Marketplace - American Public Media
When retired U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal took control of a Joint Special Operations Task Force in Iraq, those in his charge were highly trained, and very good at their job. And yet, "what we found was, the outcomes were diminishing. I.e., we were losing the war in Iraq,” says McChrystal. “We could either continue to be very, very good at what we did and fail — or we could change ourselves fundamentally, to be successful.”
It's that lesson that McChrystal thinks business leaders should take to heart, something he chronicles in his new book, “Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World."
On getting large, bureaucratic institutions to make changes
In the organizations that I was in, which are so elite, sometimes the aversion to change or resistance is even higher. Their very identity is wrapped up into how things have been done. But there still needs to be this creation of the idea of shared consciousness that we all understand what we're trying to do against a common understanding of what the problem is, so we can react quickly.
On "sharing information until it's almost illegal"
The old idea that we will only share information with someone who needs to know, that's sort of the tagline from movies and whatnot, is basically flawed because — who knows who needs to know?
On how technology might, or might not, change the way we do business:
What we see in Silicon Valley right now is a tremendous amount of innovation. But the idea that big data is suddenly going to give us the answer to the problem is something that, in the book, we find to be incorrect because the speed at which data is being created and changed stays ahead of our ability to harness it.
On his ideal leader of the future
I really believe it's going to be someone who creates an ecosystem. In that ecosystem, the leader allows a whole host of leaders inside that to interact and be effective, and that's where the power comes from.
On the Rolling Stone article that led to his eventual retirement
In the case of trusting your staff, I trusted my team in a case that, when sometimes things come out wrong, the most important thing is to learn from it quickly, learn from it immediately, keep the confidence of the organization up and move forward and that's what I think is really important.
Since his retirement, General McChrystal has also been an advocate of universal national service. Listen to the audio below for more of his conversation with Kai Ryssdal:
Throughout this week, network TV executives and advertisers will be meeting in Manhattan to hash out deals for some $20 billion of TV ads for the upcoming year. People in the business call these meetings the “upfronts.” There's a lot of showmanship. Univision's presentation on Tuesday features a panel that includes Bill Clinton and a performance by Ricky Martin.
At one time, about three-fourths of all TV ads were booked during the upfronts. But as with most aspects of media these days, this is no longer the case.
Jon Steinlauf is president of ad Sales for Scripps Networks, which produces shows like House Hunters and Chopped. He says access to more and more consumer data means advertisers are more strategic with their investments.
"Is it better to make decisions early and get the cost savings that go along with it?" he said. "Or are we better off holding our money and making that decision closer and closer to air?"
Today’s ad buyers want both the broad reach of television and the flexibility of the internet. Steinlauf says the upfront still accounts for half of all Scripps' ad sales.
And while TV viewership has been dropping for years now, the market for content is actually bigger than ever.
"We have to bear in mind that the definitions are very very much changing in the TV landscape,” said Macquarie Media analyst Tim Nollen.
Even though the upfront may be shrinking, the news is not all bad for the networks. Nollen points to the dramatic growth of mobile apps and DVRs in creating additional platforms to sell advertising.
"How often do you see people sitting on a train, watching TV on their phone? Which was impossible to do even a few years ago," he says. "So, it’s just about everyone trying to grab pieces of that larger pie now."
Nollen notes that Nielsen ratings are still the metric used for assigning a dollar value to TV ads. However, the company is also looking at new ways to track eyeballs on things like digital ads for mobile aps.
Greece's finance minister on Monday authorized the transfer of 770 million euros to the International Monetary Fund, meaning the debt-saddled nation will meet this particular debt payment. But the Greek government will have very little fiscal liquidity for the month of May. "This is absolutely the tightest it's been," says Douglas Elliott, a fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Athens will now hope to strike a new deal with European Union creditors that would unlock more bailout money without further tightening the screws on its battered finances. The country has approximately until the end of May or June until its newly-emptied coffers run dry. The question is: can Greece and the EU work out a new deal in time?
Germany's finance minister has said he wouldn't oppose a Greek referendum on the terms of such a deal, though the implication is that Greece's left-wing Syriza government would be supporting its passage. If Greek voters were to reject the terms of a new E. U. deal, Greece would likely exit the eurozone. John Psarapoulos, a blogger for The New Athenian, says "what [Syriza] is entitled to do is negotiate a controlled presence of Greece within the eurozone. It is not authorized to negotiate an exit, even a controlled one."
But even though Syriza has talked tough toward its EU creditors, it has moved to improve the country's finances, says Vicki Pryce, chief economic advisor at the Centre for Economic and Business Research. "In other words," Pryce says, "it's improved its fiscal position a lot more than many other countries have done."
So the EU may be moved by Greece's efforts... or frustrated enough to take a tougher line.
When the anonymous sharing app Secret shut down recently after taking around $35 million in investment in its first year, it sparked an open conversation that touched on current frothy conditions in Silicon Valley, where high financing rounds and valuations have been getting more attention of late. (Secret's valuation rose $60 million over just four months last year, but this pales in comparison to Uber, which is growing so rapidly that it might be on its way to a $50 billion valuation). A Google Ventures investor was quoted saying Secret raised too much, too soon. He later wrote that it's inadvisable for companies to sell stock too early.
In an unrelated series of tweets, the president of the influential startup incubator Y Combinator presented a different view on today's startup financing scene, but one that also began on a cautionary note: "I am deeply uncomfortable by the continued phenomenon of startups raising multi-million dollar seed/Series A rounds with no board member."
We wanted to know more, so we asked Y Combinator's Sam Altman for some details:
What's the purpose of investors also serving as board members for the startups they inject money into?
An outside board member provides discipline and rigor. If the company knows they have to present to the board once a month, everyone is focused on making sure things are moving in the right direction. If there is no board meeting to act as a forcing function, there is less urgency.
Also, board members can often talk the founders out of their own (often healthy) delusions. Delusions are good in some cases but not when a company is getting close to running out of money. The board provides an important guardrail in cases like these.
When did you start to see a shift away from that arrangement becoming the norm?
I started to see the shift about four years ago. It started with the start of party rounds (lots of investors writing small checks and no one single investor taking a board seat). Then it got worse when VC firms started doing large seed rounds; they stopped taking board seats too. It's a case of being very aggressive and trying to participate in more companies than they have bandwidth to help.
What can potential investors do in this environment to balance out responsibility for a startup's performance?
I think that this is an easy problem for investors to fix — they can just return to their previous practice of rolling up their sleeves and helping companies.
Providing all kids in the U.S. with high-quality, publicly-funded preschool would take a concentrated overhaul to strengthen and build up existing state programs.
At the current progress rate, preschool for all children would take 300 years to achieve, according to Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, which issued the State of Preschool 2014 report Monday.
The 2013-14 school year saw state funding for pre-K increase by more than $116 million nationwide, or 1 percent, adjusted for inflation. About half of that spending was in just one state — Michigan.
Barnett says since spending varies widely state to state, the country is still struggling to make gains in enrollment, funding and quality; ten states don't provide state-funded pre-K programs at all.
"When the average doesn't budge, but some places are moving rapidly ahead, that just tells you other places are dropping behind,” he says.
In five states in 2013-14, state funding per child for pre-K fell by 10 percent or more from the previous year, while in five different states, per-child spending increased by the same margin.NIEERBarnett says the country spends about $1,000 less per pupil — adjusted for inflation — on pre-K now than a decade ago.
“Preschools are turning the corner, but they are turning so slowly," he says. "If we moved at the same rate as last year it would be 75 years before we enrolled half of the kids."
That's no exaggeration. From 2006 to 2010, enrollment increased every year at a steady pace. Barnett says that rate would have put half of the kids in the country in preschool in just 10 years. But from 2010 to 2014, there was effectively no progress made.
The report also reveals stark regional differences, with more students served in the east and south, compared to the west.
"It matters tremendously where you live," Barnett says. "Last time we measured quality, we saw the same disparities. There's no sense of urgency in many states."
He says more than half a million children — 40 percent of nationwide enrollment — were in programs that met less than half of the NIEER quality standards benchmarks.
"The vast majority of children served in state-funded pre-K are in programs where funding per child may be inadequate to provide a quality education."
—State of Preschool 2014
Barnett says investing in preschool yields a high return, but only if states also invest in high-quality education standards.
Nasdaq announced on Monday that it's launching an "enterprise-wide initiative" to use the blockchain—the distributed ledger that makes Bitcoin possible.
The first application will be as a service for privately-held companies to allow their shareholders to buy and sell shares on a system based on the blockchain. Instead of the transactions being recorded in the separate ledgers of various lawyers, Nasdaq CIO Brad Peterson says transactions will be recorded in a form that anyone in the market can see.
"The best argument against using the Bitcoin blockchain is that it's new," says Jim Harper, senior fellow at the Cato Institute. "It's only been around for a few years and hasn't had the real testing that it probably needs."
Harper says the Nasdaq experiment could be just such a test.
We look at what happened with German bonds; calm today after a wild ride last week. Plus, we examine the effect Fox's hit show "Empire" has had on the TV advertising game by cutting the amount of commercial time it sets aside per episode. And government contractors come in all shapes, as evidenced by a new effort from the National Park Service to hire border collies to chase geese off the National Mall.
The National Mall in Washington, D. C., has a fowl problem: Canada geese, and lots of them. These large migratory waterfowl are increasingly non-migratory thanks to relocation and hunting efforts. The roughly 3 pounds of droppings each can produce in one day can cause fish kills in ponds, and could even clog the newly-renovated reflecting pool.
"There's times of the year, when you walk over the Washington Monument grounds, there's not a place for you to put down a picnic blanket without feeling disgusting," says Michael Stachowicz, the National Park Service's turf management specialist.
That's why the government is asking for bids on a contract to have border collies (and their handlers) patrol the Mall.
Stachowicz used to work for golf courses, and that's where he first witnessed how effective border collies are for humane goose population control. "They go in this crouch," Stachowicz explains, "it's really amazing to watch these border collies transform from a great dog into something that looks really predatory and wolf-like."
That stance, according to Doug Marcks, is called "the eye." The eye is basically the border collies' trade secret. It's part of the whole pantomime these dogs like to play with geese. And play is the key word—border collies are happy without ever actually grabbing the geese. They just enjoy terrorizing them.
Doug Marcks runs Geese Police DC, which is a franchise of the larger Geese Police company, based in Illinois. He and his two border collies Max and Bell drive around the D.C. area every day and make pit stops at clients—usually large, grassy corporate campuses and the like. After enough harassment, the geese fly away at the sight of Marcks's white pickup truck. And eventually they find a new place to live.
The NPS says the dogs will likely become a permanent fixture on the National Mall.
This week, at the annual "Upfronts," TV networks will be showing off for advertisers. Among other shows, Fox will promote "Empire," which was the breakout hit last season. But "Empire" may get attention for another reason: An unusual advertising strategy.
There are more than 14 minutes of ads on the average hour of network television. But "Empire" had closer to 10 minutes, thanks to a strategy of "limited commercial interruption."
Billie Gold, VP of TV programming research at Carat, says this strategy makes the available ads more valuable—especially for launching a new product.
Why isn't this strategy used more often?
"Well, you can't do it all the time is the short answer," says Brian Wieser, senior analyst at Pivotal Research. "Because there's only so many advertisers willing to pay so much of a premium."
He says it's like the gold-plated Apple Watch of advertising—and there are only so many companies willing to pay that luxury price.
Agriculture makes up just 4 percent of Russian GDP, but that could change, as Russia announced last week the launch of a $2 billion investment fund with China to go toward agricultural projects. The two countries would cooperate on developing big swaths of arable land on each side of their borders. The partnership comes at a good time for Russia, which has been struggling since last year with sanctions from the U.S. and European Union.
Russia answered sanctions from the West by saying, "Ok. We're not importing any food from Europe or the U.S." Now, Russia's hurtling toward a recession. William Cline, senior fellow with the Peterson Institute for International Economics says Russia’s under a great deal of pressure.
At the same time, China has more than 1.3 billion mouths to feed. It's also under pressure to diversify its food and energy sources. Will Pomeranz, deputy director of the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute, says Russia’s got food and plenty of oil and gas to sell. But to put this deal in perspective, “$2 billion is just not a lot of money,” he says.
Russia’s agricultural output is more than $100 billion; China’s is more like a trillion. So Pomeranz says at best, this investment is really small potatoes. Or a modest beginning to a stronger partnership down the road.
Nathan Brooks drives all over the country delivering goods as a long-haul trucker, and when I met him at a rest stop just outside of Laramie, Wyoming, he was about to start his favorite drive: back home to Alabama. Brooks has been a trucker for 27 years, and says the job is getting harder than it used to be.
“Everything is more expensive now. There is a lot more traffic on the road. And you are more likely to get caught up in some kind of accident,” he says.
Truckers like Brooks deliver 70 percent of our domestic goods, and there are more trucks on the road now than ever. But truckers only make an average of $38,000 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and many are paid by how many loads they deliver. There’s an obvious incentive to drive as much as possible—when I asked Brooks how long he’s on the road each day, he hesitated.
“You are going to get me in trouble now,” he says.
Nathan Brooks sits in his truck.Miles Bryan
Brooks insists he stays under the federal limit of 11 hours of driving time a day, but answers like his make National Transportation Safety Board Chair Chris Hart nervous. Hart says that, since 2009, the number of trucking-caused accidents and deaths has been going up steadily.
“That [trend] is contrary to the general trend in motor vehicle accidents, which has been going down during that same time period,” says Hart.
One reason for that is fatigue—Hart says that fatigue causes 13 percent of trucking accidents, and contributes to more than half of them. In 2013, federal regulators introduced new rules for commercial trucking that reduced truckers’ weekly driving limits from 82 to 70 hours per week. More controversially, they also required truckers to take breaks at night.
“Humans are most likely to experience fatigue during the wee hours of the morning,” Hart says. “So we wanted two periods between 1:00 A.M. and 6:00 A.M. when drivers would have the opportunity to sleep.”
But those rules were suspended by a Congressional rider last December, thanks largely to the lobbying efforts of the American Trucking Associations, an industry group.
“Government shouldn't be telling people when to sleep,” says Chris Spear, the organization’s chief lobbyist. “That’s just not right.”
Spear claims that keeping truckers on the road at night is a win-win: they get clear roads and quicker delivery times, and we get truck-free commutes.
“It’s just a better time to work, but a lot of people don’t see that because they’re home in bed," Spear says.
The new trucking regulations are suspended until the completion of a congressionally-mandated safety study. Federal officials won’t tackle regulations again until October, at the earliest. In the meantime, truckers can hit the road any time they want. That is good news for Nathan Brooks, who couldn’t get back home fast enough.
“I have more trees in my front yard than there are in the entire state of Wyoming,” he says.
The value of the agriculture investment fund between Russia and China, which will go towards developing arable land on both sides of the border. But as some analysts point out, $2 billion is kind of small potatoes when considering the agricultural output of each country—Russia's is well over $100 billion, and China's is closer to a trillion.$4 million
That's how much GlaxoSmithKline will give annually for the next five years to an institute aimed at finding a cure for H.I.V. and AIDS. Created in conjunction with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Qura Therapeutics will be co-owned by the pharmaceutical company and the school, and will have the right to commercialize any findings.3 pounds
That's about how many pounds of poop a single Canadian goose produces per day. And it's a big problem for any place the geese call home. The grounds of the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C., for example, have lately been suffering from the negative effects of Goose droppings. Enter the border collie. Companies like Geese Police DC are being hired to patrol the National Mall with the dogs, who happen to enjoy scaring off the Geese without actually physically harming them.70 percent
That's the percentage of domestic goods that are delivered by truck in the U.S. But as the number of trucks on the road has gone up in recent years, so has the number of accidents. It's why attempts have been made to regulate the amount of rest truckers get before they are allowed to hit the road, as 13 percent of trucking accidents are attributed to fatigue. But the American Trucking Association argues that regulating sleep isn't the answer, as allowing trucks to drive at night means clearer roads during the day.10 minutes
That's roughly the cumulative amount of commercial time you'll watch during an hour-long episode of "Empire." Fox's smash hit set a new precedent for advertisers, as hour-long network TV shows generally have closer to 14 minutes of ads. The strategy makes ad time more valuable, and consequently, more expensive.15 seasons
Speaking of shows on Fox, it was announced Monday that singing competition juggernaut American Idol will call it quits in 2016 after 15 seasons of star-making wins, celebrity judge feuds, and (lest we forget) William Hung.
Sometimes you chase your career ambitions thousands of miles away from home.
If you want be an actor, you move to L.A. If you want to make it in finance, you live in New York.
Chad Radford is a music editor for the alternative weekly Creative Loafing. He moved to Atlanta in 1999 from Idaho. And over the last 16 years, Radford has seen thousands of bands start, and end, in the Atlanta music scene.
He says that the music scene in Atlanta draws people from all over.
"I do continually encounter people who move here just specifically for music," Radford says. "Everybody who is here in the music scene came from somewhere else."
To hear more about the Atlanta music scene, listen to the full interview using the audio player above.
Local TV news stations are apt to air live car chases — especially in California or Florida, where sprawling highway infrastructure makes for long and thrilling pursuits.
For viewers, the possibility of seeing a dramatic ending live on screen is a huge draw — entire offices can come to a standstill when a big chase is on.
But newsrooms have to consider the high stakes of showing a potentially dangerous, or deadly, situation play out in real time. Just last month, for instance, a man involved in a car chase was shot by police on live TV in Texas.
"Once you've decided to go there, it seems to me you have to ask a series of questions of yourself," he says. "Is this so important that you're willing to air the worst possible outcome?"
Listen to the full story using the audio player above.
April's non-farm payrolls report told us many things. Things such as the fact that 223,000 jobs were added in April — or that March wasn’t as good a month as we thought — and that wages are still just barely growing.
By many accounts, the monthly jobs report is really the best way we have of measuring what a healthy economy is supposed to deliver: jobs. Still, there is quite a bit more information economists wish they could glean from the jobs report.
Harvard economist Ken Rogoff says data from the jobs report is still just an estimate.
“They’re very volatile, they involve statistical sampling,” Rogoff says. “You know, they're not hard data, there's a lot that they don't pick up.”
Justin Wolfers, an economist at the University of Michigan, points out that jobs numbers come with a margin of error of 100,000, which is quite a lot. Moreover, he wishes the data had more specific information about the quality of jobs being created.
“You know, there are good jobs in retail and there are bad jobs in retail. Knowing a lot more about the details, what types of jobs are being created, would be tremendously helpful,” Wolfers says.
Because the jobs report is just a snapshot in time, economists don’t really know where the jobs are coming from. For instance, are jobs being created by employers on the supply side? Or are they simply a reflection of the fact that more people are entering the market? And perhaps most importantly, what are we benchmarking to?
“We have this sense that we're not back to full employment, but we don't know where full employment will land,” says Diane Lim, an economist at the Committee for Economic Development in Washington.
“You know there are all kinds of things changing at the same time and economists have always faced this challenge that we can never run a perfectly controlled experiment and say, 'This is the cause, because we held all else constant,' because we can never hold all else constant,” Lim says.
One thing economists are wrestling with, according to Lim, is whether the current good numbers are simply a recovery from recession, or part of a longer-term growth trend.
A bidding war appears to be in the works for a digital mapping business owned by the Finnish telecom company Nokia. The New York Times reports that Uber, the taxi and ride-sharing company, has put in a bid for as much as $3 billion for Nokia’s HERE. Also reportedly in the running is a group of German carmakers, including Audi and BMW, working with the Chinese search engine Baidu.
That’s a lot of interest in a business that isn’t exactly a household name.
“Nobody outside of the mapping industry has ever heard of Here,” says Brady Forrest, who runs the hardware incubator Highway1. “It’s, in my opinion, kind of a failed attempt at consumer branding.”
Yet Here is the biggest rival to Google Maps. Amazon and Microsoft use it. And if you’ve ever driven a car with a built-in navigation system, some 80 percent of them use Here’s data.
“Chances are you’ve used, and depending on the year, perhaps cursed at the system,” says Bryant Walker Smith, who teaches technology law at the University of South Carolina.
Uber wouldn’t comment on reports of its interest in Here. The company collects an immense amount of data about driving in major cities, says Roger Lanctot with Strategy Analytics, and wants to use it to build a logistics and shipping business.
“It’s a very powerful batch of data, all of which revolves around location. So the more accurate location you have, the better,” he says.
Right now Uber uses Google Maps, leaving Uber dependent on a competitor. Not only is Google expanding its own logistics and delivery business, both companies are pursuing driverless car technology. So are the German automakers reported to be working on a bid for HERE.
“For driverless cars to work, they need to know where they’re going,” says Forrest. “For that, they need mapping data.”
Starbucks finally gets its head out of its coffee grounds.
We're having, as you might have heard once or twice, a heckuva drought out here in the West.
So Starbucks has decided it's maybe not a great idea to be using California water for its Ethos bottled water brand.
Mother Jones magazine reported a little more than a week ago that the coffee chain was using private springs up near the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Starbucks said today: yeah, no — we'll use Pennsylvania water for at least the next six months.
Joining Kai to talk about the week's business and economic news are Nela Richardson from Redfin and the Wall Street Journal's John Carney. The big topics this week: the Labor Department releases its monthly jobs report, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen comments on stock values, and the possibility of Great Britain and Greece withdrawing from the European Union and the Eurozone, respectively, continues to be debated.
Lupita Carabes is a young woman just starting out in the workforce.
Carabes recently graduated from the University of Portland, majoring in Electrical Engineering with a minor in Computer Science.
At a job fair this spring at her school, she stood out in the crowded field. Carabes is the first person in her family to get a college degree, and says that's just one of the reasons she's a quadruple threat in her industry:
"I am a woman, and engineer, and a Latina," she says. She recently accepted a job at IBM.
To hear more of Carabes' story, listen to the full interview using the audio player above.
When it comes to what stresses police officers out, it's not the car chases, or the threat of getting shot at, or even killed.
Ask Cherie Castellano, director of Cop2Cop, a 24 hour hotline which fields up to 850 phone calls every month for stressed-out police officers, and she'll tell you — the worst part of an officer's job is secondhand trauma: exposure to murders, car accidents, seeing hurt kids. All the horrible things police have to deal with on a daily basis. But she says there's a close number two. Some argue it may even be number one. And it happens after the car chases are over.
It's something Brian Higgins knows all about.
"What frustrated me was all the other stuff, the administrative baloney," says Higgins, a police officer who served for 27 years and recently retired as chief of police for Bergen County, NJ.
For lots of cops, it's the stress that festers on the inside: administrative nitpicking, being micromanaged, charged with trivial offenses and being poorly managed that really bothers them.
Higgins says as the son, and grandson, of a police officer, he was fully aware of what he was getting into when it came to the physical risks on the street.
"I expected this," he says, "chasing people, getting shot at. That's why I have a job with benefits, that's why they buy me a bullet proof vest, that's why they buy a gun, that's why they give me very good training because that's what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna chase people, I might get hurt."
Politics of policing
But what Higgins and many other cops say they don't want is to have to deal with is the inescapable politics of policing. If you've ever seen the HBO police show, "The Wire" you know what he's talking about. The entire series, spanning six years kicks off when a detective, named Jimmy McNulty, makes his boss look bad — by accident. His boss begins a campaign to make McNulty's professional life a misery.
Pluck that bad boss out of the television. Plunk him down behind a real world desk, give him a uniform, a badge and an enormous, detailed rulebook with which he administers discipline and you have a living, breathing example of one of the problems Higgins is talking about.
"I had a buddy of mine [who] jumped into a river for a helicopter that went down, rescued two people and when the chief showed up, he was asked where his hat was," he says. "That's so frustrating, it makes you wanna just lash out."
"The evidence is pretty clear that the sources of stress tend to come mostly from administrative issues internal to the organization," says Robert Kane, director of the Criminology and Justice Studies program at Drexel University.
Breaking the rules
In many cases, says Kane, police officers are weighed down with many more rules than other professions. Following all of them, he says, can make it very difficult for officers to do their jobs.
"Whether they wear short sleeves or long sleeves in their uniform, the position of their name plate or their badge. In many police organizations, a lot of these little nitpicky things are called 'white socks violations,'" he says.
There are so many rules, Kane says, it’s almost impossible to do the job without breaking some. From the seemingly trivial, to bigger issues, like when it's ok to pull out your gun or taser. The problem is so widespread cops have a saying about it, "I'd rather be judged by 12 than carried by six." Which translates into: police officers would rather be judged by jury of twelve, than be carried by six pall bearers at their own funeral.
"They know they're breaking the rules, but in their minds it's a rule that's worth breaking," Kane says.
Officers, he says, are much more willing to risk a rule violation than place themselves at risk.
"In their minds, they’re telling you, 'I could get killed out here and I’m going to use the tools of my trade in ways that I think are best for me and my colleagues,'" Kane says.
Keeping people happy
Jon Shane, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, says part of the administrative stress officers cope with also stems from the way they're hired and promoted. Something he witnessed firsthand during his 16-year tenure on the Newark, N.J. police force from which he retired as a captain.
“I certainly watched people get promoted into positions that they clearly did not have the knowledge, skills or abilities to do," he says.
Politics, says Shane, are to blame. Often, chiefs are appointed by politicians. So, there's the inherent pressure of keeping your job. You need to be sure the politicians are kept happy.
"You’re told how you’re going to do your job. You’re going to be told who gets a summons and who doesn't," he says. "So we have speeding problems on this street, but on this street you have several council members who might be speeding. You're not going to set up an enforcement operation on that street, you're going to go to another street where no one is likely to complain."
Shane says that expectation of loyalty moves right down the ranks. Captains have to keep chiefs happy, lieutenants keep captains happy, and so on. He says this means departments officers can be hired based on loyalty, and not because they're the best candidate for the job. And all of this, he says, can breed cynicism, and ethics can start to slip away.
"Because the sentiment is, 'nobody really cares,'" he says. "'Look at the people above me, what they're doing. If they're doing those things, nobody is going to care what I'm doing down here.'"
All of the stress cops face on the job, says Shane, can drive some of them to drug and alcohol abuse, suicide and even excessive use of force.
If the idea that workplace stress can cause such an extreme response seems shocking or surprising, it's not as counter intuitive as you may think, says Dr. George Everly, a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and a specialist in stress, trauma and human resilience, who's worked with cops for decades.
“I’ve heard it for 30 years," he says. "What is stress? It is arousal. It is a survival mechanism."
Officers, Everly says, are the thin blue line "between innocent, law abiding people and those who would do them harm."
The military aside, he notes, it's hard to find many comparable professions where every day work is done in a landscape of potential violence.
“There are few jobs that have those weights in them," he says.
When you think about what stress is — the fight or flight response and what police do — it makes sense. “In the context of violence it is predictable that you would escalate the violence,” he says.
A broken system
To those who question the connection between workplace stress and cops lashing out, Everly says, people who haven't done the job simply have no idea what they're talking about.
"Like me offering an opinion about being an astronaut," he says. "Those people need to get out of their offices and get out on the street."
But it's between the street and police department where cops are getting squeezed. Higgins says police officers have less and less discretion about how they do their jobs, which exacerbates existing stress even further.
"Sit in your car, walk your beat, shut your mouth and only do what the book allows you. In the business world you'd leave your job," he says.
But, he notes, often times police can't. Except for the top jobs, like chief, they're stuck. If you to move from one police department to another, because of the complex chain of loyalties, you have to start from the bottom. The current focus on problems with individual officers, Higgins says, is ignoring a bigger problem: the system is broken.
"If it was the subject, who waved the gun around you'd have certain groups who'd come out and say they had mental health, why didn't we ask why was he waving the gun, I get that," he says. "But there's nobody asking about the cop. 'Why did the cop react this way?'"