Sorry, Ericka–It Isn’t Change Indy Is Spurning

I generally like Ericka Smith’s columns–indeed, she and Matt Tully generally write the only things worth reading in what used to be a real newspaper. But she got this one really, really wrong.

I know a fair number of police officers, and a significantly larger number of politicians. I also have several colleagues who work closely with IMPD as consultants and researchers. I have not heard any of them criticize Frank Straub’s ideas for change. What I have¬†heard–frequently–is criticism of Straub himself.

I have never personally met the man, but the picture painted by those who do is consistent: he came to Indianapolis with an “attitude.” He gave ¬†orders but never listened. He let everyone know that he was from a real city, and knew lots more than the “rubes” here in India-no-place. As willing as he was to dish out criticism, he was incredibly thin-skinned and defensive if anyone dared question or criticize him.

Think about your own job: how likely would you be to accept changes initiated by a boss who acted like that?

We teach public and nonprofit management at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. One of the central points we make is the importance of “owning” change. Most people–not just in Indianapolis–are uncomfortable with change; in order to effectively shift an organization, a manager must create an atmosphere of trust, must obtain not just the acquiescence, but the understanding and “buy in” of the employees who must implement that change.

If a manager doesn’t do that, it doesn’t matter how great the ideas are. (Remember Steve Goldsmith?)

Indianapolis isn’t rejecting Straub’s changes, Ericka. It’s rejecting Straub.


  1. The difference between a boss and a leader: A boss makes you do something. A leader makes you want to do it. The end result is always better when you understand and agree with the task at hand. That applies across the board, whether a private enterprise, a non-profit or government. Straub paid little to no attention to the corruption that is rampant in IMPD and that has been his biggest failing.

  2. What has Straub actually accomplished since coming here to show us the error of our ways? Did he actually learn from public safety officials and staff what they were doing and why before trying to enact what he considered improvements? Has there been improvement in any area, on any level? The Bisard investigation fiasco is a prime example of confusion and lack of understanding and respect for so-called leadership in a most important area of government – Public Safety.

  3. I believe you both are right. I don’t know Straub either and if he really is such a jerk to work with, that could create issues. However, as a life-long Indiana resident, the collective attitude for getting things done here typically is too little too late and who is to pay for it. These things are never fully investigated or explained. Witness our public transit system is continually a joke at the expense of those who urgently need it. Just like the old joke says it is true (in my area anyhow) that a pizza can arrive quicker than the police. Beyond that I agree with one of your recent articles about our collective distrust of the vast array of both public/private institutions which continually fail us. There is much improvement needed in ALL sectors of life.

  4. Just finished w/ my nonprofit management course and we did a case analysis where in my opinion the boss came in and was a tank. People want to be heard even if you don’t agree w/ what they are saying. It is also important to be humble, change is not easy, but being gracious and just listening instead of acting like a ‘know it all’ is best.

  5. I’ve lived in five Midwestern states in the course of my lifetime, from Houston, to rural Illinois, to in-between. It appears to me that police, while generally underappreciated and underpaid given the hazards of their work, are nonetheless often “untouchable” as a bureaucracy, particularly in larger ranks.

    I think Professor Kennedy nails the sad plight citizenry faces when leadership is needed to tackle inevitable inefficiency or corruption in bureaucracy, but can’t muster the “buy in”.

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