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Mike Micklewright


Gemba Walks or Video Surveillance?

A dichotomy of two approaches

Published: Tuesday, February 23, 2016 - 11:20

In October 2014, 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times by a Chicago police officer. In November 2015, footage of the shooting was released and has been viewed all over the world. The footage shows an aggressive attack by a police officer, a supposed person of service to the community, as he shot Laquan walking away from him and then falling to the ground after the first two shots were fired. Fourteen more shots were fired into his lifeless body lying in the street.

In an understood code of silence, other officers on the scene claimed in their written accounts that McDonald had “lunged” at officers with a knife, causing them to fear for their lives. As is blatantly evident in the video below, this was simply not true.

As violent as this was, and as often happens, the crime that followed was just as bad, if not worse. It’s the crime that covers up the first crime, adding fuel to a fire that’s already ablaze. In this case, the City of Chicago withheld the dashboard camera video from public view until a Cook County judge ordered that it be made public—over one year later. On the day the video was released, prosecutors charged Officer Jason Van Dyke with murder, the police superintendent was eventually forced to resign, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been on the hot seat as more people call for his resignation over the lack of transparency surrounding the video.

The McDonald family was paid off with a $5 million dollar settlement—complete with a confidentiality agreement prohibiting release of the footage. This settlement was offered by the city in mid-March 2015 but not voted on by the city council until mid-April, after Emanuel had safely won his mayoral runoff.

Just days after protests erupted in Chicago, the city’s police department announced that it was expanding a pilot program that puts body cameras on officers. Mayor Emanuel announced that officers in six new precincts would receive cameras by the middle of 2016. The program currently operates in one precinct with about 30 cameras.

Craig Futterman, a law professor and director of the University of Chicago’s police accountability project, said body cameras are a good tool but far from a solution to the problem. “Body cameras don’t address the underlying reasons why this occurred,” he says. “People look for that magical elixir for police violence, and this isn’t that.”

At the gemba—Chicago police style

This story made me think about the relationship between what we preach in the kaizen world as going to the gemba and observing the actual situation for the purpose of improvement, and the approach taken by the Chicago police administration to be at the gemba for the purpose of, dare I say, assigning blame. Chicago police and the public would be much better served by conducting real gemba walks as we encourage in the kaizen world.

Three questions came to mind when I think of this relationship, and they might be important for all of us to ponder when we implement gemba walks within our own facilities.

Is there a code of silence in your facility?
For years, Chicago cops have complained that the community doesn’t assist them with their criminal investigations or support the actions they take to prevent shootings. They blame the victims of crimes and the witnesses living in a dangerous part of the city. And yet, for as long as anyone can remember, Chicago cops have had the reputation of protecting their own. When we watch the video of Laquan’s killing, we can see that the other officers could clearly see what transpired that night in October 2014, and yet detailed accounts from several of them describe how Laquan lunged at Officer Van Dyke with a knife. This was clearly not the case. They lied.

How are criminals and witnesses expected to provide information about what they saw, jeopardizing their lives and reputations, if police officers won’t take a leadership role by practicing what they preach? The real enemy for a gang member isn’t so much an opposing gang member as it is the police force itself. There’s no trust between the two parties, and this is reflected in each other’s “code of silence.”

What’s being done to get to the root cause of the lack of trust between the two parties and remedy this situation? Will increasing the number of body cams build trust? As Futterman states, “Body cameras don’t address the underlying reasons why this occurred.” In fact, body cameras will lessen trust and increase the “we-them” conflict between the administration, street cops, and the public.

• Is there a code of silence between your people or within your departments?
• Are your gemba walks, and the way that you perform them, encouraging or eliminating the code of silence?
• What is the root cause of the existence of the code of silence, and what are you doing to address it?
• Are you doing gemba walks?

What is the stated purpose of your gemba walks, and is this known to all employees?
The purpose of adding more body cams to police officers is to help protect the public against police misconduct, and at the same time help protect police against false accusations of abuse. It’s an inspection tool just like any inspection tool within your facility. The purpose of any inspection tool is to protect the customer against product nonconformities and at the same time help protect the supplier against false accusations of nonconformities. The City of Chicago is adding an inspection tool but still doing nothing to improve processes. Real gemba walks, performed correctly, would focus on observing and improving processes—like the process of addressing a suspect, the communication process with a suspect, the process of stabilizing the situation, and the process of reporting one’s account of the situation.

• Do your employees view the gemba walk as a tool you use to inspect them?
• Do they dislike gemba walks, and are they nervous when they occur?
• Do they prepare for a gemba walk in advance by tidying up or fixing their visual management boards?
• Have you stated and properly communicated the purpose of gemba walks to all employees?
• Are employees learning? Are you doing gemba walks correctly?

Are your gemba walks unbiased?
Pastor James T. Meeks is the founder and senior pastor of Salem Baptist Church of Chicago, one of the fastest-growing megachurches in the United States. Salem is the largest African American church in Illinois, with more than 15,000 members. Meeks was also an Illinois state senator from 2003 to 2013.

Meeks recently commented that one of the positive things that resulted from the release of the dashboard cam video of the shooting of Laquan McDonald is that everyone saw exactly what happened from an unbiased point of view. It was such a blatant and obvious act of unprovoked violence that no one could make an argument to the contrary. As such, many marches were organized and held in downtown Chicago. For the first time ever, Meeks stated that there were more marches organized by the white community than there was by the black community. The bias was broken. A true gemba walk done properly eliminates bias. It focuses on process. Whites seemed to be just as appalled as blacks at the process of dealing with McDonald.

• Are your gemba walks unbiased?
• Are you inclined to provide more constructive gemba walks that focus on process in some areas more than others, depending on your area of responsibility?
• Do you feed people the answers you want them to give you?
• Are you open-minded and listen to employee suggestions without bias about improvement opportunities and eliminating waste?

Hopefully, no one relies on video surveillance as a tool for process improvement in the business world. Many people in many organizations claim to perform gemba walks, but many don’t perform them properly. Ponder, address, and discuss the questions above and see if you’re headed in the right direction, unlike the Chicago Police Department.

First published Feb. 4, 2016, on the Kaizen Institute blog.


About The Author

Mike Micklewright’s picture

Mike Micklewright

Mike Micklewright has been teaching and facilitating quality and lean principles worldwide for more than 25 years. He specializes in creating lean and continuous improvement cultures, and has implemented continuous improvement systems and facilitated kaizen/Six Sigma events in hundreds of organizations in the aerospace, automotive, entertainment, manufacturing, food, healthcare, and warehousing industries. Micklewright is the U.S. director and senior consultant for Kaizen Institute. He has an engineering degree from the University of Illinois, and he is ASQ-certified as a Six Sigma Black Belt, quality auditor, quality engineer, manager of quality/operational excellence, and supply chain analyst.

Micklewright hosts a video training series by Kaizen Institute on integrating lean and quality management systems in order to reduce waste.