Crucial Skills Logo The Official VitalSmarts Blog

Lessons in Accountability, Police Culture, and Social Change

Dear Joseph,

In the opinion article “Accountability is a Key to Changing Police Culture,” you outline many of the issues of police culture that are ingrained in the fabric of law enforcement. You refer to the “warrior mentality” culture in some police departments as well as the demand placed on police to address societal issues that were never meant to be handled by law enforcement. You suggest that one of the requirements for real change is creating a culture of peer accountability, something you call “200% Accountability.” How does a department develop a plan of 200% accountability and regain the trust and buy-in from the public?

Policing Ourselves

Dear Policing Ourselves,

Thanks for your question. Related to your question, two days ago I witnessed a remarkable conversation—one that ought to offer hope to all of us that positive change is possible. First, let me give a little background to those who aren’t familiar with the context of your question.

There is a place in Salt Lake City, Utah, called The Other Side Academy (TOSA). It is home to around 100 adult men and women ages 18 to 60, men and women who have been arrested an average of 25 times. Most came because they had been arrested yet another time and were on their way to lengthy jail or prison sentences. They were admitted on the condition that they commit to stay a minimum of 30 months as an alternative to incarceration. All have been addicted to drugs or alcohol most of their adult lives. Many started in childhood.

If you were to drive by The Other Side Academy you would begin to doubt my description of the students. You’d see one of the best kept properties in town. You’d see the home of The Other Side Movers, the #1 rated moving company in the entire state. You’d see the entire campus being run by the very students who came to learn a new way of living. They handle the money, manage the website, book the moves, staff the thrift stores, run food services, and engage the media. No one pays to come to The Other Side Academy. And the Academy receives no government or insurance payments. The student body generate all the revenue needed to run the campus. Imagine that! If all these students were to serve the prison sentences they received it would cost the State of Utah over $30 million. Instead, they are generating over $4 million annually to pay their own way while learning to live a life of decency and integrity.

How does this happen? Through a rigorous culture of peer accountability.

In the article you refer to, I made the point that if the Minneapolis police had this kind of culture, George Floyd would still be alive. His death required not just the violent action of one officer, but the passive consent of three others who witnessed the crime.

The reason no student has ever failed a drug test at The Other Side Academy, the reason rival former gang members live together on campus without a single act of violence in over five years of operation, the reason former castoffs are able to run world class businesses, is because everyone lives a principle of 200% accountability. That means everyone is 100% responsible for their own moral rectitude, and 100% accountable for addressing the actions of everyone else around them. And it works!

Now to the unlikely meeting of two days ago. It was Tuesday night. Twenty students of The Other Side Academy sat in a circle participating in “Games.” Games is a group process in which students give raw and candid feedback to one another about behaviors that concerned them in previous days. Nothing is off limits. Everyone who sits in a Game is as likely to be called out as anyone else. I am the Chairman of the Board of The Other Side Academy and have been “gamed” many times over the years. Games is the foundation of trust at the Academy because it is there that students understand that the supreme value in the community is not power but truth. Your title doesn’t protect you from feedback.

Sitting in Games on this particular Tuesday night was Mayor of Salt Lake City Erin Mendenhall and Salt Lake City Chief of Police Mike Brown, as well as a handful of his lieutenants. They sat in awe as they watched some of Salt Lake City’s former outcasts address sensitive interpersonal issues with breathtaking honesty. The Mayor and Chief of Police are now studying the Academy in order to find ways to build a culture of 200% accountability in the police and other city departments.

Salt Lake City Mayor and Chief of Police (in masks) with students at The Other Side Academy

In what world would you have ever expected the police to sit at the feet of long-time criminals to learn about leadership and accountability? Well, welcome to that world.

You asked how this kind of culture is created? There are multiple elements to my answer, all of which take more space than we have here. So, for the curious, here is a good starting point. For others who want to learn more, I invite you to reach out to The Other Side Academy.

It is possible to change the world for good. The principles found in Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change and Crucial Conversations:Tools for Talking When Stakes are High are at the heart of rapid, profound, and sustainable change in any social system. I thank you and all of our readers for the way you carry these ideas to the places that need them most.



Joseph Grenny

“If I haven’t challenged you, I haven’t helped you.” Joseph Grenny is a New York Times bestselling author, keynote speaker, and leading social scientist for business performance. His work has been translated into twenty-eight languages, is available in thirty-six countries, and has generated results for three hundred of the Fortune 500.

The ideas expressed in this article are based on the skills and principles taught in Crucial Accountability. Learn more about Crucial Accountability.

Man training

What's Your Style Under Stress?

Discover your dialogue strengths and weaknesses with this short assessment.

Take Assessment >

Stack of books

Subscribe Now

Subscribe to the newsletter and get our best insights and tips every Wednesday.

Subscribe >

Woman training

Get Answers to Tough Questions

From stubborn habits to difficult people to monumental challenges, we can help.

Ask a Question >

4 thoughts on “Lessons in Accountability, Police Culture, and Social Change

  1. Dear Joseph,

    Over the last couple of years since I attended Crucial Conversations, I have enjoyed the Crucial Skills emails as they have caused me to stop and seriously reflect on the subject matter. This inward look includes Volume 18 Issue 37 where you talked about 200% accountability. In addition self-reflection, I have also forwarded these Crucial Skills to coworkers and family members. As a HR professional, I especially appreciate how the topics are not political and cross over every perceived boundary.

    After reading the above noted issue, I decided to watch the recording about The Other Side Academy as I found your description of their model fascinating. Near the beginning of the webinar, you stated that the picture of the Vice President Pence wasn’t meant to be a political statement. However, I found it odd that you selected an example from only one political party to demonstrate the point when there are multiple examples in both parties. One recent example is of Nancy Pelosi at a salon in San Francisco (NOTE: As a result of the business owner’s decision to speak up about Nancy Pelosi not wearing a mask, the owner is having to close her business).

    Therefore, in light of the subject matter about 200% accountability, I felt obligated to respond. Thank you for your time and kind consideration.

  2. Thank you for that feedback, Karen. I was unaware of the easy availability of a similar photo of a democratic leader. And I did not go to the trouble to look. I will do better to make my deeds match my words in the future.

  3. From the mother of a recovering drug addict son. I thank you for providing the opportunity for people to learn how to change their future. There are many people that get stuck in problems and they don’t know how to get out. Thank you for teaching them the skills they need to create a productive life.
    My sister has used The Other Side Academy and was very pleased with the care they took of her belongings. She has recommend them to others as the best way to move.

Leave a Reply to Karen Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.