During a recent week of viewing briefing notes, I had to pause to consider the modern-era challenges confronting our MPD officers. On a regular basis, my officers are investigating child sexual assaults, substantial crimes against persons, and “shots fired” incidents; responding to overdoses; attempting to locate individuals with dementia who go missing; “pinging” cell phones for missing and endangered persons believed to be suicidal; or searching for runaways believed to be involved in human trafficking. And this is only a sample of what is routinely expected of MPD. It forced me to reflect on the job dimensions required when I took the oath of office on July 11, 1983, and contrast it to the expectations we place upon our recruits. [Who just began four months of field training with veteran officers who will monitor their abilities to take the lessons learned in the Academy and transition those skill sets to real calls for service! (By the way, crime hasn’t gone through the roof here in Camelot; those two-officer squads you see everywhere are recruits paired with field training officer’s)!]
The police are constantly asked to be a one-stop shop for ever-complex societal issues and demands. This in turn drives the need to expand our training, providing best practice responses to meet those demands. The core function of policing, “to protect and serve,” has a universality that transcends time and generations.
I have often preached that policing at its best is an embodiment of the five C’s – character, caring, commitment, competency and collegiality. These are “premium” commodities which must be fostered both within the agency as well as in conjunction with community members. And at the end of the day…..always striving for the “best possible resolutions” (BPR’s). Today’s MPD officers face unique challenges that far surpass the job dimensions that old timers like me were trained or prepared to do.
For example, in 1983, I would never have imagined being issued and trained in the administration of naloxone for oftentimes pulse-less and non-breathing heroin overdose subjects. Today, given the frequency of these incidents, it seems unthinkable to not take affirmative steps to equip our work force with this lifesaving remedy (I call it the “Lazarus” drug) that has provided so many individuals another chance at beating the insidious effects of this addiction.
When I was a rookie cop, the “alert” tone resounding across all of our police channels signaling an incident-in-progress involving a weapon would have my heart racing! In a six day rotation (same as today), I recalled hearing that toned-out alert perhaps 2-3 times; now it can happen that many times (or more) in a single 8-hour shift. Back in the 1980’s, a dispatched call of “shots fired” was nowhere close to the frequency that we are seeing today . . .even our year-to-date figures for 2017 show an increase of over 300% from the same time period in 2016.
Back in the early 1980’s, Madison was considered one of the crown jewels for mental illness care and response(s). Then, Dane County’s Mental Health “Crisis” Unit could provide a practitioner’s field delivery and meet officers at an address anywhere in the City and immediately commence a collaborative assessment working hand-in-hand with the officers. If an emergency detention was warranted, the paper work was completed, the individual was conveyed and turned over to Mendota Mental Health, and the officer would return the originals to probate court and go back into service. During those days, when resources could keep pace with demands, the term “bus therapy” was witnessed on more than one occasion where family/friends would buy a one-way bus trip ticket to Madison with instructions on the individual’s mental health condition and needs! That’s how wonderful our City’s reputation was for dealing comprehensively and compassionately with people in need. Alas, today, in spite of our renewed commitment to creating mental health and liaison officers and teaming with “Journey” Mental Health for clinical consults, the funding for outpatient mental health treatment outreach is nowhere near comparable to the early 80’s. Unfortunately, demands are compelling and exceeding all of our best estimates. As a result, our officers are committing between 5-10 hours on these emergency detention calls, individuals are displaced from the familiarity of Madison to Oshkosh, and the community suffers a void in public safety whenever two officers are gone for an extended period of time transporting patients all the way to Winnebago (Oskhosh).
And then there’s “technology.” While lauded as a mechanism for greater “efficiency” and paperless processes, it is also the bane of existence for current day guardians. When I went into service after briefing, the challenge was merely finding a car and a portable radio and you were ready to go! Today’s officer must ensure that the cabin temperature of the squad is sufficiently warmed up to begin the log-in protocols for the computer and various software to properly boot-up. Microphones and videos tested, synced, and written up for repair if non-operational (which also means finding another car to begin all over again). Time has to be built into every tour for uploading/downloading and praying that the State’s software program for completing a simple 2-car accident is working and won’t take over an hour to complete! The technology so heavily relied upon becomes an Achilles heel when it crashes. I have seen “cheat sheets” and “work-around’s” for these numerous nuanced problems; so much so, that even Job would have a meltdown. When technology is working and everything comes together, it’s great . . . and I am still waiting for that blessed event to occur. I’m not so sure that we weren’t better off when officers could spend more time in relational engagement and less time dealing with emails and getting technology to work (Spoken like a true member of the now extinct “Luddites,” right”!) I should be quick to note that my technology team makes miracles happen every day to keep our ship afloat. . .it’s not their problem when things fail to work as promised!
In 1983, cell phones and computers were just starting to find entry-level price points for the average consumer. Now, with smart phones, laptops, and a plethora of social media portals, officers/detectives/forensic investigators spend endless hours applying for subpoenas, court orders and warrants in many of our cases. A vast new frontier—the internet and beyond—has proven ripe for identity thefts, white collar crimes, child pornography, bullying, drug dealing, stalking, and human trafficking, to name but a few. These are more time and labor intensive than the traditional crimes my generation was tasked with investigating and certainly more sophisticated.
When I first began my career and in looking at the expectations of today’s recruits, our constituents ask our cops to be so much more than “law enforcers,” and that’s okay with me. We will try in earnest to be de facto social workers, first responders, surrogate parents, mentors, civil dispute mediators, relationship counselors, mental health interveners, and makeshift AODA resource providers. But there is another variable here that concerns me when you juxtapose “then” and “now.” What effect does the public’s image of policing have on recruitment? Given these increasingly complex issues that are being foisted upon the police as the last gasp, 24/7 social service agency, coupled with the eroding base of support for the profession and the nobility of selfless service, can we continue to attract the best and the brightest?
Recruiting “then” and “now.” “Then” consisted of running a printed ad in the Wisconsin State Journal for two consecutive weeks. We would get over a thousand applications and launch into vigorous testing of the candidate pool! “Now,” we are recruiting and testing under an open enrollment scheme that allows candidates to test throughout the year and the written exam is brought to campuses in six Midwestern states! The recruiting effort now includes a comprehensive marketing plan which incorporates direct mailings, internet-based strategies and social media platforms as well as personal relationships being built on colleges and urban centers like Milwaukee, Detroit, the Twin Cities, and Chicago (to name a few). In spite of all these efforts, I consider us to be “fortunate” to get slightly over 600 applicants . . .particularly when you compare us with the abysmal numbers that have been reported in many other markets. Certainly, we have to consider the reputation of our profession in the current climate. Nevertheless, as I prepare myself for over fifty interviews of candidates who aspire to join the MPD, I am heartened by the life, work, educational, and service backgrounds of our finalists! “Then,” as “now,” the final group of those selected and waiting to be sworn in next fall will stand as proof positive that “quality” will still reign supreme over the “quantity” of our potential hires. . .And we can all be grateful for that!
One thing that has sadly withstood the test of time is the fact that deadly assaults on police officers are as devastating now as they have always been. MPD commissioned and civilian personnel will be wearing mourning badge covers and ribbons until such time as the slain police officer from the Everest Metro Police Department is laid to rest. The MPD Honor Guard will be sent to Wausau to represent our Department’s condolences and respect for the officer who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of others. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the all of those who perish at the hands of violent offenders.
This post was originally published on March 23, 2017 on Chief Koval’s blog.