Watch USC's Sol Price School of Public Policy's leadership interview with Lieutenant Scot Williams of the Los Angeles Police Department, and Commanding Officer of the Olympic Detective Division.
Law Enforcement Leadership with Detective Scot Williams, LAPD
Tell us about your leadership journey.
Williams: My name is Scot Williams. I am a lieutenant with the Los Angeles Police Department and I am the commanding officer of Olympic Detective Division. I've been with the LAPD for about 22 years.
I'd like to share a story that will take you through my journey and my leadership development as a person and law enforcement professional.
I started in 1996, and spent the first several years of my career working in South Los Angeles. It was a very violent time. Crime rates were pretty high, and I'll admit that I was becoming a little cynical. You see the bad in society so much that it's hard to see the good. I think it's a problem that police just in general, especially those working in high crime areas, tend to experience. As a young police officer, I definitely fell into that.
About five or so years into my career, I made detective and was assigned to the 77th Division in South Los Angeles. It's about a 10-square mile area, and after about six months, I was assigned to a homicide unit.
The first year working homicide in 77th, I was one of eight detectives assigned, and we had 116 orders the first year in that 10-square mile area. It was incredibly violent, very busy, and I don't think it helped my level of cynicism to have experienced that.
What was your transformational leadership experience?
Williams: I think it was February 13th of 2004 I received a call from the Captain, 77th Division, late that night informing me that there had been a murder. It was anticipated that there was going to be some media coverage, and he needed me and my partner to handle it so I responded.
I got to the scene sometime around midnight. It was at the corner of 57th and Western, and I learned that a 12-year-old boy, Gregory Gabriel, had been shot and killed outside of an underground rave party that was going on at that location. A 12-year-old boy being killed is going to get media attention, and there's going to be a lot of pressure to solve the case.
I remember leaving the crime scene and going about a half a block up the street to Gabriel's parents' house to make notification to the family. I met Ella Crawford, Gregory Gabriel's mother, and she changed my life. That meeting, that phone call, that crime scene, that investigation, changed not only who I am as a police officer and as a public servant, but it changed who I am as a person, and my whole thought process.
Gregory's family had immigrated from Belize, they had been in the country for several years. Dad was a hard working guy, and Ella had a job, as well. They were doing the best that they could to provide for their family.
That night, Ella reluctantly allowed Gregory to spend the night at a friend's house across the street. It was the first time she ever allowed him outside, or to spend the night at anybody else's home. That friend had an older brother who convinced Gregory and the other friend to go out, and unfortunately it cost Gregory his life.
I had an 11-year-old son at the time, and I remember thinking as I'm making this notification to Ella, like what if the police came knocking on my door with this information? How would I handle that? How would I react? The way she reacted is not anything I could've imagined. It's not what I would've done probably, and it's certainly not what I expected.
She had so much strength, and from day one, she and I developed a bond. She immediately began reaching out to the parents of other slain children and started a support group. She was all about community, healing herself, and dealing with her loss by helping other people deal with theirs. That was inspiring for me.
She made me realize that there's a higher purpose for what detectives and police officers do, and the level of service that we provide to the community. It's not just about putting bad people in jail; it's not just about solving crimes. It's about healing communities and empowering communities to heal themselves.
I wasn't a savior.
I had sort of this mindset that I was there to save the residents and the victims from bad people, but that's not what it was about for me anymore. It took that incident and that working with Ella Crawford to realize that.
How did that experience impact your leadership development?
Williams: So fast forward now, that was 2004, so we're 14 years later. I've made it my mission to help detectives and police officers understand the importance of the job that we do and our role in the community - not as saviors, but as collaborators and caretakers to help people heal. It's something I take very serious.
I've used the lessons I learned from that incident with my family and the people that I work with here at USC. I am able to be a good partner, to understand my role, and help people become better by always trying to be the best person I can be. I try to live my life and do my job that way.
"I've made it my mission to help detectives and police officers understand the importance of the job that we do and our role in the community - not as saviors, but as collaborators and caretakers to help people heal."
How has this experience impacted your personal life and as a father?
Williams: Having a child who was about the same age when this happened, I ran through my mind how I would deal with that, how I would react to that. I could only think of the complete devastation, and just wanting to crawl into a cave, curl up in a ball, and shut it down for a while.
Ella Crawford took the complete opposite approach. She was grieving, and we spoke every day. She was hurting, but her ability to fight through the pain knowing that she was going to help other people who were experiencing the same thing was so empowering.
What's your relationship with Ella Crawford like today?
Williams: It's rare that I don't think about her even 14 years later. Every so often, I'll hear from her. She's invited me to go down to her family's land in Belize, and I definitely plan to do so. It's important for me to tell her how much she means to me all of these years later.
I use this story when I talk to detectives who work for me to give them perspective so they understand our role as community caretakers, as partners, as collaborators, and not as saviors. They have to know their Ella Crawford is out there. If they don't recognize it, if they allow cynicism to creep into their lives, and they miss their Ella Crawford, then they're doing themselves and the community a disservice.
Continuing to Grow as a Leader
What has been your experience of healing and growing as a leader?
Williams: There are a couple of components to leadership that I think are vitally important.
The most important is being able to recognize when you need to change. I used to be a perfectionist, and to some degree I still am. I try to be the best at everything I do, and I used to beat myself up when I wasn't. When I failed, I would take those failures very hard.
Now I'm able to accept failure and learn from it, or recognize when I'm not at my best. Instead of beating myself up, I learn from it. It's a lesson I learned from Ella Crawford. If I'm allowing my shortcomings to consume me, I'm either not recognizing them or not trying to change them.
Part of leadership is understanding that you're not perfect, that there are things that you can change, and not missing the opportunity to change them when they present themselves.
The person I was on February 13, 2004, is not the same person I was on February 15, 2004, or any day since. I recognized that there was something I needed to change within myself in order to be what I claimed to be; a leader amongst my peers and within my department.