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MSP reinventing the chain of command

A revolutionary internal movement is quietly underway at the Michigan State Police, with a new sheriff in town (or should we say colonel) who is trying to “scrub” some of the department’s time-honored traditions with the aim of bringing more than just paramilitary types into the trooper ranks. Suffice it to say, Col. Joseph Gasper’s thinking could trigger an old-school vs. new-school debate within the MSP.

A point that he privately acknowledges.

The bottom line here is that the 19th director of the department is not making a seamless transition from all of his predecessors. In fact, he’s ripping out some of the seams starting with the links in the so-called chain of command system used by the department for decades.

He is turning that puppy on its ear.

For anyone with even the most remote knowledge of how the “chain” works, you know that it’s a top-down system where critical decisions are made by the officers at the top of the chain and then transmitted to others at various links along the chain, down to the very bottom. The implication is the folks at the top are smarter than those at the bottom.

Now comes Col. Gasper.

“I believe in empowering our employees and taking the ability to make decisions and moving that to the information, instead of having the information being sent someplace other than where they have it,” he explains.

Here’s his example: Let’s say a local post commander is dealing with a local issue, whatever it may be. He or she is on the front lines. They know all the players and all the nuanced ins and outs of the problem. They have all the information, while, in Lansing, they share none of that direct knowledge. Under the old system, the commander would seek direction from the top of the chain before he or she opened their mouths. Col. Gasper disagrees.

“He or she should have the ability to make decisions having the majority of the information vs. having to send that information to some place in Lansing so that Lansing can weigh in on it,” he goes on.

If that sounds like decentralization of decision-making to you, the director notes that’s exactly what he wants: “We are trying to encourage a leader-leader philosophy vs. a leader-follower philosophy.”

That is not your grandfather’s chain of command, and Mr. Gasper is practicing what he’s preaching.

Soon after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer selected him, with a strong recommendation from former Gov. Rick Snyder, who had worked with Mr. Gasper on his security detail, the director asked for a meeting with the president of the state trooper’s union. The old-school protocol would have dictated, the president make the visit to the director’s office. But it went the other way around.

Did that produce some flak?” he was asked on “Off the Record.”

“I wouldn’t say flak,” he offered.

Was there some criticism?

“No.”

Were there some comments?

Bingo.

Now he is smiling, and confirms there were comments, but he does not frame them in any kind of negative light.

“That’s just who I am,” he explains his non-traditional strategy for engagement. He reports he has done the same thing with other law enforcement agencies around the state as they work on their cooperation thing.

As for the “scrubbing” of traditions, one aspect he is working on is the approach to training new recruits. The department is struggling to sign up more of them.

He has identified that some of those would-be troopers are all in on the paramilitary model: “They are attracted to that.”

But he is also aware that there are other would-be recruits who are not so gung-ho.

“We have to make sure that the true traditions that we have we keep, but some of them that might not be so …”

Before he finishes his thought, he is asked: Does that mean the days of drill sergeants getting in the face of recruits and shouting at them is out the door?

“There is value in teaching discipline, but, at the same time, there are other ways to teach discipline, and we do need to evolve?”

He goes counter to the “get down and give me 50 sit-ups” approach.

And, to put a ribbon on the new chain of command thing: “So, as we look at how we’re going to do the training in the future, we need to look at what the future generations are going to want, because they are the future.”

Asking recruits what they want? Really?

Like, recruit Jones, do you think we should have more physical training?

Egads, the old-school veterans in the department will gag on that.

But they better not let the new sheriff hear them.