy Taylor, who took charge of the Acre precinct when it opened in May of 1994, explains that the Acre—especially the portion around the new precinct—“was really a no-man's land. It was very tough. It was open street level dealing that happened in several different spots, really bad.” As a result Taylor was pessimistic:

I was admittedly apprehensive about the likelihood of success for this operation. . . . It seemed to work fine in Centralville, [but] I thought that Centralville was much more amenable to this type of police initiative, the community policing. I was not sure it would be a success for the Acre, quite honestly, for a variety of reasons. I thought the magnitude of the problem was much larger than it was in Centralville at that point. I thought the resistance that we would meet would be more significant. More importantly, I was not sure that the community would be responsive and back us because it was a very transient community.

Taylor tried to set his team an obtainable objective, focusing on a small park in the Triangle that had been overrun by drug dealers and junkies. “I felt as though if we could be successful in something like that,” Taylor explains, “then maybe we could branch out.” But when the precinct opened, Taylor was astonished:

Taylor attributes the dealers’ quick surrender to the earlier success of Centralville together with intense media coverage just before the Acre’s opening: “I think a big part was the media blitz and obviously the success that they had generated in Centralville—which we also used as a public relations tactic to let them know that we have done it there, we are coming over here, you are next, and this is what you can expect.” But although he and Davis spoke with the media several times before the new precinct opened, Taylor does not take credit for a conscious strategy. “I did not realize this [the effect of the media] until afterwards. . . . [But] over the course of the next year or so in trying to analyze this and talking to different people about it, I have come to that conclusion.”

Beyond Centralville

Centralville was the first official step Davis would take in transforming the Lowell Police Department. Sheehan had given him free reign over six officers, a sergeant, and a storefront substation; and the chief had not interfered with the use of other resources in the department and in the city. Davis was able to test his vision in microcosm, and it is hard to find anyone who was not taken with the results—the experiment won allies both inside and outside the LPD.

There were some, however, who thought (like Taylor before he opened the Acre) that Centralville was unique. Union President Flynn, one of the first Centralville officers and usually a strong supporter of community policing, nevertheless says:

But, Flynn continues, as the program expanded to other areas, there was a danger of moving into areas that would not support community policing as strongly as Centralville had, and which would be more difficult—simply because of their size—to police as intimately as he and his colleagues could police Centralville. Finally, there was an even greater danger, by trying to expand the program department-wide, of running into resistance or simply apathy within the LPD: Flynn and his partners “wanted to be there,” but would the rest of the Lowell Police Department?

4. Expanding, Communicating, and Building Support for the Vision

The vision Davis had developed to guide Centralville seemed to have worked in that context, but something grander was clearly needed to guide the LPD as a whole. Consequently, one of Davis’s first crucial tasks when he took over the LPD was to begin to elaborate and disseminate a coherent vision for the department. The guiding ideals and plans would change as time progressed, but for the sake of exposition, I will describe the process of developing and communicating them at the outset, only afterwards turning to the way in which the LPD carried them out.

Strategic Planning and Beyond

When Davis took over as Acting Superintendent, he immediately called a meeting with three trusted friends (only one from within the LPD) to ask for advice about how to proceed. At that stage the discussion was quite basic: As Acting Superintendent, Davis needed to decide how quickly to move, given the incomplete mandate his title implied. But as or more important than the substance of these meetings was their process. As Davis explains, “I liked the process of sitting down and kind of planning out how we were going to move forward with this.” So with some prodding from Linda Hart (his newfound-ally from U Mass Lowell’s school of management), Davis decided to institutionalize that process, starting a series of strategic planning meetings with the upper ranks of the LPD.

Davis enlisted Hart’s help to run the early meetings, believing that an outside perspective was exactly what the department needed. “Right at the beginning I recognized that Police Administrators could be very myopic,” he explains. “They only see things through the eyes of a Police Administrator. And I thought it was critical to bring in civilians, bring in people from business, bring in people from different disciplines, to talk a little bit about how things are done in different places.” Thankfully, the university was willing to donate some of Hart’s time;17 to support later sessions, the LPD wrote a small line item for organizational development into some state grant proposals.18

The sessions consisted of brainstorming among the department’s command staff (ranks of Lieutenant through Superintendent), supplemented by surveys of others in the LPD. The goal of the sessions was to define a mission for the department, and to elaborate a set of conditions that needed to be established if the LPD was to achieve that mission. Their ultimate product was a prioritized set of reforms that the department needed to undertake over the coming years in order to realize its missions.

The sessions were to be truly participatory, so that the final plan would reflect a consensus among everyone present at them (and informed by suggestions made by the rest of the department). But as Hart remembers it, creating a truly participatory atmosphere in the early meetings was difficult because of the culture of the department:

Though she has begun to get very positive feedback from participants in recent strategic planning sessions, Hart remembers the early meetings as difficult ones: “A lot of them didn't like it. You know, a lot of them really didn't like it. . . . It was very hard for them to see that anything good was really going to come out of it.” Eventually, Hart was apparently able to overcome the hierarchical style of decisionmaking that was ingrained in the LPD’s past. Davis recalls: “She knew the process; I didn't know how to do a team-based meeting. And she'd break them out into groups, I mean, I'm aware of it now, but back then, it was really foreign to me.”

There was some tension around the major decision of which direction to take the department. Lieutenant Susan Siopes, whose job it would be to coordinate the LPD’s fledgling community policing program, recalls: “You know, you got a variety of responses, all levels. Some were kind of interested. A lot were on the fence. And there were a few adamantly opposed to any kind of change whatsoever, who feel it’s just constitutionally wrong to change.” But ultimately the early sessions came to a consensus about the most important goals for the department.

Most notably, they decided that the LPD as a whole had to embrace community policing—it should not be restricted to the Centralville precinct or some larger “special unit.” The department would be completely organized along geographic lines, dividing the city of Lowell into three sectors associated with one, or sometimes two, precincts. The head of each sector would act like a police chief for his or her area, with 24-hour responsibility for the problems that arose in it. Davis’s job would have less and less to do with the day-to-day operations of the police department, and more to do with interfacing with the outside world. Most of these ideas did not originate with Davis. Hart recalls, “What was really striking to me was that it wasn't Ed, it was that group that came up with the idea that community policing needed not to be something that happened in a little pocket here and there.”

When the first sessions had ended, two members of the command staff were assigned to pull out the crucial ideas and write up the results as a strategic plan for the Lowell Police Department. The resulting document identified a number of crucial priorities, like reform of internal affairs, creation of a new domestic violence unit, and improvement of training in the LPD. But the centerpiece was clearly the structural reform of the department: The LPD was to designate an overall coordinator of its community policing program; restructure the department geographically, with mid-level management at the head of the new sectors; and create a mentoring system that stretched from the Superintendent to the Patrol Officer. The final document would serve as not only as an internal five-year plan, but also as a document in which the LPD accounted for its intentions to the outside world: The plan served as the basis for a number of grant applications, and it was ultimately delivered to city manager Richard Johnson as a statement of the LPD’s goals and objectives (see Figure 2).

Demonstrating a Commitment to Change

Before the strategic planning process had been completed, Davis faced the immediate decision described above: How quickly should he act, given his nebulous position as Acting Superintendent? Indeed, if the legislation to secure Sheehan’s retirement benefits did not go through, the Superintendent might not retire at all. Davis remembers his dilemma vividly:

It was a difficult transition time. Jack [Sheehan] was very upset with Johnson at the time. He hadn't removed anything out of his office. Even the bathroom there, he had all his shaving stuff right there in the bathroom. So I was working off the table in the office for over a year, where I didn't sit at his desk, it was his desk. . . . I didn't wear a Superintendent's badge, I didn't come in uniform, in a Superintendent's uniform. I stayed pretty much in plain clothes and there was an old Chief's badge I wore as opposed to the Superintendent. I didn't want to—I was an acting Chief, I wasn't a Superintendent. So I tried to walk very softly on that, but at the same time, I recognized that it was a critical period in the development of the Police Department.

In the end, the latter consideration outweighed the former: Davis would hold back somewhat, trying to pay Sheehan respect in the symbolic ways he described above. But especially given the momentum that Centralville had established, he and the close friends with whom he had called that first meeting determined that the time was ripe for change.

Davis began with a number of high-visibility gestures intended to show that change was in the air. “I did a bunch of things that were critical to making clear that there was a new game plan,” he explains.

I changed the colors of the cruisers. Jack was very upset about that. I didn't ask for his permission, I just did it….I cleaned the place up. The place was really nasty looking. I started walking to the main desk and throwing books out. And they were very upset at me when I did that. There were books that had been there for years that nobody ever looked at; they were just there. I felt it was important for me, every time I was someplace where there was a bunch of offices, to do something outrageous to make it clear that we were going to change things. So I took the 1986 City Directory that had been sitting around for six years and I threw it away. And somebody says to me, “That's the 1986 City Directory.” I said, “I know, and it's gone. And so are the 1942 and '43 phone books.” And I threw those away. I mean, the place was just littered with all this old stuff that nobody would throw away. . . . I also recognized that the front desk was a horror show and I changed the front desk. And that really kind of upset the apple cart. . . . I took that window out [the Plexiglas window described in the previous section], and I moved the front desk where it is now . . . I eventually civilianized the desk, but the first thing I did was make sure that there was a standard of conduct there that was acceptable.

Davis feels that these demonstrations had the intended effect: “They knew something, either something bad or something good was happening that day,” he explains.

This level of activity ultimately became a matter of philosophy. “Some people have an attitude of do one thing at a time and do it very well,” Davis observes. “My attitude was to do everything all at once. . . . So I jumped in with both feet and changed the whole place, a couple times.” In some ways, Davis did not have much choice in the matter, as the growing clamor from the community for more precincts had an important effect on the pace of change. In any case, the turbulence associated with rapid change—together with the staffing crisis the LPD still faced—seems to have disoriented many in the LPD, who found that the pace of change made it difficult to keep track of. “I think that we tried to do too many things too fast,” one of Davis’s supporters maintains. Later sections will return to this idea; here it is enough to note that Davis had put the LPD on notice: Business would not be as usual.

Gaining Commitment within the LPD

Davis intended these dramatic acts to raise the department’s attention. Now he had to use that attention to broadcast his message.

Police Chief as Teacher

As a matter of philosophy, Davis feels that this aspect of his job as Superintendent is crucial: “You have to be 90% teacher when you have this job,” he explains. “And that's what I try to do.” Consequently, one of his first actions as Acting Superintendent was to assemble the entire LPD command staff in one room and spend eight hours on community policing “training.” In this session Davis tried to cover the high points of the SMIP training he had attended, assigning his staff some literature he had read at SMIP (buying 50 copies each of Beyond 911 and Problem-Oriented Policing). “So I tried to enlist their cooperation and I tried to do some training with them at first,” Davis explains.

More than simply communicating some of the principles of the new policing, Davis tried to convey the new management style he intended to bring to the department.

I asked them all for their input. I asked them all for some information on how they felt that this would work. And I really wanted to make them managers—not Superior Officers, but managers of the Police Department. I wanted to know what they thought and they had never been asked that before. So there was some cultural shock. This was an organization where all the orders came from the Chief, and he was some all-knowing human that sent down through the chain of command these directives that were to be followed at the cost of losing [your] job. But I didn't operate like that, I don't like to operate like that.

This particular lesson would be ongoing, something that Davis tries to develop to this day in the department’s recently-established COMPSTAT meetings (modeled on the NYPD’s command staff meetings of the same name). “In teaching them what I want from them,” Davis explains, “sometimes the best way to do that is to have them actually involved in it. So [in the COMPSTAT meetings] I ask them exactly what they're working on and how they've come to this conclusion. And I try to do that in front of people, so that eventually they'll get the idea of it, that it's their responsibility.”

Police Chief as Negotiator

Ultimately, of course, the vision of how things would be done needed to trickle down to the ranks. Davis would try to communicate directly with officers and to get their take on the department’s changes (for example, he developed a close rapport with one young officer, using him as a sounding board for new ideas). But in the end, a Superintendent could not do everything himself—other managers in the department would eventually have to help spread the new philosophy. Still, Davis could build support with the department-at-large, especially the patrol force, in at least two ways.

The first was by dealing with bread-and-butter issues. Davis himself does not describe a conscious strategy for this, but many officers explain their high regard for him and his mission for the department in terms of the lengths he will go to in order to look out for their interests. For example, many LPD officers credit Davis with using grant money to expand a grossly-understaffed department—the number of sworn officers has skyrocketed from 159 to over 240 in little more than three years. This effort extended the credibility Davis had already established as Lieutenant, when he stepped-up to the plate after the city threatened to lay off 32 officers at the depths of its crisis. More generally, many officers (including both the president and vice president of the patrol officers’ union) credit Davis with helping to improve pay, safety, and equipment dramatically over the past few years. Officers credit Davis with other improvements in working conditions as well, like a more judicious approach to discipline. One aspect of that is the department’s new employee assistance program, which can help officers with problems like alcoholism; union president Jerry Flynn maintains about the program: “Scores of officers have gone through this program and returned to be productive members of this department who maybe 10 or 15 years ago would have been fired.”

The other way in which Davis has earned respect from the department is through what most perceive to be an authentically participatory style to management. In practice, this means that the Superintendent is willing to give as well as take in negotiations over change. The strategic planning sessions provide one example, and there Davis was apparently quite conscious of the idea that giving management a voice might encourage buy-in. Siopes explains that “we thought we needed a strategic planning, getting together with all of the upper level managers anyway, lieutenants and captains, because we knew if they didn't buy in and get on board that they would probably deep six the whole thing somewhere along the way and not too far down the line.”

But the most concrete examples of this decisionmaking style come from Davis’s work with the patrol officers’ union throughout the process of change. As he summarized the matter, “I've given in to some of the demands that they've made against my better judgment, just to maintain consensus and to make sure that I had them working for me.” The most dramatic example is Davis’s concession to the union’s demands for a seniority-based system of personnel assignment, according to which every eighteen months, officers in the patrol force bid for their own assignments. Davis opposed this provision strongly: “It’s very difficult for me to deal with because I can't put a Cambodian Officer into a Cambodian neighborhood. I can't take two really reactive cops and put them with two really proactive community policing officers so that there will be some kind of a balance there. They get to pick their own locations.” But as one of his last acts before taking leave of the LPD, Sheehan had promised the seniority system to the union. And while Davis tried to win the provision back, he ultimately gave in:

Flynn views the incident in essentially the same terms, explaining that even after the union vote against Davis’s counterproposal, “He could have bumped heads with us. He could have said, ‘Well, to hell with the pay raise’ [which was included in the same contract] What he said was, ‘I'm not going to let this issue hold up the rest of the contract,” something for which Flynn, at least, gives Davis great credit.

Gaining Commitment Outside the LPD

So by acting the parts of teacher and negotiator, Davis tried to build support for the changes to come within the LPD. But the new Acting Superintendent focused considerable attention to building a coalition of support in the outside world as well.

Most simply, Davis began to open up the department’s decisionmaking to outside eyes. He explains that he “opened the doors up for the Police Department for the first time, and I talked frankly about staffing issues, and I talked frankly about budget issues. I talked frankly about the internal affairs function which is always a matter of great concern to the community groups.” He and the LPD internalized many of these concerns—for example, we will see that the department completely revamped its internal affairs function, in part in response to concerns raised by community groups, and in part because of pressure from city government, which was facing growing civil liability suits against the department.

But Davis became increasingly uneasy with the essentially reactive stance that this type of interaction with the community implied. In particular, after Centralville the precinct issue became overwhelming, as practically every neighborhood in Lowell demanded something similar. Davis summarizes the feeling with an aphorism: “There’s a saying in community policing, ‘You can teach the bear to dance, but you can't necessarily tell it when to stop.’ That was what happened with these community groups.” For Davis, the problem was that the department lost any control over the agenda—the dialogue with the community focused exclusively on issues that the groups themselves raised. “We were always reactive. We were always going to a community group to answer for a particular injustice or a particular problem that was observed by that group.”

In some cases Davis tried to win back partial control of the agenda not by disengaging from the community-initiated dialogue, but by engaging it proactively. One often-told story in this vein concerns the siting of the Highlands precinct, which became a focus of conflict between the department and a nearby neighborhood group. The problem was simple: The LPD wanted to locate the precinct in the largely Cambodian Lower Highlands neighborhood, and the local Boy’s Club had offered the department space in a location that lay at the center of many of the area’s problems. But the community group, representing the predominantly-white Cupples Square neighborhood, argued that the new precinct should be located in their neighborhood. Well-connected in local politics, the group brought their concerns to a number of city councilors, and Davis began to feel pressure to change his mind about the location of the site.

Davis felt he was in the right in this case: “This was clearly just a small segment of the community,” he maintains, “and it wasn't the Cambodian people who really needed the services. That's where people were actually dying” Davis turned to Hart for advice:

Going in to the meeting, Davis had taken a hand vote to gauge support for the two sites, and he estimates that three-quarters of those voting preferred the Cupples Square location. But after the presentation—when the department presented crime statistics and other basic information about the two areas—, sentiment had switched, and the group overwhelmingly voted to go with the Boy’s Club site. City manager Johnson, who attended the meeting with Davis, still remembers the event with astonishment:

Davis insists that he would have sited the precinct where the group wanted (and given the growing political pressure, he might have had no choice): “This wasn't an ego thing. I mean, if the community really wants something, even against my better judgment, I'll do it, because I'm here to serve the community.” But by engaging in a serious deliberation, and recruiting an under-represented constituency (thankfully, Davis reports that no one complained that the department had “stacked the vote”), he was able to come to a mutual agreement with the community.

With his growing frustration over losing control of the agenda, Davis took the proactive approach even further by sponsoring the department’s own massive community meeting, which focused on Lowell’s declining downtown. He remembers,

I had a meeting that was sponsored by the Police Department. The downtown business district had been decimated by businesses leaving because of the crime problem. And I invited everybody in the city that was left—I sent police officers in uniform with invitations—, and I held a meeting at the Sheraton. And I brought the whole Command Staff of the Police Department there and sat them in front of all the business people in the downtown area. And I said to them, “Look, we're going to make a difference here. If you have a problem here, you call this person. This is Captain so and so, this is Lieutenant so and so, they're in charge of this, they're in charge of that. We're going to have a sheet of paper before you leave that will show you how your police department works.”

The meeting was a huge success, completely filling the ballroom at Lowell’s Sheraton hotel. As Davis sees it, the event provided a dual opportunity: “I indicated not only to the people in the city, but to the Command Staff, that things were going to be a little different.” Davis has maintained a strong relationship with the downtown business community ever since.

But with this proactive gesture Davis did not mean to foreclose any dialogue initiated by the community. Indeed, he implicitly encouraged this sort of dialogue to such a degree that the burden became unmanageable (especially given his need, during this time of great change, to focus so much attention internally). At about this time Davis was at a going-away party for an old friend and ran into a young woman named Christine Cole, who had been a victim/witness advocate and worked closely with Davis on child abuse cases. Cole was finishing up a degree in psychology at U Mass Lowell, and as the two began talking, Davis recognized that someone like Cole could help him manage growing demands from the community.

As part of her coursework, Cole had recently been at a community group where the police became a topic of discussion. “There was no police representation at the meeting,” Cole remembers, “and they were clearly frustrated, angry, felt that they had been patronized by the police department, and so on and so forth.” When Davis relayed his frustration about dealing with community groups to Cole, she told him about this meeting:

Davis seized on the idea, seeing in Cole someone who could help manage the day-to-day demands he had been facing—but also someone who, as a civilian outside the chain of command, would be forthcoming in bringing community concerns to his attention. Cole’s new position as community liaison (which she started in July of 1994) was not to absolve the rest of the department from responsibility for working with the community; in part her job would be to help the patrol force develop ties with the community. But she would hopefully help tame the increasingly out-of-control bear.

Davis attended to the outside world in many other ways. He worked closely with city government throughout this period, and also sought advice and support from Senator Paul Tsongas (whose permanent residence was in Lowell) on occasion (for example, Tsongas helped Davis come up with a mission statement for the department, which was to create “the safest city of its size in the nation”). Davis worked closely with many other elements of the community as well, notably the schools department and the local University. We will examine other ways in which the environment pushed, facilitated, or hindered the LPD’s coming changes below; here note only that Davis went to great lengths to develop a supporting coalition not only inside the LPD, but also outside of it.

5. Putting the Plan into Action

So throughout these busy years, a vision and plan for the LPD was evolving from Davis’s original epiphany, and Davis was using the leadership opportunity he had been given in the department to develop several coalitions for change. In parallel with these developments, the department began to put the plans into action.

The emerging substance of the vision that the LPD would try to implement can be described in terms of two elements. First, there would be a fundamental change in the style of management of the department, towards a team-based system that made patrol officers the central focus of work. Second, the department would develop or transform a number of specialized services in order to support this new approach to management, and also to support the more specific goals identified in the strategic planning systems—things like management information systems, internal affairs, and accreditation.

Here we will examine how the LPD implemented one example from each of these two categories. First, we will examine how the LPD tried to refocus attention on patrol—probably the most central aspect of its transformation. Second, we will examine the transformation of the department’s internal affairs function. This story demonstrates the way in which the LPD managed one of the most potentially explosive elements of its emerging plan—particularly the importance and limits of consensus-building, and the flexibility and learning that the department’s new management style afforded. (A later section on the COPS grants will examine two more examples from this category: The development of a domestic violence program, and the transformation of MIS.)

Delegation of authority emerges as a central theme in both stories: Davis did little direct implementation work himself, as a matter of philosophy (something he claims to have learned from William Bratton, from whom he sought advice after taking over the LPD). In Davis’s word, “to delegate, and to hold people responsible after you'd delegated the responsibility to them . . . [is] the only way you can get done what we've been able to get done in such a short period of time.” For example, speaking of one assignment he made to a bureau that needed reform, Davis explains that he chose a talented individual but otherwise did not have much to do with the process: “I let him make those decisions. I didn't try to interfere, but I made it clear to the boss that the boss is of value to the organization and, in large part, his professional reputation was staked upon how well the bureau ran. So, it was necessary for him to make changes and it made the bureau run properly.” The stories that follow illustrate what the idea of delegation means in practice, and how the LPD’s transformation was aided by the talented staff Davis inherited or brought on.

The Transformation of the Patrol Force

The strategic planning sessions initially envisioned a geographically-basic patrol force. Foot patrol officers with no 911 responsibilities at all would make up part of this force, operating out of the developing precinct system. The other part of the force consisted of cruiser officers with 911 responsibility, who would be assigned to three sectors that encompassed from one to three precincts.

In its early years the community policing program clearly focused on the precincts, which the department was opening one-by-one as grant money was awarded (after Centralville, the LPD opened four more precincts in 1994, one in 1995, and one in 1997). So implementing the new philosophy essentially meant getting the precincts up and running—a task delegated to the sergeants who commanded them. Most of the precincts developed in ways very similar to Centralville, which throughout this period served as a prototype: Sergeants were directed to develop a team approach to policing, to build partnerships with the community, and to build skills in problem-solving. But the sergeants did have discretion to change the way the precincts operated (Taylor, for example, started bicycle patrols and basketball leagues in the Acre precinct after he opened it), and the department developed new support services to help the precincts do their work (like the community surveys it began to conduct with the assistance of U Mass Lowell).

The Community Policing Coordinators

Where necessary, Cole has Davis’s ear—she works outside the command structure—, and she can apprise him of community relations stumbling-blocks.


Siopes brought the problem to Davis’s attention, but even the chief’s coaxing did not seem to have any effect on the recalcitrant shift commander.

With department staffing so taut, it was difficult to justify widespread attendance at training sessions. For example, the initial problem-oriented policing in early 1995 was not followed up for over two years, though Normandin had wanted to do so within a matter of months. As a result, the community policing message did not get out as evenly as some hoped. One sergeant explains,

Internal Affairs

The first strategic planning sessions identified reform of internal affairs (called “Professional Standards” in the LPD) as a top priority. As described above, community groups often raised concerns about the process, and city government had been pressuring the department to make changes because of civil liability suits it was facing. And more fundamentally, Davis explains his feelings on the matter bluntly: “The IAD process was not legitimate.”

Davis selected Chauncey Normandin to head up the transformation of IAD and some of his most talented investigators to work under him. To make sure they got off on the right track, Davis sent the team out of state to be trained on the topic by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). But other than this he delegated the responsibility completely; as Normandin remembers it: “The chief charged me with putting a policy together and he allowed me free reign to do whatever I felt was right.”

The first thing Normandin noticed upon taking over the unit was how few complaints were on file: “I was amazed that ten years of records were in one file cabinet drawer for a department of this size,” he remembers. “And I just knew right off the bat that that wasn’t right.” The problem, of course, was the system described in the first section of this report, in which complainants were routinely turned away on the grounds that the supervisor for officer in question was off-duty; and in which other complaints were routinely handled informally by the supervisor. Normandin felt that this system—which typically left complainants angry or even suspicious of a cover-up—was “contrary to everything that we are trying to do in the community police effort.”

At the same time, Normandin also recognized that this would be an extremely touchy area to reform. He was committed to ensuring that officers were protected: “A city of this size with this many police officers will get complaints,” he explains. “But we also can show that of these complaints, not all of them are founded. . . . [So I] also wanted to make sure that the officers were protected, and afford them no fewer rights than any other person would be afforded.” But he knew that his word alone would not reassure the officers, particularly since he was a member of the command staff.

To help deal with this problem, Normandin enlisted the help of officer Bryan McMahon, who was at the time the vice-president of the patrol officer’s union, and by all accounts a trusted member of the department. Normandin did not simply hope that patrol officers would be reassured by the fact that one of their own had a voice in forging the new policy. He also hoped that McMahon could serve as an ambassador to the patrol force: “Brian could present it to his union and say, ‘Look, this is what we are doing, this is why we are doing it.’ Relieve all of their fears.” And Normandin himself was president of the Superior Officers’ Union (representing sergeants and above), so that he could do the same for his union. Finally, Normandin also worked closely with Garrett Sheehan, then head of criminal investigations. Sheehan was also a trusted member of the department, and he was the brother of the recently-retired chief—so he would hopefully have clout with precisely the officers who might feel somewhat alienated by Davis’s reforms.

For the substance of the policy, the team looked primarily to other departments. “I figured we are eventually going for accreditation,” Normandin remembers, referring to another strategic planning goal. “Maybe the best way to start would be to find a couple of accredited departments.” So he sent away for information from a number of accredited departments and from the accreditation commission itself. But he also talked extensively with officers from the Miami police department, which had become well-known for its policies on the use of force, and he reviewed information from PERF and other agencies as well as the IACP model policy.

With all this information, Normandin sat down and drafted a section at a time, giving each one to Bryan McMahon to review. “And he would mark it up in red and do different things. And I would make the changes. Or if I had a conflict with something he had, a change he would want to make, we would sit down and we would talk about it.” When the team reached the issue of criminal charges against officers, they enlisted Sheehan’s advice. “He didn't want to be in the business of investigating Lowell cops,” Normandin remembers, and he knew that the public would have little faith in such an investigation anyway. So the team developed a very specific set of guidelines about when cases would be turned over to the District Attorney’s office.

Normandin describes the policy that emerged as specific and comprehensive: “It didn't leave a lot of discretion as to how things would react when an officer faces a problem or a potential problem.” All complaints would be forwarded directly to the internal affairs office as soon as they were received (the general order announcing the policy stated in boldface: “No person should be directed to return at a later time or to call back later”). All complaints would be investigated fairly, and both the complainant and the officer would be notified in writing about the outcome of the case. And so the team submitted the new policy to Davis, who found it somewhat lengthy but ultimately signed off on it.

The policy would have its first test shortly when an LPD officer was accused of pistol-whipping two people when he was off duty. “I was called from home by the criminal bureau,” Normandin remembers. “I went over what they had for information up to that point, and I realized that if what these citizens had alleged was 50 percent true, we were looking at an officer with criminal charges—potentially felony charges.” In accordance with the policy on criminal charges he, Sheehan, and McMahon had agreed upon, Normandin turned the case over to the DA. The DA’s office initially balked: “Their investigator was a state trooper and he didn't want to come out,” Normandin remembers. “And I said, ‘Well you have to come out.’ They didn't want to get involved in investigating cops either. But that is their job.”

As Normandin tells it, the case went off well. “Everyone in the department was cool because officers were afforded certain rights. . . You have the option of not only having an attorney there, but having a union representative of your choosing, plus a representative of the department there”—rights this particular officer exercised, as the union ultimately assigned him an attorney when the case went to trial. Moreover, Professional Standards itself kept apprised of the case, and Normandin announced an open-door policy that he hoped would dispel rumors (and officers did indeed visit him to find out what was happening); he also made sure the LPD’s two unions kept officers informed about the procedures that were being followed.

In the end, the officer was acquitted, and Normandin believes the case gave the new policy credibility: “This case did more to solidify the fact that we want to do this the right way, to protect everybody involved, than anything else we could have said or done. . . I think that this case showed that the chief meant what he said when he said he wanted things to be fair and equitable.”

On the other hand, more recently two officers were found guilty of charges against them—many believe unfairly. “These were two guys who did their job and have always done a good job,” union President Flynn maintains. “And ultimately because of what's happening in policing today with the O.J. Simpson thing and the L.A. incident, you're going to have jurors who are going be against the police.” The union has raised concerns about the policy with Davis, and Flynn intends to try to make changes. But in the end he does not seem to fundamentally oppose it: “We understand where his concern with this is,” he explains.

Not long after the initial policy had taken effect, Kenneth Lavallee—one of Davis’s closest advisors and a main architect of the emerging community policing program—took over the department’s Support Services Bureau, under which Professional Standards fell. Lavallee brought with him an idea from his extensive reading and training, the idea of an “early warning system” that would flag officers who received multiple complaints against them, even if each one ended up unfounded. (Of course, such a system was not even possible before Normandin’s reforms, since few complaints made it into Professional Standards’ records to begin with.) Lavallee raised the idea with Davis by bringing him a list of the officers who had received more than three complaints during the new system’s first year in effect. The two decided to send out letters of alert to the officers in question, so they asked Lieutenant Patrick Burns, who had taken over Professional Standards (Davis rotates the position yearly), to let them know which officers had more than three complaints.

When Davis sent out the first batch of letters to the targeted officers and their sergeants, there was a moderate uproar in the department. Officers had not been warned that the letters might be coming, they were not told what the letters’ implications would be (for example, that they would not go in their personnel folders). Moreover, the letters themselves did not distinguish founded complaints from unfounded, something the officers considered inexcusable. One sergeant remembers that one of his officers (who he considered “one of my best”) received one of the letters and was devastated: “I mean, it really took the wind out of this guy. He was kind of devastated, he was losing sleep over this,” particularly because he thought it might affect his chances for promotion.

Burns admits to these problems readily: “I don't think the officers really understood what we were doing . . . . It definitely did cause a reaction and there was a misunderstanding. They thought these letters were going in their personnel file and they're not.” Burns tried to control the damage by opening his door to anyone with questions, and he was able to reassure individual officers. But the argument that potentially “bogus complaints” were being kept in the system remained.

Lavallee takes responsibility for the flare-up, explaining that after he proposed the idea to Davis, “what I should have done was [said], ‘Okay, Chief. Let's have a meeting with the command staff and explain what we're going to do so they'll understand, and then they can explain to [the officers].’” So in the following year they did just that, and according to Lavallee and others, the process seems to have gone more smoothly the following year. The union is still not entirely satisfied with the process, but the system has not become a major issue.

Despite the flare-up, Lavallee maintains that the process had value. He points especially to the fact that few of the officers flagged in the first year showed up on the following year’s list. And he refers specifically to an officer he describes as “headed down the path of oblivion” who apparently (according to his supervisors) shaped up after being put on notice that he was being watched.

The unit is still a work in progress. Lieutenant Jonathan Webb is refining the “early warning system” further, and the division is developing a brochure for the community explaining the complaint process—as well as announcing a procedure whereby officers can be commended. But Professional Standards today is a completely different place than it was three years ago. Not everyone is happy with the change—again, this is perhaps the most sensitive area in which reforms can be made—, but most seem to agree with the changes in principle and understand the importance of an effective internal affairs procedure to the maintenance of departmental legitimacy. In any case, changes in internal affairs have not fundamentally soured relations between the officers and the administration: Those who do disapprove of it seem to see the issue as an isolated one.


In the course of this story the COPS grants do not appear to play a pivotal role in catalyzing change in the LPD or explicitly changing its shape. While early grants may have been crucial in pushing the department towards community policing, the most important in this respect appears to have been the state-administered Byrne grant (which was ironically fairly small, amounting to approximately $75,000), together with COPS’s precursor, the Police Hiring Supplement grants. Indeed, by the time the 1994 Crime Bill was passed, the department’s vision had solidified, so the grants did not influence its basic philosophy.

COPS-Funded Changes

But the COPS grants did play a role—possibly a substantial one—in a number of less dramatic ways. The first and most obvious of these was by providing resources for the department to carry out elements of its plan that it simply could not afford at the time. One obvious case is simply providing the manpower to open the LPD’s precincts (the city had told the department that the only way it would get more officers would be to apply for grants—though it would happily meet any matching requirements). But three others deserve extended discussion: Reform of the department’s Management Information Systems division and its dispatch operations, and the expansion of its domestic violence unit. Each of these stories also gives further insight into the process of change in the LPD.


The strategic planning meetings had identified reform of Management Information Systems as a crucial task for the LPD, and while much of this transformation began earlier, COPS MORE grants sped the process along. In particular, grant money helped the department decentralize its information systems as it decentralized its operations. The LPD used some of the money to outfit its precincts with up-to-date computer hardware and software (many of its systems were still the old Wang systems installed as part of the citywide computerization program), and to install telephone lines that allow some precincts to connect to the department’s developing e-mail system. Officers can use these systems to write reports and correspondence at the precinct stations (some cruiser officers regularly stop by the precincts to use them for these purposes), and some also use them to develop databases. MIS has also begun to install a local area network (LAN) connected to a central server, both of which are funded by COPS MORE. Lieutenant Arthur Ryan, head of MIS, expects that in the “not too distant future” the precincts will be able to use the LAN to get the same information they would be able to get at headquarters.

On the management side, COPS MORE also enabled MIS to hire a civilian crime analyst named Steve Di Noto, a recent graduate from U Mass Lowell’s Criminal Justice program. Di Noto is charged with preparing maps, crime statistics, and other pertinent information about crime trends and patterns in the city. This information plays a central role in the department’s COMPSTAT meetings, where Di Noto presents and hands out packets of information about crime trends. Davis sees this information as perhaps the most important way in which he can monitor trends in the city, proactively deal with community problems, and hold his managers accountable: Speaking of COMPSTAT, he explains that “the bottom line is we're using Steve Di Noto’s talents to direct the activities of the police department.”

The civilianization element of COPS MORE also fed into the department’s reform of the radio room and front desk. Davis and Patrick Cook, who as communications director oversees these two areas, explain that the department initially tried to bring their problems under control through stronger supervision, discipline, and gradual civilianization through attrition. But the grants enabled them to finish the job quickly, and during a crucial period of the department’s evolution.

Domestic Violence

Another high-priority strategic planning goal was the development of a domestic violence unit in the department. Debbie Friedl, who had been developing an interest and some experience in the area (mostly in her civilian life), immediately volunteered for the position. In July of 1994, Davis gave her part-time responsibility for coordinating the department’s response to domestic violence, but the job did not begin in earnest until the following January, when Friedl got the task full-time and Davis assigned an investigator to her. Friedl and her detective reviewed officers’ reports for accuracy and completeness, investigated cases of abuse and tried to establish contact with the victims, fielded officers’ questions about the rapidly-evolving laws on the subject, and built a relationship with the local battered women’s program (named Alternative House) and other relevant initiatives.

Tipped-off about the opportunity by Brenda Bond, a civilian in the LPD who had spearheaded many of the department’s grant applications, Friedl (joined by Alternative House) soon applied for and received a COPS Domestic Violence grant for some $160,000. The grant immediately allowed Friedl to hire three more investigators and a part-time community outreach coordinator, and the unit began to take off (for example, the number of victims it has made contact with monthly has jumped from 90 to 220). And it also funded a series of summits (still in the planning stages) that will bring diverse agencies and businesses together to discuss domestic violence and the system for dealing with it. Friedl sees this initiative as crucial, as she has found that while she can make inroads into the way the LPD deals with domestic violence, many of the weak links lie elsewhere.

Both of these special-purpose grants funded ideas the department had already planned to undertake. But it enabled the LPD to expand them beyond what would have probably been feasible without them. And equally important, it accelerated their implementation during a crucial period of the department’s evolution, when it had enormous momentum for change.

Indirect Impacts

More directly, we have seen that LPD has—in part because of the grants—created a whole contingent of officers working for the precincts and the community response team (which includes the mobile precinct) who are completely protected from the 911 system. Currently, this force amounts to 45 officers—43% of the department’s patrol force, not counting supervisors and managers—, and they represent a substantial capacity for uninterrupted problem-solving work.

The New Training Academy


1. Relationship with the Environment

The old LPD had a relatively impersonal relationship with its environment—one concentrated in the calls-for-service system and laws like the civil service system. But the department has transformed that relationship considerably. It has created a much more active dialogue with the community, city government, the press, and others, and it has tried to reduce juridical constraints like civil service laws.

The Authorizing Environment

The Relationship with City Hall

On a more personal level, today the LPD seems to pay much greater attention to networking. Christine Cole explains:

Indeed, staff like Cole are crucial in maintaining these relationships, as they have the time and expertise others in the department lack to deal with day-to-day issues that city hall raises for the department. For example, the department’s grantwriters—notably Brenda Bond and Cole herself—recently helped the city prepare its successful Enterprise Community proposal. That collaboration reflected a complete role reversal from a few years ago, when the department (actually then-Captain Davis) came to the city asking for help writing its own grant applications. But other elements of the department help forge ties with the city as well. For example, during the recent funeral for Senator Paul Tsongas (a native of Lowell), the LPD provided diverse forms of assistance, from press relations (overseen by Patrick Cook, the department’s communications director) to the preparation of maps and other graphical aids the city needed. Through collaborations like these, the LPD has become an integral part of the day-to-day business of city government.

Disagreements still arise between the city and the department, of course. One city councilman invariably opposes LPD proposals to expand its command staff, believing that the department has “too many Chiefs and not enough Indians”; but his colleagues just as invariably overrule him. And when the Federal Government approved the LPD’s $1.5 million COPS Universal Hiring Program grant, one councilor balked at the $375,000 matching requirement. But the objections were overruled in this case as well, as the mayor stood up to the podium and fought for the department’s achievements in securing needed grant money. In any case, the point is that close relationship with city hall does not mean collusion. It means public consultation with elected officials on major policy issues, rather than resignation to existing juridical controls.

Community Groups, The Press, and the General Public

But on a day-to-day basis, the main source of authority the LPD looks to is the community—notably organized community and business groups, but also individual citizens. Christine Cole, the department’s civilian “community liaison”, constantly updates an extensive list of groups and a calendar of their meetings (the latest revision listed 35 organizations), and she and the sworn force (especially sergeants) attend these meetings regularly—as the command structure expects them to. The department has institutionalized community input through its new COMPSTAT process, where Cole reports on recent neighborhood concerns and announces upcoming meetings—all under the watching eyes of chief Davis (who is himself extraordinarily visible in the community). In directing the LPD’s problem-solving, community input has begun to lose some ground to proactive computer analysis of crime trends, but it still plays a large role. The department also tries to gauge the views of the unorganized citizenry, especially through citizen surveys and ad hoc focus groups (one recent focus group solicited the views of downtown businesses and patrons); moreover, the precinct stations themselves, located throughout the city and staffed by citizen volunteers, are also intended to make the police more accessible to the community.

More generally, the LPD has simply paid growing attention to contact with citizens. Sergeants direct their officers to interact with the community (for example, housing officers act as a “welcome wagon” in Lowell’s public housing, knocking on doors to introduce themselves to new residents); and many officers have pagers to provide a direct link with residents. Moreover, the department has hired minority officers to help build ties with Lowell’s increasingly diverse population—particularly its growing Southeast Asian community.

The LPD has also created a number of positions that essentially specialize in forging ties with citizens (particularly youth). For example, officer Sergio Maldonado (like 8 other LPD officers) spends part of his time as a school liaison, sitting in on classes with students at the local middle school. The department’s DARE unit is even more single-minded in this respect, employing officers who work essentially full-time on DARE and other youth programs. Finally, even outside these formal roles, the department encourages community relations work. Officer Mike Miles, Vice President of the Patrolman’s Union, is a departmental star in this respect, taking the initiative to start a number of youth programs (including an art contest, a career day for young women, and a homework study program). Though Miles does much of this work on his own time, the department clearly values and provides help for these initiatives, freeing up work time or providing comp time where possible, providing administrative support, and simply putting the organization behind his efforts (for example, Chief Davis presented awards for the art contest). Miles has undertaken similar activities throughout his career at the LPD, but he maintains that he only recently got support for them.

Finally, the department has radically reoriented its once-anemic relationship with the media. Officers have become more empowered to speak directly with the press, and the department has sent a few of its members to various training sessions on dealing with the press. Davis also hired Patrick Cook, a reporter for the Lowell Sun, to oversee the LPD’s media relations. Cook has taken a proactive stance towards the media, trying to use it as a way to communicate the department’s achievements to city residents. The relationship is not pure P.R., however: Cook and Davis both recognize, in the words of the former, “when we have the bad news, we . . . have that accessible to them as well. It can't be just a one way street. We can't expect them to do all our features for us and then when they are looking for something, and it sounds like trouble for the city, [clam up]. You still have to give it to them.”

The Task Environment

The LPD has also looked more extensively to the outside world in actually doing its work. The Centralville story illustrates that change, showing how the department turned to a number of city agencies to close down drug houses and make physical improvements to neighborhoods; and how it catalyzed and worked with citizens’ groups that took on other neighborhood projects once serious drug dealing had been brought under control. But the department has carried this working style beyond its first precinct, and it now touches many elements of LPD operations.

Inspectional Services and the Department of Public Works are now widely-used in the same ways they were in Centralville, in both the precincts and in many of the investigative branches. On the private side, many problem-solving projects seem to involve property owners and managers, as well as business owners (for example, one problem-solving project focused on grocery cart theft, and the precinct team involved worked closely with a local supermarket to revise its security measures and policies); and in at least one instance precinct officers worked closely with a community group to close down a drug house by simply standing on the street to frighten customers away. Many other examples could be cited: Friedl’s domestic violence unit, for example, has developed a close working relationship with many social service agencies; the department has worked extensively with U Mass Lowell on innumerable fronts; and on the law-enforcement side, the LPD has recently become an active participant in the Cross-Border Initiative, a Lowell-based multi-jurisdictional task force (including agencies like the FBI and the DEA) that focuses on regional drug trafficking. And finally, informants are still a crucial part of the LPD’s work.

One interesting aspect of these partnerships is how the other agencies manage the new demands the LPD is making on them. Davis reports that he has had almost no negative feedback from the agencies whose help the LPD has tried to enlist—“surprisingly so,” he admits. One of the most heavily-used partners, the Department of Inspectional Services, seems to have compartmentalized its LPD work, assigning it to David St. Hilaire. Hilaire says that “there is a little bit of conflict” inside Inspectional Services over his work for the LPD—other inspectors must, after all, pick up his share of the Department’s regular workload as he spends more time on LPD-driven inspections—, but it is ultimately minimal. In any case, St. Hilaire explains that the city manager has ordered his department to give top priority to police requests for inspections.

Relationships like these are almost uniformly welcomed, but it is worth mentioning one exception. Some community groups apparently thought that the LPD took its collaboration with Inspectional Services to extremes—notably in its use of so-called “emergency condemnation” procedures that close down substandard housing on extremely short notice. As in many other cities that have used code enforcement to close down drug houses,23 some allege that the tactic made innocent families homeless because of their neighbors’ misdeeds (entire apartment complexes are often closed down). Inspectional Services, of course, maintains that it only closes down housing in clear violation of code, whether or not police notify them of the problem. But such complaints have reportedly led the two departments to use the tactic somewhat less frequently.

The Community’s Reaction

Despite pitfalls like these, the community response to the LPD’s new openness has been overwhelming. In the department’s eyes, one of the most visible indicators of this was a successful fundraising drive led by a local businessman to raise some $200,000 to buy the department’s mobile precinct. But more objective citizen surveys reveal this support as well: For example, the highest proportion of residents who thought that the LPD was providing protection “not well” or “not well at all” in three recently-surveyed neighborhoods was only 18%.

Some concerns still exist, to be sure. Lee Winkelman, the organizing director for Coalition for a Better Acre (a nationally-known community development corporation that focuses its attention on Lowell’s Acre neighborhood), reports a number of them: He believes that the police relationship with CBA has weakened a bit since the Acre precinct first opened;24 that dispatchers lack sufficient language skills, and that precinct personnel change too often (possibly as a result of the LPD’s bid system, which lets officers switch jobs every 18 months if they so desire). But in the end, the LPD has won over even Winkelman, a committed activist who has always believed that crime ultimately stems from poverty, not inadequate policing: “It's the best in any place I've worked. . . I often joke around that if the other community organizers heard me saying such good things about the police, I'd lose my community organizer's license.” He points particularly to the department’s active hiring of Cambodian and Latino officers, the very visible impact the LPD has had on street drug dealing in the Acre, and the department’s openness—particularly chief Davis’s—to community concerns.

2. Operations

The LPD’s operational personnel are now housed in three areas: The Investigative Services Bureau, the department’s three geographic sectors, and Management Information Systems (which oversees dispatch). Dispatch reforms have been described elsewhere: The department maintains a completely civilian staff, it has physically revamped the radio room, and it has (with the city’s help) installed a 911 emergency line (so that now LPD dispatchers also field fire and emergency medical service calls). This section will focus on Investigative services and the patrol force.


The Precincts

The department’s 45 precinct officers (including the mobile precinct) do not usually respond to 911 calls, though they occasionally accompany cruiser officers on calls that require more than one officer. Instead they spend their time on patrol and problem-solving projects.

Patrol emphasizes community relations: Officers are expected to interact with area businesses and residents, and many report doing so extensively (talking with youth seems to be a favorite activity). One precinct officer explains the patrol part of his job this way: “We’re just walking the beat. . . . We try to get to know our neighborhood, who lives where, and who owns what, and where the problem mostly started, you know. We try to get to know all the people.” This sort of activity has gotten institutionalized to some degree, as officers help administer community surveys, and some sergeants have directed their officers to go door-to-door soliciting community concerns.

Problem-solving is the other major precinct activity. All levels of the organization can nominate problems for precinct officers—from the officers themselves, to their sergeants, to sector captains, and occasionally to the chief. But across all of these levels, three major sources of information seem to drive the identification of problems: Meetings with neighborhood groups, repeat calls-for-service, and officer knowledge (with repeat calls for service apparently becoming the dominant method in recent months).

Projects vary in their scope: Examples include the archetypal “problem apartment complex,” purse-snatching problems in a mall, a rash of shopping cart thefts at a local grocery store, and of course the ever-present (but greatly diminished) prostitution and street drug market areas. But some LPD problem-solving projects have extended beyond small geographic areas: For example, as the use of dogs by gang members grew as a problem in one sector, the sector captain assigned one officer to work with the city to develop an animal control ordinance.

Beginning with Centralville, the LPD has developed a large tool kit for dealing with these problems. Officers often work with business and property owners to make changes in their facilities, policies, or operations; and they regularly work with code departments to deal with problem buildings. But police-based initiatives play a large role in problem-solving as well: Precinct officers have undertaken low-level investigations or sting operations (one sergeant directed his officers to drive around an area of heavy prostitution in plain clothes and an unmarked car); and of course stepped-up patrol plays a central role in many projects.

To be sure, much of this varies by precinct and even by officer. Police departments commonly find that even when community policing works well in small units like Centralville, it runs into apathy when extended department-wide. Union President Flynn suggests that this problem arose in the LPD to some extent: “What happened was instead of getting officers who truly wanted to be involved and truly wanted to do that type of policing, they were being kind of, you know—not forced, but it was like nobody in the beginning wanted community policing. So that the people who would pick it—you’d pick all the other jobs, the only ones left were community policing jobs.” Today young officers disproportionately fill the precincts, suggesting that this dynamic may still exist to some degree (recall that the bid system gives veteran officers first pick of assignments).25 But those who work in the precincts simply do not report that commitment among the officers is a serious problem. Some teams do have officers who do not participate vigorously in precinct activities. But these officers seem to be a decided minority, and teams can work around the occasional skeptic. The more serious problem seems to be uneven commitment to community policing among sergeants. Unenthusiastic street bosses obviously affect officer morale and motivation, and because sergeants play such a central role in identifying problems and acting as community liaisons, their commitment is crucial to precinct operations. Davis has reported particular frustration with some precincts run by “traditional-minded” sergeants.

Finally, precinct officers have recently gotten involved in some investigations. As part of his reform of Criminal Investigations, Lieutenant Billy Taylor decided to develop a system whereby patrol officers would investigate many burglary reports, which otherwise went uninvestigated. A protocol for these investigations was developed by Sergeant David Tousignant and is now used in the department. Patrol officers have also been involved in other investigations, notably during a recent homicide case in which the criminal bureau enlisted the help of the patrol force as well as recruits in training to help gather evidence. And Sergeant Trudel’s community response team recently collaborated with a detective assigned by the criminal bureau to investigate of a rash of larcenies at the local community college. In all of these ways, investigative work is being dispersed throughout the LPD’s operational units (and collaboration between the two main operational units has increased, as described below). Detectives have reportedly welcomed the change—particularly the new system for investigating burglaries—since their work has in the past overwhelmed them (and probably also because the changes have concerned less prestigious cases).


Cruiser officers respond to 911 calls, and in this way they behave like the LPD patrol force of a few years ago. The norms of 911 response itself seem to have changed a bit. One officer explains that he feels the administration expects him to spend more time on individual calls: “There are more men to handle your calls so they want you to spend time on it,” a sentiment many other officers echo. Another important norm of 911 response seems to be the way in which officers interact with callers, as the department has paid increasing attention to good public relations skills (particularly in its recruit academy and its disciplinary system).

But beyond 911, the department has increasingly tried to get cruiser officers involved in the sector teams: One officer reports: “I've noticed lately in the past 6 months, even in the cruisers if you are getting a certain call or problem over and over and over again, like the kids in the park causing problems or B&Es in a certain spot and you are getting them all the time, they want you to spend time on that.” The same sergeants now oversee both precinct officers and cruiser officers in their sectors, and they may assign specific jobs to cruiser officers in connection with an ongoing problem-solving project—which usually means extra patrol attention in areas that carless precinct officers cannot easily reach. At the very least, many sergeants now include cruiser officers in sector meetings during which current problems are discussed. And some cruiser officers see themselves as part of problem-solving teams in the sense that they help accomplish the “scanning” element of the SARA model (which outlines four steps of problem-solving: “Scanning,” “Analysis,” “Response,” and “Assessment”). Moreover, cruiser officers increasingly use the precincts to write reports and use the phone, so they come into regular contact with the precinct officers in this way.

Finally, even outside formal problem-solving work, cruiser officers seem simply to have more free time when they are on patrol. Above and beyond the brand-new precinct force, the department has many more cars on the street as 5 years ago during the evening shift (33 versus 16-20), and the call volume seems to have declined somewhat as well (hard data on this are not available, since the LPD did not keep good records in the past. But department data do show that part I crimes dropped by almost half from 1993 to 1996, from 9,981 to 5,166.) Conscientious officers, at least, use some of this time to patrol and maintain order in known trouble-spots, check on large buildings like the schools when they have closed, and other traditional patrol functions.

As with the precinct officers, all of this varies by sector and by officer. Cruiser positions seem to be particularly attractive to those officers less in tune with community policing (several estimated that 20-25% of officers fall into this category). In any case, several officers reported that the cruiser positions in the day shift—often bid for by older officers with seniority—have a particularly high concentration of traditionally-minded patrolmen. Many of these officers are described as conscientious and hard workers; but they are less likely to be involved in problem-solving and community relations work (which may be of particular concern given the importance of the day shift in developing relations with the community).

Detectives and their Coordination with Patrol

Reforms of the criminal bureau initially focused on what might be called issues of professionalism—establishing standards of conduct, improving technology and equipment, and improving the once-dysfunctional relationship the bureau once had with the courts—, though there has also been some reshuffling of units (notably Friedl’s new domestic violence unit, a new unit focused on gang violence, and revamped juvenile bureau located at the Eliot Center, which includes a new holding facility). Formally, detective operations today work much like they did a few years ago. Much work is still driven by patrol officers’ reports or (in the case of vice) by informants, with a few potentially significant exceptions. First, given the department’s stronger ties to community groups, it seems reasonable to believe that more investigations are nominated by community groups—particularly since philosophically, the LPD has focused its attention less on high-level dealers and more on disruptive street-level activity (as Davis explained above). Second, Debbie Friedl’s domestic violence unit increasingly gets cases directly from victims with whom it has begun developing strong ties. Finally, Dennis Cormier, the head of Criminal Investigations, asserts that his unit has become more proactive. He gives the example of a recent investigation of the Latin Kings (which had begun to develop a presence in Lowell) in which his detectives borrowed an ATF informant to infiltrate the regional gang, ultimately arresting six of its leaders. Cormier maintains that a few years ago, “that would have been looked upon as just non-traditional policing and wouldn't have been acceptable [because] we didn't wait for a crime to occur, we went after them.”26

Recently the department has tried to integrate detectives more closely with the new sector system and with the patrol force. Davis describes a conscious strategy of rotating officers through the detective units that will hopefully break down the wall between the two segments of the department. More immediately, both Vice (now called Special Investigations) and Criminal Investigations have tried to assign detectives to specific geographic areas. Billy Taylor, who had a major hand in both reforms, explains the scope and limits of this idea:

For example, if one detective is assigned to Centralville in the narcotics department, which does not mean that he is only going to work in Centralville. He potentially is going to have cases going in different areas. But what I want him to do is focus on Centralville, and I want him to be familiar with the officers. I want him to go to the precinct, meet with them, find out what their problems are that he can assist them with, especially in the narcotics area. And when I have a problem in Centralville, I am coming to him and holding him accountable.

Many detectives do not yet seem to understand their work in this way. In part this may simply reflect the newness of the reforms. But some explicitly argue against it: Many explain that staffing is insufficient to cover separate areas of the city every shift of the day, and a few argue that they have to follow the cases their informants bring them—cases that may or may not lie in their assigned area. Taylor and Cormier both recognize these points and expect flexibility in the system (as Taylor explains above). Only time will tell whether or not the new system takes root.

3. Support Services

The section on organizational change described the changes in support services extensively: Training and information systems were reformed dramatically (and expenditures increased) in order to support the LPD’s new mission. Information, for example, now plays a central role in the department’s operations. Officers have mobile data terminals in their cruisers through which they can quickly access departmental records (as well as communicate with one another), and precincts are outfitted with rapidly-evolving computer systems. Today the LPD records information more regularly than in the past, and in ways that make it easier-to-access—enabling management to use crime information to set priorities and identify problems, as it does in department-wide COMPSTAT meetings.

Equipment has become equally advanced. For example, criminal investigations has been brought up to date technologically, with a computerized sketching system, equipment for tape recording confessions (the department had not done even this in years past), and equipment for developing photographs (previously the department sent photos out at a cost of approximately $1,200 per homicide case). Some computer-shy officers apparently avoid some of the technology, but most use it heavily (as attested to by the late-night calls MIS head Arthur Ryan receives when the computerized mug shots system, for example, goes down).

Finally, the LPD has expanded less technical support services as well. Reference has been made to the department’s new employee assistance program, which Davis allowed Sergeant Thomas Fleming free reign in designing (Fleming had served a similar role informally in the past and had many contacts and much knowledge of the area). The program provides services like critical incident stress debriefing, peer counseling, and referrals to outside agencies when necessary. Some of these services become mandatory in lieu of discipline when personal problems begin to interfere with an officer’s work. Moreover, the department’s growing administrative staff supports many operational activities. Bond and Cole in particular are cited by many officers as invaluable aids for projects they have been engaged in (for example, officer Mike Miles relied on them heavily in developing his many youth programs). And perhaps most important given the importance of outside funding in the LPD story, through them the department has developed a strong capacity to secure and maintain its grants—to the point that city government has actually turned to LPD staff in preparing its own grant applications.

Each of these transformations reflects a dramatic shift in the way the LPD organizes policing. While it has put a new emphasis on the patrol officer on the beat, it has also put great emphasis on the idea that the rest of the department must support these front-line workers. It does so in part through support services like information, equipment, and administrative assistance. These services were much less strongly-valued under the old philosophy that relied mainly on the alertness of individual officers.

4. Management

The LPD’s organizational structure lays out management responsibilities in the department (see Figure 3). Having changed four times in fewer years, the current structure breaks the department into two major pieces: The Operational Services Bureau (headed by the Deputy Chief, though that position is currently vacant) and the Support Services Bureau (headed by a captain).

But behind the new structure, a new management philosophy also animates the LPD. Some have described similar styles of police management as “decentralized,” and that description is accurate to a point. But in some ways the new style is less decentralized than the old one. That is no criticism of the new LPD, of course; the point is simply to characterize its achievement accurately. The next section examines the elements of centralization in the new system; and with this qualification in mind, the following one describes the real sense in which the LPD is decentralized.



Despite this new element of centralization, the LPD has decentralized in an important sense—a sense that is captured by the idea of delegating authority. We have seen what Davis meant by the idea of delegation in the story of the department’s transformation. But the idea is not restricted to the chief himself: As a philosophy, it seems authentically to have permeated the ranks of the LPD.

For example, Captain Dennis Cormier, head of criminal investigations, describes how his detectives might handle a neighborhood prostitution problem, and in the process gives insight into how he thinks about management:

Cormier goes on to explain that “I keep an eye on what's going on . . .. [and] they come in for advice on a daily basis.” But he delegates much of the responsibility to the detectives themselves.

Cormier admits that this style works more easily for him than for patrol supervisors because the detectives he oversees are typically very experienced. But most patrol supervisors—for example, Davis and DeMoura when they ran Centralville—express their management philosophies in terms almost identical to those that Cormier uses. Each level of the hierarchy typically discusses proposed projects with their superiors—one sergeant describes this as a matter of “respect”. But given a reasonable proposal that fits with broader plans, all levels typically allow discretion. One officer maintains: “There isn’t a supervisor on the street that if you said, ‘Look, this is what I’ve got to do, do you mind if I do this?’ [who wouldn’t let you do it]. Even if it’s like, ‘I’m going to park the cruiser for a couple of hours and watch this house or something.’ They’ll let you do it, as long as the coverage is out there for somebody to take your calls if you have any.”

This management system obviously requires that the department decentralize important decisions. For example, sergeants can decide to have their officers go undercover to deal with low-level drug problems—there is no need to clear the decision downtown (at least one sergeant has used this power extensively). As another example, there is no citywide policy on the use of vehicles in the precincts, and different sector captains have different attitudes towards the use of cars, motorcycles and bicycles (indeed, we saw that the use of bicycles was a precinct-level innovation introduced by Billy Taylor in the Acre). And as a good metaphor for the LPD’s decentralization of decisionmaking, it is worth mentioning that the old mock-bureaucratic system by which officers got authorization to transport prisoners has been abolished. Officers are now only required to notify dispatch (who must know that the car cannot take calls).

In the management philosophy that dominates the LPD today, supervisors mostly control their subordinates using outcome measures. Referring to the prostitution example, Cormier explained:

I’d let [the detective] take the ball and say, ‘I want you to get rid of the prostitutes on this street . . . As long as they’re doing it legally, right, and they’re not violating any rules or regulations of the police department or the city, then I’m happy with that. . . . I mean, eventually, in a very short time, if I’m doing my job, I’m going to find out whether they’re doing theirs or not.

Many supervisors indicated that they use something like “management by walking around” to monitor the success of their problem-solving projects and the performance of their subordinates. Davis, for example, describes how he discovered that one precinct was “slipping back badly”:

Many supervisors also use various types of data and input from community groups to monitor performance. The COMPSTAT meetings, for example, use both, allowing Davis to keep tabs on the entire department. Reliance on these techniques is, of course, intimately connected to the increased attention the LPD pays to data collection—not only crime data, but also internal affairs data (Professional Standards briefs the COMPSTAT team on citizen complaints, just as Steve Di Noto does on crime data; and the division’s “early warning system” briefs supervisors, as described above). The new supervisory techniques are also connected to the department’s strengthened relationships with community groups. Davis describes hiring Cole in precisely in these terms, explaining that she helps provide an unfiltered line to the community so that he can monitor neighborhood problems.

The LPD has decentralized in other ways that today’s management does not particularly like. The bid system is of course the main example here, a major change in management of the department’s personnel that originated with Sheehan and the union, not Davis. The system leaves some control to the administration: Davis can override self-selections under a “just cause” clause to the contract (a right he has exercised a few times), and he can fill positions that open up between cycles. Moreover, the system only applies to patrol—Davis has free reign in assigning detectives and superior officers, and he exercises this power in consultation with other command staff. But the bid system clearly stripped considerable power away from the Superintendent.

In any event, management, like the rest of the LPD, looks very different than it did even five years ago. The department has developed a new supervisory structure based on the idea of problem-solving that has allowed it to exercise more oversight over the “free” time patrol officers have between calls; the precincts, which lack calls entirely, would be inconceivable under the old system. But at the same time, it has relaxed its control over many operational decisions, notably by giving officers and detectives more flexibility in choosing the means by which they will accomplish the tasks assigned them. Accountability is based on outcomes rather than process.

1 With one exception, this paper will not try to evaluate the impact of these organizational changes, though most believe that public safety (especially visible street drug dealing) has improved markedly in Lowell over the past four years: (index crimes dropped 48% from 1993 to 1996, while violent crime dropped 45%; the drops in Massachusetts as a whole were 11% and 15%, respectively). The exception is that I will comment on changes in public perception of the department—an important outcome measure in community policing.

2 The case draws principally on recent interviews (though I have also examined older documents and newspaper clippings), so this account is limited by my informants’ memory and emotion (most LPD personnel favor the changes that have been made—although they invariably express respect for the previous administration). I have tried to control these problems—particularly the latter—by pushing my respondents to be concrete and soliciting a wide cross-section of opinion.

3 This account is based on 35 interviews (seven outside the department), extensive documentation, and observation of both patrol operations and management.

4 These categories were informed by, but are not identical to, those developed in Henry Mintzberg. The Structuring of Organizations. (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1979).

5 See especially Theodore Lowi. The End of Liberalism. (New York: Norton, 1979).

6 Cook has since become the LPD’s director of communications.

7 The relevant General Order (G.O. 89-06, August 2, 1989) actually empowers all officers to “respond to legitimate inquiries for routine information from the news media if the time, place, and circumstances permit.” But the order qualified this statement of policy immediately: “If there is any doubt as to whether such information should be divulged, these inquiries shall be referred to the Superintendent of Police, the Deputy Superintendent, or the particular Platoon/Bureau commander” [emphasis added]. In practice, the qualification apparently carried more weight than the policy.

8 Normally one would say “the 911 system,” but until 1995 Lowell did not have a 911 system.

9 We will discuss an early example (ca. 1990) of collaboration between Inspectional Services and the police in the section on change.

10 Census data show a 117% increase in foreign-born residents of the city from 1980 to 1990, and an increase of over 2,000% in the number of Southeast Asians (though local officials believe that Census undercounts were a serious problem in the city); many of these immigrants were attracted to Lowell in the 1980s by the city’s growing economy. Other minority groups grew as well: Lowell’s Latino population rose 130% in the 1980s, and its African-American population grew 110%. Census data are taken from Lowell Police Department. Community Policing: Lower Highlands/Acre Neighborhood. Grant Application: Drug Control & System Improvement Discretionary Program, Department of Justice Police Hiring Supplemental Program, p. 6.

11 The way in which detectives dealt with victims is worth noting, as it highlights a crucial difference between the professional model and community policing. One sergeant remembers: “One of the things that we always heard about is people usually get a little frustrated, they never knew what was going on with their case. Then all of a sudden, we would make an arrest, and all of a sudden a victim would get a subpoena to go to court and they would have no idea what it was about. They would end up calling you and you say ‘You remember me, I was at your housebreak three months ago, well we have got the guy and a whole bunch of them and we just want you to show up.’ They say ‘Oh I did not know that, did you get any of the property back?’, which if you found property you would have notified them.

12 Drug investigations are often considered proactive in the sense that they target “victimless” crimes that lack a specific complainant. But Chief Davis, who headed Vice from 1983 to the time he became chief, describes the division he ran as “very reactive . . . Because you wouldn't target someone who you didn't get a lot of complaints on, who wasn't already out there causing a lot of trouble. So, in that respect, it was still reactive.” He goes on to explain that the complaints came from citizens especially disgruntled informants: “They talk about vice enforcement and narcotics enforcement as enforcement of victimless crimes. But there really are victims. There really are people who, even though they may be part of the conspiracy, end up becoming victims. So those are the people that complained a lot”

13 According to Building Inspector David St. Hilaire, who has done almost all of the city’s LPD-initiated code inspections, the first time he used code enforcement in response to drug problems was at the request of the FDIC, which had just foreclosed on a drug house in the city.

14 Several years saw considerable activity on these fronts. For example, the LPD issued 17 general orders in 1987, covering such areas as standards for dress and grooming, policy and procedures to be followed for D.W.I. roadblocks, and procedure for the reporting and investigation of missing persons.

15 Outsiders like the state Governor also helped focus attention on Centralville by delivering an oversized check, representing Lowell’s first state aid for community policing, directly to the new precinct.

16 Taylor had been particularly concerned that bringing the area under control would demand forceful tactics that might alienate the community he wanted to work with. But the dealers’ unexpected surrender sidestepped the problem: “Because we did not have to get into this almost military mentality of fighting these drug dealers off because that happened almost without a fight, it facilitated us very quickly [moving] into the next phase of the operation, which was more of the community outreach, working with the neighbors and the Parks Department. I am very thankful for that because I was not sure how long a period we were going to have to be in the trenches at first, because it really was a bad area.”

17 An important aside is warranted here. Davis had recently developed a close relationship with the University, which apparently believed it was losing students because of safety concerns—particularly along the drug-infested Fletcher Street entrance to the campus. Davis remembers that because of this, “The Chancellor made it clear that the University was at my disposal on the other side of the house, on the administrative side of the house. So we started to work very closely together. I have a very good relationship with Chancellor Hogan and Vice Chancellor Fred (Speronis).” The University was generous not only with Hart’s time, but also in other ways like providing technical support when the LPD revamped its finance office. And it was through Hart that Davis hired Brenda Bond, who became instrumental in securing and managing the department’s grants (among other things). We will see other ways in which the University relationship became important below.

18 Hart, who now runs a private consulting business to support organizational change in the private sector, reports that funding is often a stumbling block for police departments—which is why the LPD is the only police department she has had a chance to work with. A few departments have contacted her, but none have been able to come up with funding to support consultant’s fees; Hart believes the problem is that there are too few grants specifically designed to support the process aspects of organizational change, and that city governments are loath to spend money on such “frills.” The funding the LPD was able to get was entirely a result of their own inventiveness: “We were just very creative,” she explains. “We just wrote it in but the grants weren't specifically set aside for organizational change. I think the proposals were strong enough that they allowed it to stay in the proposal. And it was still a relatively small amount [relative to the rest of] the proposal.”

19 According to Normandin, the FTO system emerged out of work he had recently done reforming internal affairs, when he found that the department was not making sufficient use of the one-year “probationary” period that civil service laws allowed (the department could fire officers more easily during this period than afterwards). Normandin raised the problem at early strategic planning sessions, and the group decided to develop the FTO system as a way of monitoring new hires more closely. But the system also allowed additional training in the LPD’s rapidly-changing vision of policing—both for the recruits and for the FTOs themselves (as they would undergo their own training to qualify for the program).

20 UHP also funded two officers for the Lowell Housing Authority, now a seven-person force directly under the LPD’s command.

21 There is always some question about the number of officers the technology portion of MORE grants free up, since the calculation rests difficult-to-establish assumptions (Lowell’s grantwriters themselves describe the calculations as “a nightmare”). But at least 16.5 of these 31 positions are real, as they represent the civilianization piece of COPS MORE.

22 The civil service system authorizes the assessment center approach (though it does not exactly encourage it), but a private contractor actually runs the process.

23 For example, see Edward Goetz and Kirby Pitman. “Drug War in St. Paul,” in Shelterforce, March/April 1997, pp. 20-1.

24 He remembers that time very fondly, however: “We had the beeper number of the person in charge, and you could beep him any time of the day or night. I swear to God these guys never slept. You could beep them any time of the day or night, and they'd call you back like two minutes later. I always felt guilty. But they were great. They were really responsive.”

25 On the other hand, one officer interprets the same observation in a positive light: “They’ve got young, energetic officers [in the precincts] that are going to do something.”

26 The investigation is also notable for the close relations it implies between the LPD and federal law enforcement, as loaning an informant implies an extraordinary degree of trust. See James Q. Wilson. The Investigators. (New York: Basic, 1978), p. 78.