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How faux collaboration stymies community policing efforts

The idea that somebody else should get to vote on our course of action is contrary to our instincts – but it is key to successful community policing


Shared exploration of police problems requires intentional listening.


This article originally appeared in the February 2019 PoliceOne Leadership Briefing. To read the full briefing, visit Faux collaboration | Black History Month | Bias in community policing, and add the Leadership Briefing to your subscriptions.

Current leadership literature emphasizes the importance of teams and collaborative decision-making. In police work, however, collaboration is often interpreted as a lack of confidence or a way to take or shift blame depending on the outcome. In our world – where the time frame for decisions is measured in milliseconds and we have within our reach a belt-load of tools designed to bring a quick end to an adversary’s life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness – the idea that somebody else should get to vote on our course of action is contrary to our instincts.

Be an intentional listener

As a researcher on the subject of community policing, I discovered that while we train officers and leaders about community policing and community policing programs, we seldom teach skills associated with making collaborative decisions.

Shared exploration of police problems – beginning with the question of whether a problem in the community needs a police response as part of the resolution – requires the ability to shift from an autocratic, unilateral decision-making process to a process of intentional listening that disregards one’s own position of strength.

Invite diversity of thought

This is not only true of officers on the street, but for police leaders as well. In an attempt at the collaborative process many leaders fail at an essential component of collaboration that is the meat of a collaboration sandwich.

Think of the ideas for addressing an issue as two slices of bread. One slice is the leader’s ideas, the other slice is comprised of ideas of others who are invited to offer facts or an opinion about the ultimate outcome. The meat of the sandwich is the examination of the problem from various perspectives and the exploration of solutions offered.

To extend the sandwich metaphor, note that the two slices of bread on a sandwich are usually from the same loaf. In other words, when we invite people to join us in making our decisions, we are likely to ask those who will probably have the same world view and basis of opinion as ourselves, because we really aren’t looking for diversity of thought, but for others to agree that out decision was the right one to begin with.

This is not collaboration. It’s not even collaboration lite, it is faux collaboration. Faux collaboration is asking a lot of opinions to give the appearance of collaboration and then doing what you were going to do in the first place. We’ve all been in those meetings!

Move from coercion to collaboration

In policing – whether on the street, at a community meeting, the squad room, or conference room – there is always a tension between our coercive habits and our need to fully engage in collaborative decision-making. I developed the C-10 decision model to facilitate understanding that tension and discovering the optimal strategy for problem-solving.

After a problem has been identified accurately, C-10 begins with a continuum between the first two Cs, coercion (power) and collaboration (engaging in thoughtful discourse to discover solutions).

The Cs in the coercion column include control and compliance in order to achieve conformity. Under the collaboration column are creativity, cooperation and consensus.

The 10th C is completion, which is the end goal identified as the most desirable outcome.


The C-10 decision model is an optimal strategy for problem-solving in community policing.

Photo/Joel Shults

The shared characteristic of each strategy is communication. In coercion, the object of communication is to ensure that the decision-maker’s power and demands are heard and obeyed. In collaboration, the object of communication is to ensure that every voice is heard and understood.

In faux collaboration, coercion is masked by asking for everyone’s input, but only those that align with the decision-maker’s predisposed outcome are heard. The Cs of creativity, cooperation and consensus are missing from the formula. Control, compliance and conformity rule the process while collaboration makes a brief appearance for display only.

There is nothing wrong with decisive, unilateral decisions when the circumstances require and time demands are pressing. In circumstances where others are going to be asked to be invested in a lasting outcome collaborative decisions are often the most sound.

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Joel Shults retired as Chief of Police in Colorado. Over his 30-year career in uniformed law enforcement and criminal justice education, Joel served in a variety of roles: academy instructor, police chaplain, deputy coroner, investigator, community relations officer, college professor and police chief, among others. Shults earned his doctorate in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis from the University of Missouri, with a graduate degree in Public Services Administration and a bachelor degree in Criminal Justice Administration from the University of Central Missouri. In addition to service with the U.S. Army military police and CID, Shults has done observational studies with over 50 police agencies across the country. He has served on a number of advisory and advocacy boards, including the Colorado POST curriculum committee, as a subject matter expert.