Saturday, June 18, 2011

William Parker and the LAPD, Part 2

So what did William Parker do to clean-up the LAPD? Doug and I argue that he operated on two separate but interconnected levels: 1 ) he changed the incentives inside the LAPD to encourage honest behavior and discourage dishonest behavior; 2 ) he personally epitomized and repeatedly promoted personal values of honesty and integrity, both in his police officers themselves and in terms of the community’s view of his police officers.

We can’t go through the whole list of incentive changes here, but some examples are: 1 ) raising the salaries of LAPD officers so that he could be more selective in hiring and so that being fired was more costly; 2 ) rotating officers among different parts of the city so that they would not be attracted into local networks of corruption; 3 ) innovating internal controls regarding spotting and punishing dishonest cops.

In terms of values, Doug and I argue that Parker appealed directly to the long history of religious values of the average Los Angeles resident. He spoke of these values constantly, and he used his association with the TV show “Dragnet” to broadcast the values of the honest LA cop. “This is the city. My name is Friday. I carry a badge.” became the new face of the LAPD.

But what we believe is important to emphasize is that incentives and values are not two disconnected planes of human activity. Parker succeeded because he wove incentives and values together to promote a rapid change from the previous equilibrium. In just a handful of years, he demolished the previous stereotype in which LA cops were the corrupt, lazy louts as depicted by Raymond Chandler and created a new face of the LAPD: the honest, hard-working, value infused Joe Friday (as depicted by Jack Webb). To give just one example, consider the costs of being fired from the L.A. police force for corruption. As depicted in Buntin's book L A Noir , in the 1930s and early 1940s such an officer would have had little trouble finding roughly equivalent new employment. But what did Parker do? He raised both LAPD salaries and the officers social stature. He attracted young men that would be raising families and coaching Little League and going to PTA meetings. Being fired now meant a bigger monetary hit plus the shame associated with being identified as a dirty cop. In an early “Dragnet” Joe Friday rants about the scum of the earth that would be a corrupt policeman (but note carefully, that in this episode, the corrupt cop was an impostor.)

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