July 17, 2021

My Favorite Time of the Year Is Now


PERF Members,

This is my favorite time of the year. Usually it involves 24 airplane flights, back and forth to Boston. I realize that doesn’t sound like fun; it sounds like work.  But honestly, it’s something I look forward to.  I’m talking about our Senior Management Institute for Police, more commonly known as SMIP. Since 1980, we have hosted this summer leadership program for the best and brightest future police leaders. More than 5,300 people have graduated SMIP over the years, not counting this year’s classes.

SMIP was conceived as an executive development program that uses faculty members from business schools and other disciplines in universities to teach the principles of leadership, using case studies. SMIP has always been a program that pushes up-and-coming leaders – the police chiefs and sheriffs of tomorrow – to think creatively about organizational change and the qualities that leaders need to be successful.  SMIP is like an incubator for future chiefs and sheriffs.


Osgood Hill, site of the first SMIP session, 1980

SMIP’s first session was held in the summer of 1980 at Osgood Hill, in North Andover, MA. It consisted of one session with fewer than 40 participants. Space was very limited at Osgood Hill, and students were housed bunkroom style.

Demand for SMIP grew rapidly, so PERF kept finding larger venues, including several years when we used a historic church at Merrimack College. The cafeteria at Merrimack was run by two award-winning chefs. Their talents might not have been fully appreciated by typical college students, but the SMIP crowd was always hungry and appreciative, so the chefs pulled out all the stops for us. I’m told that one session’s participants boasted an average 8-pound weight gain.  

We always liked having SMIP on college campuses. There was something about the college environment and atmosphere that was pleasant and stimulating.

Last summer, for the first time in 40 years, we couldn’t hold SMIP because of COVID-19. We briefly considered whether we should try an online version of SMIP, but decided it wouldn’t work, because so much of the value of SMIP is the in-person discussions. So last year, with no SMIP, it was like a hole had developed in my world. 

But this summer, the COVID vaccines made it possible for us to restart SMIP.  We had to move it from Boston to Orlando, because Boston University, our long-time venue, cancelled all summer programs for outside organizations. But we believed we could protect everyone’s health by requiring all participants to be vaccinated, so we moved ahead.

SMIP 2014, Boston                                                                SMIP 2021, Orlando

We’re holding SMIP 2021 in a large hotel in Orlando, not a university, so it feels a little different, especially to a Boston guy like me. But mainly it feels great to be doing SMIP again.

I’ve been thinking about what it is about SMIP that is so fulfilling, and it’s a few things.

First, we’re able to get the best faculty from around the country, along with police practitioners who are great at engaging with our students.

Second, the learning goes both ways. SMIP helps PERF to better understand what the up-and-coming leaders from police departments and sheriffs’ offices across the country are thinking. At PERF we’re always looking for the emerging issues that are just starting to surface. As the legendary hockey player Wayne Gretzky said, we try to skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been. But PERF can be a bit of a bubble as we develop ideas that are cutting-edge. SMIP serves as a reality check. Participants aren’t shy about telling us what they’re thinking and hearing, giving us feedback, and prompting us to look at issues from new angles.

While SMIP was created for the students, we see it as a learning environment that gives all of us space to think. It’s three weeks of give and take. It’s not about PERF giving students lessons to memorize. It’s about everyone using their critical thinking skills together, to explore the important issues. This keeps us grounded in reality, which is critical for an organization like PERF, whose DNA is about improving policing. 

Now that we’re having in-person sessions, I realize how much I missed the great, intangible factor of being with people in person – the conversations that happen when you’re walking with someone to get coffee, or the informal discussions that happen after a class ends. During the year of COVID, we missed the energy that comes from talking with people. Zoom calls are fine, but we’re all Zoomed out. When you’re leading a class, it’s important to look at your students and see whether you’re connecting with them. It’s hard to do that on Zoom.

Every year we ask SMIP students to give us feedback in written evaluations, and they always tell us that much of the learning at SMIP comes from other students. Students come from large and small departments across the country and around the world, and they’ll tell each other about a good policy at their agency, or an incident that happened and what they learned from it.

There’s plenty for us to study this year at SMIP 2021. Just think about the context of policing today. Between COVID-19, the nonstop demonstrations throughout the summer, the defunding and reform debates, and huge spikes in violent crime, policing is under a microscope. At SMIP, people are talking about how much policing has changed since they became cops, and especially in the last year. The very nature of policing is being questioned – what the police should do, and how they should engage with the community.  And we’re wondering, how are we going to get the best and brightest to become police officers, and how can we retain and motivate officers? SMIP provides a safe place to have those discussions.

And there are SMIP moments you remember for a long time. I recall one year when a student was talking about an officer-involved shooting, and described it as “a just shooting.” And a hand went up from a student from Australia, who asked, “How can any loss of life be a just shooting?” The class went silent as the two students discussed that question. You could feel the emotion. After class, the students were still talking about it into the night over beer and pizza. Something electric happens in the classroom, and the world gets a little better.

So life at PERF is good. We missed SMIP last year, but now we’re crossing our fingers that we’re on the road to a post-COVID-19 world. 

I want to thank Matt Harman of PERF, who did a tremendous job of getting SMIP up and running in Orlando, ably assisted by Dan Alioto, who is an amazing problem-solver.  A thousand moving pieces had to be synchronized, and Matt and Dan never dropped the ball. I’m also grateful to the SMIP faculty and students for being flexible about the temporary shift to Orlando.

Finally, we’re all thankful to Tony Narr, who retired last year.  Over the years, Tony made innovative and creative changes that made SMIP the world-class program that it is. He was my Boston roommate every summer for 25 years. Most recently, I’m grateful to Tony for mentoring Matt and Dan to take on and continue the tradition that Tony started.

Have a great weekend.  Weekend Clips are below.