How Chaos Theory Applies
to the Pandemic and Policing
Assistant Director (Ret.)
Miami-Dade Police Department
As I contemplate writing this leadership article, I reflect on my supervisory experiences in my long policing career during significant special events that resulted from unplanned actions and human involvement. In policing we traditionally look at chaos as disturbances and rule-breaking situations that are out of control. Unfortunately, not many supervisors or high-level administrators see it as an opportunity for change and betterment. Chaos has permeated the policing supervisory ranks since the inception of the Policing Political Era (1840-1930). Police Officers and supervisors throughout history have experience chaos in the communities. In fact, the policing profession confronts temporary chaotic disturbances and situations on a daily basis. What have we learned from chaos? Can chaos contribute to a better and more service oriented policing organization? Questions are important to ask, to identify and define answers and promote solutions to challenges we see as problems. To move forward in these difficult and complex times, we must gather information, study it and deliver the best conclusions to instill best practices. Policing personnel cannot be apprehensive about chaos. Chaos has been in the forefront of human history since the inception of time.
Although science and corresponding theoretical applications are boring, in Kiel’s Managing Chaos and Complexity in Government (1994) we absorb and understand cause and effect from a scientific validation. Policing has become a science driven profession, a vocation that must question validity to historical policies and procedures. Now the tedious but important science part; Chaos Theory is based on Newtonian Mechanical Principles of unpredictability and uncertainty experienced at the quantum level (Wheatley & Hickman, 1998). How does this scientific statement apply to the pragmatic policing world today? No matter how much or how long organizations resists chaos, it unexplainably rears its ugly head and takes supervisors and administrators by surprise. The current pandemic began on the other side of the world as policing organizations went about their daily and temporary chaotic business. When the pandemic hit the United States and practically all over the world, service-oriented organizations began to dread the new situation. The unknown is a variable hard to embrace and quantify therefore, policing administrators and supervisors began to worry and some contemplated the ill-advised possibility of implementing new policies and procedures to confront this demanding and sustainable crisis.
It’s important to embrace what Viktor Frankl (1959) believed in; “its not to gain pleasure or to avoid pain but rather to see meaning in life.” As police administrators and supervisors, we must see and recognize a deeper meaning about the pandemic. We must trust the workers of chaos as part of our everyday encounters. It’s important to denote that as part of our everyday functions and services we can see and appreciate that the policy and procedural shape of our organization can be maintained if we retain clarity, flexibility and responsiveness about the purpose and direction of the organization. If chaos overwhelms normal and adaptive conditions within the agency then police administrators and Leaders of the organization are compelled the use of innovative efforts and alliances to restore stability, this is called Bifurcation. It’s not about what spins out of control, but the ultimate value is how order is restored against seemly insurmountable adversity (Swanson, R.S., Territo, L. & Taylor, R.W., 2017). As leaders in police agencies we must see and embrace chaos as an opportunity to know the capacity and capabilities of our policies and procedures and to “Bifurcate” if the situation demands it.
Swanson, R. C., Territo, L., Taylor, R.W. (2017). Police Administration, structures, processes, and behaviors, 9th edition, Pearson Education, Library of Congress.
Hickman, G. R., & Wheatley, M.J. (1998). Leading Organizations, Perspectives for a new era, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, California.