Rick Tanksley

Inducted June 2012

Nominated by Dennis Rosenbaum, University of Illinois Chicago


Rick Tanksley began his career with the Oak Park Police Department in 1984, and after serving in a number of positions including Patrol Commander and Deputy Chief, he was appointed Chief of Police in June 2001. Tanksley holds a Master of Social Work Degree from the Jane Addams School of Social Work, University of Illinois Chicago; a Master of Science in Management and Organizational Behavior from Benedictine University; and a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Concordia University, River Forest. In 2012, he was awarded the Outstanding Community Leadership Award by Concordia University.

He also has participated in numerous executive training courses and seminars, including the prestigious Federal Bureau of Investigations’ National Academy, Northwestern University’s Center for Public Safety, Staff and Command, and PERF’s Senior Management Institute for Police.

In 2008, the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police awarded Chief Tanksley the designation of Certified Police Chief. Chief Tanksley is a member of a number of professional organizations and is a past-president of the West Suburban Chief’s Association.

Evidence-Based Research and Practice:

In the past three years, Chief Tanksley has expanded his strong commitment to research and evidence-based practice as a participant in the National Police Research Platform, an NIJ-funded initiative to advance knowledge and practice in American policing. The Platform initiative included various tests of new methods and measures that can be employed in future research and Chief Tanksley was always the first to volunteer to participate.  His department not only participated, but took the initiative to apply the results to make changes in practice. As one example, the Health and Stress Survey revealed considerable employee stress in his organization. He took this set of findings very seriously and held meetings with his employees for seven weeks, discussing the survey results. Ultimately, they decided to change the current work schedule and he encouraged his officers to exercise more and spend more time with family and friends. He reported that morale increased dramatically.

One of the more innovative and challenging components of the National Police Research Platform involved developing and field testing new methods for capturing the quality of police-public interactions at the local level. This new measurement system would allow police organizations to be judged by the amount of procedural justice displayed by officers toward the public. However, traditional telephone interviews seemed prohibitively expensive on a large scale. While automated web and telephone surveys provided an affordable new alternative, researchers were concerned that the lower response rates would yield unrepresentative samples and different substantive findings. Hence, Chief Tanksley was willing to be the test site for a randomized control trial involving a partnership with the University of Illinois at Chicago and a professional survey laboratory. The experiment compared the traditional telephone interview methodology against the electronic survey methods. The procedures involved required courage and resolve on the part of the chief because of potential complaints from residents about releasing their names to a professional survey laboratory in the service of science or complaints from officers about introducing new performance measures. The project also demanded many meetings and procedures to maintain the integrity of the research design.

The findings from Oak Park – showing that electronic surveys can produce results nearly identical to telephone interviews at a much lower cost – opened the door to a new framework for measuring police performance on a large scale. In a sense, this work turns the Lum et al. Matrix inside out by focusing on police behavior rather than criminal behavior. In Matrix terminology, the local measurement of the police behavior can focus on (X-axis) individual officers, groups of officers, micro-places, communities, or the nation as a whole. It uses focused tactics (Y-Axis) to target specific police behaviors – i.e. procedural justice and victim responsiveness – and is proactive (Z-Axis) – using patterns and hot spots to develop accountability systems and training programs. In a nutshell, this represents a significant paradigm shift by changing the organizational focus on process and legitimacy and by developing standardized measures of the quality of policing.

Chief Tanksley is deserving of the Hall of Fame for his cutting edge work with researchers and for challenging other chiefs to think differently about how to measure organizational and individual performance. Chief Tanksley is deeply committed to building a bridge between science and practice so that greater evidence-based decision making is possible. At NIJ and IACP conferences he directly addressed concerns raised by chiefs in the audience about being compared to other agencies on standard performance indicators. To enhance organizational legitimacy, Chief Tanksley consistently calls for more openness and transparency in police operations and less fear about what outsiders will think of them.

Chief Tanksley’s commitment to procedural fairness and respect during police-public interactions is a salient part of his leadership. As an African-American chief, he fully understands the issues surrounding race and policing in America and seeks to improve the quality of police-public contacts. As a former social worker whose caseload included many individuals with severe mental illness, Chief Tanksley also wants his officers to perform well during encounters with persons suffering from mental illness. He believes that respect, fairness, and empathy are essential in all interactions with the public, and as a result, is pushing to have standardized measurement in the field so that police agencies can be accountable for the quality of policing in their communities and not just the quantity of policing.

Based on his pioneering work in Oak Park, a new Police-Community Interaction Survey (PCIS) has been widely implemented in Boston and Chicago, and will be rolled out in more than 100 cities nationwide in 2013.

Written by Professor Dennis Rosenbaum

Statement from Inductee:

In 2010, the Village of Oak Park Police Department, Illinois, had the honor of being selected as one of a number of police departments nationwide to participate in the National Institute of Justice’s National Police Research Platform.

I recognized a rare opportunity for Oak Park to be in on the ground floor of an innovative research project that could have important implications for policing now and in the future. A police department is a living organization that must change and adapt as challenges and opportunities arise. Law enforcement executives, rather than fearing the kind of studies we participated in, should recognize how research can be used to not only build healthier organizations, but also identify ways in which to better serve the public.

The first survey we participated in was a Citizen Satisfaction Survey. In this study, individuals who had an encounter with an Oak Park police officer, whether as a victim of a  crime, a traffic stop or during an accident investigation, were asked to rate the officer’s behavior.

The results of the survey indicated that individuals who had an encounter with an Oak Park police officer were very likely to be satisfied with the way they were treated.

Close to nine out of 10 respondents – about a third of whom were nonresidents – said they were either very satisfied (72.5 percent) or somewhat satisfied (14.2 percent) with the way they were treated by the officer. They reported that officers listened to them (92.5 percent), were fair and evenhanded (89.1 percent), were polite (95 percent), showed concern for their feelings (79.3 percent) and knew what they were doing (95 percent).

The survey results were extremely important as it provided a broader understanding of how our officers were conducting themselves on the streets. To achieve organizational excellence, police leadership must be willing to hear the bad along with the good. Knowing how the public perceives experiences with our officers is invaluable. How else can we learn and grow?

The survey also underscored the importance of respect between citizens and police in nurturing a strong community policing program that relies on residents’ willingness to report crimes, suspicious characters and unusual circumstances because they know the police response will be quick and professional.

In addition to participating in the Community Satisfaction Survey, we were the first test site for the employee surveys for the project, in which we asked our employees about their health and job-related stress levels. Two questions asked officers how often they felt “used up” or “emotionally drained” at work. Despite good job satisfaction, a majority of our officers felt used up or emotionally drained every week — typically 2-3 times a week.

We also asked our employees about their health and leisure activities to gain insight about  how they were coping with stress – whether this was through exercise or spending time with family and friends. Less than half said they exercised “often” or “very often” and even fewer spent leisure time with family and friends.

The employee surveys allowed us to drill even deeper to look at factors that might contribute to stress. We learned that a major source of officer stress was their work schedule – a 28-day shift rotation with a permanent midnight shift. The officers felt that this antiquated schedule contributed greatly to their sense of feeling “used up” and “emotionally drained.”

Through this type of introspective research, the researchers concluded – and I concur – that not only is balancing work and non-job-related activities an important predictor of health and happiness on the job, but so are formal shift schedules. All of these insights would not have been possible without engaging proactively in research.

Further, these insightful results provided me with the impetus to have a department discussion on what we as an organization could do about stress and work schedules. Because of these results, we created a committee to research alternative shift schedules. This committee, which consisted of both sworn and exempt department members, presented several alternatives for my consideration, listing the pros and cons of each. After careful review we implemented the new schedule last January on a trial basis. Although a few issues still remain, officer morale and productivity have greatly improved in Oak Park.

Building structures to support research and research findings is also important in evidence-based policing. From the survey results we created the “Excellence in Policing Committee,” consisting of union, non-union and exempt members who regularly meet and openly discuss challenges facing the department and how we can work cooperatively to resolve them to better serve the community, the organization and our employees.

I think the most important benefit of police agencies engaging in research is that it can lead to the establishment of a more open and permanent line of communication that involves employees finding solutions to future challenges. These are but two examples of the many ways in which evidenced-based policing can aid law enforcement executives reach organizational success.

Contributions to Grants, Publications, and Projects:

  • Rosenbaum, D. P., Schuck, A., Lawrence, D. & Hartnett, S. with McDevitt, J., & Posick, C. (2011).Community-based indicators of police performance: Introducing the Platform’s public satisfaction survey.National Police Platform Research. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice.
  • Rosenbuam, D. P., Lawrence, D. S., Hartnett, S., McDevitt, J., & Posick, C. (2012).
  • Measuring the quality of police-civilian encounters and agency legitimacy: The Platform public satisfaction survey. National Police Platform Research. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice.