Where are the town police?

In recent months, local police have been behind such initiatives as “high-five Fridays,” with officers enthusiastically greeting school children in the morning.  The #CopsLoveLemonadeStands hashtag has thrived on social media, with some police departments even encouraging parents to “report” their child’s lemonade stand in advance so cops can use the opportunity to interact with kids between emergency calls.  Officers and kids come together to “shop with a cop” for school supplies purchased with donations for those in need.  Some young kids are even occasionally selected to have breakfast with a local officer, then get a first-class ride to school in a radio car.

None of these things happened in the Town of Montgomery, NY.

Nearly seven months into the school year and I have yet to see a police officer at Berea Elementary School during the morning drop-off or afternoon dismissal.  My wife hasn’t either.  When I queried school teachers at Berea, I was not surprised to hear that they rarely see police officers at the school outside of an occasional lock-down drill or when called because someone is using the school parking lot for “something crazy.”

There are too many precious opportunities missed.

Sadly, my emails and phone calls to Town of Montgomery Police Chief Amthor have gone unanswered.  The only strong public outreach I have noticed from the department recently has been an amnesty program for heroin addicts.  I recognize the epidemic and surge in overdose deaths, and I support efforts to curb it.  But the fact is that keeping a kid from taking a pill in the first place – and ultimately shooting up –should be just as high of a priority as helping someone get clean.  Much of this begins with opportunities to introduce our kids to our police – frequently, and in a positive setting.

Our area is blessed with outstanding local police officers – genuinely engaging and dedicated to the task.  I can only hope that the town leadership sees that we are failing our kids with virtually no police presence where it is needed most – at our schools and with our youth.

This letter originally appeared in the Wallkill Valley Times, March 22, 2017

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Culture Change and Digital Technology: The NYPD under Commissioner William Bratton, 2014-2016

An insightful look into police use of digital technology – Big thanks to Susan Crawford for allowing me to be a part of it!

Culture Change and Digital Technology: The NYPD under Commissioner William Bratton, 2014-2016

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New Report on Officer Wellness – The things you don’t know that you don’t know

During a week of emergency management training in Texas last year I was reminded of a key principle of preparedness: In all aspects of life there are things that you know, things you simply don’t know, and there are things that you don’t yet know that you don’t know. 

The below report and interview with  Redding, Connecticut Police Chief Doug Fuchs reminds us that we struggle most with the things we don’t know that we don’t know. 

New Report on Officer Wellness: What it Means for Your Agency

By IACP Guest Blogger Laura Usher, Manager, Criminal Justice and Advocacy, The National Alliance on Mental Illness, Arlington, Virginia

This week, the COPS Office and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) released a major report on officer mental health after mass casualty incidents. The report, which draws on the experiences of chiefs involved in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting (Newtown, Connecticut), the Aurora Theater shooting (Aurora, Colorado), the Sikh Temple shooting (Oak Creek, Wisconsin) and many others, provides guidance for chiefs on the unique role they play in safeguarding officer wellness while managing the aftermath of these incidents.

To help us understand the importance of this report, I talked to Redding, Connecticut, Police Chief Doug Fuchs. Chief Fuchs is a resident of Newtown, Connecticut, site of the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting and was on-scene shortly after the incident supporting Newtown Police Chief Michael Kehoe. He saw and felt firsthand the impact of the event on officers and the wider community.

Laura Usher: After the Sandy Hook incident, you and other Connecticut chiefs called for a guide to dealing with these incidents. Why?

Chief Doug Fuchs: We did not know what we did not know. And we know that there are so many other chiefs, especially in medium-to-smaller agencies who also do not know what they do not know. For example, it was so important to have one person to stand up and become the incident commander for all first responders’ mental well-being, and it was challenging to make that happen in short order.

Very early on, we received many offers of help from around the country. People just showed up and said, “We are law enforcement mental health providers and we are here to help.” We dismissed them because we had no way of knowing what their background was, whether they were legitimate, and what their expertise was. It took us a few days to identify someone for that role – someone we knew and trusted to tell us what we didn’t know.

Those of us who have experienced this want to make sure people are able to learn from our experiences. Even though you might be impacted by an event, maybe you won’t be impacted in the same way in which we have been.

Usher:Can you tell me about some of the negative impact on officers who responded to the Sandy Hook shooting?

Fuchs: It was unfathomable. Going in, many responders had no idea of the impact the event to which they were responding was having on the outside world. Once that was realized, the impact it had on individual responders was exacerbated. It never goes way. When you deal with one of the smaller and not heavily covered events, it impacts the officer or the agency, but there’s not constant media attention. The fact that this guidebook is coming out three years later – like so many other triggers ─ means these emotions will come back. Don’t get me wrong – everything about this guide is positive – but know that those of us who have contributed to it will feel differently than most every time we look at it. Each time there’s a mass shooting, the two words “Sandy Hook” get mentioned as a benchmark and it brings it all back again. It’s hard to explain, it’s difficult to imagine, and tough to figure out exactly where to “put” it. But we all do – and we do it to keep it a part of our world and not a part of those whom we serve. And for that, we should all be extremely proud.

Usher: What is the most important message chiefs should take from this guide?

Fuchs: So many things! Understand the importance of caring for your officers and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Know your neighboring chiefs and know them well enough to be able to show up without thinking you need to ask. Identify who in a crisis is going to be your point person for mental health. You can’t be building relationships during the incident; you need to be building them beforehand.

Usher: If the likelihood of these incidents is rare, why should chiefs focus on officer wellness?

Fuchs: Unfortunately, the likelihood of these incidents is not so rare anymore. And it doesn’t need to be a big event that gets media attention to have an impact on your officers. Officers are dealing with difficult calls and other peoples’ sorrow that impact them every day. As we now know, those types of calls build up and weigh on officers. Learning how to deal with that on a daily basis will help you if you are ever confronted with your own mass casualty event – you’ll have figured this out already.

Usher: Do you think chiefs have a special role to play when a neighboring agency experiences a mass shooting?

Fuchs: We have a huge role because we control resources outside of that community. It’s our job to make sure that the affected police department has what they need, manpower-wise, equipment-wise and that officer-to-officer, supervisor-to-supervisor, chief-to-chief, everyone has what they need emotionally to get them through to the other side. I think in part it is because of our role in society; we are not the most trusting of others who are not also law enforcement. So having a brother or sister law enforcement officer show up and say “I got this” is far more significant than one could ever imagine.

Credit: IACP Blog / Laura Usher

New Report on Officer Wellness: What it Means for Your Agency

Meet Your Police, Community Engagement in an Urban Transit System

How do you build a relationship with a community made up of millions on the move? For the past two years some of the members of the New York City Police Department’s Transit Bureau have set upon answering this question. Recognizing a community engagement opportunity, they responded creatively.

I’m talking about the millions throughout the country who use our urban transportation systems. Here in New York City, some 5.6 million people rely on the subway each day to get them where they need to be. Policing metropolitan railways and buses is no small task in itself – but as we have recognized in our traditional neighborhoods for years, the citizens who take to the rails deserve to have a worthwhile relationship with the women and men who help to see them safely on their way.

There are no well-defined communities in the hurried world that exists between point A and point B. The subways are a conveyance, with lines that traverse the neighborhoods that they carry riders through. For practical police response, our transit district borders are built around train lines and stations, not around the better known residential areas above or below the rails. Within minutes, our officers can find themselves working from Bayside to Bensonhurst, the Upper West Side to the Lower East Side, and between Brooklyn and The Bronx. This means the mission of engaging residents and commuters can be difficult.

But not impossible.

The fact is, we have no shortage of highly capable and engaging officers. A “hello” or polite nod of acknowledgement for a passing rider. Offering directions to a lost passenger. Sharing some restaurant recommendations with a tourist. Helping a mother bring a stroller up the stairs.

Nevertheless, there still exists a visible gap between subway riders and transit police. Our district station-houses, like many police facilities, are centrally located – most of them within subway stations. But as Lewiston, Maine, Police Officer Joe Philippon noted in a recent blog post, there are actual and perceived barriers at police facilities that too often prevent citizens from entering. An ingrained public apprehensiveness means few will visit unless they must.

So we brought the officers in our districts outside into the stations. Literally. From the commanding officer, to the community affairs, crime prevention, and patrol teams – setting up shop in the middle of a busy subway hub for a day. We invited not only other city agencies to introduce themselves and share what they have to offer, but other community partners as well, including youth organizations, local clergy members, non-profit organizations, and social services agencies.

  The initiative, dubbed “Meet Your Police,” has attracted a lot of attention. Each of our twelve transit districts hosts several of these events each year – with district commanders often lightheartedly trying to out-do each other in producing highly visible events that bring their officers in contact with as many subway riders as possible. Few limitations are put on their approach, making each of the events unique to the particular district, its officers, and the neighborhoods they serve. They play music, have activities for the kids, serve food, provide information and giveaways, and most importantly they allow officers’ personalities to shine through. The hope is to show that our officers are approachable and that our police facilities are welcoming – staffed by real people. People who have kids. People who listen. People who chose careers of service.

The hope is that we garner trust, encourage crime reporting, and gain the public’s help in intelligence gathering and identifying crime conditions.

One such event recently, which took on the moniker “Function at the Junction,” was centered on several murals created by young artists whose seek to reduce gun violence in their neighborhoods by drawing grassroots attention to the cause. Joining together with this young talent provided a powerful platform, in the middle of a busy Brooklyn subway station, to feature a campaign that promotes safer neighborhoods for police and residents alike. What better way to build partnerships than to demonstrate that we each have a good number of common goals?

Hardly a cure-all, this initiative is just one of the many approaches that we have found to be worth advancing. By effectively turning a transit police district inside out and planting it squarely in the middle of a metropolitan rail station we hope to showcase the resources we provide, humanize our incredibly capable men and women, and build trust through mutual understanding. 

   

Written by Paul Grattan, Jr., this post originally appeared on the iacpblog | March 24, 2016 at 9:13 am 

IACP Blog Meet Your Police

Letter: Recent editorial cartoon fuels divisive agenda

You lost all credibility in choosing to publish the editorial cartoon on Sunday, Nov. 8. Pushing the black lives matter vitriol only serves to further an agenda of racial divide on which people like Singer make their living. The cartoon not only suggests, wrongly, that the police target blacks, but that the officers who keep our communities safe are not themselves a diverse group of all backgrounds. In fact, so is the group of officers who have been killed while serving the neighborhoods that need every hand they can get to curb violence: largely neighborhoods of color.

The cartoonist and others would do well to take a post in these very communities where there are pervasive problems with crime and violence. Where black lives seem not to matter to other black lives. How cute that you include a graphic that lists a handful of alleged victims of police brutality and deaths in police custody which race-baiters have used to create a picture of a police-led war on minority communities. The upsetting reality is that the names of young minority lives lost at the hands of members of their very own neighborhoods and the names of police officers murdered by people of all colors are far too many for me to list with any chance of seeing this letter published. You should be ashamed.

Paul Grattan Jr.

Letter as published in the Times Herald Record, November 14, 2015

Letter: Recent editorial cartoon fuels divisive agenda

Police Body Cameras – No Cure for Criticism

Body-worn police cameras are a hot topic lately. Several highly-publicized incidents recently have led to a wave of anti-police protests and rhetoric.  In turn, jurisdictions have scrambled to implement use of the technology or to expand their existing programs.  Manufacturer orders have soared, with large cities that had been slow to adopt the cameras, like Los Angeles and New York, finally joining the ever-growing number of police agencies that use them.

The benefits for police are profound.  Body-worn cameras aid in officer safety, police and civilian accountability, and enhance evidence gathering and prosecutions – to name a few.  Sure, they come at a cost – both financial and logistical, but officers and department heads far and wide are enjoying these benefits.  For many, they are seen as a natural progression from other tools that have been commonplace for some time.  In-vehicle camera systems have aided law enforcement for decades.  A body-worn option is therefore a logical enhancement to an existing method.  While the newer technology confronts us with additional challenges like coordinating evidence retention, storage, backup, and security concerns, and policy changes – these challenges are far from insurmountable.

But what happens after the cameras are in widespread use? Those in public service are wise enough to understand that an enhanced view of police encounters will hardly pacify the harshest and loudest of police opponents.  Criticisms that once centered on why agencies were slow to use body-cams will only move toward any number of reasons that such cameras failed to tell the full story in favor of a particular agenda.  While the future of law enforcement is likely to involve more video technology, the future will also include a great deal of debate about its use.  Those who see the cameras as a boon for police accountability, for example, are at the same time wary of their intrusiveness on the public.  Thinking forward, it’s easy to imagine the questions that will continue to arise. At what point for example, will one camera be sufficient? How long before persistent critics suggest multiple viewing angles, or demand that camera activation be tied electronically to other officer actions, such as un-holstering a firearm, or using a Taser?  Police body cameras will hardly stymie the most vocal opponents.

Effective law enforcement will always include disagreements about police encounters with the public, and personal body camera footage will not likely diminish this.  Agencies should anticipate a substantial number of new questions and accusations related to body-cams.  Police leaders can mitigate this with careful research, policy planning, and collaboration with government and community partners at all levels.

Body-worn cameras certainly have enough positive attributes to warrant an agency’s careful and individual consideration.  However, given that a segment of the population will never be satisfied with the level of visibility and accountability they provide, jurisdictions must avoid knee-jerk reactions that effect body-worn video implementation and policy.  Lawmakers and police agencies need to prudently consider privacy concerns, policies regarding the availability of video recordings, and internal policies concerning their use (including related disciplinary matters).  Only then can we be reasonably confident that the adoption of this technology is being done with appropriate research and planning, rather than in an attempt to appease the inappeasable.

This post originally appeared on PoliceAcademyU.com