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Jan. 27, 2023

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Oklahoma police model new structure

'Shared leadership' form of command has succeeded in some cities

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As Vancouver’s police guild and chief begin to ease out onto the tightrope that is mediation, at least one idea on how to make big changes is already being floated.

It’s a structure called shared leadership, one that’s been pioneered in Broken Arrow, Okla., with great success, said Councilor Jeanne Harris, who has met with both Chief Cliff Cook and Guild President Ryan Martin about the program.

“We have so many great police officers with so many great talents that are oftentimes not included in the decision-making process because of the way we do things now,” Harris said. “Is there a different way to do a police department that reduces the inherent conflict that comes from (a top-down) form of police department?”

Shared leadership is an “employee empowerment” form of command in which representatives from all ranks at the department — sworn and civilian — have some say in decisions, Broken Arrow Chief Todd Wuestewald said Friday.

Wuestewald said he implemented shared leadership when he started in Broken Arrow seven years ago, to address internal strife there. The response has included improved morale, commitment, productivity and innovation, he said.

Martin said he’s spoken with Wuestewald and that the idea seems promising.

“Based on what I’ve read so far, it looks like it’s been a very positive process,” he said.

Cook also said it’s an idea he’s willing to consider, but not right away. Trust and talk need to come first, he said.

Closure Look: Chief, guild set to start talking

“Our current situation is not conducive to moving toward that type of management structure,” Cook said. “We need to try to resolve the mutual concerns that we both have, and then we can consider other options such as shared leadership.”

The Broken Arrow Chief said he thought Cook’s instincts to build a relationship first are right.

Wuestewald has been an evangelizer for shared leadership, but admits that he’s seen places where it’s worked very well, and other places where it’s tanked.

He said he’s not comfortable commenting on the situation in Vancouver directly, as he doesn’t know much about the problems here.

But, he said, shared leadership requires “a lot of integrity on both sides.”

“If there’s any personal agendas … involved, it isn’t going to work,” Wuestewald said. “The big fear you have with an empowerment program like this is … you’re turning the fox loose in the henhouse, so to speak.”

Still, he said, the rank-and-file officers rewrote their disciplinary policy in Broken Arrow (discipline is among the points of concern for guild members in Vancouver), and they were more strict than he would have been.

“What I have found, though, is when you give people power they take it very seriously and exercise a great bit of care,” he said.

Harris said she’ll be interested in following the process as it moves along.

“I’ve yet to see something start to change as far as how we’re going to do it in future,” she said.

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