Organizational Culture Eats Policy for Lunch

Organizational Culture Eats Policy for Lunch
By Chief Steve Anderson
Metropolitan Nashville PD (2015)



In December 2014, President Barack Obama signed an Executive Order authorizing The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. The final report of that Task Force was released to the public on May 18, 2015. Shortly afterwards, Chief Steve Anderson of the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department (MNPD) surveyed his department on the proposition that “Organization Culture Eats Policy for Lunch.”

On July 15, 2915, Chief Anderson wrote about his own reactions to the responses and included some of those responses. With his permission, we provide a brief excerpt from that email and a link to the full text below.

From Chief Anderson’s Email to the MMPD

… I must admit that your responses and analysis were much more perceptive than my initial understanding as to the gravity of this statement. Many of you correctly identified this statement as being utilized in the BJA Executive Session on Police Leadership is a multi-year endeavor started in 2010 with the goal of developing innovative thinking that would help create police leaders uniquely qualified to meet the challenges of a changing public safety landscape.

In support of an integrated approach to creating safe and viable communities across America, the project directors recruited 20+ principals from a range of disciplines. The principals, in turn, led national field teams of practitioners focused on the work of policing and the organization of the future.

To gain new insights on leadership, the BJA Executive Session on Police Leadership engaged police chiefs in documenting their own paths and invited leaders to participate in various audio and video forums to tell their stories and discuss the future of policing and police leadership. Please visit our website,, to learn more about this project and to access a broad array of interactive, multimedia resources.

There’s an old saying, “Organizational culture eats policy for lunch.” Any law enforcement organization can make great rules and policies that emphasize the guardian role, but if policies conflict with the existing culture, they will not be institutionalized and behavior will not change. In police work, the vast majority of an officer’s work is done independently outside the immediate oversight of a supervisor. But consistent enforcement of rules that conflict with a military-style culture, where obedience to the chain of command is the norm, is nearly impossible. Behavior is more likely to conform to culture than rules. The culture of policing is also important to the proper exercise of officer discretion and use of authority, as task force member Tracey Meares has written. The values and ethics of the agency will guide officers in their decision-making process; they cannot simply rely on rules and policy to act in encounters with the public. Good policing is more than just complying with the law. Sometimes actions are perfectly permitted by policy, but that does not always mean an officer should take those actions. Adopting procedural justice as the guiding principle for internal and external policies and practices can be the underpinning of a change in culture and should contribute to building trust and confidence in the community. The first two times I read this report the meaning, and value, of this statement did not resonate with me. It went over my head, unnoticed. The third time, something made it pop off the page at me. It was then I realized that this was a concept that I knew and understood but would not have had the ability to articulate in such a succinct manner.




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