March 25, 2023

Lessons from “Monday-morning quarterbacking” sessions across the country


PERF members,

I try to use these Saturday columns to share ideas that will challenge your thinking and break new ground. That’s why I closed the February 4 edition of Trending with an offer to moderate “Monday-morning quarterbacking” sessions in some of your agencies to discuss the death of Tyre Nichols at the hands of police in Memphis. Seven chiefs took me up on that offer: Palm Springs, California Chief Andy Mills, who received PERF’s Gary Hayes Award in 2000; Santa Ana, California Chief David Valentin; Anne Arundel County, Maryland Chief Amal Awad; Prince George’s County, Maryland Chief Malik Aziz; Charleston, South Carolina Chief Luther Reynolds; Columbia, South Carolina Chief Skip Holbrook; and Laconia, New Hampshire Chief Matthew Canfield. Montgomery County, Maryland Chief Marcus Jones also asked me to incorporate the exercise into a town hall meeting I was already scheduled to moderate in his agency.

My town hall meeting with Chief Marcus Jones and members of the Montgomery County Police Department.

I started each session by showing eight minutes of the video from Memphis, then we spent the rest of the first hour discussing what it showed. We talked about issues with the tactics, communication, supervision, lack of de-escalation, and proportionality. Some participants wondered if something could have occurred before the video to make the officers so angry, but the consensus was that nothing would justify the force that was used. Many attendees noticed that officers were giving conflicting orders, making it impossible for Mr. Nichols to comply. And many suspected that these officers had acted this way before, raising questions about whether supervisors should have been aware of the officers’ behavior and taken steps to prevent it from continuing.

During the second hour, I asked more general questions about agencies’ policies and practices:

  • Who is in charge when there are only officers on scene?
  • What steps does an officer take to intervene with a fellow officer? How do interventions occur in attendees’ agencies?
  • How does a supervisor take charge and intervene (if necessary) when they arrive on scene?
  • How does a supervisor determine what has already occurred when they arrive on scene?
  • What is the culture of your agency? How do you measure an organization’s culture?
  • Do various subgroups within your agency, such as specialized units, have their own cultures? How do you make sure their cultures align with the overall organizational culture?
  • Are there situations when officers would be comfortable ending a foot or vehicle pursuit and using available information to track the person down the next day?
  • What first aid are officers expected to provide after a use of force?
  • Are officers trained and provided with the equipment necessary to render aid?
  • Does department culture impact whether or not officers render aid?
  • After an officer intervenes with a fellow officer, how would the incident be reported?

That last question can be the most challenging. We want officers to intervene when they see something going wrong, but they may be deterred from acting if they know they will then have to report that intervention. And yet we also have an interest in knowing if any serious incidents are occurring in the agency. What guidance do you give your officers about handling these situations?

Deputy Chief Stephanie Price, Columbia Chief W.H. “Skip” Holbrook, Charleston Chief Luther Reynolds, and Deputy Chief Chito Walker participate in the meeting in Charleston.

This conversation can be difficult. There are times when the chief wants to say something, but in the hierarchy of a police department, a chief speaking may deter others from saying what they think. I’ve learned to be comfortable with moments of silence, because that’s when people are thinking and preparing to say what they really think. In my experience, that’s when we break new ground.

Often the answers would be along the lines of, “we have a policy on duty to intervene” or “we have a policy on duty to render aid.” That’s always good to hear, but I want people to address culture, not just policy. Policy may require officers to intervene, but do they know how? Will an intervention be accepted by their fellow officers?

And a big part of this conversation is about prevention. Many talked about early warning systems as a way to identify problem officers. And some said they watch body-worn camera videos from their officers and proactive units to understand what’s happening in the field. But some agencies have negotiated agreements with their unions that limit supervisors’ ability to review footage, which I found concerning. In some jurisdictions, political leaders who claim to be in favor of reform are supporting those same unions. And many agencies don’t have enough staffing to review as much footage as they’d like.

PERF Director of the Center for Management and Technical Assistance Tom Wilson and I met with Chief David Valentin and members of the Santa Ana Police Department.

These were great one-off discussions, but what would be groundbreaking is for Monday-morning quarterbacking conversations to become a routine part of agencies’ operations. After the agency is involved in an incident, they should watch a video to identify any successes and problems. Different components of the agency should identify areas needing improvement, whether it’s internal affairs making better use of their early warning system or the training division adjusting their curriculum.

I think agencies could do this on their own, but it may be advantageous to have an outsider moderate this conversation—perhaps someone from the criminal justice faculty at a local university or a retired chief from a neighboring jurisdiction. As I mentioned earlier, the hierarchy of law enforcement organizations can sometimes stifle conversation, so it can help to have an outsider pushing people to open up and share honest opinions.

Prince George’s County Police Chief Malik Aziz addresses the room during the Monday-morning quarterbacking session.

Chief Andy Mills addresses other members of the Palm Springs Police Department at the Monday-morning quarterbacking session.

Chief Amal Awad addresses other members of the Anne Arundel County Police Department at the Monday-morning quarterbacking session.

Meeting with New Hampshire and Maine police chiefs at a session hosted by the Laconia, NH Police Department.

During these meetings, police officials said they didn’t think something like the Tyre Nichols beating could occur in their agencies. But in one-on-one conversations, some expressed concerns about officers from their agencies or surrounding agencies who are still on patrol despite past misconduct. All the good cops out there don’t want to find themselves partnering with a problematic officer. Monday-morning quarterbacking exercises may be one way for those good cops to make their voice heard and strengthen the organization.

Thank you to the eight agencies that welcomed me in for a conversation over the past few weeks. Listening to the visceral reaction to what happened in Memphis in agencies across the country was an eye-opening experience for me. I left these meetings hopeful that we can move policing forward by learning from yesterday’s incidents to prevent tomorrow’s from occurring.