THE BLOG

On Police Brutality

05/04/2015 01:37 pm ET | Updated May 01, 2016

Everywhere one looks the press and television are filled with accounts of police brutality. Ferguson, Missouri, now Baltimore......what is going on?

Here is how I see it.

People need rewards or some kind of reinforcement for what they do.

I see rewards generally falling into two categories: extrinsic and intrinsic.

Extrinsic rewards take the form of money and status. They need external verification for their worth. The value of money depends on what you can buy with it; thus the external verification. And status has the same characteristic. How much the status is worth depends on how others view it or appreciate it.

The problem is that extrinsic rewards do not motivate individuals. Quite the reverse. If you receive an extrinsic reward---be it money or status--- you are not motivated because you simply expect to be paid or recognized for the work you do. But if you do not get what you expect, it undermines motivation. (Hertzberg discovered that a long time ago).

Moreover, it was discovered by researchers that to keep extrinsic rewards from losing their motivating power, they need to be continually increased otherwise motivation begins to fall. It works somewhat like this. If a worker receives a salary increase of five percent this year, to keep from losing motivation, he or she needs to get six and then seven percent increases and more thereafter even though they have done little to merit the rise in pay. In short, extrinsic rewards do not make people feel they have been rewarded.

Intrinsic rewards are different. They do not require any external verification. The job performed well generates the reward. As a test pilot once told me after flying me at 1.9 Mach and 5 Gs: "would you believe they pay me for this...."

The intrinsic reward is also attached to how one performs their job, from the source of power the task gives, from being in control, being powerful, being capable of inflicting pain or reward on others. That becomes the source of reward.

The intrinsic reward is internalized. It is related to a belief...essentially the belief that one can achieve a mission.

And lastly, the intrinsic reward comes from being helpful to others; there is a reward from realizing that you made a difference in someone's life.

Now let us take some examples:

Who has no increasing financial reward, no recognition yet, no mission, no affiliation that he or she is helping anyone, no power? The only reward is from doing the task?

Artists. Like a painter or musician at the beginning of their career.

Who has no real salary, no real status, no power, and does not necessarily feel helpful? The only reward is fulfilling a mission?

Missionaries.

Who has no power, no sense of reward from affiliation, no sense of mission, no status, and the only reward is money?

Workers on the line. And that explains why they ask for salary increases all the time even if there is no inflation. Nor is it strange that they turn to unions to exercise some power on their behalf. And when salary increases are denied, and unionization is rejected, some workers sabotage the production line to show power nevertheless.

Now the point of this blog:

Who has not seen salary increases for quite a while, status is low, does not understand the mission well, does not feel helpful, the job is not that interesting, and the only reward lies in the exercise of power?

Bureaucrats?

Prison wardens?

Security people at airports?

How about police officers?

What do policemen receive? The salary is poor and, as we already said, it does not motivate. Their status in society is low. In terms of respect and recognition, their sense of being valued in society, they are nestled somewhere towards the bottom of the totem pole.

The job may be somewhat interesting for some policemen which might keep them happy and excited on the job. But the reward rests clearly in the form of police power. And, alas, some overuse it. This becomes their only source of reward.

The way to cut brutality is to seriously indoctrinate police officers. Make clear to them that their mission is "to protect and to SERVE." Where is the service? Think of how to make policemen and policewomen realize how truly helpful they are. Let them meet the victims of crime they have saved and protected. Fill their life with meaning that supplants the need to exercise power as a source of reward.
Give them status, recognition. Where was the last time any city had a day of recognition for its police officers?

Society needs to reward policemen with a sense of mission, make them feel how helpful they are, and improve their status with recognition. When that happens, I suggest, and believe, the need to use of power will decline.