The CopDoc Podcast: Aiming for Excellence in Leadership

Humanizing Law Enforcement: Insightful Chat with Undersheriff Chris Hsiung

January 16, 2024 Chris Hsiung Season 6 Episode 120
The CopDoc Podcast: Aiming for Excellence in Leadership
Humanizing Law Enforcement: Insightful Chat with Undersheriff Chris Hsiung
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Season 5 - Episode 120
Ever wondered how the seemingly stern face of law enforcement could be humanized? We've got Chris Hsiung, the undersheriff of San Mateo County, sharing his own experiences and insights on this matter. A veteran with 28 years at the Mountain View Police Department, Hsiung believes in the power of social media to break down barriers and build stronger community relations. He walks through his journey and how he's used modern tools of communication to reshape public perception of law enforcement.

Chris is co-founder of The Curve, to dive headfirst into the topic of police culture reform. This includes Simon Sinek and other forward-thinking police executives.  With a unique perspective on the importance of human skills and the power of difficult conversations, Hsiung is candid in discussing the need for a safe, positive work environment. He brings to the table his insights on leadership development and the unexpected value of book clubs in fostering camaraderie and changing police culture for the better. 

In our chat with Chris, he talks about leadership and decision-making in organizations. Sheriff Hsiung emphasizes the importance of intentional and inclusive decision-making, continuous innovation, and the crucial role of placing the right people in the right positions.

Please listen for an enlightening conversation that offers a multifaceted look at law enforcement, leadership, and the road to a better future for law enforcement. 

#chrishsiung #SanMateoSheriff #MountqainViewPolice #TheCurve
#SteveMorreale #TheCopDocPodcast #WorcesterStateUniversity

Contact us: copdoc.podcast@gmail.com

Website: www.copdocpodcast.com

If you'd like to arrange for facilitated training, or consulting, or talk about steps you might take to improve your leadership and help in your quest for promotion, contact Steve at stephen.morreale@gmail.com

Intro-Outro:

Welcome to The Cop Doc Podcast. This podcast explores police leadership issues and innovative ideas. The CopD oc shares thoughts and ideas as he talks with leaders in policing communities, academia and other government agencies. And now please join Dr. Steve Morreale and industry thought leaders as they share their insights and experience on The Cop Doc Podcast.

Steve Morreale:

Back again, everybody. Steve Morreale hello, I'm coming to you from Boston and today we are on a bicoastal call. We're talking to Chris Chung and he is the the undersheriff at San Mateo County. So I want to say hello to you.

Chris Hsiung:

Chris, good morning from the West Coast.

Steve Morreale:

Yes, Thank you. Thank you and sorry, we had a bit of technical difficulty. Sometimes I am challenged by these changes and when I start talking to people in Australia, oh, do I screw that up because of the time differences? But anyway, we got you in here, so thank you. I'd like very much to talk about you and about how you ended up where you are and your trajectory through policing and, most importantly, what the hell is an under sheriff? I mean, most people know, but that's a title that not everybody knows. So tell us about yourself, chris.

Chris Hsiung:

Sure, Well thanks. I spent 28 years at the Mountain View Police Department and Mountain View is located in the heart of Silicon Valley moved around through the ranks, all different assignments, spent most of my time either in detectives and then the back half and leadership positions, the last two years there as the police chief. It's just a tremendous opportunity. I'm kind of a techie person myself, so being in that role in that city, surrounded by companies like Google, LinkedIn, Intuit, Symantec, I mean it was just kind of the best of both worlds for me. Last year I was approached by Sheriff Christina Corpus from the San Mateo County Sheriff's office. She had just won her election and was going to become the new sheriff as of January of 2023. And she basically made an offer and said I'd love for you to become my under sheriff. And, to your point, the first thought in my head was what's an under sheriff? So even you question that I wasn't sure myself. I spent my whole career on the police side of things and I mean I knew plenty of sheriff colleagues and stuff, but it's basically the number two. You know, maybe in police parlance you would know it as an assistant chief or a deputy chief, but my responsibility is at the sheriff's office, is to just really support her vision, which really the more we talk, the more we figured out that we're both trying to accomplish the same thing. You know, really make a positive change in modernizing policing. And for me I get to run the operations and just I actually live in the county, so to me I get to come home in a sense and serve the community that I grew up and still live in.

Steve Morreale:

So let's talk about it for the listeners to understand. Compare a bit the size of the police department you came from in Mountain View to where you're at now. Size, geography, those kinds of things.

Chris Hsiung:

So Mountain View had about 96 sworn officers with the professional staff, about 40 folks, and so, by comparison, samtou County Sheriff's Office is almost like six times larger, or budgeted for 450 deputies and with a huge professional staff and, as you can imagine, a county obviously is going to be geographically much larger. For your listeners, if you're not familiar with our county, where it's at, so everyone probably knows where San Francisco is. We are the county that borders San Francisco to the south and then we'll go all the way down to Santa Clara County, which is about where Mountain View, palo Alto, is.

Steve Morreale:

Did you tell me that SFO was actually in your county? It is Okay, I think that would place it very easily for people.

Chris Hsiung:

Yeah, so if you fly to San Francisco and you landed at San Francisco International Airport, you are actually landing in San Mateo County.

Steve Morreale:

I'll bet that rankles you a little bit. You know why? Isn't it the San Mateo Airport? But anyway, so that's great. So here you are, you are leading a police department. I know that in many ways, that you were very big in social media and understanding the value of social media. And let's just go back a little bit in time about and you were a PIO, as I was, and so how did you evolve to say we need to use this to communicate?

Chris Hsiung:

So I believe it was 2013. And you have to remember way back then. I believe Mountain View PD might have been one of the first agencies to get on Twitter but, like many agencies that started to get active on social, we were using it as a one way push of information. So you know how government is we push out our information and anyone comments. Well, we didn't know about comments back then, right? So we were being surrounded by a community that was very tech savvy. Social media companies were popping up at the time. I was very fortunate I was a lieutenant at the time and I was fortunate to have a captain and a chief who were very supportive in taking chances, taking responsible risk, taking right, and I said, hey, I really want to try something new on the social media thing, and that's using it differently, using it more conversationally, professional use of humor, really humanizing the voice and tone, and that really wasn't very common back then. When we tried it, the community loved it. The time I had a neighboring agency, palo Alto Police Department, a good friend of mine who is now a captain there, zac Perone. He was also a lieutenant at the time and we began to just try things him on his accounts for Palo Alto PD myself on mine and Mountain View PD and we really knew we were onto something because the community loved it. We actually changed the information flow process in the Bay Area with the media where at the time, the media call us or email us for updates. We started to train them that if you wanted to know anything happening, you'll get everything you want and more. We would post photos, we would post breaking information. The media loved it because it saved them from having to chase us down right and so, anecdotally, we saw calls into dispatch drop because we could really manage the incident management of it. And then Zac and I went on the road show and started teaching for ISCP and conferences all across the country. And I'm not here to say that we invented anything. I think what we found was we found fellow innovators and early adopters. We had other PIOs from across the country through the ISCP network and we all started talking and just started understanding that we are definitely onto something. And then you fast forward 10 years from now. It's just incredible where the industry has gone. I know you interviewed Katie Nelson. She was the second PIO that I brought on doing great things and so the field is always pushing itself.

Steve Morreale:

There continue to be some incredible communicators all across the country doing great work that they often don't get recognized for we're talking to Chris Chung and he is the under sheriff in San Mateo County and we're talking a little bit about social media. We're going to be talking about culture pretty soon and the impact of everything that's going on in the world related to policing. But I'm quite curious and to hear from your perspective this idea of using social media in essence and what I see a lot of a lot happening. Chris and you talked about humanizing policing. There are so many good things that police do, but storytelling is a really important thing. But I also would suggest to you that so many who might be listening, even though they would be very late adopters if they started to become too way with it, I think they have to recognize that so many young people today, this is their only way of getting, so do we have to capitalize on that? Talk about that and talk about as we fast forward. Talk about what you're doing, where you are now, and whether that represents a change in the way you're communicating from San Mateo to the people who you serve.

Chris Hsiung:

So here's the interesting thing we're actually at a crossroads again. As you know, social platforms continue to evolve and one of the best ones was Twitter for agencies and for breaking news and stuff like that, and now that's becoming kind of a dumpster fire, and I just started an article this morning that we don't even know if it's going to exist in the near future the new. X, the new X. I look at the chatter from my colleagues, tio colleagues, from across the country. Many of them are not getting the engagement that they used to on X, and so they've backed away and we're looking at other options. Facebook is not ideal for that. Instagram is not a news platform and so and here's the thing is is not everyone's on social. A lot of people are just tired of it, right.

Steve Morreale:

And so it's over with some information overload.

Chris Hsiung:

Yeah, I was asked the other day. You know well what's next. I don't know. I don't know that it exists right now to really inform people. I'm sure someone's going to fill that void, but it's just going to take some time.

Steve Morreale:

Katie mentioned something that was sort of unusual. It was that they were using neighborhood and that's an interesting perspective, but unfortunately that that can be almost geospatial. You know, you've got this part, this part, this way, so you would have I don't know how you would broadcast to all of those. But again bringing it back to San Mateo, are you engaging in utilizing social media more than you were before, more than they were before?

Chris Hsiung:

Yes, Actually, I forgot to mention next door. I really really like next door.

Steve Morreale:

I said neighborhood, I'm sorry, next door. Thank, you.

Chris Hsiung:

I think that's a hyper local aspect of it and that everyone is opted in to that platform when they're in that neighborhood. So at San Mateo County, what we've done is, because we have three contract cities, that each of the bureau captains in charge of those contract cities actually has a presence on next door. So if you're a resident in those cities, you're being messaged by your bureau chief, right, and it allows us, since we have such a large footprint, to message either as headquarters or message specifically. So there is some promise there. But again, you know, even next door, a lot of people shy away from it because it tends to be a little unwieldy at times.

Steve Morreale:

But yeah, so let's talk about your drill as under sheriff in San Mateo. We had the opportunity to speak for a little bit before we came in contact for this podcast. Then you were talking about working on trying to change culture, and so talk about that. What was the point of view where somebody said the sheriff said we need to change culture? That's a big, big job.

Chris Hsiung:

Yes, and the corpus ran on that platform of a sheriff's office that, though it was filled with incredibly dedicated men and women, the culture in the office at the time was due for a change. It needed some modernizing, and that's the platform she ran on and that was kind of the hook to convince me as well to come over, because I had been doing a lot of that work in Mountain View and my I guess my association is with the California Chiefs of Police Association as well as IACP, and so you know, culture change is difficult in any organizational setting and when you are doing something new and you're at the front of something, it's also can be terrifying, right, Because you may not have that many places to compare yourself to. Fortunately I think you referenced it in the beginning and we can definitely dive deeper into it is the curve, a non-profit that myself and a few other Chiefs from across the country founded with Simon Sinek, and our purpose there is to really equip policing leaders with the tools necessary to make positive, modern culture change from the top down, from the inside out, because we've realized that all these attempts to legislate reform don't really work, right. I mean sometimes, yes, but the problem that most people have is they look at policing as a monolith. They think that you know, of the 18,000 policing agencies across the country, we're all the same. That doesn't apply to us. It applies to agencies maybe in other countries where they have a national police force, but we don't have that. We have a dynamic here where every law enforcement agency in the country is a reflection of the community they serve. It might be metropolitan, it might be suburban, and so it's all very unique and each of those has different cultures in and of itself. And then you know, all I have to say is you know, look at the cities across the country, we're all. They're all different, right? So, dialing it back to culture change, we understood that to modernize police culture was kind of the path to do that. And then we give an example of that. One of the core tenants of the curve is the statement that the police, the purpose of police, is to protect the vulnerable from harm. Right, and so when you look at it that way, when you look at who's vulnerable, well, you might be in a knockdown, drag out fight with someone a suspect, a felon even but the second you put handcuffs on that person. You know, the training tells us the fight's over. Now you need to kind of be a professional right and that person is very vulnerable. They're in handcuffs. It's our duty to care for that person and get them into custody and that's it. And if you look around across the country where there have been those scandals or the unlawful uses of force, that's the intersection of that person was not cared for right After the handcuffs were put on. So you know it's something new, it's exciting because it's gaining traction. We're seeing a lot of interest from across the country because a lot of leaders see that need for something to change.

Steve Morreale:

It's a big step and I'm glad that you're taking it on and I've been watching what you've been doing with the curve and I want you to explain that a little bit. That I it strikes me that you know when somebody has to make an arrest and certainly you've made your share and I've made my share it's never. It never looks good especially when somebody resists. It just doesn't and videos out. There are an awful lot and the experience very often is we get emotional. Somebody tries to bite us or kick us and we get emotional and part of it is, you know, having the discussion with officers to say when that happens, if another officer comes in, basically if they tap you, let them take it over because they don't have that emotion Right. And then, once you settle somebody down and I understand exactly what you're what you're saying, very often what I'd say is listen, if you treat me with respect, I'll treat you with respect. I'm not here to hurt you. I had to do my job. Now let's get you through the system right, that kind of stuff, and and so it's those conversations, it's. It also strikes me, chris, that I presume that your sheriff and you and the expectations that you might have of your commanders and your captains is to become more conversant and listen more and open that conversation and ask questions and engage people. So, because it's their agency, I'm seeing you shake your head. Tell me how you react to that.

Chris Hsiung:

Absolutely so. Another one of the core tenants of the curve is teaching people and teaching leaders human skills. Now, we might some might say that that's called soft skills, right, but think about the evolution of any officer or deputy as they rise through the ranks. Every time they get promoted, they might get sent to a mandated school, supervisory school, whatever. But how often do we teach them how to have difficult conversations, how to care deeply about the people they lead and do this in a way that, if they had to give them critical feedback, that it's done, knowing that ultimately it's for the betterment of their career, for their person, and not to tear them down? For some reason, in our culture and the broader policing culture, it tends to be very disparaging, right? You kind of just grind people down in the ground or make fun of people because you're new. That type of culture does not promote great innovation or thinking or a safe place, right? So it's just important, I think and you see it from a different direction where wellness is a huge topic nowadays, right, and so even that intersects and overlaps with this, because if we want to create a culture and an organization where people are passionate about coming to work, they also need to know that they have the safety net If things are not okay with them, if things are not okay at home, that they can raise their hand and say it without being made fun of. In fact, our vision would be that someone raises their hand and not only is that person supported, they're given all the resources they need, because we know in the end they get better, they come back, they're a better employee if they're supported in that way. Right? A common saying that we had in Mountain View was just assume that everyone we interact with, whether it's your co-workers or anyone out on the street, that everyone's dealing with something. Yeah, they're having a bad day right, yeah, whether it's family, whether it's kids, whatever it is, but we're just all really good at hiding it, right? And if you have that as a mindset, then just give people some grace, right, and clearly. I know there's situations out on the street where you don't have that benefit at the time. I'm not talking about that, I'm talking about the other 90, whatever percent. When you interact with people, just know that it might just not be a great day for them, right? So the big takeaway there is does your listeners have organizations where, if that's happening, that it's safe enough that they can raise their hand and ask for help? And if not, then it's up to the leaders to change that.

Steve Morreale:

You know, one of the things and in my own experience, and when I do an awful lot of training myself, I'm always saying and it was my own experience as a leader myself is you've got to give people hope. You can chew their ass out, but what does that do? Right? If we're supposed to be mentoring our people? Again, the question of whether it's a hard or head mistake that we're supposed to be mentoring people, and even I say this to professors why are you here? You're here to teach, yes, but that person plagiarized. Well, wait a minute, did they know? Can you salvage this? Can you use this as a teachable moment? Can you give them hope and not derive them and make them feel like shit? Right, and it would be the same thing with calling people into the office. You have to have difficult conversations and I'll say this, chris, and I'd love to get your reaction. My practice has been and I suggest this to many, many leaders who I come in contact with is if you have to have that conversation, don't have that conversation when you're angry, right Pissed off at what you've heard. Take the time to collect the information, let them know you're going to talk to them, let them simmer for a little bit because you need to simmer and you're going to have a better conversation. What's your take on that?

Chris Hsiung:

Yeah, absolutely. Communication is different for everybody. Right, everyone has different styles. But what do we do in our culture traditionally is you just assume that there's one cookie cutter? I always like to look at our hiring practice. Right, when we hire new officers and new deputies, we hire them for their diversity of thought and experience. And then what do we do? We put them in a police academy and we pound individuality out of them and we punish them for speaking out. And then FTO programs are largely kind of similar like hey, rookie, you're seeing and not heard, keep your mouth shut. Well, it starts there and that just creates the wrong road. And I think maybe there's some listeners out there who are like, okay, well, now you just want to go soft? Well, no, I don't think so, and I'll tell you why. We often consider ourselves a paramilitary culture, and Simon talks about this all the time. He goes a lot of time that he spends with the military. They're completely vulnerable. There are tears shed, it's a safe place to just hold hands and hug and cry together. But for whatever reason, we have kind of a hybrid version of that where we take kind of the who raw cool part about boot camp, we pound people down and we don't build them up Right. And what do we?

Steve Morreale:

do Well. So let me speak to that, because I was in the military myself and one of the things in my experience has been first of all, I don't think we do a great job of preparing people to be leaders, right. Right, you know what happens and you've had this experience over and over again Someone doesn't tell you they're going to retire, and they drop it on you, and now you have a vacancy, and now you've got to wait three months, six months to advertise and and and put somebody in there, and the person who had institutional knowledge is gone and and the new person is basically thrown there to say good luck, right? No, so we don't prepare leaders very well, but I do think that we have held ourselves up in the image of the military but haven't recognized that the military has changed exactly what you're saying. We're still operating in the 40s and 50s and 60s, and I think in a lot of ways and we could learn an awful lot. And then the other thing you said, chris, was we hire the best and then we tell them to shut up, mind your business instead of using their intellectual capacity to help the organization grow. How are you driving that through?

Chris Hsiung:

It's really kind of encouraging people to learn in Places outside of policing too, right, there's no shortage of police type classes that we send our folks to, and I'm not at all saying that we should stop that. I'm saying, in addition to that, we really should be sending our folks to just learn from the private sector, learn from other things, help them read, help them Listen to podcast or Ted talks. You're gonna have more diversity of thought and that can only help any sort of decision-making. That has to happen. You know you're probably smiling when I say it's like how many of our policing agencies you take someone who makes the most arrests, so naturally we think they're gonna make the best sergeant. They become a sergeant, they continue to make more arrests and everyone on their team. Now I ask you, are they the best leader? Nope, they're just a really good, they're a great officer. So we kind of have to reset what we look for as a leader. A leader should make everyone around them better, right? Not carbon copies and cooking cutters of themselves. That leader should have the Sophistication to know that they're gonna create the environment on that team to make everyone better in their own way, right? So that means I'm single way right, if I'm a great dope cop and I'm a sergeant, I'm not trying to create a team full of dope cops. I'm trying to create a team that you know. Hey, you want to do traffic, I'll do everything I can to support you in that and I'll help you, teach you, get to the resources so you can be the best traffic officer. If you want to be a school resource officer, I'll do the same, right. That's what I mean by really expanding and making our profession richer and deeper in terms of leadership development so we're talking to Chris Chung.

Steve Morreale:

He is the under sheriff in San Mateo County today, and we're talking about culture and we're talking about humanizing the police department, in my estimation too, do you think that we need? Or in the past, you look at other people. We don't set expectations as often as maybe we should right. A new person comes in You're new, but you've got experience and they're looking to you and maybe you've just promoted them and you're having conversation. What are the things you talk about to get them ready to screw their head on straight? So this is the next position You're no longer a sergeant, you're no longer a lieutenant, you're no longer an officer, whatever that is. These are the expectations we have from you. And then, how can I help?

Chris Hsiung:

I tell people that I'm not really a big into stats. In some sense I could care less about statistics. I want to see how you make a difference. One thing I did in Mountain View was, you know, when we talk about performance evaluations, I told our staff ago I really am not interested in seeing how many arrests so-and-so made or how many team I mean they have to. That's part of their job. But what the narrative portion of an evaluation? I want to hear how you made a difference, like how did you make a difference among your team members? How did you make a difference a positive one in your community, in your sphere, wherever you are assigned? My hope is that you made a difference. So tell me about that, because what I know is that Everyone is an influencer one way or the other. They will either drag their team down, they will lift them up, or they might be in the middle and they kind of swayed back and forth. Right, you're gonna be in one of those three Categories. So those are the expectations where I set down for people, because I acknowledge that everyone's gonna be different. Whatever my strength and weaknesses are, I can best serve the people I work with by knowing what my strengths and weaknesses are and then Identifying what theirs are and really highlighting their strengths and then coming up alongside them and supporting them for their weaknesses.

Steve Morreale:

Another thing that people talk about is that we are great at problem-solving. I think, with the Sarah model that we've had trained and inculcated in us, we're good at trying to solve problems, but we're not always good at identifying problems, and it seems to me that you, as a leader, have to be Receptive, to set the table, to say bring the problems forward to me, don't blindside me. If you see something out there that needs help, bring it in, let's talk about it, let's look at some solutions. So how important is that?

Chris Hsiung:

It's incredibly important and for your listeners out there who might be either in the management or executive management ranks, something I like to do when I teach to those audiences is really talk about going out to the line level, doing ride-alongs Something the sheriff and I did. You know you take your rank off, we go in and work the jails or you go on ride-alongs. It serves a lot of purposes for me coming over the sheriff's office. So much more I need to learn about in the jail system, right. And so I went in there and I told the guys is today, I know how to toss a car. I really don't know how to toss a cell, so teach me like I wasn't there as the under sheriff to be to have everyone kiss the ring. I was there as Chris and I wanted to learn how they did their jobs. Now, why do I do that? Because if I need to make decisions about equipment for them or things that they need, I would rather have first-hand experience. Right, and I. That's why I like to attend training, go to ranged training to see how, what the tactics are, be proficient, even rolling around the ground and defensive tactics. Yeah, I'm getting a little older, but and I can't tell you what it does for morale to for a leader to drop their rank and just learn Alongside people. It's a different dynamic and I would say there's really no downside to it.

Steve Morreale:

There's a book out there that was written by the F4 FBI agent on leadership. There's a whole bunch of them out there, but it was leaders, pick up your brass. And I think it's that you understand what I'm saying, that you're not such a big shot that when you Shoot it's like let the little peons pick up my brass, I'll do it too, right, and so you're in essence, since it's the old modeling, the way yeah, right, yeah, 100%, really important.

Chris Hsiung:

So please let's go back and revisit the curve and how that came to pass so this would be post George Floyd, the summer of George Floyd, and I think we all remember that time in policing where, no matter where we looked, we're just being attacked and, as police leaders, not only were we trying to support our officers and keep morale up, but the voices we heard from the community. Everyone just assumed and this was going back to what I told you earlier about the police we're doing this and that and that everyone was bad right. So I was fortunate enough to be connected through the ICP network to a couple different forward-thinking chiefs, one of them being Jack Colley from Castle Rock, colorado. Jack, if you've read Simon Sinek's third book, infinite game, I think Jack back is the chief in the agency profiled in chapter 7, yes, where you're talking about one by one policing. And so Jack calls me up out of the blue and says hey, I don't know if you've heard of this guy named Simon Sinek. And I'm kind of doing backflips at that point because, of course, I've heard of him. But but hey, Simon, does this quarterly zoom call with a couple chiefs for trying to figure this out. Are you interested?

Steve Morreale:

and to give you a little backstory, were you ready to say no, I don't have any time for this. Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

Chris Hsiung:

No, no, that's good, but I want to say it was like 15, 20 years ago. A chief that I worked for, scott Vermeer, had brought Simon Sinek's book into our reading list for Sargent. So as I grew up as a Sargent Lieutenant in Mountain View PD, I was reading and already familiar. So to have this opportunity was incredible. So we get in the room and we start talking. What we find out is that across the country we're all feeling the same thing, but we're asking what next? What can we do? The media was just lambasting us. Social media was just a toxic echo. Chamber Legislation was coming down the road. Everyone was getting hit in different ways and that's where the culture piece came in that evolved into having some retreats, that evolved into forming the nonprofit called the Curve and that evolved into creating the website thecurveorg. And culture became to understand that. You know, if we find the right leaders who understand this need to modernize police and culture and create organizations where teach the human skills, where it's safe to make a mistake, it's safe to say that things are not OK, it can be incredible. And we started identifying some of these agencies from across the country that were doing that and shared as proof of concept that ideas like having a book club and learning together, incredible. And another thing that we did down the road, myself and Jack, was we did an officer exchange program. We sent an officer from Mountain View to Castle Rock and vice versa. Yeah, and what's interesting is when you take that it's two curve agencies, two agencies that ascribe by the same cultural values, and it's just neat to kind of compare notes how similar it is and that you have a positive work environment and that people care deeply for each other and in turn they care for the community as well.

Steve Morreale:

So let me let me talk about that. There's two things that you just said that I want to kind of explore and dig into. Number one, the book club. You've done that. Tell me how that goes. I've used articles. You find something out of police chief. Not everybody looks at police chief magazine. You and I do. We've done it for a long time. Now you've got Sheriff Magazine. That's another one completely for you right, but just you saying, hey, I want you to read this and we'll talk about it in a meeting or we'll talk that kind of stuff. What's the value? What's the change that happens, I'm sure, when you first throw it at people, when you first did like what the hell I got to read a book for this guy. Right. First of all, I was terrified, right, why?

Chris Hsiung:

So let me set the stage here. I am a new police chief yeah, probably about a year on in the seat and I've always had these wild ideas, right, and I figured out over time that when you try something new, it is terrifying and the little voice in your head of doubt. And that was certainly present.

Steve Morreale:

You're going to get pushed back. They're going to think I'm being tried right and I like a big head.

Chris Hsiung:

Right, but by then Jack Collie had done it, and then another good friend of mine, chief Doug Shoemaker at the time, who was with Grand Junction.

Steve Morreale:

Now he's out there in.

Chris Hsiung:

Denton. Now he's in Denton. Yes, he had done the book club and they both had done infinite games, so that's why I did I go. You know, those guys shared their chapter questions with me. When I put the memo up at Mountain View PD, I thought no one's going to sign up, right. That was the voice of doubt. I think we had over 40 people express interest. I had to break it up into two groups because it was too big. Yeah, here's the key, though, if any of your listeners are thinking about doing this, if you're the leader putting this together, especially if you are higher up in rank, you cannot have any rank in the room. We had ground rules. I went in and I said OK, everyone has to call me by my first name. There's no rank in the room. There is no sworn or professional staff. Everyone was invited. We're all equals here. If you say my rank, if you say chief, then you have to put a dollar in the tip jar or in the swear jar, and it was awkward for them for the first few times. We would meet once every three weeks, go over a chapter, but I use those opportunities. You know, if a book brought up something about a different type of failure of leadership or something, I use that opportunity to share how I failed in that manner. You might know that as like vulnerable leadership.

Steve Morreale:

It's just going to say vulnerability, yes.

Chris Hsiung:

It was magical because we went on a journey to learn together as an agency and even after the book club concluded crossing paths with people in the hallway or working with them side by side and other efforts it's just deeper and richer. I can't explain it other than that.

Steve Morreale:

That you break down barriers, chris. Yeah, I mean, you're putting people on equal footing, but I think what you're also doing, in my estimation, is you're saying your ideas matter Exactly.

Chris Hsiung:

And it's counter to the traditional culture that we're raised in. Of course, from day one, it's about seniority. From day one, it's about rank. You're either sworn or you're not. If we can break all those things down and just see each other as humans, magic happens. There's a place in time for rank, of course.

Steve Morreale:

Yeah Well, tactical situations, absolutely I understand.

Chris Hsiung:

Yeah, and nothing that I've said today any of your listeners should interpret as either going soft, we still catch bad guys, we still fight crime. I'm just saying this is a huge part of our industry we need to pay attention to because it works.

Steve Morreale:

I'm going to be a wise guy. We're talking to the soft under sheriff in San Francisco? No, we're not. I think it is amazing to be able to chat with you about this, because it says that there's promise. We don't have to be stagnant, we don't have to be status quo. We are in a culture and a society that is ever changing and we're supposed to be seen as professional. What troubles me about chiefs that I run into? When I run into an awful lot of them, some of them are small town chiefs they seem afraid to speak out. I think they're afraid to be canceled, to use that term. Even with George Floyd, there were very few people who said hey, I don't know what you know about our police department, but that's not what we do, and we're talking about it right now and we don't agree with what happened and we're training to make sure our training has said it won't happen and I can't promise you what won't happen. But this is what we're doing. This is what we're about. It seemed like so many were afraid to say that we're afraid to speak out, we're afraid to stand up to say we're not all like that, right.

Chris Hsiung:

Yeah, and it's true. And if you look at the average shelf life of a chief, it used to be about five years and maybe more. Now it's like two to three. And it's because you sit in that chair and you just get hammered from all sides and it does take courage and it is terrifying, I am telling you, when you're an at-will employee and you have activist voices that either are on your council or influence your council, I'm not surprised and I totally understand why some chiefs just don't feel like they can even say anything. And that's the whole purpose of the curve is to create that network of chiefs and sheriffs who you're not alone. You're not alone. And that's incredibly powerful. And this is, I think, simon's inclusion and participation lends an extra degree of validity, not just because of who he is, but because he brings in the private sector voice, and these are industry leaders. They're even paying attention and going yeah, they're on to something Right. So it's not just this flash in the pan, this is something that's meaningful and it's a path forward.

Steve Morreale:

Many years ago I don't know how long you've been in policing IACP took advantage of the bootstrap program and that bootstrap program would allow basically private sector would say, send us a couple of police officers into our supervisor or leadership training and such. And it was very weird because sometimes I was the only person that had a badge in that room. So that you had to understand to adapt. But I think and certainly as a professor, one of the things that I think now and I have some time to think is that there's so many ideas out there that were generated from business. Policing is a business, but it's important for leaders to take those ideas and adapt Right, see how we can apply them to what we do, and I'm sure that's something that you do on a regular basis.

Chris Hsiung:

Yeah, one of the best programs I ever attended best trainings was actually out in your neck of the woods. I was fortunate enough to attend the Harvard Kennedy exec program, right and cohort of 60 people. Maybe 10 of them were from policing, the rest were state, local elected officials, city managers, librarians. But in that setting you start to understand that we all deal with similar issues right, we deal with people.

Steve Morreale:

We deal with people, we deal with people.

Chris Hsiung:

And it really opens up your mind to you know, a lot of the answers to the problems we have in policing can be found in places outside of our walls, right, and that's why I really encourage any of your listeners to learn outside of policing, right, Take that time that you're commuting, listen to podcasts or read a book that's not written by a cop. Not asking you to go on some spiritual journey, I'm just saying expand the way you think. But because guess what, the people you serve out in the community, they think that way. So maybe you know it's going to only benefit your profession where you want to go.

Steve Morreale:

Yeah, that's interesting. I mean, I was an elected official for a very short period of time and before that, appointed official on the personnel board, and I was the only person who got paid by public sector. And but I learned. But I also know even the people who are who you responsible for right, your county commission, or certainly your city council. They come from the private sector and they're applying the private sector mindset to your job and you can fight all you want, saying well, it's just not the way it is. But the reality is show me the data, show me the evidence you know, justify why you're doing that. You're shaking your head. Go ahead, speak to that.

Chris Hsiung:

What first came to mind is as a I think as a sergeant, as a lieutenant. We were right next to Stanford University and Stanford would do these night classes open to the whole public, so I would take them right. And I remember taking a history of homicide class taught by two professors who had never been part of the criminal justice system, attended by a room full of people who had never touched criminal justice system, and at the time I always did detective sergeant for person crimes and of course some of the stuff they were saying is just wild right. But what it taught me and I think this is a key to my success to date is it's almost like if you can learn how the public thinks and talks, you learn a new dialect. And when you're in those public meetings if you're in a council meeting like I do this all the time I speak in a way that I want my audience to hear me and something I always say is it's not what you say, it's what people hear. So if I go into that meeting and I speak like a cop, they might be digesting about 20%. But if I draw on my experience taking night classes or whatever book I read and I can tweak it just a little bit. I'm using English, but I'm also saying it in the voice and tone in a way that they digest 100% of it. Well, guess who wins? Right, you get your point across, you get true. Communication takes place. I'm also intently listening. There is nothing more powerful than knowing that you're heard right. So, whoever you're dealing with, if you're dealing with a coworker, if you're dealing with the employee, a subordinate, I'm a big believer in listening intently, because that generally gets you to where you need to go. Whatever the situation is right, and that's includes the public as well right, there's no question about that and it's interesting.

Steve Morreale:

And so you, as a detective, actually, I'll say this and I remember when I was a detective in the police department, but then with DEA, and I remember being a cop, being a patrol guy. I'm not listening, I'm here for the call. Right, I'm here for the call. This is why you call me. Don't bring me into any other problem that you have. Because, right, because the card says it was a domestic or it's a civil disagreement with boundary or something like that. But as soon as you get into detectives, what do you learn to do? You ask a question and shut up and let them talk even if they're lying to you, right?

Chris Hsiung:

Yeah yeah, the hardest thing to learn in interview interrogation school is to shut up. That's it. Ask the question and shut your mouth. And I see it with new detectives all the time. They ask the question. They don't like the silence, so they feel it, and I'm like the guy was about to confess, right right, right, or he was going to lie and you've got.

Steve Morreale:

You've got incontrovertible evidence against that that I can talk about. Well, I'm sorry, you know what this is. A cop talking to a cop. You know what I'm saying? That's great, that's great. So there's a couple of things, and you talked about something a few minutes ago and it was about mentoring, or paying attention to other people and bringing them along. I believe in the adage that it's all on you, but it's not about you when you become a leader, because it's really about everybody else. You've already achieved and if you have to learn, go find a mentor and find a mentor outside, but lead the people who are entrusted to you but, most importantly, develop other leaders. Tell me how important that is to be able to drive Drew to new leaders.

Chris Hsiung:

That is so important and it's so needed in our industry, because what's prevalent is the opposite of that it's. I just got promoted, kissed the ring respect the stripes Exactly the bars right. I can't stand that. I remember when I would do promotional processes I would tell people there's one thing I can't stand is arrogance, and the higher up you go and rank, the more I expect you to serve those under you. But what is our culture? Our culture is like I'm sure we've all worked for that sergeant and that lieutenant who was perfect, never made a mistake, never admitted to it. But what's the first thing everyone says when they walk out of the room? Oh, that guy's full of it, he has no clue. So we have to model that the new leaders and we're at a point in our profession. There's going to be a new generation of leaders that has to take over right, and for all the doom and gloom that I've painted, I actually should clarify that I actually see it opposite. It's an opportunity. Society gut punched us all the reform stuff, covid was another gut punch, and now we find ourselves with the workforce. That's changed. That's different, but with these types of instances in history, these are opportunities, right. So what we need are all of your listeners to figure out where they can plant their flag and their stake in their agencies and if they're looking around going. Well, my chief or my sheriff doesn't ascribe to this or my sergeant doesn't. Well, fine, be the leader. You wish you had right and find one or two other people on your teams or in your work groups that feel the same way, have the same value system, and guess what? Then make that so contagious and infectious that that spreads on your team, and guess what?

Steve Morreale:

It leaks, you're going to be noticed. It leaks, you're going to be noticed. Yeah.

Chris Hsiung:

It's contagious. You're probably getting promoted at that point too, because admin's going to recognize that you're onto something. And now your span of influence just grew and repeat all over again. Now empower those under you to do the same thing, and you make space for them so that they can be the best that they can. It's a simple formula, but for whatever reason, the default cannot be I'm going to come to work, I'm going to go to my calls, I'm going to go home, because we have to take advantage of this moment in time. If not, someone else is going to write that for us, and we already know how bad that gets when legislators even well-meaning ones, come in and try to tell us how to do our job when they don't understand.

Steve Morreale:

Well, a few days ago I spoke to Larry Sherman and an episode is coming forth and one of the things he said that really caught my attention and I see myself I don't know at all, I'm still learning. I'm learning from you. I think that's the attitude you have to have, it's to know it all. Let's get you in trouble. It's that curiosity that I want to get better and I want to help other people get better. But he was saying that so many politicians weigh in on policing and they make opinion-based decisions, not evidence-based decisions. And I know you're familiar with the evidence-based movement out there. How is that creeping into your work that we're looking to see what evidence says this works or it doesn't?

Chris Hsiung:

It's hard. I remember sitting through IACP session that Simon actually did a fireside chat and that variation of that question was asked. You know, do you have metrics on how this works or not? And if I recall, the answer was it's kind of anecdotal, but it's also you have to look at, like, for example, workers comp claims. If you're doing it right, if you are creating a positive culture, you should see those numbers go down. If you could data mine insurance claims and the number of employees going for cardiac or diabetes type of illnesses, that is a measurement. Now, obviously it gets hard because of HIPAA, but that's why I say it's not easy. Anecdotally, I can tell you that and I know this because I experienced this in Mountain View. We weren't perfect by any means, but it was a safe place. On my very first day as a chief, I sat the staff around and I said look, we're going to make mistakes, I'm going to make mistakes and we will fall down together and we will get up together and we will continue to learn on this journey, and we really cared about each other. We still do, I mean. I always look bondly back on that, and so I know it can be done.

Steve Morreale:

I would say this, and you've experienced that one person can make a difference, and then the question would be is it going to be you? I'm talking to people who were out there who want to be a sergeant or a new lieutenant. I think that's important. We're talking to Chris Schung and he is the under sheriff in San Mateo County, and there's a couple of things that I want to just leave with having conversations with people who come into this job for the right reasons and have a sense of humanity, it seems to me that to understand the people that we serve, we have to understand they lived experience and we have to kind of take down that shroud that we put around us because I'm the cop and you're the citizen, and get to know how are you, where you're from, and different cultures that are out there, different segments of society, from the homeless to a new immigrant that comes to the country. How do you drive that with the people who work?

Chris Hsiung:

for you. That's where I don't know if I came across that article we authored for the police chief magazine on culture.

Steve Morreale:

I just started Just recently. I did. I did Nice job by the way, thank you.

Chris Hsiung:

That reminds me of the paragraph where we start talking about culture by design versus culture by default. A culture by default. I laugh because I often, when I talk about this topic at conferences, I'll ask the crowd how many of you got into this line of work because of a police show that you saw. For me it was chips. The vast majority of the room will raise their hands. If you're old, it's Dragonet, if you're young, it's live.

Steve Morreale:

I had a swell of it I know, I know, but that's the thing.

Chris Hsiung:

That is a culture by default. We let Hollywood largely define how we think we should act in our day to day. I don't know what the stat is, but how many of our new coppers out there behave because of what they see on live, pd, good, bad and whatever. There's some great stuff, there's some scary stuff. Opposite of that is culture by design, where leaders throughout the organization intently have that discussion when do we come from, where are we now and where do we want to go, and how do we influence that? How do we change that? It goes beyond just whatever that mission statement is on the wall. It's got to be a statement that people really live and breathe and understand. And so that's the challenge before us, because if you're not talking about culture and you're not intently trying to push it forward, then it defaults into that right Culture by default. And I hate to say it, but I think there's a majority of our agencies that are like that and I get it. There's just we're just hit by so many things, it's so many directions, but we are at a point in history where it has to become a priority.

Steve Morreale:

So we continue our conversation as we wind down with Chris Chung. He is the under sheriff from San Mateo County, former Mountain View police chief and a member of an organization called the Curved. It's curveorg. Is that right, Chris?

Chris Hsiung:

That's correct.

Steve Morreale:

Yeah, okay, so let's talk about something that I espouse and that is very often. A leader will ask questions, will create a conversation around the table by asking questions and looking for feedback and opening the conversation and sometimes bringing somebody's mindset to a completely different place what about this and what about that, and how do we do this and why do we do that? It's the who, what, where, when. Why do you do that routinely?

Chris Hsiung:

Absolutely. That's 100% my style. Up until you laid it out that way, I thought I was more like a unicorn, because I am very soft spoken. I don't often speak up in meetings, I'm listening. I learned that as a lieutenant, again referencing a former chief of mine, chief Scott Vermeer, as a young command staff member, he would do this where he would go around the room, whatever we're trying to decide, and if he knew that Lieutenant Smith, let's say, was for a certain position, he would actually look at that lieutenant and go give me the counter argument to that.

Steve Morreale:

Play devil's advocate for us.

Chris Hsiung:

Yeah, Totally yeah. And we had a guy in the room who was always the devil's advocate guy and what that taught me was I didn't know at the time was to prevent against group think, right, but also a leader's job. If you're filling the whole meeting time with you and your voice and your thoughts, well then why did you call the meeting? Because the purpose of that meeting is really to listen and get counter points or just perspectives that you might not have thought of. A sign of a really great leader right is to fill that room with different voices and then to just kind of massage whatever issue you're trying to decide and of course, at the end of the day you have to make that decision. It may go with or forward, but that's beside the point. So I do that is my style of just asking questions around the room, listening. I would much rather someone come to a conclusion that I hope they would get to just on their own, as opposed to me telling them this is how we're going to go. It's happened quite a few times where just through the if you ask the right questions, you can elicit points of view and perspectives that people didn't have going in. One thing I do, especially if we're going to make like promotions, is I print out this thing on. You do a Google search on different types of bias and you'll see this image of like 50 types of different bias and I'll tell everybody look, we're about to discuss who we want to promote. But if you've worked with this person or maybe they're a traffic cop, you were a traffic cop, you have a bias. So the best way to prevent against that is to call it out before you. So we do a little exercises like that as well. But I think it's just a deeper form of leadership, decision making, of communication.

Steve Morreale:

Let's continue, because this is so fascinating for me. I think of it as and I'm sure you've had this experience where you come in with an idea and you're going to try to advance that idea and you're hoping that people will buy into that idea and you raise it, and sometimes you're planting a seed and then other ideas come at you and that original idea becomes completely different. You have to let it go because it actually becomes stronger from other perspectives. So talk about that.

Chris Hsiung:

Yeah, it's funny because what first came to mind is something that Simon uses as an example. He goes you look at companies like Netflix, amazon. When they started, amazon started to be a bookstore. Netflix wanted to just rent DVDs. But as they went down the road and innovated and kind of massage their business plan, they overshot their wildest expectations because the culture in decision making was to just continually iterate and innovate as you go. So if you take that concept and you take it back into your police department and the decisions that you make, of course not everything is going to be one of these Amazon decisions, but the most dangerous thing we can do in our profession is group think and just surround yourself with people that think like you. Yeah, I guess man. Yeah, I will tell you it's a lot easier to be a leader that way, but you're going to pay for it in the end. You want that environment where in Mountain View, we see this phrase putting people on the bus right, yeah, that's a call, that's a Jim Collins thing, that's right, that was on the promotional list. I should know that. But not only putting the right people on the bus, but putting them in the right seats. And then a practice we would do also, and I hated it when it happened to me but was you get forced out of the position that you really love Like for me, it was investigations and you get sent to. You're the new admin lieutenant who gets to deal with false alarms and feral cats and all these other things, but it teaches you so much more. And now when you expect the danger, if you don't do that, is you start to promote people who've only worked in one segment. Now they go to the next promotion and they're making blind decisions.

Steve Morreale:

Yeah, I like that. One of the things that came to mind and we're sharing each other, you're triggering something on my mind is there's a microbird or a book great leaders don't take yes for an answer. Building consensus through conflict, In other words, creating that. Give me the negative side. What are we missing here? That kind of stuff. So, all right, we're going to wind down. This has gone on crazy and I absolutely love the opportunity to talk to you. One of the things I'm doing is, with some other people, is doing some work on socio-political risk. So you understand, as a police chief and certainly now as an undershare, that you've got social influence and you've got political influence and you've got advocates and such. When you started, when you walked into that job as a police chief for Mountain View, were you ready for that? Were you ready for the various things that were going to come your way and that you had to deal?

Chris Hsiung:

with no, and I'm chuckling because I was the number two in Mountain View for about five years. I worked under Chief Max Bozell. He was a genius. I thought I've had a front row seat. I got this. I know exactly how it's going to go. As Max left, he just left me with some sage words of wisdom. He goes Chris, it's a very hot seat, it's a very bright seat and you're not going to know that until you sit in it. I had been an acting chief many times when he wanted a vacation, but, oh man, he could not have been more correct. Because he leaves, I sit in that seat and the buck stopped right there. I could handle the technical aspects of the job, no problem. The decisions that had to be made for staffing, whatever, that's easy. Hard part is knowing the nuances of, let's say, how do the seven council members feel about certain issues and do I proactively communicate that to my city manager? Do I have a good, open line of communication with my city manager? Can I forecast what might be coming on the road? My early bumps in the road were the lack of those things. I knew I was okay, but I wasn't thinking like my city manager would be thinking and I loved working for her and I blindsided her a few times because I wasn't thinking broader. I think the takeaway for your listener is no matter what rank you go to, you will be largely successful if you can mentally take yourself one rank above when you're making those decisions. I do a lot of help coaching people for promotional exams and I always tell them if you're testing for sergeant, what you're aiming for is when, at the end of the day, when they debrief your chief about how everyone did you want them to say that guy is nails or that gal is nails, and not only that, she's your next lieutenant.

Steve Morreale:

Yeah, she's thinking about it, thinking outside, not just being insular in her or her thinking. I got you, that's great, all right, so let me wind. Let me have a final question at you. If you had a chance to talk to anybody who has passed that has influenced you or that you have respected, who would you want to sit down and what would you want to ask them?

Chris Hsiung:

Wow, that's a tough one. I'm looking at all the people. I guess I'm in this less situation where I'm surrounded by those people and they're still around. Guys like Simon Sinek, who opened up my eyes on leadership, organizational leadership, what it means. I think of people like retired sergeant of mine, mike Alexander, who was a detective sergeant. I was a brand new detective coming in. He had never been a detective, he was a traffic guy his whole life and he sits me down and goes kid, I might not know what I'm doing, but you know what we'll learn together. I can remember that to this day because that's humility that set me forward on this path of. That's how I'm going to lead too. I phrase it as people like that become your leadership compass and they show you what true north is. When the career is throwing all these big decisions in front of you. You call on those types of people and you look at your compass and you go. You know I don't know what the right answer is, but I'm pretty sure it's pointing in that direction and that will guide you. I didn't really answer your question.

Steve Morreale:

No, no, no, that's okay, that's okay. I really very much welcome your time and your point of view and your knowledge. I think, without question, one of the things I tried to do is to reach out to people, our innovators and who are trying new things out, and I think that Chris Chung is one of those people. On the West Coast. Then you've got such influence beyond because of the curve and because of your work with IACP. So I thank you and I wish you the best of luck.

Chris Hsiung:

Absolutely. Thank you so much for this opportunity. Open invitation for any of your listeners. If you want to connect with me, linkedin best place to do it and happy to chat more Perfect.

Steve Morreale:

Thank you. Thanks very for listening to The CopD oc Podcast and I've been talking to Chris Hsiung the undersheriff in San Mateo. Thanks very much. Keep listening and reach out. If you have an idea, if you know of someone who's out there, who's an academic, who is a practitioner, who is someone who is doing good things, pass it on and we'll try to reach out and bring them to you.

Intro-Outro:

Thanks, very much Thanks for listening to The CopD oc podcast with Dr Steve Morreale. Steve is a retired law enforcement practitioner and manager, turned academic and scholar from Worcester State University. Please tune into The CopD oc Podcast for regular episodes of interviews with thought leaders in policing.

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