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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 Stephanie R. DeRiso, Captain, United States Army, IPSA Member
Social, economic and political instability is often identified in developing countries as a major risk factor for the talons of violent extremism to take hold. As the country faces widespread civil unrest amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, similar contributors to instability are now present in America. In considering this context, public safety professionals must be aware of the pernicious threat of violent extremism growing within American communities.
As disease control and quarantine regulations have forced many out of work and in to their homes, the internet has become a viable meeting place for many Americans facing the physical, social and psychological factors that make people especially vulnerable to the propaganda and manipulation tactics of violent extremists. Vulnerability factors that can be exacerbated by pandemic conditions include feelings of isolation and loneliness, a desire for guidance amidst too much and often inaccurate information, a low sense of self-worth, a feeling of loss of control and a need for excitement. The internet provides an easy, anonymous forum for violent extremists to groom vulnerable recruits, spread overt and covert propaganda, and even raise funds to support and enhance operational capabilities.
Awareness, community trust and partnerships
Public safety professionals, especially law enforcement officers, have a duty to be aware of the threat of violent extremism and its growing capabilities. Law enforcement must pay special attention to disrupt violent extremist organizations and movements as recruiting and operational planning increasingly fester in the virtual realm before actualizing in the real world.
Common venues for radicalization, like social media accounts and gaming platforms, inhibit the ability of law enforcement to readily identify the signs and indicators of violent extremism that are no longer quite as overt and traceable. As such, law enforcement must be deliberate to enhance trust and communication within and across their jurisdictions to establish and work toward the collaborative goal of countering this concerning trend.
Community members must feel safe and empowered to bring a potentially troubling Facebook post or Instagram direct message to those tasked with protecting the public and trust that it will be taken seriously. Public safety professionals must also be diligent in developing mutually supportive relationships between public safety, law enforcement and homeland security agencies at all levels.
Deliberate, enduring partnerships across agencies and echelons is especially critical as stove-piping information, as famously identified in the 9/11 Commission Report, is an unnecessary and unacceptable barrier to ensuring community safety. Additional guidance on leveraging community policing concepts to counter violent extremism can be found in this 2014 Department of Justice publication.
In tackling increased threats gaining momentum on the internet, public safety leaders must ensure their employees are educated and trained to recognize the unique verbiage, symbolism and rhetoric that indicate affiliation with and a call to action for violent extremism. Recall when the FBI was mocked for an arguably inaccurate and out of touch glossary of almost 3,000 entries of supposed internet slang maintained by the Intelligence Research Support Unit. Senior leaders must leverage the unique access, awareness and understanding within the junior ranks to keep their finger on the pulse of trends and nuances of social media within the evolving, increasingly complex ecosystem of the internet. This is especially important when higher echelons and formal research have not caught up.
Targets for attacks
While protecting the public is top priority, public safety professionals must also be diligent to protect themselves across their ranks. Not only are law enforcement professionals viable targets for attacks perpetrated by violent extremist individuals and organizations, but current and former law enforcement present a lucrative recruiting pool.
Historically, current and former military members have been recruited to enhance the operational and strategic capabilities of criminal gangs and racial supremacist groups. Public safety professionals trained in military and policing tactics are also especially attractive enlistees in movements emerging from internet forums and materializing in the real world. One such virtual-to-reality movement is the far-right, libertarian, anti-government leaning and largely internet born and bred Boogaloo Boys.
Members previously trained and experienced in military and police tactics represent an opportunity for violent extremists to leverage these skills to enable operational capabilities to enhance the spread and validation of group ideology. Further, it is not a stretch to say that many public safety professionals are especially interested in firearms and protecting the rights afforded to Americans within the Second Amendment. Connecting with likeminded individuals, familiar and amenable to organizations built on camaraderie and hierarchy, on internet forums can lead to subtle indoctrination, slow creep toward radicalization and deliberate grooming of even the most ideologically moderate of people.
It cannot be emphasized enough that all disasters are local. Public safety professionals at the local level must be especially diligent to seek out information and understand the threat landscape emerging on the internet; state and federal authorities are not always in tune with local nuances or as readily able to notice shifting dynamics as so many communities have moved online in the current pandemic context. Local interference cannot be accomplished without leveraging community support, pursuing awareness of the virtual domain, and understanding the vulnerabilities and motivations that lead individuals and groups towards violent extremism.
About the Author
Stephanie DeRiso has served in the U.S. Army for 8 years. She enlisted as a Mortuary Affairs Specialist and served at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware before earning her commission in to the Military Police Corps. As a Military Police Officer, she led law enforcement operations in Fort Stewart, Georgia and across Europe in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve. She was selected as a Joint Special Operations Command Cultural Support Team Specialist and served on training and combat operations alongside special operations units throughout Afghanistan in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. Most recently, she is pursuing qualification as an Army Special Operations Civil Affairs Officer at the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Criminology, Law, and Society from George Mason University and is nearing completion of her Master of Professional Studies in Emergency and Disaster Management from Georgetown University.
IPSA InfoBrief Series: Homegrown Violent Extremism
IPSA Webinar Recording: Jihad as Terrorism
IPSA Webinar Recording: Complex, Coordinated Attacks
IPSA Webinar Recording: Demystifying Terrorism 101
By Lawrence Nolan, Ph.D., Program Manager, Capstone Corporation, IPSA Member
In the United States, public safety organizations have bodies of water within their jurisdictions that present hazardous and enforcement issues that need to be managed.
In accordance with the U.S. Geological Survey, the surface of the U.S. is covered by 264,837 square miles of water or 7 percent of the surface area of the nation. In addition, the United States Coast Guard Publication 3-0 Operations identifies the U.S. Marine Transportation System that includes 95,000 miles of coastline, with 361 ports and 12,000 miles of an of interconnected system of inland rivers and intracoastal waterways.
These bodies of water, in or around states and municipalities, take the form of an ocean, gulf, bay, sound, inlet, lake, canal, reservoir, river, stream, creek, swamp, wetland or pond. Given the varying types of bodies of water, public safety organizations need to consider several safety, environmental and enforcement issues.
Issues, policy considerations
An important governance function in a jurisdiction is addressing public safety aspects for the bodies of water that are within its boundaries. This includes mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. Below are examples of hazards:
In addition to managing hazards, public safety organizations are responsible for the enforcement of laws and regulations applicable to bodies of water in the jurisdiction. These actions allow public safety to manage commercial and recreational boating, natural resources, pollution, crimes, critical infrastructure, search, rescue and recovery.
Multi-agency coordinationIn many instances, public safety management is a joint effort. Federal, state and local governments coordinate and collaborate in managing the water in and around the U.S. Coordination and communications between and within each level is key to address management responsibilities. The sharing of public safety resources in the form of mutual aid agreements allow for economical management solutions.
Below is a list of organizations commonly involved with the with coordination, planning and management of various bodies of water:
Each entity must manage and balance risks, resources, personnel, safety, enforcement of laws and regulations and other factors.
2020 incidents in bodies of water
To appreciate how public safety is managed across the nation, public safety incidents on bodies of water in May and June 2020 are provided below from news organizations.
Public safety management responsibilities for the waters of the U.S. is a coordinated effort of federal, state and local governments working together to allow for commerce to flow freely, preservation of natural resources, and safe commercial and recreational boating.
The U.S. Coast Guard is a leader on the nation’s waters and exercises unique capabilities as a member of the U.S. DHS and one of the six armed forces of the U.S. Department of Defense. Its missions are to protect those on the sea, protect against threats from sea, and protect the sea itself as addressed in United States Coast Guard Publication 3-0 Operations.
Ensuring public safety on the waters in and around the United States is a collaborative effort requiring vigilance and collaboration.
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 Jennifer Leftwich, Graduate Clinical Social Work Student, IPSA Mental Health, Fitness & Wellness Committee Member
“Be strong, my heart. You’ve survived worse and kept your nerve.” Odysseus
With the evolving pandemic, recent civil unrest, natural disasters, continued violence, economic uncertainty, and the lack of uniformed leadership, we are arguably living in a perfect storm of uncharted waters. There is no map to guide us. There are no search and rescue teams coming to save us. We cannot send a distress signal, but there is a survival kit: moral identity and moral expectations, or also known as, the moral compass.
While chaos and danger continue to threaten us, the moral compass protects and guides public safety officials through hardship. The moral compass is a shield of the human condition. It grounds a person. It cultivates courage. It contains values and beliefs about what is treasured and what is to be protected. It aids humans by informing their experience in and assumptions about the world to create purpose and mission to withstand adversity. During these ongoing events and emergencies, the public safety and health officials who have dedicated their lives to protecting citizens’ safety and wellbeing, are possibly vulnerable to questioning their sense of direction in their mission.
What happens when these emergency responders who work under intensifying pressure for a society that wavers between hero-worship and devaluing, despite their unwavering commitment to society’s protection?
The answer is a different crisis occurs: moral injury.
Emergency responders may begin to question their roles in societal suffering and possibly question the validity of their chosen vocations or lives themselves. When pre-existing daily stressors and occupational hazards inherent in public safety work are coupled with the current crises, the risk for moral injury is high, despite the protective factors of adaptability and fluidity.
Moral injury explained
Historically, moral injury has been studied and discussed in the context of military servicemembers and veterans. Because moral injury overlaps and co-occurs with symptoms of PTS on a continuum, and because public safety shares spheres of connection with military service like mortal danger, studying moral injury in the public safety population is indicated.
Distinguishing between the overlaps helps identify the originating problem (the true north) and is critical to assessment and intervention. The more specific and holistic understanding of the person in his or her environment, in relationship to the origin of the problem, the better chance for competent supports.
From there, other co-occurring disruptions can be assessed and worked through as they relate to the origin. Frankl said, “we cannot infer from a shadow what casts it” that environmental circumstances must be incorporated to create a holistic picture.
In this overlap, it is possible that moral injury as a multidimensional problem (not a psychiatric diagnosis) may be the precursor to other maladies or vice versa.
Identifying moral injury
How does someone sustain moral injury? It is not a broken bone that a person can point at and say, “that’s what hurts.”
Moral injury is a soul wound that occurs when an authority figure or person with the responsibility of power (either themselves or someone else) commits, witnesses, or fails to prevent a violation of their moral code, in a high-stakes situation where mortal danger is present. Put another way, when “psychological trauma” is disassembled into its Greek origin, it translates to “spirit wound” or “soul wound.”
It is a normal human reaction to tragedies that occur beyond the reach of human control.
Mechanism of injury
Moral injury is being out at sea in a dangerous storm and the navigation system becomes damaged. The person’s internal compass is broken. This makes it increasingly difficult for a person to know if they are headed in the right direction, let alone where they are; to trust themselves and those around them; to believe their identity, purpose or mission is even justified at all.
When public safety officials experience this betrayal it misaligns their moral compass; the very part of being human that called them to a life of service. That is when pain and anguish begin.
The assumptions of control have been breached. Regardless that public safety officials are trained to manage crises, they are still human and there are forces beyond their control. This prompts questions like:
Moral injury symptoms
Moral injury reveals itself through a continuum of the human condition’s dimensions. Emotionally, feelings of guilt, shame, grief, anger, sadness and despair can be present.
Common behaviors are self-loathing, loss of faith, loss of meaning, self-sabotaging, substance abuse and self-isolating. Because the spiraling nature of moral injury creates internal dissonance and produces diminished ability and capacity to trust, there is an increased risk for suicide or suicidal ideation.
Repairing and recalibrating the moral compass
Public safety professionals are helpers, fixers and protectors. They are brave. Their baseline stress level is the crisis point for most civilians. They demonstrate psychological elasticity and adaptability daily. This is who they are at their core. It lends itself to drive and determination. Their careers are journeys to put their gifts of being clutch under pressure to meaningful use.
Because public safety officials are still human, damage may happen to their moral compasses. However, this damage can be repaired and recalibrated. This requires accurate input to get back to alignment. Since isolation and a loss of capacity for trust are primary markers of moral injury, it stands to reason that social support through meaningful relationships is tantamount to repair. This manifests through a variety of methods.
As part of a multi-level integrated triage approach, proactive and well-developed formal peer support is a critical asset to public safety agencies as a first-line support. Peers provide a safe, empathic and normalized relationship and can help refer for additional supports. On the more holistic side, individuals with a moral injury are encouraged to return to old or develop new hobbies and recreational activities and seek spiritual care.
Clinically, strengths-based therapeutic modalities that focus on fortifying forgiveness, life narratives, acceptance and commitment, family systems, and cognitive-behavioral aspects have been shown to be helpful. Addressing any substance use barriers to wellness is also imperative. These methods of re-forging meaningful relationships and activities can re-ignite the soul and aid in realigning the moral compass. They can spark hope, faith and moral courage. They can bring joy and healing. They direct a person to reconnect with their primary role. They remind a person that despite their vocation, they are a multifaceted living human.
The concept of moral injury is not new, though it has had many names and faces. That is meant to offer comfort, not to minimize or devalue pain. Humans have historically grappled with the internal anguish of a transgressed conscience. Maybe it is too vast to encapsulate it into one term. No matter what fits best, a broken spirit and rupture in basic trust can have lasting detrimental effects.
As long as there have been humans with large hearts and deep minds, there has been existential tension and anguish. They survived. They learned they are more than a vocation and that level of assigned meaning to roles is malleable. They used adversity to strengthen their moral courage. They shared their messages so others would find solace. People forget this, get distracted or blissfully hide. Fortunately, even while wounded, the soul knows and will speak through whatever pangs demand the most attention for its moral compass to be repaired. The storm does not become less treacherous. You just become more courageous. You trust your moral compass again.
Jennie 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 public safety and military veterans’ populations, while also advocating for better collaborative partnerships between social work and public safety. She is a proud LE/Fire/Rescue/Military granddaughter, daughter, sibling, spouse, and advocate who grew up in San Diego.
By Sarah Guenette, Learning & Development Manager, Calgary Community Standards, IPSA Mental Health & Wellness Committee Member
Public safety events often have stressful and long-term effects on those involved. It is imperative that first responder agencies have a strong internal support system in place for employees. One of the resources to consider is a Peer Support team.
The theory behind peer support is simple – the power of shared experience. There are multiple models for peer support including internal and external and they range from informal to formal clinical care models. This article will focus on workplace peer support which is a formal and intentional form of support.
The nature of the shared experience varies with the environment. In first responder agencies, the shared experience is being in the same work environment and having exposure to the stressors related to the first responder role. Peers are there to offer support, empathy, guidance, information and access to resources. In the eyes of a first responder who is struggling, another first responder may be the only person who truly “gets it.”
Selection, qualifications of peers
It is well known there is a stigma against getting help within first responder communities. For some of them it is difficult to take that first step to ask for help and admit they are struggling. While the culture is slowly changing, stigma is still a factor. When a first responder finally takes the step to talk to someone, they want someone they respect, trust and who is going to be empathetic.
When selecting peers an agency needs to consider what attributes other first responders would be looking for in that person. Just because someone wants to be a peer doesn’t mean they will be suited for the role. They need to know and live the values of hope, recovery, empathy and self-determination. They also need to be skilled in interpersonal communication, critical thinking and be supportive of change.
To ensure the selection of appropriate peers, agencies could consider an application and selection process. This emphasizes the importance of the role through formalizing it. It could entail informal or formal interviews or reference checks with coworkers.
Each agency needs to decide what training they are prepared to deliver for peers; peer support training is critical. But ultimately successful peers should already have three core traits in common:
One of the most valuable ways for new peers to learn is to work alongside more experienced ones. It is important that those existing peers demonstrate the values the workforce respects.
Performance of peers should be managed just like any other work tasks. Peers who break confidentiality without good cause should be asked to leave the team and any complaints against a peer should be investigated through the agency’s usual procedure.
It is imperative that management, leaders of the peer support team, field personnel and the peers themselves are all aware of the confidentiality rules that each agency puts in place. This should be documented in a policy, procedure or code of conduct which is acknowledged by all peers and communicated to all staff.
Situations that could lead to self-harm or harm to others should permit breaking of confidentiality. Aside from those scenarios, the leadership of the peer team and management need to clearly define the parameters of escalation so that everyone is on the same page, including employees who may access the team.
Employees will open-up to the peer about things that they do not want shared, very personal things. Outside of the predetermined parameters where disclosure is mandatory, the peer must keep this information to themselves unless the employee indicates that they want them to share it. If a peer team is seen by employees to be breaking confidentiality, employees will not approach them and will not use them as a resource and the team will no longer be effective.
Confidentiality is part of any successful psychological health and safety system.
There will be times when peers will need to breach confidentiality for safety reasons. How these incidents are handled should be planned to avoid uncertainty in the moment and unintended consequences. These are cases where time is of the essence and the member needs additional support urgently. There needs to be a safety component to these situations whether it is safety of the member themselves, a loved one or the public.
It is critical that all steps be taken to protect the member’s privacy and integrity. If an incident where a member is in crisis is handled poorly it can undermine the good intentions and image of the peer team. Ensure all peers understand the steps to take when they are faced with a safety sensitive situation.
Leaders of a peer team need to demonstrate the team is successful, that they are being accessed and that they are considered a valuable resource by employees. In order to obtain this data, a tracking system is needed. Peers can report interactions in a way that doesn’t breach confidentiality. A system of coded reporting where neither the peer nor the employee is identifiable is ideal.
Tracking is also useful for identifying organizational trending. If peers broadly categorize conversations in the tracking system, it can demonstrate whether there is a particular area of concern within the workforce. This gives management the opportunity to address that trend through training in that area or by offering additional support resources to assist.
Health of peers
Peer support team members need to be able to take on the problem of others in addition to their own.
When there are stressors within a workplace, the draw on them as a resource will increase, not decrease, even though they are dealing with the same stressors. They need to be able to balance supporting others and ensuring that they can stay healthy and use healthy coping mechanisms.
It is important that peers receive psychological health training so they can understand triggers, warning signs and healthy versus unhealthy coping strategies. If a peer is starting to feel overwhelmed, it is critical that they reach out to another member of the team to talk about it, and if necessary, request to take a break from supporting until they feel more stable to continue.
For peers to protect their own health, they need to be empowered to establish boundaries with coworkers. Peers are not mental health professionals. They provide timely support to a coworker and help them to identify the resources that they need. Peers should not be expected to support employees through long term psychological struggles. Follow up check-ins with employees are key and should be done after an initial conversation has taken place, but the peer cannot be the sole support for a member.
Ideally a peer support team will be an initiative that is strongly supported from the top down. Leaders, especially operational ones, can play a pivotal role in whether an initiative is endorsed by the front line. Having a well-respected leader as a champion of the program will help it succeed. Since a peer support team is a resource to support worker health and wellness, the union will also ideally be supportive, although they may have questions and concerns, especially around confidentiality. If both senior leadership and the union support the initiative that should be communicated to employees along with clear communication about how the team will function.
Every agency will benefit from having a peer support program. When implemented effectively it can be one of the best resources for first responders to access help, and more importantly, for taking the step to ask for it in the first place. There are many factors to consider in building the team and things that need to be thought out prior to implementing anything. The peer support team needs to be structured to meet the needs of members for it to be effective. With well thought out planning and implementation, a peer support team can become a core component of any agency’s psychological health and wellness program.
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.
IPSA Mental Health & Wellness Infographics
As the world faces the COVID-19 pandemic, America is experiencing a series of both peaceful and violent protests across major cities in response to the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, while in police custody. Public safety professionals to be mindful of operating in situations where their presence may not be celebrated, let alone wanted.
Answering the call of duty
When asked why they do what they do, many people in emergency services, law enforcement and the military will offer that they want to help and serve others. However, these professions continue to operate in contexts where the definition of ‘help’ varies widely. Regardless, public safety professionals are required to continue to perform their respective functions of enforcing the law, preventing and investigating crimes, apprehending offenders, maintaining public order and promoting public safety. It is critical that professionals operating within the context of heightened hostilities can refocus their efforts in a healthy way while still performing the roles entrusted to them by the public. Although the following mechanisms can apply to other public safety professions, they will be applied to law enforcement considering current events playing out across America.
Law enforcement principles, theory and practice
As law enforcement officers prepare for functioning within potentially hostile contexts, research is a constructive method for preparing the mind. It is useful to research the history of the law enforcement profession to understand its core values, theories and principles. It is also useful to research the region, communities and ideologies prevalent within the operational environment. However, most critical, is researching the intersection of the profession and these crucial factors.
Research is not considered reading through myriad of polarizing social media posts, but instead truly studying empirical academic research about the policing history, social history, racial segregation, political and economic factors that shape the dynamics at play between law enforcement and the populations they serve. Developing a historical frame of reference for the reactions of communities, allows for mutual understanding and empathy.
Focus on individual interactions
While building mutual understanding and empathy, it is also important to consider how one individual can make an impact. Public safety professionals must be diligent to focus on individual interactions and shape the trajectory they do have control over. While one officer cannot personally shape the universal narrative of a stereotypical law enforcement officer, he or she can interact in a way that impacts those perceptions positively. That is not to say that violence should be met with passivity; the use-of-force continuum is a crucial guideline for protecting constituents, officers and bystanders by escalating levels of reasonable action. However, whenever possible, officers must make deliberate efforts to remove themselves from the echo chamber of labels and work directly with the human being in front of them. While stereotypes are a mechanism for making sense of a complex world, they are also a method for eliminating opportunities to exercise critical decision-making.
Communicating before, during and after shifts
During polarizing situations, it is important to discuss experiences with colleagues. At the end of an especially challenging shift or operation, taking the time to swap stories about interactions while on the job allows leaders to better understand the evolving environment they are sending subordinates in to. This can open the door to additional resources, to include proper training, education and equipment.
This also presents opportunities for better scenario planning. While more seasoned officers may have a better frame of reference for making good decisions in stressful scenarios, discussing experiences provides a mechanism for adding others’ experiences to one’s metaphorical toolkit.
So much of law enforcement training is logically designed to allow for the human brain to rapidly move through a flow chart, selecting or bypassing crucial decision points to make the ethically and legally correct choice all in a matter of seconds. When the boxes on the flow chart are limited, officers may also be limited in their ability to make sound decisions within short timeframes. Open dialogues inform additional mental flow chart boxes.
Remind yourself why you wear the badge and the uniform
Getting back to your origins is a critical mechanism for handling situations of increased uncertainty and hostility. Although many public safety professionals are tired, angry and frustrated, there is a reason they have gone through all of the grueling steps to wear the badge and the uniform. There is something or someone that inspired you to willingly walk towards harm, to help people on their very worst day and to trade certain freedoms for those of your community.
Pull out the old photo of you graduating from the academy or even that horrible photo taken on the first day of basic training. Remember the excitement and hope you held for your future when you started the process and allow those embers to regain their flames. If you cannot do so, it is also important to consider the why and how of this feeling.
As reported by the Department of Justice, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder impacts an estimated 15 percent of law enforcement officers in the United States today. PTSD can lead to behavioral dysfunction, to include aggression, depression and substance abuse, as well as overall poor decision-making. It is a moral imperative that public safety professionals take care of their mental well-being. The streets you patrol and the protests you respond to should not be treated as a battlefield, but the stressors law enforcement officers face day in and day out can take the same emotional toll.
Stephanie DeRiso has served in the U.S. Army for 8 years. She initially served as a Mortuary Affairs Specialist at Dover, Air Force Base, Delaware before receiving her commission in to the Military Police Corps. As a Military Police Officer, she led law enforcement operations in Fort Stewart, Georgia and across Europe in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve. She was selected as a Joint Special Operations Command Cultural Support Team Specialist and served on training and combat operations alongside special operations units across Afghanistan in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. Most recently, she is pursuing qualification as a Civil Affairs Officer at the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Criminology, Law, and Society from George Mason University and will receive her Master of Professional Studies in Emergency and Disaster Management from Georgetown University in May of 2021.
By Gregory L. Walterhouse, Associate Teaching Professor, Bowling Green State University, IPSA Member
The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects persons against unreasonable searches of their property and effects by the Government. The Fourth Amendment is enforceable against the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. This is not limited to searches by law enforcement officers, but by any agent of the government including fire inspectors and fire investigators in the performance of their official duties. Searches may be administrative, for example inspections, or criminal in nature such as arson investigation. The focus of this article will be administrative searches, but it will touch on criminal searches related to fire investigations.
Fire inspectors conduct thousands of inspections across the United States on a regular basis and rarely are they refused entry to perform an inspection. But what if the party in control of the property refuses entry to the inspector? First, the person in control of the property be it the property owner, or a tenant, has a constitutional right to refuse entry to an inspector and cannot be charged or convicted for failing to do so.
Absent consent, the inspector needs to obtain an administrative search warrant. In Camara v. Municipal Court the Supreme Court held that a city ordinance providing for warrantless inspections of leased residential properties was unconstitutional and barred prosecution of persons refusing to permit code enforcement inspections of a personal residence. The Court further held that the probable cause requirement to obtain an administrative search warrant for an area code enforcement inspection is not predicated on the inspector’s belief that a particular property violates the code, but on the “reasonableness of the enforcement agency’s appraisal of conditions in the area as a whole.”
Similarly, the Court has held that statutory authorization of warrantless searches of business properties is unconstitutional. In Marshal v. Barlow’s a business owner refused OSHA inspectors access to nonpublic areas of his business. The Court struck down a provision of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act that empowered OSHA inspectors to inspect the work area of any employment facility for safety hazards and violations. However, this does not preclude an inspector from observing areas of a business, without a warrant or consent that are observable by the public. The Court cited Camara and See v. Seattle as controlling. In See the Court held that absent consent the warrant requirement established in Camara also applies to inspections of business properties.
An exception to the warrant requirement are closely regulated industries including firearms United States v. Biswell, alcoholic beverages Colonnade Catering Corp. v. United States and automobile junkyards New York v. Burger. The Court upheld the warrant exception citing a long history of regulation of these industries and the owner’s privacy interests being weakened where the government’s interest in regulating businesses are heightened.
Entries to investigate the cause of fires must generally adhere to the probable cause and warrant procedure of the Fourth Amendment (Michigan v. Tyler). However, the Court in Tyler established some exceptions to the warrant requirement.
First, a burning building presents an exigency sufficient to render a warrantless entry reasonable.
Second, for a reasonable time after the fire is extinguished firefighters may seize evidence of arson that is in plain view and investigate the cause of the fire. In Tyler, the Court upheld a departure of investigators from the scene due to visibility problems and a return four hours later to continue their investigation.
Third, where the cause of a fire in unknown and the purpose of the investigation is to determine the fire’s cause; and absent consent from the person in control of the property (owner or tenant), an administrative search warrant is sufficient (Michigan v. Clifford).
However, upon discovering evidence of wrongdoing and establishing probable cause a criminal search warrant is required. Therefore, when investigating under an administrative search warrant and finding evidence of arson or another crime, suspend the investigation prior to obtaining a criminal search warrant.
The “reasonable time” exception established by the Court in Tyler may be problematic and investigators should seriously consider the legal ramifications of investigating fires for a “reasonable time” as an extension of the suppression operation.
First, what constitutes a reasonable time is a question of law that will be determined later by a judge after it is too late for an investigator to correct the mistake. In Tyler, the Court found that a four-hour interruption in the scene investigation was reasonable. However, what about five, six, or more hours?
In addition, leaving an unsecured scene also compromises the change of custody for physical evidence. In Michigan v. Clifford, the Court held that arrival of investigators to the scene later on the day the fire occurred, to investigate a suspected arson without consent or a search warrant after the owner had taken steps to secure the fire damaged dwelling was unreasonable, and violated the Fourth Amendment.
In summary, property owners have Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches, which includes administrative searches for code enforcement and fire investigation purposes. Inspectors and investigators should first attempt to obtain consent from the property owner or tenant, preferably in writing for investigations, prior to conducting inspections or investigations.
If consent is denied, or for any reason is unattainable an administrative search warrant should be sought for inspections or determining the cause of a fire. Once, there is evidence of arson or other wrongdoing that establishes probable cause a criminal search warrant is required to seize evidence and further the investigation.
Finally, even though the Court has established an exception to the warrant requirement for investigating a fire for a “reasonable time” as a continuation of the fire suppression operations, this exception has potential pitfalls, and obtaining consent or an applicable search warrant are better options. For legal questions on performing specific inspections or investigations, fire inspectors and investigators should consult their local municipal or prosecuting attorney for guidance.
Greg Walterhouse is 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. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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By Niki Papazoglakis, Principal, Mobility 4 Public Safety
Text-based messaging, through SMS or third-party apps, is part of our daily lives. In fact, the convenience and instantaneous delivery makes messaging the preferred means of communication for many, including most public safety professionals.
Challenges with messaging
Messaging is convenient and operationally effective for public safety. Yet, public safety organizations experience multiple barriers to officially adopting these types of mobile collaboration tools because of technical, financial and policy challenges.
From a technical perspective, a lack of interoperability standards and identity sharing frameworks make it difficult to even connect the same products across different organizations, much less integrate different products.
Financial constraints limit the wide-scale deployment of department-issued mobile devices for most public safety organizations, not to mention subscription-based fees for messaging applications.
Further, many public safety organizations operate under outdated or non-existent policies for personal device use. To get around these organizational challenges, many public safety practitioners use consumer messaging tools on personal and department-issued devices for operational communications. These applications are not secure and because messages are stored on the phone, they leave the user open to having to turn their phone in for discovery. To address these concerns and begin to link together public safety organizations so that they can securely communicate, Bridge 4 Public Safety (Bridge4PS) has built a free, interoperable collaboration application.
As the Information Age evolved, the vast amount of data has become impossible for individuals to effectively consume. The need to streamline the overwhelming volume of emails and texts led to the birth of collaboration tools including chat-based platforms which allow users to collaborate in persistent rooms/channels. These are typically cloud-hosted and optimized for mobile devices.
While most industries are adopting collaboration as primary communications tools, public safety has been slower to adopt for a few reasons:
Recent publications by the Texas Public Safety Broadband Program and the South Dakota Public Safety Broadband Network highlight just how critical these tools have become for many public safety practitioners (see Public Safety Messaging: A New Frontier for Collaboration and Interoperability and Interoperability Use with Mobile Broadband). Both papers cite the operational need for messaging and lack of a viable industry-wide solution.
Evolving public records laws which encompass messages on personal devices plus the common misconception that Over-The-Top (OTT) apps protect users’ phones from discovery and/or public records requests are leading many practitioners to replace SMS texting with consumer-grade apps like WhatsApp, GroupMe and Telegram. With no real alternatives, these apps are being widely used to fill a significant communications gap despite security vulnerabilities and lack of enterprise administration tools.
To combat security vulnerabilities, some consumer apps are adopting End-to-End encryption (E2E) which encrypts the data from the sender to the recipient(s) mitigating many traditional vulnerabilities. While E2E offers some protection, these apps were not designed with strong security, so vulnerabilities still exist. Regardless of the real or perceived security from E2E, this type of encryption may be well suited for private correspondence but violates many states’ public records laws. Systems with E2E encryption do not store content on a server, thus enhancing exposure of personal phones rather than protecting them.
Messaging is widely utilized for many types of operations, particularly among individual teams; however, the lack of enterprise features limits the effectiveness of consumer-grade apps when scaling to larger groups. Some public safety organizations are adopting tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams and WebEx Teams which provide value internally, but offer limited scalability across organizations.
Early experimental deployments of public safety collaboration under the Harris County FirstNet Early Builder and DHS S&T Mobility Acceleration Coalition (MAC) programs delivered transformational results during notable events such as Super Bowl LI, Los Angeles Marathon, Hurricane Harvey and numerous other local events and disasters. Each deployment demonstrated unprecedented interoperability and real-time, multi-agency information sharing. In contrast, a member of the U.S. Forest Service noted in a recap of the 2019 wildland fire season in California that at one point she had nine messaging/collaboration apps for different groups they coordinated with.
Although the operational value is clear for the coordinated adoption of enterprise-grade, multi-organizational, public safety collaboration, these deployments were only possible under experimental programs not bound by typical constraints like funding and governance. Many stakeholders are looking for an industry-wide platform to use:
The lack of such a tool is not because the technology is unavailable. With enough funding, any vendor could build the public safety-specific features, meet industry security and compliance requirements and scale worldwide. The problem is economics.
Bridge4PS is a free, public safety collaboration platform born out of the DHS S&T MAC project after the loss of momentum for strategic mobility planning when the funding for the subscription-based app was exhausted.
Bridge4PS provides secure messaging, picture, video, file sharing and voice, video conferencing within a single nationwide platform exclusively for public safety. It is funded by the U.S. DHS and available at no cost to authorized public safety personnel as an alternative to 1) free consumer apps currently used by many practitioners; 2) premium subscription apps prohibitively expensive for most public safety organizations and 3) internal, enterprise tools that do not support interoperability.
Bridge4PS and COVID-19
Early deployments of Bridge4PS as a proof-of-concept exceeded expectations. In early 2020, DHS approved the expansion to users beyond the designated proof-of-concept regions of Houston and Los Angeles. Initial deployments for daily operations and special events produced dramatic operational results.
Just days after the Los Angeles Marathon, where Bridge4PS delivered seamless real-time communications for hundreds of users in 12 organizations across four jurisdictions, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. Since then, there has been a rapid increase in the number of users and dramatic shift in the types of use cases. It is being used across the country to coordinate COVID-19 response for local, regional and state-level operations.
Bridge4PS is available only to authorized personnel. All users are maintained in a single nationwide directory. This directory is proving highly valuable in coordinating and disseminating critical information across jurisdictions.
Disasters are not typically a good time to adopt new tools; however, COVID-19 is straining many traditional planning, response and communications models. Public safety organizations are being forced to find new means of communicating to remain effective despite predominantly remote workforces, reduced staffing from responders being quarantined, highly dynamic operational environments and increasingly limited resources (e.g., staffing, funding and supplies).
Public safety organizations are using Bridge4PS to securely disseminate COVID-19 related information such as evolving department policies, exposure procedures and various other non-sensitive content to personnel with limited access to department email when off-duty or working remotely.
As organizations adjusted to the new operational environment, many adopted Zoom for video conferencing. Like consumer messaging apps that were not designed to meet stringent security requirements, users began experiencing video bombing and security breaches that exposed hundreds of thousands of user credentials on the dark web.
The primary focus with Bridge4PS was to develop a secure, compliant and free public safety collaboration platform that could support nationwide interoperability. This is being achieved by those practitioners adopting it. Once verified and issued a credential, users can create groups and direct messages with any other user(s) in the directory without needing personal contact information.
Navigating the unknown
It is unclear how long the COVID-19 pandemic will last, and it impossible to predict its impact on individual communities. Many areas are experiencing increases in suicide, domestic violence and robberies. No one knows what will happen as communities begin re-opening. With wildfire and hurricane seasons approaching, there will likely be an even greater strain on public safety resources as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in the U.S. and globally.
One step organizations can take to enhance preparedness and response efforts is to join the thousands of public safety practitioners around the country adopting Bridge4PS. Authorized personnel can learn more at https://www.bridge4ps.com or request access at https://access.bridge4ps.com. Public safety has a unique opportunity to avoid the interoperability challenges experienced with radios and CAD and truly harness the power of mobile broadband through mobile collaboration by bridging public safety communications with Bridge4PS.
Niki Papazoglakis has been actively involved in public safety technology and communications for nearly 20 years. She has led numerous ground-breaking projects that have helped advance the state of public safety communications and IT nationally including the first regional broadband requirements gathering project which DHS incorporated into its best practices guidance, the first all-digital PSAP with sub-second connections for wireless callers, and the first large-scale operational deployment of PSLTE for Super Bowl LI in Houston which set a standard for the utilization of mobile broadband technologies through seamless interoperability and information sharing. Building on the momentum from her role with the Harris County Early Builder program, Niki has formed Mobility 4 Public Safety, a consulting firm specializing in regional, interoperable mobility strategy and public safety collaboration.
IPSA COVID-19 Webpage
By Heather R. Cotter, Executive Director
The International Public Safety Association reached out to a few member to get their perspectives on emerging lessons learned and considerations related to the COVID-19 pandemic specific to continuity of operations, safety and mental health. The article contributors include:
Q: What are you seeing related to the COVID-19 pandemic, specific to COOP, safety and/or mental health?
Poon: As organizations at all levels are finding their key resources are limited and personnel may be unavailable due to the COVID-19 pandemic, now is the time for everyone to review and reassess their essential functions so that the resources that are available can be applied in efforts that will be most beneficial to your organization.
FEMA has various tools to support continuity-related planning to include the Business Process Analysis and Business Impact Analysis User Guide. This guide supports the development, review and validation of essential functions by taking you through the steps of conducting a Business Process Analysis and Business Impact Analysis. This and other useful continuity-related tools and information can be accessed in the FEMA Continuity Resource Toolkit.
FEMA also have online trainings through the Emergency Management Institute, and the most relevant ones now are:
An Introduction to Continuity of Operations: IS-1300
Introduction to Continuity of Operations Planning for Pandemic Influenzas: IS-0520
And the Continuity Guidance Circular is also available in the Resource Toolkit as our foundational document that has basically outlined how much of national resilience depends upon everyone in the whole community having continuity plans. Continuity isn’t limited to government or any specific sector.
Steiner: COVID-19 is requiring us to rethink our normal response to our routine emergencies. Protect yourself and your personnel right away as part of your initial scene safety. It is important to remember that people can be asymptomatic and still be contagious. Even people who are showing symptoms may not be forthcoming with that information about their symptoms in fear of being labeled (stigmatized) or denied entry into a place.
We are treating runs as though the patient has COVID-19 by protecting ourselves right away wearing surgical masks, eye protection, gloves and other PPE as needed. We are also placing masks on all our patients to provide an additional level of protection. We are sending one medic in to evaluate the patient and determine the proper level of PPE and care. We are even trying to get the patients to meet us at the front door, lobby or outside when possible to help limit the potential exposures.
Greco: The mental health field is seeing resiliency, strength and courage through this difficult time. We continue to see first responders struggling with existing stress that is being compounded by this crisis.
Q: What else should organizations be thinking about and addressing?
Greco: We need to start looking at physical and mental wellness during and after this crisis. And not just in our first responders, but for our doctors, nurses and other medical professionals. I am concerned about the rates of acute stress disorder and PTSD. I would ask that organizations begin to look at wellness efforts now and plan for taking care of their people after this event. This is critical to help mitigate burnout, compassion fatigue and PTSD.
As Chair of the IPSA’s Mental Health & Wellness Committee, I am proud to serve with a terrific group of first responders and medical and mental health professionals. IPSA has several resources available on their website including infographics depression, PTSD, suicide, family and officer wellness. I encourage agencies and individuals to download and distribute these free resources.
Steiner: The well-being and mental health of your personnel and their families during this difficult time needs to be near the top of every leader’s mind. Plus, the economic impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on both the public and private sectors; many individuals and companies are experiencing financial stress. It is going to be a long road to recovery.
Poon: This event is really highlighting how important it is to have good continuity plans in place. Even though we are not activating plans in the traditional sense, or relocating operations, we are using the strategies and capabilities we have developed over the years to maintain functions and services. We need to focus on four continuity planning factors:
The IPSA will continue to reach out to its stakeholders during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. We promise to continue to share the information we receive from our multidiscipline network so we can all learn from one another. Afterall, our vision is for a stronger, more integrated public safety community capable of an effective joint response to all public safety incidents. Together we are stronger.
IPSA Mental Health Infographics
IPSA FEMA COOP Webinar Recording
IPSA Webinar Recording: Burnout - Staying Out of the Red Zone
10 tips for emergency responders, healthcare providers for managing stress during the COVID-19 crisis
"The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued guidance on how covered entities may disclose protected health information (PHI) about an individual who has been infected with or exposed to COVID-19 to law enforcement, paramedics, other first responders, and public health authorities in compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Privacy Rule.
The guidance explains the circumstances under which a covered entity may disclose PHI such as the name or other identifying information about individuals, without their HIPAA authorization, and provides examples including:
When needed to provide treatment;
When required by law;
When first responders may be at risk for an infection; and
When disclosure is necessary to prevent or lessen a serious and imminent threat.
This guidance clarifies the regulatory permissions that covered entities may use to disclose PHI to first responders and others so they can take extra precautions or use personal protective equipment. The guidance also includes a reminder that generally, covered entities must make reasonable efforts to limit the PHI used or disclosed to that which is the "minimum necessary" to accomplish the purpose for the disclosure.
"Our nation needs our first responders like never before and we must do all we can to assure their safety while they assure the safety of others," said Roger Severino, OCR Director. "This guidance helps ensure first responders will have greater access to real time infection information to help keep them and the public safe," added Severino.
The guidance may be found at: https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/covid-19-hipaa-and-first-responders-508.pdf "
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