Wednesday, April 26, 2006


Marketing Lessons from a Police Ride-Along

One of my good friends, Brandon Gill, a former Marine, is now an officer with the Everett (Washington) Police Department. He’s been with the department for a little over two years, and works the night shift as a beat cop on the north side of town.

I had the privilege of riding with him last Saturday night, and it was an incredible, eye-opening experience. I accompanied Brandon everywhere – on 911 calls, to an attempted suicide, to a stabbing scene, even to break up a transient camp and shake down known drug dealers.

I quickly learned three things:

1. Brandon, though early in his law enforcement career, is a very good cop
2. Police work is both delicate and difficult, and takes a uniquely-gifted individual to be successful
3. There are many analogies between good law enforcement and effective marketing

I’m now convinced that to be an effective police officer, you need many of the same skills that make for an effective marketer. As my evening ride-along progressed, it became even more clear.

So what does good law enforcement have to teach us as marketers and leaders? Here were a few of my takeaways and lessons learned “on the beat.”

Taking the initiative is always the right thing to do
From the laptop in Brandon’s squad car, he can pull up every 911 call awaiting follow-up – including the priority and nature of each call. He could wait for the dispatcher to assign him a call, or he could assign himself a call – which he did most of the night. As 911 calls slowed down Brandon began actively seeking trouble spots, circling known drug houses, and otherwise taking the initiative rather than waiting for instruction.

He didn’t need someone back at the office or at a dispatch room to assign him tactics. He knew his objectives – or “what success looks like” as marketers might say – and he created a game plan to achieve it. His initiative makes him a stand-out cop, and also allows Brandon to achieve more of his objectives throughout the night.

People skills are critical
And not just in that attempted suicide, which clearly required the right balance of force and tact. As we escorted a man with a blood-alcohol level of more than three times the legal limit to the hospital, Brandon made it clear to the man, in reassuring tones, that we were on the way to get him help (not on the way to the jail), and that the nurses would help him get better. When we met an 18-year-old at her home, where she was alone and had just received several frightening harassment calls from a former co-worker, Brandon answered all of her questions and spent as much time as she needed to feel safe again – even though the additional calls for his services were piling up back at the laptop.

With situations that were far more tense, and even with situations involving fellow officers, Brandon displayed a combination of force, tact, leadership and confidence that showed others he was in control, and had their back.

Networking will make your job easier
I watched Brandon network with his fellow officers. With nurses at the hospital. With drug dealers. Even homeless men huddling under the freeway overpass, trying to stay warm. In Brandon’s eyes, all of these people could be valuable to him down the road. Nurses can help expedite trips to the hospital with hurt-but-under-arrest perps. That drug dealer might be an ongoing source of valuable information about other folks up to no good (including competitors). And the homeless? They may not have a roof over their head, or be the most important people in town, but they know everything.

By building relationships with a wide variety of people, Brandon is setting himself up for an ongoing flow of information, favors and expedited execution in the weeks and months to come.

Triage, triage, triage
At any given time throughout the night, there were literally dozens of requests for Brandon’s time. 911 calls lighting up the laptop. Traffic infractions everywhere. Calls to assist other officers with more complicated calls. Far more work than Brandon would ever have time to do. Sound familiar?

But Brandon didn’t let the overflow of work consume him. He knew his limits, and was adept at focusing his time on the most pressing needs. This often involved making real-time decision between competing requests, and even changing course mid-call if something higher priority became apparent. In his job, as in ours, prioritization and flexibility can enable greater effectiveness and achievement.

Seek ways to put the balance in your favor
All night, without really thinking about it, Brandon did subtle but intensely valuable things to put the balance in his favor. Remember the drunk he calmed down before taking to the hospital? That was to make sure the drunk treated the nurses well, and wasn’t too abrasive, as nurses have long memories. When a K-9 unit from another precinct came up to help track down a stabbing suspect, Brandon sent a quick thank-you note via the intra-departmental instant-messaging system before we moved to the next call. When we suspected one driver of driving under the influence, Brandon called in the traffic cop, who is specifically recognized by the department for drunk driving arrests he makes.

All of these things, done throughout the night, put others subtly in Brandon’s debt. Some debts were more tangible than others, but every move set Brandon up for a return favor down the road.

Leverage, but do not abuse, authority
It is clear that Brandon is a leader. With colleagues and perps alike, he emanates a calm and confident sense of leadership. He leverages this leadership to accomplish his objectives, but does not use it in a menacing, demeaning or abusive way. He takes control of a situation without bullying or bossing others. He uses the right words and tone of voice for each situation to get what he wants or needs, without overt demands or aggressive language.

Police officers are naturally in a position of authority, but good cops know that this is an opportunity for leadership, not totalitarianism. Whether he thinks about it or not, Brandon’s style of establishing and leveraging authority creates credibility and results for himself and his department, by treating people fairly and giving others their own level of control over any given situation. Leadership isn’t just about taking command. Good leaders enable others to lead and take action as well – whether you’re in marketing or “on the beat.”


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