Webinar presenters Major Dan Weis, Chief Eric Scott, Sheriff Manuel Gonzales answered a number of your questions after their presentation, Best Practices for Community Policing: Creation a Positive Impact. Here are just a few of their responses.
Audience Question: One problem that my community, which is a small town, population of about 1500, is not reporting suspicious activities to our dispatch. Me and my marshal, we have been talking about organizing a public event to educate and to take general questions. But do you have any ideas on how to get things started?
Major Dan Weis: I could follow up on that. We started an initiative, even though we’re bigger, but the concepts are kind of the same. The chief, you could probably chime in, we started a See Something, Say Something campaign, and we use yard signs, and we use all types of things to try to promote the community to See Something and Say Something. Tip lines and schools are good. And then, of course, we have crime stoppers, which a lot of agencies have. So those are some of the things that we do.
Chief Eric Scott: I’ll speak on that. We do those as well. But something that’s been really successful at source is getting into our Neighborhood Watch programs, right? There’s no better community person that knows their neighborhood than a homeowner who’s watching any type of criminal activity going on. And I can tell you that what we did was we basically, we all have districts in zones in our communities, and we basically assign an officer to each of those zones of community, and they act as a liaison for that community. And so, the community knows like, hey, if there’s some suspicious or whatever, I have this officer’s phone. I can call them; I can text them. And so, we basically tell them, “Hey, these are the officer’s hours, and this is the window of law.” And if not, you know, go through the regular channels of 911 or whatever. But, we have seen a huge amount of success, because there are so many times people will see things, and they don’t know a way to get in touch with us other than 911. And they’re like, well, this, maybe not, is a 911 situation, but it’s a serious matter. And so, I would encourage you to look at your neighborhood watch along with, you know, crime stoppers and just being very available, even though your community is small. Everyone in your community is going to have social media in some way. Get on social media and make it accessible to them, whether it’s through e-mails, or messages, or whatever. But you have to be responsive to them. One of the things that we found is, we had too many social media platforms when I got here, and so I had to narrow it down to where it’s just Facebook and Instagram. And then we’re slowly implementing 1 by 1 as we have now, kind of figured out that science because social media is a science, but I would encourage you to meet with your community and do like some type of community watch program. And then I think that you’ll get the real feedback that you’re seeking.
Sheriff Manuel Gonzales: We have a tips line where people are able to call in and then we sort those out for their respective units, that’s another approach. Then, also, I think, from the standpoint of the Marshal’s question, is, he may want to develop maybe the policy that obligates the dispatcher to take the information, and disburse it to the right individuals, so there’s some accountability there, that’s another good approach. That’s a great question. I think it’s a good way for him to just take that information and maybe figure out how to capture it. And make sure the dispatchers are getting it where it needs to be in terms of the law enforcement services.
Audience Question: So, touching on something that several of you have talked about. What role does the PIO play in community policing?
Chief Eric Scott: I’ll just start off by saying it’s one of the most important roles in your police department. They are the face, right? And so, you know, everyone knows their chiefs and sheriffs and staff as the head. But, that day-to-day operator is my PIO. They’re the ones that actually are in the streets. They know what’s going on and go on in a community. And it’s essential that your PIO has access, and the community has access to them, that the communication flow both ways. To simply answer your question, it’s one of the most important parts of a police department, you have to make sure that your PIO is a person who can connect with people. They’re natural with it. And they’re a person that can connect with different generations, older-younger, they have to be kind of hip in social media nowadays. A lot of that stuff is super important and making a successful PIO, but there are immensely important to our operations as law enforcement.
Sheriff Manuel Gonzales: Yes, I also see the public information playing a critical role between being the bridge between the public, and law enforcement, and also law enforcement into the media. So, they have an extremely important role in terms of what’s getting disseminated, what’s getting put out there, the way it’s perceived, and how that message is taken. So, it’s very critical that the information is accurate, it’s current, and it’s factual. So, we want to make sure that the information people are getting, so there are no chances of fear-mongering, no chances of misperception, any type of misinformation that will lead them to believe something is more dangerous, or something’s not as dangerous. So, the PIOs pays a very critical role in terms of the accuracy of the information and how timely it is.
Major Dan Weis: Really quick, PIO is very strategic as well on how the branding in your message goes out to the media. A good PIO can develop relationships with the media. And they can be very beneficial to navigating the media and getting your word out to the community.
Chief Eric Scott: Something, I’ll add really quick. And I’m to share a National Academy graduate 271. So, something I learned while there was after the Mandalay Bay shooting in Las Vegas and how well they manage their social media. And I can tell you that, if we have a critical incident in our city, I want the public to immediately go to our platforms, right? I don’t want them going to our local news stations or local media. And so that’s why it’s so crucial that you build this stuff up now. Like, this is why I do so many community activities, is because I’m building up followers, our base is growing. And so, whenever something does happen, I have the platform to immediately disseminate the most urgent and active information as up-to-date and accurate. I think that’s what the sheriff and the major are talking about, is the accuracy of your information. So that is not misconstrued third party and not saying anything against the media, but there’s no way you’re going to depict the information unless it’s coming directly from the horse’s mouth. And, I think, that’s what we’re trying to do, is, to try to build a platform by using our PIO by being in being successful. So that, one day, when we have that big incident, immediately everyone comes to us, and we can help them through that. Whether it be after an incident or currently during an incident as Las Vegas was. They had grown their following to millions. When that Mandalay Bay shooting happened, they were able to get messages to the people, where to go, not to go, this way, and what to do, and I think that’s, that’s, that’s what we’re trying to do here, as well.
Audience Question: How would you address training of law enforcement officers with a lot of experience but who are reticent to change. Lauren is asking, there’s an ingrained knowledge there that sometimes limits what can be done administratively to handle those issues that often have protections by the union as well. So how do you deal with those seasoned officers who just don’t necessarily adapt?
Charles Edward: Chief Scott, I’d love to have you jump into the conversation here, because I know you talked previously in an answer about having officers of multiple generations within.
Chief Eric Scott: I’ll tell you, simply because weed them out. If you can’t modern-day police, you need to go find something else to do. We hold people accountable to the most modern standards, practices, and policies. CIT training, which is crisis intervention training, if you’re not crisis intervention trained if you’re not up to date with the most techniques and tactics, BolaWrap as the sheriff spoke, those are all really positive tools that we use in our community. And if you’re an officer that is so ingrained, it is time to go. And I think that’s why law enforcement is moving so fast now. For a while, there was a kind of slow and stagnant, but expectations are changing, technology changes every year, and so shall we. We have to keep up with them. And so, I can tell you, as an officer, when I started as the Chief of Police Department, I had also 73 years old. And our youngest was 21, which is the age to become an officer. And as you can understand that the generational gaps, I remember the 73-year-old, just begging me not to make her wear a hat, don’t put her on one of those electric cars, and don’t want a computer. I had a conversation with her, and she said, “You know what? I think it’s time for me to retire.” And she looked at me, and she says, “Thank you. I should’ve retired 10 years ago,” was what she said. But she said, “It’s the first time someone talk to me about purpose, about expectations.” And I said, “You can’t meet the standards.” And we do it as professionals, we can. But we also have a job to do, and I cannot risk the overall public perception and the brand of our agency because we have an inability to get through and breakthrough to some of our older officers. But what we can’t do is not listen to them. They have the experience and the knowledge. And so, this is also twofold to where you don’t want to push technology on them so much, but you have to find roles. So, whether that be removing them in some capacity and putting them, it’s just managing your team. And I think successful departments have really good leaders at the top that are managing, not just their team, but every individual on that team, and just like an athletic team. I’m an ex-professional athlete football. I play with the Tennessee Titans. Everyone had a role on that team, it didn’t matter if I was the kicker. It doesn’t matter if I was a center, a kicker, or a quarterback. Everyone has a role in a super crucial that, as we work towards those goals, that everyone’s work in one cohesive group. And I think that’s super important. And so, yeah, I don’t, I definitely dealt with those challenges. But I think that if you work with them either in or out, I think that it’s going to definitely help.
Sheriff Manuel Gonzales: I want to say it’s absolutely imperative that there are two things you need to understand as law enforcement administrators. The top things that we get sued for are failure to train and failure to supervise. To his point, is that we have to hold these people accountable, whether that comes through documentation, or would whatever it takes to hold people accountable. The thing we need to be very aware of, going back a little bit, is that we do, again, protect people’s most sacred things as individual citizens, right? Their rights, property, and lives, there can’t be a compromise in service when it comes to putting somebody in uniform. So, we also absolutely have to hold people accountable when it comes to training. If they can’t adhere to the standards of any kind of law enforcement training, they needed to go find something else to give them life because this isn’t compromisable but when it comes to people’s sacred things, so good point chief.
Major Dan Weis: To follow up on that really quick, is they’re right. I mean, we have to find ways to get those officers to understand whether it’s placement or whatever the case may be. Make them feel part of the process, but at the end of the day, we’re responsible for service to the community. And we have to find ways the workforce has changed from what it is today than what it was yesterday. And in order to be successful, we have to adapt. And our employees also have to adapt to change. And if they can’t adapt to change, then we can’t provide the service. So, that’s critical that we find ways to do that. There’s no magic answer to that, to answer the caller’s question. There’s no foolproof program that you’re going to take a 35-year veteran and have him drink the Kool-Aid that the latest and greatest thing is the way to police. It’s very difficult, so every situation is different. Unfortunately, I don’t think this panel or any panel can provide an exact answer to that.
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