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IPSA's Public Safety Column
The IPSA's Public Safety Column is an opportunity for our members and corporate sponsors to provide thought leadership articles about all topics facing public safety.
The articles we publish are not necessarily the views of the IPSA, rather they are opinions shared by each contributor.
By Kate Jamison, Marketing Manager, Operative IQ
Narcotics diversion is far too common, even in public safety agencies. Narcotics diversion is the transfer of legally prescribed controlled substances from the person for whom it was prescribed to any other person for illicit use. Diversion has been recorded in every type of medical environment at every level of service, from front line to medical directors.
Narcotics diversion statistics
There is no single enforcement agency that oversees all instances of diversion so statistics can be difficult to come by.
According to statistics from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the American Nurses Association, about 10 percent of health care workers are abusing drugs. Using these statistics, if you have 10 medics, one of them is possibly abusing drugs.
Fentanyl is a commonly diverted drug, and diversions, in general, are on the rise. The Department of Veterans Affairs reported a significant increase in drug diversion incidents at 1,200 facilities from 2009 to 2015, with 272 incidents in 2009 and 2,926 in 2015.
Employee drug abuse can happen at any organization, and narcotics diversion can be extremely tough to pinpoint. The statistics reveal that only a fraction of people who divert are caught.
Impacts on first responders
Diversion can have serious consequences for the individual who diverted and the agency they diverted from. The person who diverted the medication may be subject to criminal liability, termination from employment, or loss of licensure. It is possible that the agency they diverted from could be penalized.
The agency may lose their license or face administrative penalties. Additionally, the medical director of the agency could be liable because of the use of their DEA number. The medical director could face sanctions against their license or monetary penalties from the DEA.
A digital narcotics solution
One way to mitigate diversion is to use narcotics tracking software to track “cradle to grave” movements of the narcotics throughout an agency. This type of software can track when the drug was picked up, who received it, where it is located, when and how much was administered, amount wasted, noteworthy incidents and more.
Software that identifies substances received into your agency and enables regular auditing of safes will help you keep a close eye on what you have in stock. Daily or weekly audits through a user-friendly system is more effective in alerting you to discrepancies helping you identify potential diversions. By the time you get around to a quarterly or annual audit, it may be too late.
How Operative IQ helps agencies avoid narcotics diversion
Operative IQ’s narcotics module helps organizations avoid diversion incidents by tracking the distribution, chain of custody, and location of every narcotic carefully. Every single transaction can be verified with single or dual verification from a signature, password and pin or biometrics.
Operative IQ’s narcotics module with RFID enables you to keep a continuous audit. The software connects with a fixed RFID reader in your narcotics safe to send a continuous stream of data back to the system to let you know which drugs are in the safe 100 percent of the time.
As an administrator, you have the power to create records that will help you identify any anomalies like narcotics administration or waste quantities that may fall outside of the norm. Operative IQ can be configured to mirror your existing processes but track the entire lifecycle digitally.
About the Author
Kate Jamison is the marketing manager at Operative IQ, an operations management software company. She is a graphic designer and tech marketer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Gregory L. Walterhouse, Associate Teaching Professor, Bowling Green State University, IPSA Member
There are a number of terms used to describe the relationship between politicians and leadership including elected leaders, servants of the people, and servant leader. But are elected officials truly leaders, and if so, what leadership traits should they possess?
One author with a contrarian view, suggests that politicians are not elected leaders, and that political elections are a contest of competing interests. The author furthers suggests that leaders are recognized by character traits that draw others to them; and their ability to influence and encourage others to do certain things.
Another author also questions if elected officials truly serve as leaders, because to serve as leaders they must put the needs and goals of those they represent first. Leaders focus on the collective good and have concern about the people they represent and try to make their conditions better. The author submits that servant leaders must be ethical, do the right thing, have no hidden agendas, create value, and are focused on the common good and having a positive impact on the community at large.
A study conducted at Northcentral University surveyed voters, elected officials and business executives to determine what traits they preferred to restore their trust and confidence in elected officials. The traits viewed most important by respondents to the study were, integrity, honesty, trustworthy and ethical with integrity being the most important. What are the consequences when servant leader’s actions do not comport with these leadership traits?
A negative example involving an elected official is instructive.
Social media case study
An elected official in a U.S. city was at the center of a recent controversy that received widespread news coverage and resulted in harsh public criticism. The elected official allegedly made a post to their personal Facebook page depicting a thin blue line flag with the blue stripe partially peeled back exposing a red flag with a Nazi swastika which included a caption “Reading beneath the lines.”
This was ill-perceived by many and identified by some as hate speech. One city official opined that the post was “an ethical violation of city policy.” Another city official countered by supporting the elected official’s First Amendment right to free speech.
In response to the public outcry, the elected official removed the post claiming it was misinterpreted. The elected official further explained that they were ultimately acted carelessly with the social media post.
It has been said, perception is nine tenths of reality. Actions of servant leaders need to focus on the common good, have a positive impact on the community at large, create value, and not be based on personal or hidden agendas.
It is unknown if the elected official’s alleged social media post involved a hidden agenda, but it undeniably had a negative effect on the city and community at large. The adverse consequences of the elected official’s alleged social media post are numerous and varied.
Was the elected official’s alleged Facebook post protected speech?
The Supreme Court held in Pickering v. Board of Education, that public employees enjoy First Amendment protection when speaking as a citizen on matters of public concern. From available accounts, it appears the elected official was speaking on a matter of public concern, presumably on her own time and personal computer. Yet, the elected official’s speech caused considerable disruption for the City administration.
In several cases involving social media posts by public employees, various courts have held that potential disruption to a government entity can outweigh public employee freedom of speech rights (Duke v. Hamil; Gresham v. City of Atlanta (11th Cir. 2013); Grutzmacher v. Howard County (4th Cir. 2017)).
Because the elected official’s alleged Facebook post caused disruption for the City, including divisiveness, stress, distraction, negative publicity and more, the post may not be protected speech.
Government has a legitimate interest in providing efficient public service, maintaining a favorable reputation with the public, and upholding public trust. That aside, the post was not made in the interest of the common good of the community, created no value, did not make conditions better or leave a positive impact, in fact did the opposite, was not the right thing to do, and is indicative that not all elected officials are true community leaders.
Greg Walterhouse is an IPSA Board Member, an Associate Teaching Professor in the Fire Administration and Masters in Public Administration programs at Bowling Green State University. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Management from Oakland University, a Master’s degree in Legal Studies from the University of Illinois and a Master’s degree in Management from Central Michigan University, and a Specialist Degree in Educational Leadership from Bowling Green State University. Before joining BGSU, Greg had over 35 years’ experience in various aspects of public safety with 18 years in upper management. The author may be contacted at email@example.com.
By John Klich, Superintendent, Toronto Paramedic Services, IPSA Member
Incident management does not always result in the positive or desired outcomes we hoped for. Lots of things can go wrong during an event response; the scene can de-stabilize, people can get hurt, equipment can fail. In the aftermath of an event, the incident commander’s decisions may be questioned and challenge. Questions that may be asked include: Did you have a plan? Was it a reasonable plan? Did you follow the plan?
A well thought out incident action plan for a scheduled event can mitigate many of the issues that arise when emergencies or incidents occur. This article discusses some of the considerations for making sure your plan for a scheduled event is realistic and reasonable.
Three measures that can help ensure your incident action plan is realistic and reasonable include:
Guidance, best practices
As the incident action plan is developed, there will likely be some aspects that may be new or unconventional for your organization. Refer to established practices to determine the value and risks of any of these actions.
Even for previously used strategies and tactics, it is worthwhile to stay current by asking the following questions:
Depending on when a critical event occurs, there may be limited opportunity for research or consultation. Specialists or subject matter experts can help provide best practices for a tactic or strategy; this may be especially helpful when guidance is required for matters of health and safety, labor relations, or specialized circumstances involving technology.
However, having the right staff involved in the management of the event can close this gap.
Meet with stakeholders
For large-scale events there will be multiple stakeholders from multiple agencies and jurisdictions. In the 1 October After-Action Report, it was noted that, “The Fire Alarm Office and fire department line personnel were not aware that the festival was occurring.”
One approach is to provide appropriate engagement based on how the event would normally impact them. For those actively involved in the event (staffing, equipment, property and services), direct planning and interaction will be required and should be documented in an incident action plan. Avoid making assumptions about who can do what, where people or stuff can go, or how something will be accomplished. Seek out clarification and confirmation of their roles and responsibilities.
For stakeholders that are not directly supporting the event, some level of notification is usually sufficient. Notification provides those stakeholders with the opportunity to review their plans and if deemed necessary, to make their own preparations for the event.
Review other plans
The incident action plan may rely on other plans or standard operating procedures. Reviewing and referencing these other plans will reduce ill informed decisions and incorrect assumptions.
For example, Guidelines for Field Triage of Injured Patients provides recommendations for which patients should be transported to a trauma center. Similarly, Mutual Aid & Assistance (MAA) agreements provide the rapid sharing of resources.
Alignment with other plans will ensure that conflicts and gaps are minimized. Even within an agency, continuity plans may conflict. A classic example of this is when many groups have separately identified the same location as their back up site; when the power goes out at headquarters, all these business units show up to the same place not realizing there is not enough space or infrastructure to support all of them at once.
Review how your plans integrate with other plans like transportation, crisis communications, and resource management. Make sure that your tactics or strategies are not based on an assumption, but rather they are grounded in what is expected as outlined by policy and procedure.
It is especially relevant to review how your plan aligns with your agency’s use of social media. Social media influence can change everything from crowd behavior to agency reputation in a matter of minutes. Innovative Uses of Social Media in Emergency Management provides some context on the value of integrating a social media policy with your incident action plan.
Event considerations are continually changing based on everything from social media and designer drugs to new responder equipment (e.g. UAS) and even the weather (Lightning injures 33 at music festival in Germany, 2015).
“But that’s the way we have always done it” is no longer good enough when it comes to planning. Now more than ever, incident action plans require due diligence to ensure the decisions and objectives are reasonable.
John Klich is a Superintendent with Toronto Paramedic Services, currently assigned to supporting the Ambulance Communications Centre. His primary focus is business continuity and emergency preparedness & planning to ensure the 9-1-1 call center is operating 24/7. His previous portfolios included Community Paramedicine and Operations. John also has experience as a paramedic Field Training Officer and a Flight Paramedic. John has a BA in Social Science and several college certificates including Emergency Management, Crisis Communications, Incident Management System and Security Intelligence Counter Terrorism.
Inventory and asset management is essential to public safety preparedness. Law enforcement, first responders and emergency response providers must have enough of every essential item to ensure they can respond to each incident properly. However, this is more difficult than it sounds.
It is time consuming to count every single item in the supply room to inventory the quantities and expiration dates of items on each ambulance, fire apparatus, police squad car, dive team or SWAT vehicle. Without managing inventory, however, you run the risk of not having what you need when you need it. This can also cause problems with re-ordering if you do not know how much supply you have on hand. Creating an order based on a quick glance of your stockroom or an educated guess of what is on your shelves may leave you with too much of one item and not enough of another.
RFID is here to help
We know that cycle counting your supplies is time consuming but may be a necessary evil in the spirit of response readiness. Pairing RFID technology with a digital inventory management system can make monotonous tasks much quicker and easier.
RFID, or radio frequency identification, is a technology that uses electromagnetic fields to automatically locate and track tags attached to objects. The RFID reader sends out a signal searching for responses and can pick up a signal from a variety of tags in various locations quickly. Similar to barcoding, the RFID-identified tags are scanned into a software where stock levels are managed, but the difference with RFID functionality is tags can be captured from a distance and without scanning every individual tag.
There are two types of RFID systems for inventory and asset tracking: (1) handheld and (2) fixed.
A handheld RFID reader is portable and mobile and can capture tagged items and update counts on demand. A fixed RFID reader continuously reads RFID tags to account for items and posts changes for missing assets. You can install fixed RFID readers in a supply room, ambulance, or other kind of vehicle for constant monitoring of items and handheld RFID readers can read tags periodically to provide a snapshot of available assets and inventory in each area.
How to use RFID
To use an RFID tracking system, you need to apply a RFID tag to every item in the supply room (or boxes of items that you don’t want to tag individually, like gloves). Then you can use the handheld RFID reader or fixed RFID reader to pick up a signal from each of the tagged items giving you an accurate count of your supply room. Yes, it may be a hassle to tag every item at first, but after touching it once to tag it, you never have to touch it again until you go to use it.
You may be wondering ‘what is a RFID tag?’ More than just a sticker, RFID tags contain a microchip and antenna that allows them to be located by a RFID reader. The tags do not require a line of sight to be seen by the reader, they can be captured from a few feet away, meaning inventory checks can be done quickly and without touching each of the items.
Benefits of RFID
There is a huge opportunity for time savings with RFID. Cycle counting inventory to include expiration dates in a room where all or most of the items have RFID tags can be done in minutes. Quicker cycle counts mean you can be sure you always know how much you have of everything in the supply room. It also means that crew members don’t have to manually log their usage because you can easily see how much was used when and what needs to be reordered.
Digitized inventory management allows you to set par and reorder points to send alerts when you are running low of anything. A web-based inventory and asset management tool like one provided by Operative IQ or other systems provide access to your data at your fingertips. Moving to electronic operations management tools and away from paper checks and spreadsheets gives you the information you need to make good decisions. RFID technology is the next step to automate the labor-intensive tasks and reduce human error.
With Operative IQ, quartermasters, operations managers, logistics staff, directors and chief officers have an organizational tool to optimize their inventories and asset tracking. You can leverage software and technology to save time, improve inventory accuracy, reduce waste due to loss and expiring supplies and streamline supply levels to improve your bottom line.
Kate Jamison is the marketing manager at Operative IQ, an Operations Management Software company. She is a graphic designer and tech marketer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
By David Kidd, National Director of Sales with Safeware Inc.
Pause for a moment and take yourself back in time 20 years ago in the public safety arena. Picture yourself observing the purchasing landscape and process to secure a commodity or item that a safety department needs to procure. Chances are that you see a separation between the procurement office and the end-users, maybe even a significant one. Perhaps even a stigma where end-users must get three prices or quotes from competitors before even reaching out to the procurement department in fear of getting into trouble or even going to jail for speaking to vendors with no contract vehicles in place.
Now fast-forward to the present day. Years of legislative changes and positive experiences with accessing other public-agency-held contracts to gain more efficiency and savings through the procurement process, and now you have the modern market.
COVID-19 and PPE procurement
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, procurement departments stood shoulder-to-shoulder with end-users and rolled up their sleeves to find any qualifying PPE that could support their agency. Through this process, many end-users had their eyes opened to the opportunity for collaboration with procurement departments, as well as the legal and efficient ways for public agencies to work together to achieve the best overall value and efficiency in the purchasing process. Often, these public procurement departments were able to secure the items that were needed for their end-users by accessing or piggybacking an existing contract with another public agency for those very same items.
What did this new efficient process look like? Well, agencies that are looking for the same items were no longer competing against each other for these items, but rather they were pooling their volume and resources together to achieve a more beneficial result for each agency by utilizing their combined economies of scale. As we have heard so many times in the past: the more that you buy, the cheaper each item is.
Public safety agencies are used to working with neighboring entities, but from the procurement office side of things, it remained separated for some time. However, through the growth of nationally recognized cooperative vehicles, agencies have started to pool their volumes behind these national contracts growing their annual contract volumes over several hundred million dollars annually on these contracts. Large volumes like these are leading to aggressive pricing for smaller orders since the overall contract pricing is based on the annual collective volume of the contract.
Current collaborative practices may look something like:
Partnerships with suppliers
Given the current market conditions listed above, a trend that has developed in the marketplace is that public agency customers are able to develop relationships with trusted and reputable suppliers to start viewing them as partners instead of just a source for goods. Partnering with suppliers, especially under an existing public agency contract, allows departments to get creative and identify the level of safety they seek to achieve, create a list of items that will help them meet that level, and then procure these items in a cost-effective manner where they can be confident that they are getting the items they want in an efficient and compliant process.
Safeware Inc., for example, has been in the public safety industry for over 40 years. With over 1,500 suppliers and decades of cooperative contract experience, they would love to connect their field team of safety experts with your team to discuss their current contract solutions to meet all your safety needs. Safeware's mission is, as has always been, to protect those who keep us safe every day.
David Kidd is the national director of sales for the southern United States with Safeware Inc. He has spent over 13 years working directly with public sector government agencies and spent ten of those years with the premier national cooperative purchasing program, U.S. Communities. You can email David at email@example.com.
By Paul Witry, Graduate Student in MS of Threat and Response Management, University of Chicago; Emergency Management Consultant – Planning, Response, EOC Ops, IPSA Member
The vulnerabilities faced by critical infrastructure are not entirely new. Attacks have taken place against infrastructure systems around the globe. On the international stage, a series of attacks against Ukrainian electrical grids impacts thousands of customers across the nation. While short-lived, these attacks represent a source of concern for other nations, particularly the United States. Additionally, the structure of the software used to trigger these attacks also may have caused long-term damage within the utility infrastructure in Ukraine. This risk of extensive impacts across an infrastructure system represent a much larger concern than an outage lasting a few hours.
The Nashville bombing is an incident that could have been more tragic had it not been for the quick action of first responders to ensure the safety of those in the area. There was one fatality – the bomber. The explosion represents an attack on telecommunications and cyber critical infrastructure.
Telecommunications, critical infrastructure
The United States has a dependency on telecommunication infrastructure, a sector that is particularly vulnerable to both physical and cyber-attacks. This has been emphasized throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and heightened awareness of this dependency was further illustrated from the recent Nashville bombing.
Throughout the pandemic, organizations have shifted many operations to remote environments across the public and private sector. This transition has opened our eyes as to how critical functional telecommunications systems are to all types of organizations. Given this, securing our telecommunications network from both cyber and physical attacks must be high priority at the international and domestic level.
Implementing best practices for security across the public and private sectors can create a more secure world for all. Additionally, creating and maintaining the recommended channels of communication between local, state, federal, and international stakeholders offers effective coordination between all those involved.
Cyber, critical infrastructure
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) was founded in 2018 under the United States Department of Homeland Security with the intent of identifying and securing our nation’s infrastructure from both cyber and physical threat actors.
The creation of CISA signifies a dedication to increased risk management when it concerns our national infrastructure for years to come. The agency continues to offer updated guidance and best practices for government facilities and public-private partners on how to implement countermeasures for bombings and other physical attacks, as well as cyber-attacks against critical infrastructure.
United Nations report
At the international level, a report compiled in 2018 by the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT) and United Nations Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) offered a series of leading practices for securing critical infrastructure against terrorist attacks and other threat actors. Some of the most pertinent recommendations include:
These recommendations span both the domestic and international level, promoting collaboration among local agencies and between members of the international community.
Some threat actors may view infrastructure impacts as a tool to achieve their overall goals. Warden’s Five Strategic Rings theory originally grew out of military strategy. The concentric circles illustrate the layers surrounding the core of operations, which is leadership. Critical infrastructure is represented as the tertiary ring in this hierarchy. If threat actors were to become more strategic in their operations, critical infrastructure would represent their primary target due to its broad impacts. This shift to a more strategic system could signify an increase in potential attacks directed toward critical infrastructure from both foreign and domestic sources.
The Nashville bombing reinforces the idea that not all threat actors may be targeting the lives of others. In this scenario, the attacker’s target is thought to be the telecommunication system present in the area. As the world is increasingly interconnected and dependent on these infrastructure systems, they represent a more attractive target for actors who may wish to trigger cascading impacts that will last beyond the initial attack. The constant battle to stay abreast to the new tactics and tools being utilized by these actors will only intensify as their targets have a larger sphere of impact for any nation.
Paul Witry is currently a graduate student at the University of Chicago studying Threat Response and Emergency Management. He holds a double B.A. in Political Science and International Relations with a focus in National Security from Loyola University of Chicago.
By Lawrence Nolan, Ph.D., Program Manager, Capstone Corporation, IPSA Member
An important component of the public safety sector is the unpaid staff in organizations serving communities as volunteers. Individuals who volunteer willingly give of their time, and in many cases, do it in order to make a difference or give back to the community as addressed in the Volunteer Engagement Toolkit Guide. There are many dedicated individuals across the nation that devote their time as volunteers to government, non-profit and charitable organizations. The U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics reported in 2015 that about 62.6 million people were volunteers in America. During that period, volunteers 16 years and older contributed 8.9 billion hours and volunteers over 65 years were responsible for 2.2 billion hours of the total. This provides an insight into the value that approximately 20 percent of the population places on service to others. The public safety community is supported by a portion of these volunteers.
To consider volunteers in public safety, it is helpful to understand who they are. Jeffrey Brudney’s article on volunteers in the public sector characterized volunteers as supporting a government organization and mission, providing their time freely, receiving no remuneration for their time or labor, however they may be compensated for their personal expenses in support of their work. These volunteers support federal, state, tribal, and municipal government organizations, religious, non-governmental, non-profit, and community-based organizations involved in providing safety to the public. Their support is provided to a wide variety of public safety sectors.
Emergency services volunteers
This is not a comprehensive list of public safety organizations with volunteers, but it does provide a perspective on the diversity of ways volunteers support public safety. Recruitment and retention of volunteers are important to the public safety community.
Volunteer fire departments, emergency medical services and ambulance transport serve many communities across the nation. The National Fire Protection Association reported in their U.S. fire department profile that there are an estimated 1,115,00 firefighters in the nation during 2018, with approximately 33 percent career and 67 percent volunteer firefighters. Those 745,000 volunteer firefighters are making a significant contribution to public safety across the country.
Other public safety volunteers support Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT), Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD), American Red Cross, Medical Reserve Corps, Neighborhood Watch & Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS), Fire Corps, Civil Air Patrol, American Radio Relay League (ARRL) and Meals on Wheels Association of America as reported in Ready Gov.
The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary has approximately 26,000 volunteers with a focus on recreational boating safety.
Recognition of the value of volunteers drives effective management and success of organizations. Providing an environment that appreciates volunteers leads to an increase of services to the public. Knowing what motivates volunteers can assist in the development of organizational policies. In a study of volunteers in non-profit organizations, community service, career advancement and well-being were common underlying motivations for individuals. The Volunteer Functions Inventory created in 1992 by E.G. Clary, M. Snyder, and R. Ridge was addressed in a systematic review and identified six motivations in volunteers.
Organizations need to appreciate these volunteer motivations and ensure they are managing to support the recruitment and retention of volunteers.
Successful volunteer programs in the public safety sector understand the importance of focusing on volunteer motivations. Addressing the needs of volunteers increases organizational output and maintains their commitment to the mission. In the article volunteers in the public sector, it identifies the following best practices for managing volunteers in organizations.
It is important to implement these best practices in organizations that utilize volunteers. It allows the volunteers to feel valued and appreciated for their contributions to public safety. It also maximizes the support provided by volunteers in the office.
Volunteers are a resource for the public safety sector to consider in fulfilling their mission. They are used in a wide variety of roles and are motivated to assist their communities. Effectively managing volunteers leads to their retention and assists in the effort to recruit new members. Utilizing volunteers may be an alternative for public safety organizations, when funds are unavailable to hire to requirements.
Lawrence Nolan, Ph.D. is a Program Manager for Capstone Corporation, retired from the Department of the Army and U.S. Navy Reserve, and is a member of the USCG Auxiliary.
By Sarah Guenette, Learning & Development Manager, Calgary Community Standards, IPSA Mental Health Committee Member
There has been a lot of talk in the media recently around the issue of unconscious bias and many agencies are looking into training for their employees in how to recognize and mitigate unconscious bias. But what is it? And what does it mean for first responders?
What is bias?
Bias is defined as “a prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another usually in a way that’s considered to be unfair. Biases may be held by an individual, group, or institution and can have negative or positive consequences”. Bias can be either conscious or unconscious (also known as explicit or implicit). Conscious bias is intentional, whereas unconscious bias is most of the time involuntary.
“Unconscious biases, otherwise known as implicit biases, are inherent or learned stereotypes about people that everyone forms without realizing it. Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about an individual, group or institution. Everyone has unconscious biases about various groups, and they are often not aligned with one’s conscious values”.
Due to the misalignment with conscious values, it takes some examination of your own reactions in different situations to analyze whether you are working under unconscious biases or not. Most people consciously do not want to think they are biased towards anyone. Often unconscious biases stem from childhood and are imbedded in the person so early on that they do not even consider them. In fact, biases originated as a way for humans to keep themselves safe, to be able to assess quickly whether someone else is a friend or an enemy. For prehistoric humans, the ability to judge someone else quickly could be a case of life or death.
Types of unconscious bias
Unconscious bias comes in many forms, including:
Bias in first responders
Looking at this list of specific types of bias, it is easy to see how some of these would creep in to the first responder realm without people being conscious of it even happening. Two types that would appear to be obvious include groupthink and perception bias.
Newly hired first responders want to fit in to the group. They are enthusiastic about their new position and often look up to the more experienced members. It could be easy to slip into the unconscious group think to fit in. That could potentially be a positive team building thing, making the new person one of us.
However, if that groupthink is based on negative biases towards others that can lead to toxic environments in the workplace and impact how responders react in certain situations.
Unconscious perception bias is probably the biggest obstacle for not only first responders, but for everyone in general. Animals, including human beings, are constantly receiving information about their surroundings and situations. That information is then analyzed based on knowledge and previous experiences and a perception is formed about what is going on. This is all done almost instantaneously and most of the time without any conscious thought being committed to it. People take in certain facts about a situation and decide what is going on.
Take this example provided by Gavin de Becker in his book The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence
“Imagine a man arriving for work one morning. He does not go in an unlocked front door, but instead goes around to a back entrance. When he sees someone ahead of him use a key to get in, he runs up and catches the door before it relocks. Once he is inside the building, he barely responds as a co-worker calls out, ‘The boss wants to see you’. ‘Yeah, I want to see him too,’ the man says quietly. He is carrying a gym bag, but it appears too heavy to contain just clothes.
Before going to his boss’s office, he stops in the locker room, reaches into the bag and pulls out a pistol. He takes a second handgun from the bag and conceals both of them beneath his coat. Now he looks for his boss.”
As de Becker points out, if the story stopped right here people reading it would have not only formed perceptions of this man in the story, but also predictions about what is going to happen next. This is because most people have preconceived notions about what it means when someone carries a firearm into their workplace and are looking for their boss.
However, if you add in the fact that the man in this story is a police detective reporting for duty it changes things considerably. A police officer could also commit workplace violence, but most people would assume that this detective is just getting ready for work. If the workplace in the story were instead a university or a post office this would change the perception yet again.
First responders have a disadvantage when trying to manage their own unconscious perception bias. They are often entering situations where they do not have all the facts to decide what is going on and this is where unconscious biases could appear. Since unconscious biases are deep rooted in our survival instinct, periods of stress and pressure tend to bring them to the forefront. These perception biases can be ingrained from experience in the first responder job role. The people and situations first responders encounter are mapped into certain categories in the responder’s mind, and sometimes there are only seconds to complete this assessment. Plus, it is done completely involuntarily by the responder.
Remember this is vastly different than conscious racism, sexism and homophobia. Most first responders have an accepting conscious belief system and would not consciously act on anything discriminatory. Everyone would agree there is no place in the first responder world for those who would consciously change their response to a citizen in crisis based on bias. The first responders that do that would warrant a much longer and in-depth article.
Addressing unconscious bias
There is no shame in having unconscious biases, everyone has them.
It would be incredibly challenging, if not impossible, to train people out of having unconscious biases since it is so embedded in the human condition. In the first responder world, the biggest step is to have an awareness that these biases exist. It would be beneficial for agencies to educate first responders on unconscious bias, what it is and how it can impact them in their day-to-day work.
Genuine self-reflection is the key to understanding unconscious bias. This could lead to a reduction in how often unconscious bias negatively impacts how first responders act in certain situations. The goal should not be to eliminate unconscious bias, but rather to mitigate it and its impacts on the way that first responders react.
If you are interested in seeing what unconscious biases you have, try taking Harvard University’s Implicit Association Test through Project Implicit.
Or you can ask yourself what pops into your head when you hear the following descriptions. Consider where those beliefs have come from.
Sarah Guenette, M.A., is the Learning & Development Manager for Calgary Community Standards. She oversees recruit training and continuing education for 9-1-1 call evaluators, bylaw and animal officers, business licensing inspectors, livery inspectors and animal shelter services employees. Sarah has a background in 9-1-1 and was a call evaluator, dispatcher and operations manager for over 10 years. She has overseen the Psychological Health and Safety portfolio and the Peer Support team for Calgary Community Standards since 2013. She is passionate about creating and maintaining a healthy workplace for employees. Sarah is also the proud wife of a Calgary Police Service Officer.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges for every organization. Even those agencies with pandemic plans have struggled with the nuances of operationalizing strategies that may have never been actually used. Many plans are based on unwavering assumptions like a reliable supply chain or sufficient staffing. However, the current pandemic has proven that such assumptions are often the overlooked vulnerability when it comes to making these plans work.
One thing COVID-19 has created is an incredible environment for innovation and collaboration. Many businesses have pivoted to either meet supply chain needs or adapt to the changing markets related to lock downs and restrictions. Organizations are applying creative solutions to new challenges, often in the context of partnerships. Unless these rapid changes, new procedures and relationships are clearly understood by everyone involved, the outcomes may be slow, confusing, or even unexpected.
Process mapping explained
Process mapping is a visual method of identifying what is being done and who is responsible for doing it. It is often illustrated as a flow chart that shows key tasks and decisions as part of a set of steps. Process maps can be simple high level overviews to convey general strategies; or they can be complex plans detailing the tactics and tasks necessary to solve a problem. The level of detail and complexity is determined by the intended user or audience.
In the first responder world, process maps can be used to illustrate response scenarios and find efficiencies, reducing response times.
Public safety uses
A process map can be used to capture a specific response measure for a public safety agency. When there is a fire or similar threat to a large congregate setting like an apartment building, temporary shelter may be required for the evacuees to protect them from inclement weather or other elements. In some jurisdictions, transit buses are deployed to the incident scene to serve as mobile shelters for hundreds of displaced people. However, during a pandemic, significantly more shelter buses may be required to maintain physical distancing and accommodate evacuees who are on quarantine.
A process map can aid incident command in assessing the bus needs and managing the evacuees appropriately. It can identify specific tasks or roles required to provide safe and effective evacuation and sheltering of displaced persons.
Similarly, special teams might use a process map to clearly outline a procedure like decontamination at a CBRNE incident. In this case, a highly visual flowchart can aid in prioritizing decisions for responders who may not be familiar with this type of activity; it can convey triage points and responsibilities very quickly.
A more detailed process map might be used for protocols that are complex and involve more stakeholders as with a pandemic prevention measure.
Many public safety agencies are directly involved in patient care; they provide first response, treatment & transport. Pre-shift screening is an important pandemic measure to prevent sick staff from exposing healthy workers or their patients to potentially COVID-19.
However, screening is only the start of the mitigation process. Understanding what is supposed to happen when a staff member fails a screening is critical to ensuring staff and patient safety. A pre-shift screening process map might include the following considerations:
A detailed process map would outline all the steps in the pre-shift screening procedure including decision points like PASS or FAIL. The specific roles responsible for follow up tasks and monitoring are also captured in the flow chart. This provides a simple visual for all staff to follow.
Explaining the value
The real value of process mapping is the visual layout of tasks, decision points and the corresponding outcomes. Everyone who has a stake in the activity can see what needs to be done and who is responsible. This approach also forces the developers to think through each decision response and close off any loose ends.
The simplest way to create a process map is to jot down each task and decision separately on a Post-It note. This allows the notes to be organized and rearranged as the process is developed. Once the process is mapped out, it can be transcribed into an application to save and distribute electronically. Several applications like MS Word or PowerPoint have the basic tools and functions to create a process map. Other applications like Visio, Smart Draw are much more adept at creating process maps, however, they have a slightly steeper learning curve.
Another option is to complete an online course like Learn the basics of mapping a process. In less than an hour, you will have the basics and some resources to start mapping.
Process mapping is useful to improve understanding of the scope of a response measure. It can be an effective tool to communicate what your organization is doing to manage a risk like COVID-19 exposures or provide an effective response like safe fire evacuations.
Over the past several months, activist groups, celebrities and opinion editorials have called for defunding the police. These actions are not trivial or inconsequential, as they are driving public policy with some corporations and politicians.
Some Corporations are financially supporting the “defund the police” movement. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company drew the ire of many when a leaked company policy that purported to prohibited Goodyear employees from wearing apparel on company premises that supported the police. This was surprising news from a company that is a major supplier of tires for police vehicles.
At the time this story broke, this author contacted Goodyear by email through their corporate website requesting clarification of their policy, but received no reply. Goodyear has since clarified their policy to allow employees to wear apparel that expresses support for police on Goodyear premises.
Of greater concern is the number of politicians that are jumping on the “defund the police” bandwagon. As reported by Newsweek, at the federal level Congresswomen Ilhan Omar (Minnesota), Rashida Tlaib (Michigan), and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (New York) have all called for defunding the police. At the local level, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced his plan to cut $150 million from the city’s police budget. Forbes reports that a number of cities have already reduced police budgets and staffing including Austin, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Baltimore, Portland, Philadelphia, Hartford, Salt Lake City and Washington D.C.
The call to defund the police, though vague and generally undefined, purportedly stems from the claimed injustice of violent police encounters with African American males, most notably George Floyd in Minneapolis.
What the data shows
The 2018 United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) summary reveals that only 2% of U.S. residents that had police contact experienced threats or use of force. It is noteworthy that the study includes handcuffing as a use of force. There are 223.3 million licensed drivers in the U.S. of which 8.6% experienced a stop by police as driver of a motor vehicle. Of those stopped 95% indicated the police behaved properly.
A report in The Federalist Society Review indicates that police made 99% of arrests without the use of force and that in only 0.003% of arrests was deadly force with a firearm used. To place this into context, the BJS reports that 53.5 million people had contact with the police in 2015. A study published in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery supports this data. The authors of the study conclude police use of force is rare, and when used, officers commonly rely on unarmed physical force and conducted electrical weapons (CEW).
Police use of force has also declined over the past 50 years as reported by the Wall Street Journal. In 1971, New York City police officers reported 810 firearm discharges, wounding 220 persons and killing 93. In contrast, in 2016, there were 72 firearm discharges, with 23 wounded and 9 killed.
Harvard Professor Roland Fryer’s research data is instructive. Professor Fryer has found that while black and Hispanic populations are more likely to experience non-lethal force, “on the most extreme use of force — officer-involved shootings — we find no racial differences in either the raw data or when contextual factors are taken into account.” Another study suggests, that not race, but “exposure to police given crime rate differences likely accounts for the higher per capita rate of fatal police shootings for Blacks.”
In a related article, legislative and budgetary actions that are averse to law enforcement agencies have resulted in a higher percentage of police officers resigning or retiring. Compounded by the challenges of recruiting new officers in today’s environment has left many police agencies short staffed. The result is substantially rising crime rates in some cities.
New York City: As of August 2020, shootings are up 87% in New York City from August 2019. New York City has also experienced a 47% increase in murders, 4% increase in robberies and a 22% increase in burglaries for the same period.
Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles: CNN reports that homicides increased 32% in Philadelphia and 52% in Chicago. Similarly, homicides have increased 25% in Los Angeles from 2019-2020.
Austin: The City of Austin who cut roughly one-third of its police budget, has experienced a 40% increases in homicides in 2019, an 18% increase in aggravated assaults, and abnormally high attrition.
Minneapolis: According to the CNN report, homicides increased 85% in Minneapolis from July 2019 to July 2020. After vowing to defund the police in November 2020, the City Council narrowly reversed course after experiencing the highest number of homicides and aggravated assaults in fifteen years and approved nearly $500,000 to contract with the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office and Metro Transit Police for additional officers through the end of December.
However, while not reducing the authorized staffing of 888 officers, the City Council did reduce the budget of Minneapolis Police Department by $8 million.
Defunding the police is not included in recommendations
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights report Police use of Force: An Examination of Modern Policing Practices offers the following highlighted recommendations to reduce incidents of excessive force:
An article by Rizer and Mooney, suggests similar recommendations including de-escalation in the use of force training, greater transparency in use of force policies, promotion of successful field training officer programs, limiting acquisition and use of military resources, and greater accountability for misuse of force. It is noteworthy that none of these recommendations call for defunding of police and to the contrary would require a greater monetary investment particularly for training and enhanced data collection and dissemination.
According to Harvard Professor Fryer “defunding the police is not a solution and could cost thousands of black lives.” This is evidenced by the rising homicide rate in many cities since the start of defund the police movement. An article in Newsweek suggests “multiple factors explain, these trends, including diminished police legitimacy in the wake of Floyd’s killing.”
The data to support the call to defund the police is light. Citing from Rousseau, security of citizens is an essential element of the social contract, without police there is no security. Accordingly, calls to defund the police are both irrational and irresponsible.
Greg Walterhouse is an Associate Teaching Professor in the Department of Political Science at Bowling Green State University and teaches in the Fire Administration and Master’s in Public Administration programs. Greg holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Management from Oakland University, a Master’s degree in Legal Studies from the University of Illinois, a Master’s degree in Personnel Management from Central Michigan University and a Specialist Degree in Educational Leadership from Bowling Green State University. Prior to coming to BGSU Greg had over 35 years’ experience in public safety holding various positions. The author may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Police under siege: Concerns with emergency legislation
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