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INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC SAFETY ASSOCIATION
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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.


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  • 18 Dec 2020 9:32 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    By Gregory L. Walterhouse, Associate Teaching Professor, Bowling Green State University, IPSA Member

    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.”

    Unintended consequences

    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:

    • Train officers in de-escalation tactics and alternatives to use of force.
    • Investigation and prosecution of use of force cases should be as independent as possible.
    • Courts and legislatures should require judges to preside over grand jury proceedings on use of force cases.
    • Departments should provide aggregate information to the public regarding the numbers of allegations and type of use of force and what steps, if any, departments take to address use of force concerns when they arise.

    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.

    Conclusion

    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. 

    About the Author

    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 waltegl@bgsu.edu.


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  • 07 Dec 2020 9:05 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    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 COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally shifted the way those on the front lines operate during, mitigate, and respond to disasters. With the traditional EOC representing a primary transfer point for COVID-19 due to high concentrations of personnel, this has presented a new challenge for first responders. The emergency management community has been forced to implement new modes of operation through virtual EOCs and response operations.

    FEMA has issued a series of best practices for EOC operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. This encompasses the implementation of a physical and virtual EOC and some in a hybrid system to limit on-site personnel. By implementing these best practices in a virtual environment, first responders and emergency operators can ensure the same security and efficacy of their operations.

    While virtual environments have been utilized in the past, COVID-19 has forced more operations than ever into the digital domain. And while represents an adjustment for many response communities, there are opportunities to increase operational continuity and efficacy for the future. Software and services such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Google allow for effective video conferencing and file sharing. Additionally, some tools provide emergency management tailored services for organizations and agencies. These resources allow for better tracking of required documentation and maintaining interoperability between agencies and stakeholders when necessary.

    Below are some of the challenges and benefits that emergency managers and first responders face due to increased virtual operations.

    EOC virtual benefits

    While not comprehensive, below are some unique benefits to EOC's operating in a virtual environment.

    • Hybrid operations: COVID-19 has changed the way the world perceives social interactions. CDC guidelines encourage social distancing and reduction of large in-person gatherings. By utilizing a fully remote or hybrid model, operations can ensure operational health. Staggering on-site staff alongside remote operations can decrease the risk posed to key operational assets who are required to fulfill an in-person role.

    • Ease of collaboration: Shifting to a virtual environment allows for collaboration among agencies more quickly and safely. Large briefings and response meetings can be hosted instantaneously rather than in a conference room or EOC to discuss operations. It also promotes more efficient collaboration on documents, program development, and information sharing.

    • Centralized information and data: Documentation and tracking is a priority for emergency operations. Through virtual platforms, operations can maintain records for short—term and long-term activations. This allows for quick reference to past documentation, current data, and standard operating procedure (SOP) for organizations.

    • Future incident operability: By establishing SOP for a virtual EOC, emergency management agencies will be better equipped to transition in future disasters and utilize this format more efficiently. It represents an investment in the agency and their resiliency in an all-hazards response plan. 

    EOC virtual challenges

    Below are some challenges that EOC's need to be aware of when operating in a virtual environment. 

    • Security concerns: New platforms for large urban management teams present a security risk when their operations are shifted online. Mitigating access security threats requires restrictions of permissions on the platform utilized by a team, which can also cause extended information sharing issues.

    • Communication management: While remote and online communication is a benefit for ease of information sharing, it also presents challenges. In a typical physical EOC, partner agency representatives are often within the operations center. Without all individuals and liaisons on site, identifying and contacting those who fulfill a role in the EOC can be more challenging, especially during an extended response period.

    • User functionality: For agencies who may be utilizing a remote format for the first time, training on a new platform during an emergency can present its own challenges. Familiarity with systems can be a hurdle for those joining an operation in progress. Additionally, the initial implementation of such a system may take longer if it is the first time it is being utilized by public safety and emergency management teams. Ensuring that users can effectively operate the deployed technology is key to the continuity of a virtual EOC.

    • Information technology (IT) concerns: Shifting to online operations places a higher dependency on public infrastructure, primarily internet service providers (ISPs) and cellular providers to keep individuals connected to response critical services. While EOC systems may have secondary safeguards such as power generation and cellular backup, those connecting remotely have a higher dependency on these public forms of infrastructure to maintain connection.

    • Concurrent disasters: The risk of secondary disasters impacting response capabilities during COVID-19 has been a concern for many public safety officials, particularly considering evacuation weather disasters and their implementation amidst a pandemic. However, the dependency on infrastructure can represent a risk for high-impact weather systems that may affect local infrastructure and power for an extended period. This would limit remote operations. 

    The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged emergency management and public safety agencies to adapt and establish new modes of operation, response, and recovery. While the shift to hybrid operations is not unknown, the sustained response that has been required for COVID-19 places more dependencies than ever on access to technology. The implementation of these systems will stand as a model for disaster responses in the future. This pandemic will solidify new best practices for agencies of all sizes to manage a disaster that inhibits physical EOC operations.


    About the Author           

    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.


  • 07 Dec 2020 8:26 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    By Trevor Wilson, ISO and Accreditation Manager, Indianapolis Fire Department, IPSA Member

    Staffing cuts. Rolling blackouts. Inadequate fleets. Broken-down equipment. What will the current pandemic mean for public safety agencies in the next two-to-three years?

    There are three questions to address. First, how is the agency funded? The current recession will impact agencies reliant upon property taxes differently than those funded through other tax streams. Second, what are the agency’s top priorities over the next two-to-five years? There are reasons to move large capital projects to the front of the line. Third, what data needs to be gathered so the agency can best tell its story? Relevant facts regarding the agency’s current performance, benchmark goals, and the specifics of how budget cuts will affect service to the community must be articulated in a manner that is easily understood by the public and politicians the agency serves.

    Outlook

    There are stark differences between the current recession and last decade’s Great Recession. The Great Recession occurred due to predatory lending practices leading to both borrowers and lenders becoming over-extended. Home foreclosures occurred at a historic rate, and property values plummeted as whole neighborhoods sat vacant. Expectedly, property tax revenues plummeted, resulting in public safety budget cuts of two percent on average across the country.

    The current economic conditions are a vastly different than the previous recession.  

    While these conditions would likely change without a vaccine, agencies reliant on property tax revenue for their primary funding should find themselves better off in the coming years than during the last economic downturn.

    Property, sales taxes

    For property tax-funded public safety agencies, there are a few economic indicators that leadership should monitor. Foreclosure rates, the number of real estate owned mortgages, loans sold at auction, and the percent of mortgage delinquencies over 90 days provide an accurate foreshadowing of future revenues.  While not as immediate, the year-over-year changes in housing prices possess predictive power as well.

    The news is not rosy for agencies dependent on other tax revenue streams due to the pandemic grounding travel and tourism to a veritable halt. Lockdowns and quarantines forced many small businesses and restaurants to shutter for good. These developments mean significant reductions in corporate and individual income tax revenues, particularly for locales more reliant on non-wage tax income. The silver lining is that the recovery will likely be swift once a vaccine is widely available, with some projections calling for a return to pre-COVID levels by the end of 2022.

    Immediate actions to take

    The specter of budget cuts forces agencies to reevaluate what must be accomplished in the short-term. Even organizations with updated strategic plans need to reconsider their priorities. For example, much-needed capital projects slated for after 2023 should be fast-tracked based on the 20 percent reduction in funding for capital projects public safety agencies experienced during the Great Recession. These cuts lagged two years behind the economic downturn, which means that there may still be a chance to get buildings built and apparatus purchased.

    If an agency lacks a long-term planning document, it is time to quickly put one together, even if it is just for internal use. The emergency plan should cover the next two to four years, and its focus should be on the most pressing issues facing the agency. The current climate calls for a document that eschews the typical holistic approach for one that is more primal and practical.

    Perform a mini-SWOT analysis, concentrating on the agency’s weaknesses and threats. Begin with revisiting and reflecting on the primary remit of the agency. Identify the most pressing challenges and obstacles to service facing the agency in the next two to four years, and then prioritize those issues from the public’s perspective. For example, a normal plan may call for new cardiac monitors to be phased in over five years; the emergency plan prioritizes simply ensuring every crew has a working cardiac monitor every day.

    Data-driven decisions

    Decisions must be data-driven. Ideally, agencies have previously determined and begun tracking their key performance indicators and outcome-based assessment measures. This data is key to determining and communicating needs to the public and government officials. Agencies lacking robust data sets can leverage surrounding and like-sized agencies’ data to assist in establishing benchmarks. Research from national groups such as NFPA, NIST, NORA, and NAEMSP is also pertinent. Agencies must then begin tracking their data for comparison’s sake.

    Agency assets

    Do not overlook assessing the status of the agency’s fleet and facilities. Public safety agencies are typically masters of stretching the maximum value out of these investments. However, broken-down rigs and mold-infested stations carry real implications that negatively impact performance quality. If physical assets are nearing their expected end-of-service date, make a move to ensure they are replaced while the funding is still available. None of an agency’s other decisions matter if they cannot reliably staff and safely deliver emergency responders to the public.

    Communication

    Having a firm grasp on what, who and how of an agency’s communication plan is vital to success. First, what is the agency’s vision for the near future? What are the most pertinent facts and information that will be needed to substantiate this vision? Next, who are the different audiences that need to be reached? Aside from internal stakeholders, the authority having jurisdiction, and the public, are there other entities that need to be specifically addressed? Finally, how does the message need to be tailored to each identified group? Will there be opportunities for the groups to provide feedback and build ownership?

    After revisiting or developing new strategic priorities for the immediate future, agencies should formalize these goals, complete with objectives and tasks. This process includes identifying the data and facts that will best allow the agency to communicate their performance, vision, and needs to various audiences. This information needs to be gathered and made to be readily available in an easily digestible form.

    It is a given that the agency’s membership, AHJ, and the public should all be targeted explicitly for communication. Also, agencies should consider other entities that might support or deter their efforts. For example, who are possible partners for public/private partnerships to increase staffing or funding for community risk reduction efforts? Who are the community groups most likely to support an agency’s vision?  Who is most likely to be at odds with the plans?

    With the groups identified, the real work begins. Agencies must design differentiated messaging strategies to fit the needs of each group. Leadership determines the levels of ownership they need to concede to gain support. Does the target group simply need to be informed, or will opinions need to be changed? Can hearts be won, or do strategic alliances need to be formed to head off problems?

    Selecting proper phrasing is vital. Technical jargon and specific goals are appropriate for internal audiences; communicating with other groups warrants a different approach. Utilizing apt metaphors and examples, along with group-specific buzzwords, helps agencies explain nuanced issues in layman’s terms. Successful agencies meet their audiences where they are and bring them up to speed.

    Preparing presentations along the 30-3-30 Rule makes sense. Agencies need a 30-second pitch tailored to each audience that lays out what the agency plans to do and why. The 3-minute pitch goes into greater detail, concentrating on group-appropriate buzzwords and examples.  The 30-minute pitch fully expounds the examples from the 3-minute pitch. By the conclusion of the 30-minute pitch, the listener should have a solid understanding of the agency’s plan and the data used to create it.

    In these uncertain times, prudent leadership calls for proactive planning. Prioritizing an agency’s most dire needs creates direction in the face of budget cuts. Gathering the appropriate data and constructing powerful messaging provides an agency with the best opportunity to minimize its damage. Doing so will allow agencies to control the narrative and set the bar for other agencies competing for the same funding.

    About the Author

    Trevor Wilson serves the Indianapolis Fire Department as the ISO and Accreditation Manager. He holds a Master of Science in Management and Leadership from Western Governors University and is currently working towards a PhD-BA in Public Affairs through Northcentral University. He also volunteers as a peer assessor for the Commission on Fire Accreditation International. He can be reached at trevor.wilson@indy.gov.


  • 30 Nov 2020 10:34 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    By Nicholas Greco, M.S., BCETS, CATSM, FAAETS, Chair of the International Public Safety Association’s Mental Health and Wellness Committee

    The COVID-19 pandemic has brought higher levels of stress along with heightened anxiety. While emergency responders and healthcare professionals may be more resilient than others, they still need to be mindful of their own stress and anxiety. Prolonged stress and anxiety levels can lead to feelings of depression, especially during the fall and winter months. Therefore, the importance of recognizing and maintaining one’s mental health and overall well-being cannot be stressed enough.

    Here are some quick and useful tips for emergency responders and healthcare providers to help reduce anxiety:

    1. Let’s get physical: The simple act of going for a walk can help to clear your mind, renew your spirit and refresh your body. Working out, yoga, dancing, walking or jogging can help to lower your stress hormones and release endorphins which help to improve your mood.
    2. Hold the caffeine: While coffee, teas, sodas and power drinks taste good and give you a boost, they can also dehydrate you and increase your anxiety levels. Realistically, you may not be able to cut out caffeine completely but try to substitute with non-sweetened flavored waters or make your own. Simply cut up some lemon slices and add to your water bottle. It will help keep you hydrated and refreshed rather than depleted.
    3. Journaling. While it may be difficult to talk about what you are feeling with others, writing it down serves two purposes. First, you empower yourself to take control of your anxiety and by doing so you begin to process your thoughts. Secondly, journaling helps to highlight what you are grateful for and helps you discover the many positives in your life. Learn more about additional journaling benefits.
    4. Step Back. Some people know what buttons to push to get a reaction from us. Before you respond to a person, or even an email or text message, give yourself time to process and reflect what you want to say before saying it out of emotion. If you can, count to ten, walk away, or if you do need to respond immediately, remember that their negative emotion does not have to be yours, so don’t take it personal. Sleeping on it helps.
    5. Sleep. Speaking of sleep, no matter what, sleep is essential to our physical and mental health. Inadequate sleep not only is a hazard to you on the job, but to your health. Ideally, you should try to get 7-9 hours of sleep a night.
    6. Try Something New. Starting a new hobby like woodworking, knitting, learning a new instrument, learning a foreign language and cooking or baking are terrific ways to disconnect and reduce anxiety. Sourdough anyone?
    7. Accept Imperfection. There’s no need to take everything so seriously, and remember not to sweat the small stuff. Realize that there are things you cannot and should not control. This is a time to reflect on what is important and what you can make a difference in.
    8. Learn to Say No. Easier said than done, but it needs to be done. Start by reducing or eliminating projects and things which are causing you anxiety. You cannot take on everything. Learning to say no will reduce your stress and anxiety levels.
    9. Stay Organized. Procrastination and playing catch up only adds to stress and anxiety. Making lists with realistic deadlines and goals to get things done will help you to stay focused and organized while reducing procrastination.
    10. Laugh, Listen, Learn. Watching funny TV shows, movies and comedy specials can raise your mood and lower your anxiety. Joking with friends and family not only keeps you connected but helps you to share what you both find entertaining. Listening to relaxing music you enjoy will lower your anxiety as will learning about something of interest (e.g. documentaries, how things are made).
    11. The Power of Touch. A hug, cuddling, a pat on the shoulder and kissing are positive physical contacts which reduce our stress and anxiety levels. Let’s not forget about the power of pets.  
    12. Talk to Someone. If you find yourself unable to talk with friends or family or simply want to seek out greater peace in your life, make an appointment with a trained therapist.

    About the Author
    NICHOLAS GRECO IV, M.S., B.C.E.T.S., C.A.T.S.M., F.A.A.E.T.S., is President and Founder of C3 Education and Research, Inc. Nick has over 20 years of experience training civilians and law enforcement. He has authored over 325 book reviews, presented globally on over 400 professional presentations, workshops, and in-services, and authored or co-authored numerous articles and text supplements in psychiatry and psychology. He is a subject matter expert for PoliceOne/Lexipol and Axon as well as a CIT trainer for the Chicago Police Department and the State of Illinois. Nick is a member of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), IACP, IPSA, and CIT International, as well as Committee Chair for the IPSA Mental Health Committee. Nick can be reached at by visiting his website http://www.c3educationandresearch.com/ or emailing him directly at psychcomm@yahoo.com


  • 28 Oct 2020 10:29 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    By Greg Friese, Editorial Director, Lexipol

    Editor's Note: This article reprinted with permission of EMS1. 

    Firefighters in New Orleans have been ordered to take off six furlough days between now and the end of the year as part of a citywide effort to balance a budget crushed by COVID-19. But New Orleans firefighters are not the only public safety personnel facing COVID-19-imposed budget reductions that are leading to furloughs, hiring freezes and layoffs.  

    A furlough is a mandatory, temporary layoff that is unpaid. In some industries, furloughs might be for consecutive days, weeks or even months.  

    In tourist-dependent communities, like New Orleans, COVID-19 has drastically reduced sales and room tax revenues. At the same time, many of those communities have incurred increased expenses from overtime staff during the pandemic and periods of civil unrest, as well increased purchasing of PPE.  

    But no community is immune to the fiscal impacts of COVID-19. If the leaders and elected officials in your area aren’t already discussing furloughs, permanent layoffs or hiring freezes, they are likely to begin those discussions soon. Now is the time to adopt a furlough mindset to prepare for “when I am furloughed” rather than “if I am furloughed.”  

    Here are a few ideas to help you prepare for and navigate a furlough:  

    1. Know Your Rights as an Employee

    Is your employment “at will,” or is it governed by a collective bargaining agreement or some other form of contract? If you are an at-will employee, your employment can be terminated at any time, with or without cause. You might also be at risk of being furloughed with limited notice.  

    If you are covered by a contract or collective bargaining agreement, review the terms for how furloughs will be announced and assigned. Will furlough days be assigned to all personnel, like was the case in New Orleans? Or will assignment, seniority or other factors be taken into consideration?  

    2. Participate in Budget-Balancing Discussions and Decisions

    Elected officials, municipal staff and public safety leaders are likely meeting regularly to discuss options to overcome budget shortfalls. Either through union representation or direct engagement, find a way to participate in those discussions. Make sure your voice is heard.  

    The “people will die” and similar fear-invoking arguments didn’t seem especially effective in the aftermath of the 2008 recession and will likely not land with elected officials and citizens already overwhelmed by hyperbole in the current polarized political climate. Focus on factual, well-reasoned talking points that are backed up by department data, such as response time, national standards for apparatus staffing, and accreditation requirements for training.  

    3. Plan for the Pay Reduction

    Losing six days of pay for a 24-hour workday – 144 work hours or 7% of a work year – is a significant loss of income. Smaller paychecks may impact scheduled auto-withdrawals for rent or mortgage payments, car payments, utilities, insurance, retirement and college savings, and other expenses. As needed, pause some or all of those automatic payments.  

    If a furlough is looming, consider deferring major purchases like a home, vehicle or vacation. It might be better to keep earning a few cents of interest on the down payment you have been saving to work until your work schedule returns to normal.  

    Hopefully your city has been able to absorb some of the budgetary impact from COVID-19 with an emergency or rainy-day fund. Now is the time, if you don’t have an emergency fund, to park $500 to $1,000 in a low-risk, low-yield savings account. Emergencies, like repairing the furnace or fixing a roof leak, rarely happen when it is warm, sunny and cash is flowing regularly. Create your own rainy-day fund for the rainy days ahead.  

    If your income and financial circumstances allow it, consider building that emergency fund up until it will cover three months of major expenses, like housing, utilities and food.  

    4. Find Other Work

    A short furlough might be enough time off to start another full-time or part-time job, but many public safety personnel already have a side hustle. Some income is better than no income and reduces the risk of depleting your emergency fund. Start looking now for those opportunities, which, you never know, may lead to your post-public safety career.  

    5. Make the Most of a Furlough Day 

    I wouldn’t wish unpaid time off on anyone, but the adage, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade” is a reminder that we can choose our attitude and how we spend our time. Furlough days might be a chance for: 

    • Visiting parks, outdoor spaces and other low-cost attractions with your family.  
    • Assessing your physical and mental health and setting goals to destress, lose weight, exercise more or change your diet.  
    • Organizing your finances to set the foundation for setting aside money for an emergency fund, reducing debt and saving for retirement.  
    • Volunteering for a community, youth or faith-based organization that needs people of strength, good character and compassion for others. 
    • Advocating for public safety funding to local, state and federal elected officials.  

    Choice of Last Resort

    I am hopeful that a furlough is not forced upon any police officer, firefighter, EMT, paramedic or corrections officer. My strong advice to any local government leader is to make furloughs and layoffs the choice of last resort.  

    About the Author

    Greg Friese, MS, NRP, is the Lexipol Editorial Director, leading the efforts of the editorial team on PoliceOne, FireRescue1, Corrections1, EMS1 and Gov1. Greg served as the EMS1 editor-in-chief for five years. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master's degree from the University of Idaho. He is an educator, author, national registry paramedic since 2005, and a long-distance runner. Greg was a 2010 recipient of the EMS 10 Award for innovation. He is also a three-time Jesse H. Neal award winner, the most prestigious award in specialized journalism, and the 2018 Eddie Award winner for best Column/Blog. Connect with Greg on Twitter or LinkedIn and submit an article idea or ask questions with this form.


  • 28 Oct 2020 9:58 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    By Heather R. Cotter, International Public Safety Association Executive Director

    Editor's Note: This article reprinted with permission of Police1

    It is well known that there is an obesity epidemic in America. According to the National Institute of Health, more than one-third of adults are obese. It’s a serious issue that plagues the law enforcement profession due to long hours, working variable shifts and high stress.  

    One study by the FBI estimated that more than 80% of American cops are obese. This threat to officer safety requires action. Getting started is tough – making a lifestyle change requires a shift in mindset – but it is not a fight police officers are destined to lose. There are some easy steps that every cop can take to improve their physical health – from nutrition to activity. It starts by self-reflection, acceptance and dedication to making lifestyle changes that will benefit the officer’s overall health.  

    Here are four fitness habits that all police officers must adopt to improve overall health and fitness. Before beginning any new workout program, you are highly encouraged to get a physical exam from a medical doctor.

    1. Alternate Workouts

    It is imperative cops work out regularly each week, especially given the demands of the job. While there are several types of workouts, the fundamental rule is that fitness should include a balance of two types of workouts: cardio and resistance. The workouts must vary because repetitive training often results in overuse injuries and possible boredom.

    Beginners or individuals who have not worked out in the last 30 days should start slow to build up physical endurance. Intermediate and advanced fitness enthusiasts need to also add variety in their workouts to encourage new muscle growth, prevent overuse injuries and prevent burnout.

    2. Perform Cardio Exercises

    Cardio is meant to get your heart rate elevated and is not limited to one type of exercise. The CDC recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of cardio per week for all adults. This should be planned over several days throughout each week and the exercises should vary either per workout, per week or per month.

    Performing different cardio exercises often will prevent overuse injuries and prevent the body from adapting too much to a specific type of workout. The idea is to keep your body guessing to encourage muscle growth, maximize calorie burn and to challenge yourself physically.

    Cardio workouts include jumping rope (have you ever seen boxer skip – it’s awesome), cycling, kettlebell, running, jumping jacks (or other plyometrics), rowing and elliptical. All cops need to include cardio in their workouts. Variety is the key to making a lifestyle change.

    3. Incorporate Resistance Training

    All cops need to lift weights or engage in some type of resistance training. On average, it is estimated that up to five percent of muscle is lost every decade after the age of 30. Because of this, it is necessary to make resistance training part of your workout routine.

    A balanced resistance training program will target several muscle groups in the lower body, the core and upper body. Examples of resistance training exercises include bench press, push-ups, rows, pull-ups, bicep curls, tricep extensions, shoulder presses, lunges, squats, deadlifts and calf raises. Even yoga is a form of resistance training. This is by no means comprehensive, but it’s a good starting point. One of my favorite and often visited websites has a fairly comprehensive exercise database.

    4. Use the Correct Athletic Gear

    Workouts require different types of athletic gear. For example, running requires running shoes, skipping (jump rope) should be done in cross-trainers, and every cyclist must wear a helmet. Compression socks or sleeves help prevent stress fractures and a yoga mat will help prevent a disastrous fall and keep you centered. Another piece of equipment that all cops should consider is the Fitbit or other fitness tracking devices. Fitness trackers encourage you to move and they hold you accountable. While they are not 100 percent accurate, they are an excellent tool for cops to use when making lifestyle changes and tracking daily fitness goals.

    Fitness is a lifestyle change for many cops. It takes time to adopt the fitness lifestyle mentality, but after a couple of weeks of implementing a dedicated routine, it becomes a habit.

    All cops need to make fitness a part of their routine and fight the obesity epidemic. A cop’s level of fitness can mean the difference between life and death on any given day.

    About the Author

    Heather R. Cotter serves as the Executive Director of the International Public Safety Association, a 501(c)3 non-profit. She’s been working with public safety professionals for several years and understands the challenges agencies and resource constraints agencies continue to face. Heather has a Master's degree from Arizona State University and a Bachelor's at Indiana University, both in Criminology.

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  • 28 Oct 2020 9:38 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    By Heather R. Cotter, International Public Safety Association Executive Director

    Editor's Note: This article reprinted with permission of Police1

    No city wants to experience civil unrest, but all law enforcement agencies must have a preparedness strategy in place should one transpire.

    Law enforcement, fire, EMS, hospitals, emergency management, public works and faith-based organizations must be together at the table discussing the policies and procedures that should be in place when an event occurs. Interagency participation is critical for departmental-wide buy-in, training and response. Collaboration is critical to preparedness, response and restoration.

    It doesn't matter what triggers the event, whether it's an officer-involved shooting, presidential election or the outcome of a sporting event, it is law enforcement's ability to respond and restore that will have the greatest impact on community and officer safety.

    While this is not a comprehensive list of issues, these are all policy discussion points that should be addressed within your municipality.

    1. Arrest Teams and Jail Considerations

    During civil unrest, law enforcement agencies should have plans in place for arrest teams. The plan must include how the arrest teams will be deployed, how they will communicate during mass arrests, where to take the arrestees and how they will be transported.

    Before deciding to activate arrest teams, agencies must have an understanding of current jail capacity and inmate housing and security required at alternative locations.

    2. Mutual Aid

    Since there are no jurisdictional boundaries when it comes to civil unrest, agencies should have mutual-aid agreements in place with allied emergency responders.

    Having agreements in place with your neighboring jurisdictions and state, whether the agreements are formal or ad hoc, is the best thing you can do to help preserve your community's safety. The agreement should be revisited continually.

    3. Unified Command

    Unified command is a key component to effective multi-agency or multi-jurisdiction response. Law enforcement agencies should expect there to be modest communications barriers at times but ultimately rely on trusting the tactical and agreed upon decisions coming from the unified command.

    Operating a unified command is no small undertaking. There is an incredible amount of consensus and strategic deployment within the unified command.

    4. Equipment and Fleet Inventory

    Agencies must know the type of equipment and fleet available to them. Taking inventory of PPE is one thing, and making sure the PPE is suitable for first responders is another.

    Agencies should make sure that masks are fit tested. The current condition of all body armor should also be considered. Also, law enforcement should prepare for equipment failure and vehicle tires to be slashed. An inventory of available helicopters and drones should also be added to this list.

    5. Cyber Disobedience

    Protestors are fueled with emotion and their actions are unpredictable. They are adaptive and technologically sophisticated. Agencies should prepare for cyber disobedience.

    Hackers may infiltrate public safety systems during incidents, deface websites and swatting may occur. Law enforcement agencies should discuss these probable scenarios and have a mitigation strategy for expected cyber-attacks.

    6. Social Media

    Social media can be a blessing and a curse during times of unrest. It can be a powerful and useful tool that provides community members with rapid updates on safe zones, and it can make bad news worse when public outcry goes viral. Social media can intensify a situation in a matter of minutes and being prepared to assess a rapid reaction is not an easy task.

    Another consideration for departments is that there are individuals out there who may feign illnesses or suggest there is a lack of law enforcement response to lower the perception of your department. Establishing a social media plan, specific to civil unrest, will help safeguard the community and the officers on duty. Planning for deception will aid in your response.

    7. Calling in the National Guard

    In order to call in the National Guard, agencies must consider the logistics and identify multiple and possible locations where to post them. There are a number of variables to consider – from communications and interoperability to legal review of policy and standard operations procedures.

    8. Managing Calls for Service

    Life doesn't stop during a riot. Agencies must have a plan in place to manage the standard calls for service volume. Calls will continue to come for aid requests whether it's a vehicle crash or domestic violence call. Agencies must consider the call for service volume at the communications center as well as having a plan for routine response.

    9. Interoperability

    There has to be a communications plan in place for how agencies from multiple jurisdictions will communicate with one another in the field, to dispatch and what channels the different teams will be on during the crisis.

    In addition, it's important to recognize that agencies use different terminology. Make sure everyone is speaking in plain language or using agreed-upon terminology.

    10. Critical Infrastructure and Extra Security Detail

    Determine your city's critical infrastructure during times of civil unrest and how those areas will be secured. Hospitals, telecommunications, electricity, water, gas, transportation, safety shelters and alternative jails/inmate housing should be identified in your response strategy. Having a plan in place on providing extra security detail is vital.

    11. Work with Public Works

    Law enforcement agencies may not always think of public works during times of civil unrest, but there should be a regular dialogue.

    In most cities, public works removes graffiti; they should be communicating with you, especially if they notice any new graffiti during unrest as it may be an indicator of a possible threat. They can also bring in sandbags or other materials to act as barriers.

    12. Additional Considerations

    Several additional factors should be considered:

    • Safeguarding the community by not publicizing shelters.
    • Possible role abandonment, not necessarily from within the department, but from any allied emergency responder.
    • Have an inventory of less-lethal options and policies on when to use them.
    • Be prepared to spend a lot of time with the media as the event is unfolding, throughout the event and after the crisis ends.
    • During a crisis, it is common for cities to receive donations such as food, water, or financial contributions. Plan for how the donations will be managed.

    A civil unrest strategy must be developed with input from all emergency responders and allied stakeholders. Being prepared and understanding your department's resources, as well as its limitations, will help ensure your agency makes timely and informed decisions during a crisis.

    About the Author

    Heather R. Cotter serves as the Executive Director of the International Public Safety Association, a 501(c)3 non-profit. She’s been working with public safety professionals for several years and understands the challenges agencies and resource constraints agencies continue to face. Heather has a Master's degree from Arizona State University and a Bachelor's at Indiana University, both in Criminology.

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  • 06 Oct 2020 8:14 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    By Sarah Guenette, Learning & Development Manager, Calgary Community Standards, IPSA Mental Health & Wellness Committee Member

    When discussing front-line mental health one group that is often overlooked are animal control officers. Yet the situations they face and the psychological repercussions of the work they do can be just as impactful as it is for law enforcement officers, firefighters or medics. It is important for all agencies to remember to include their animal control officers and municipal enforcement officers in their psychological health and safety planning.

    When thinking about the role that animal control officers play, most people probably visualize them chasing aggressive dogs with catchpoles. Dog bites and attacks are significant risks in the field and something that all officers need to be aware of, but there are many other situations that these officers are placed in that can negatively impact their psychological well-being.

    Violent scenes

    Investigating dog attacks on people, especially children, exposes officers to gruesome scenes. People may be permanently disfigured and sometimes the attacks are fatal. Unfortunately, these stories are common worldwide. Behind each one of these news stories is an animal officer investigating it. Attending sad and disturbing scenes can have a lasting impact for any front-line members.  

    Animal attack scenes are not the only situations that officers face that could affect them. Officers are often called in by law enforcement to attend scenes of homicide, suicide and decomposing bodies where the animals have been abandoned. These scenes are disturbing and dangerous because the animals involved are stressed and anxious about what’s going on around them and may lash out.

    Safety

    Animal control officers face similar officer safety risks as other enforcement groups. They often work alone and some in rural areas where back up may be some distance away. In 2012, Canadian Peace Officer Rod Lazenby was ambushed, beaten and killed by Trevor Kloschinsky when he responded to an animal complaint call in a rural area. A provincial inquiry in June 2017 led to widespread changes to the peace officer program in Alberta to increase their safety.

    In November of 2012 California Animal Control Officer Roy Marcum was shot and killed by a pet owner in Sacramento. He had been called to remove pets from a home where the owner had been evicted. The owner returned to the home and shot Officer Marcum before barricading himself and having a standoff with police. There are sadly other examples like this. Like other enforcement officers, animal control members can find themselves in potentially high risk situations that they are not prepared for. The risk from people can be just as dangerous to them as the risk from animals, if not more.

    Psychological impact

    However, anger is not the only emotion that officers are faced with. They also deal with grieving pet owners, sad situations where animals need to be rehomed and cases where mental health issues have led to a horrible existence for owners and animals alike.

    It is well known that psychological issues in other animal care professions are increasing and suicide among vets has been declared an epidemic. Many of the categories of stressors applied to vets can just as easily be applied to animal control officers. Veterinary stressors have seen an increase in recent years –“--the importance of the human animal bond has significantly increased, placing pressure on vets in their care and treatment of animals and having to assist clients' grieving for lost pets. Having little training in the area of grieving clients and trying to be sensitive whilst working against the clock, leaves it extremely difficult for any vet to perform professionally under such strain.”

    In the case of animal control officers, the increased human animal bond in modern times creates two stressors. First, as mentioned above, responding to a call for service that involves someone’s animal can bring out heightened emotions in that person. Secondly, the officers may form a bond with an animal. Officers see animals in abusive, neglectful and hoarding situations. Seeing animals in such horrific environments may add to the ongoing chronic psychological stress of the profession.

    Some of the situations are very extreme with animals having to be euthanized. It can be disheartening for officers to see neglectful or abusive owners having their animals returned to them. Some of these cases are chronic and the officer has to return to the property themselves to deal with that person multiple times after they have acquired more animals. Animal hoarding is symptomatic of mental health issues on the part of the hoarder, but is also emotionally difficult for those rescuing the animals.

    Agency considerations

    Animal control officers face a combination of stressors, those from the animal professions like vets, and the other traditional first responder stressors. It is easy to see why animal control officers need to be a focus for agencies to ensure that they have adequate support programs in place for them.

    It’s important to ensure that officers have training in how to interact with the public, especially defusing potentially dangerous situations through verbal de-escalation and defending themselves physically if necessary. It should also include training in grief and loss to ensure the officers feel adequately prepared to engage with grieving pet owners.

    As with first responders, public and animal safety is the priority for animal control officers. Self- care and healthy processing of the emotions from an incident come last, as described by Officer Shirley Zindler: “I can’t be crying over every sad thing I encounter at work or I wouldn’t be effective. Whether I am confronting an angry gang member or a cranky housewife, I need to maintain a professional demeanour. When I scoop some poor broken creature up off the road after it has been hit by a car, I don’t have time to cry about it. I need to suck it up and get that animal to the emergency clinic as quickly as possible. When I’m prosecuting a cruelty case I’m all business. The tears come later, sometimes when I least expect it”(p. 175).

    Promotion of wellness programs, both physical and psychological, need to be undertaken by agencies to ensure that officers have information on healthy coping mechanisms to assist them in processing emotions coming out of incidents.

    Most importantly animal control officers need to receive the same psychological health and safety education and supports as all first responders. Especially critical is education on how to remain resilient and how to recognize symptoms of increasing stress. Employee Family Assistance programs and Peer Support teams should be something considered for any animal control agency or shelter. Understanding symptoms of increasing stress can help officers to recognize when they need some additional support. Providing this education and a support system also assists the agencies involved. Through supporting the psychological health and wellness of their officers, agencies will have a healthier workforce.

    Whether animal control officers are part of the local law enforcement agency or an independent agency, having a formal psychological health and safety program for them is critical. Even though they are often not included in the first responder category, the impact of their profession on their well-being needs to be recognized and addressed. They play an essential role in both public and animal safety and deserve to be adequately supported by the agencies they serve.

    About the Author

    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 control 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.

  • 18 Sep 2020 9:42 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    By Gregory L. Walterhouse, Associate Teaching Professor, Bowling Green State University, IPSA Member

    One of the primary purposes of government is defense of citizens and law and order. As Madison wrote in Federalist No. 54, “Government is instituted no less for protection of the property, than of persons, of individuals.” The physical attacks on law enforcement officers and calls for defunding the police from the criminal element and anarchists is not surprising. However, the lack of support for police by some mayors, legislative bodies and district attorneys, are unconscionable, considering police officers are the thin line between law and order and nihilism.

    Traditional versus emergency legislative process

    The design of our legislative process is for slow deliberation to counter “the common impulse of passion, or interest” of some citizens that are “adverse to the rights of other citizens or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community” as Madison wrote in Federalist No. 10.  

    However, in response to recent protests, many local and state governments have passed emergency laws limiting the tools available to law enforcement. Several of these emergency laws have been ill-considered reactions to demands by criminal mobs with little regard or input from the citizens who rely on law enforcement for protection, a majority of whom oppose defunding law enforcement. Further, many legislatures passed these laws without input from law enforcement.

    Even in D.C., Mayor Muriel E Bowser urged lawmakers to slow down and hold public hearings. The unintended consequence of emergency legislation can result in:

    1. A rise in crime.
    2. Mass retirements.
    3. Resignations of law enforcement officers.
    4. Increased caseload in the courts (because of ambiguous laws requiring judicial interpretation).
    5. Increased difficulty in recruiting and retaining police officers.

    In New York City, Mayor de Blasio recently signed a number of laws on police reform that the Mayor admits will make it harder for officers to do their jobs. Among other prohibitions, the laws make it illegal for a law enforcement officer to sit, kneel, and stand, on the chest or back in a way that could obstruct breathing. This law is open to wide interpretation and obviously enacted by persons who have never had to struggle with a suspect resisting arrest.

    Already, a number of cities and states are experiencing higher than normal resignations of police officers including Atlanta, Chicago, Milwaukee, New York, San Francisco, Colorado and others.

    Law enforcement resignations

    Compounding this problem is the resignation on many chiefs of police which not only include white males but female and minority chiefs potentially setting back decades of progress that has been made in promoting females and minorities to law enforcement top level positions.

    Though opinions differ as to the cause of the resignations, the result remains that this leaves police departments understaffed as the ability to recruit new officers is on the decline. Police departments have faced recruiting challenges in recent years but recent events including lack of support from state and local leaders, budget cuts, falling morale, loss of respect and increased personal liability from recently passed legislation have exasperated the problem.

    Symbolic legislation

    Some of the recent legislation is more symbolic than substantive. For example, many cities and states have enacted legislation that prohibits the use of chokeholds. However, many departments already had policies in place prohibiting chokeholds. Nevertheless, the legislation now raises the bar elevating the use of chokeholds to a crime compared to an administrative policy violation.

    Other legislation mandates additional training for police officers including training on anti-bias, de-escalation techniques, use of force, officer wellness and positive community interaction among others. Some states are also legislatively requiring all officers to wear body-worn cameras. While additional training and body-worn cameras have merit, these mandates are incongruent with calls to defund the police and require adequate state funding. If enacted as unfunded mandates, these requirements will burden small and financially struggling departments and are destined to fail.

    Other legislation mandates a "duty to intervene” requiring officers to act if they witness fellow officers using excessive force and be held criminally liable if they do not. Other legislation however is more onerous.

    Assaults against police, firefighters and EMS

    In Virginia, the Senate passed a bill along Democratic Party lines that allows judges to reduce the charges for assaulting a police officer from a felony to a misdemeanor. However, it does not stop there; the bill also allows judges to reduce the charges of those who assault firefighters or emergency medical service personnel.

    This will almost certainly diminish any deterrent effect the previous law had and increase the probability of physical assault on first responders. It is also peculiar that sentencing guidelines exist to provide uniform and consistent sentences across jurisdictions for those convicted of criminal activity, yet consistency and uniformity do not matter when police officers, firefighters and EMS providers are the victims of assault.

    Members of the Michigan legislature have also targeted firefighters along with law enforcement officers, by introducing a bill that if passed would remove limitations on civil actions against these public servants as individuals. Michigan is not alone, Colorado, and Connecticut have recently enacted laws making officers personally liable for damages if their actions are willful, wanton, or malicious or violate an individual's civil rights.

    A bill introduced in New York would require police officers to obtain personal insurance to cover civil liability suits against them. Removing the qualified immunity defense will make retaining and recruiting police officers more difficult and begs the questions why police officers who are called upon to make split second life and death decisions are not afforded the same legal defense as all other government employees.

    Legislation about less-lethal measures

    Others are limiting the tools available for police to control disturbances. Oregon HB 4208 signed into law prohibits the use of tear gas except in situations where police have declared a “riot” and further prohibits the use of sonic weapons known as long-range acoustical devices (LRADS).

    Seattle City Council prohibited police from using tear gas, pepper spray, foam-tipped projectiles or other force against protesters. New emergency legislation in the District of Columbia prohibits the use of chemical irritants or rubber bullets and stun grenades on peaceful demonstrators. Defining what constitutes a peaceful demonstration, however, is problematic considering the mayors of Seattle, Chicago, Olympia, and others have called disturbances, peaceful protests, even though scores of police officers were injured and extensive damage and looting of private property occurred.

    The coup de grâce to the siege on police are prosecutors and district attorneys in a number of cities refusing to bring charges against protestors including disorderly conduct, interfering with police officers, rioting looting and theft. These include the cities of Portland and Chicago, and a number of other cities including St. Louis, New York, Philadelphia and the District of Columbia. It goes as far as charges for possessing a loaded gun in a public place, resisting arrest and interfering with police dropped by the DA’s office putting back onto the streets a man that allegedly later shot and killed another man at a protest.

    Closing remarks

    As I write this, a gunman ambushed and shot two Los Angeles County Sheriff Deputies as they sat it their patrol vehicle. At the hospital, where the deputies were being treated, what the mainstream media referred to as protestors screamed, “we hope they die.” Make no mistake; these are not protestors but anarchists, with only the police standing between their attempts to destroy the fabric of American society and law an order.

    Emergency legislation enacted based on impulse and passion without the benefit of deliberation and collaboration from all stakeholders is not the answer. Neither is increasing civil and criminal liability for police officers that will make it more difficult to recruit and retain good officers.

    For the aggregate interests of the community, maintaining safety and law and order must be the top priority of government through deliberation and collaboration not impulse and passion. The police are not the enemy, and without them, the real enemy to a peaceful society will prevail.  

    About the Author

    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 waltegl@bgsu.edu.

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  • 14 Sep 2020 2:05 PM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    By Jennifer Leftwich, Graduate Clinical Social Work Student, IPSA Mental Health, Fitness & Wellness Committee Member

    The public safety system evolves in perpetuity to meet the changing needs of communities. Many leading public safety agencies use a combination of empirical data and qualitative information to create standard operating procedures, inform best practices and aid in decision-making processes.

    Collaboration between human services and public safety professions, as well as ongoing emphasis on trauma-informed practices, are important in today’s climate. The current practices of contacting “on call services” post-incident referrals and operating in distant silos are no longer sufficient interventions.

    Globally, interdisciplinary mental health programs have proven successful as both preventative and responsive measures. They bring trained peers and professionals from different systems together to address the needs of individuals who interact with the 911 system. Current events continue to emphasize the need for these multidisciplinary programs and public safety agencies must continue to change their dynamic to address community expectations and priorities.

    What might this look like? To look forward, looking backwards is necessary.

    Gaps in the continuum

    When state hospitals that historically housed and treated mental health treatment consumers closed rapidly during the era of deinstitutionalization, a chasm formed in the human services system/continuum. Ineffective plans and underfunding contributed to increased homelessness and unmanaged serious mental health conditions. Interacting with these individuals rolled downstream to the criminal justice and public safety systems.

    People in crisis call 911. These systems had to expand their scope to include preventing and responding to general social problems creating an overlap with human services.

    Memphis Model CIT was developed as the progenitor interdisciplinary program that secured public safety’s role in responding competently to mental and behavioral health crises. This expansion of scope inspired other models and methods of crisis intervention training and interdisciplinary prevention for a host of social problems that can become life-threatening emergencies. CIT is a staple program and model, but it does not preclude securing more holistic preventative programs at the community level.

    While commendable and heartening in the spirit of compassion, service and protection, and while many public safety agencies do provide psychosocial supports for their communities, traditional human services are not the primary role of public safety.

    Professions trained for this specific work, like social work, provide competent, logistical support to agencies concerning these pressures that may have been incorrectly assigned to them. This removes room for error, or unintentional harm, on the agency. Whatever the originating problem, 911 comes when called. Thanks to collaboration and working together from shared values, every system with a critical role is represented by a professional who makes up the interdisciplinary team composition.

    Preventative and proactive measures through linked spheres

    Being proactive requires knowing the chain of response and continuum of care to anticipate what services are needed next. As the gatekeeper for emergency services, 911 telecommunicators set the tone for a seamless transition of empathic, trauma-informed and crisis-theory supported care. To best prepare 911 telecommunicators for their role as gatekeeper in the continuum of care, a combination of CIT training, psychological/mental health first aid training, knowledge of community resources and an enhanced EMD program are indicated. Developing an Emergency Medical Dispatch supplement, specific to interdisciplinary response, is helpful and should incorporate:

    • Trauma-informed communication.
    • CIT training.
    • Knowledge of the role of co-responders and their scope of work.
    • Psychological/mental health first aid or combination thereof.
    • De-escalation.

    This supports the call-taker in selecting the most appropriate call type with corresponding triage level and responders so that a highly competent and comprehensive interdisciplinary team is dispatched. Through this initial interaction, the call-taker has provided an empathetic, compassionate and competent tone for the caller’s upcoming encounter with responders.

    CIT is a popular choice for an interdisciplinary crisis response program due to its success. CIT brings 911 telecommunicators, law enforcement officers, mental health stakeholders, mental health peers and mental health clinicians together to respond to mental and behavioral health emergencies.

    CIT seeks to ensure safety of all responders and individuals. This approach also helps prevent injury and reduces use-of-force occurrences, ascertaining voluntary help-seeking versus TDO/ECO. Finally, it also creates a path that connects the individual with necessary community and health resources.

    Similarly, co-responder teams for social problems that create connection, show compassion and initiate the sequence of case management or care coordination are prudent. Models that embed the direct hire of a social worker with a graduate-level education are incredibly effective in the communities where these programs exist. Some of these social workers have been dubbed “police social workers,” however, for the purposes of a comprehensive approach, “public safety social worker” is a more holistic title. In addition to behavioral and mental health crisis calls, they may respond to the following types of calls:

    • Domestic disturbances.
    • Homelessness.
    • Sexual violence.
    • Reports of child or older adult neglect or abuse.
    • Other call types that need the immediate attention of a mental health clinician.

    With the clinician’s attention toward the psychosocial-emotional needs of the individual/family, this allows other responders to perform their roles. The unreliable routine of making a referral call to social services and handing someone a pamphlet is replaced with the presence of the actual clinician trained to engage, assess and help intervene with solving these problems.

    Advocacy for providing field placement and clinical training opportunities within public safety agencies at the undergraduate or graduate level, as well as developing courses designed for public safety cultural competency and interdisciplinary work are indicated.  

    Embedding a social worker within fire-rescue agencies is also promising. These co-responders’ services are indicated for mental and behavioral health crises, displacement due to fire or natural disaster, mass casualty incidents, or domestic assault where the physical wounds of survivors are triaged along with the application of psychological first aid as immediately as possible.

    Additionally, developing community paramedicine programs that employ a clinician for care coordination are a comprehensive and proactive model for prevention. This co-responder model addresses social determinants of health risks that compromise health and safety, which are especially beneficial for rural and/or impoverished individuals, families, and communities.

    Whatever the composition or model of team, the obvious and consistent overlap of required services necessitates responding to the complex needs of communities.

    Strengthening the continuum through shared values

    Interdisciplinary response is a steadily growing facet of public safety, widely endorsed by a variety of stakeholders and participants. Involving community level supports for ongoing case management and care cannot be a disconnected event or be presented in the form of a pamphlet. It must start at the scene (assuming scene safety) in the heat of the problem so intervention doesn’t fall through the cracks but, instead, guides the person along the continuum of care.

    The professionals that comprise interdisciplinary teams share compassion and a moral impetus to protect and better the lives of the people in their communities. It’s why they went into their respective lines of work. Separated by silos along this continuum of care, they address individuals’ and groups’ needs ineffectively and inconsistently. Together in integrated and interdisciplinary work, they are stronger and can promote prevention as well as competent response that is holistic, trauma-informed and provides for safety and well-being.

    Agencies must advocate for the value of these forms of intervention and care, and they need to continue to work from shared visions about the safety and well-being of the communities served.   

    About the Author

    Jen Leftwich is a former Emergency Communications Officer for Powhatan County Public Safety Communications and Powhatan Sheriff’s Office where she formed the agency’s CISM/Peer Support team. She is certified CISM through UMBC and the ICISF, CIT certified, earned an M.A. in Trauma and Crisis Counseling, a Forensic Social Work certificate, and will complete her Clinical M.S.W. at Virginia Commonwealth University in May 2021. She plans to practice clinically and independently with uniformed and protective service populations, while also advocating for continued collaborative interdisciplinary partnerships between social work and public safety. She is a proud LE/Fire/Rescue/Military family member and advocate.

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