How Would Dodge City & Tombstone Recruit Wyatt Earp Today?

Changing times require changing strategies. The details about Wyatt Earp’s work in Dodge City and Tombstone are not readily available. The current “evidence” is regrettably questionable, due to the romanticism that dominates the film records. The business needs of the municipalities are clear. But the employer value proposition they used to attract Earp and to motivate him to address their issues is not known. Based on today’s “best practices” one can only surmise what would be most effective today.

The first step would be to develop a competency model for the role of Chief Law Officer. Advanced skills with weapons would certainly be a critical competence. Diplomacy might not be critical, although being skilled in negotiation might lessen the need for violent conflict. Personality traits, such as extraversion, might be important. And having a well-known reputation as someone who can prevail in conflict is of value. One can only surmise but it is likely Wyatt would fit this model. Having brothers and skilled friends would also be a benefit. There are indications that Earp’s personality probably did not fit the solid citizen, great guy to have at socials profile, although it might be preferable to have an official of the town be a good role model for children Wyatt probably would come up short on that measure. Yet his apparent fit to the needs for crime reduction might offset that.

The second step would be to offer a value proposition that would attract qualified candidates and motivate the desired behavior. There are several alternative value propositions that might be used. One would be an all-salary plus benefits package. That type of package is common today and tends to promote retention over an extended period. Another approach would be to use variable pay, which can provide an incentive to meet specific goals. Equity programs would not be feasible, given that the towns were public sector entities. Perquisites could be added to the package… perhaps free horses, weapons and supplemented housing. Providing a qualified staff of an appropriate size might also be considered an attraction. Imposing staff diversity requirements would probably not be a high priority, given the culture at that time.

The all salary and benefits approach would motivate extended service. Retention could be further enhanced by administering salary using automatic time-based step increases, a practice that is still used in the public sector, although its prevalence is declining because it is economically unsound and provides little motivation to perform well. Benefits would probably include health care, disability insurance and life insurance, but paid time off would probably be minimal (law enforcement never rests). Given the nature of the objective (rid the town of law breakers) the assignment would have been more like a gig than a career. When the towns were cleaned up many of the citizens might have preferred a termination of contract and the selection of a different type of law enforcement staff, which would be expected to maintain order and promote a different culture. So the all-salary approach might not have been the best fit.

Using variable pay seems a preferable strategy. Performance metrics could be established, accompanied by performance standards. These could then be used to determine incentive awards. A comparison of the number of crimes over a period of time would be a reasonable way to measure performance. The volume of robberies, assaults, murders, disorderly behavior and jaywalking offenses could the used as the metric for determining compensation. The danger of including shooting deaths is that more aggressive behavior by the lawmen might be motivated, even when incarceration or other forms of correction might be more appropriate. The likelihood of wrongful death lawsuits would be small, given that prosecuting these cases might not be an appealing pursuit for a judge or attorney. On the other hand, the optimal remedy might be elimination of the bad apples. Shootings by the people with badges could be excluded from the award calculation to avoid discouraging that approach when it is warranted. And victims would be unlikely to be repeat offenders, so this might serve the objective of creating a more peaceful town, by reducing recidivism.

As is true for any organization the constituencies that will be impacted by a decision should be informed of what is being done and why. Since these are municipalities their PR is important, so those providing their funding do not resist the decision being made. Bringing in a law enforcement capability might benefit the local businesses, such as the general store and the church, but having new rules imposed might have a negative effect on others. The saloons probably were a good source of the town’s tax revenue, so convincing them that controls over behavior will work in their favor. Regulating the services they provide on a fee basis could be a downside, but having fewer pianos and mirrors shot out might offset that. So, selling Earp as a positive addition to the community would be critical.
The principle “what you measure and reward you most surely will get more of” is a good guide to selecting a strategy. The banks that richly rewarded employees for almost destroying the financial system recently demonstrated that poorly designed incentives can result in unwanted results. Putting Earp on an automatic time-based salary increase program might have resulted in him being motivated to stay longer than the townsfolk would have liked. A defined benefit pension plan would also encourage unwanted retention and qualified actuaries were not available to guide plan administration. Treating Earp as a transitory gig worker would appear to be the optimal approach.

It would be helpful to know what the value propositions were in Dodge and Tombstone, since whatever was offered seem to have worked. Those towns are safe today and tourists are able to roam the streets reliving history without fear of criminal action (except perhaps overcharging for re-enactments).