Webinar presenters Dr. Kimberly Miller, Tina Buneta, Joseph Hoebeke, Doreen Jokerst, Justin Smith, William Beck, and Jack Cauley answered a number of your questions after their presentation, Leadership on the Front Lines: Navigating the COVID-19 Pandemic. Here are just a few of their responses.
Audience Question: Kevin’s asking if we can get those handouts that Kimberly shared? I’m wondering Kimberly is that the list of handouts that you shared in part one of this series?
Kimberly Miller: Yes it is and if people go to my website, which is kimberlymillerconsulting.com, and you will see a tab on my website that says COVID-19 resources. They are all there for you to download. You can just go to my website kimberlymillerconsulting.com, find the COVID-19 free resource tab, and download them. They’re all there for you.
Audience Question: Tina you mentioned that the pandemic might create a paradigm shift and create new opportunities like remote work for 911 centers, and, by the way, I couldn’t agree with you more. We’re starting to see a lot of analysts and trend spotters and consultants start to make note of potential paradigm shifts that could feasibly happen because of the pandemic a lot of them exciting so not necessarily all bad. Francie and James and a couple of others have asked what are each of you seeing where might criminal justice and public safety go or how will we evolve because of the pandemic? I know that feels like a huge question. So I’m not sure who wants to take that on first.
Kimberly Miller: Tina, do you want to answer that one in the maybe Justin because he was talking about new things he was doing with the courts and the jail. Maybe y’all two could answer that one today?
Tina Buneta: So, you may remember during the seminar we talked about remote work as a paradigm shift, but I think there’s much more going on in public safety and especially in public safety communications. With regard to Next Generation 911, we are on the verge of a huge change in our industry related to how we receive and coordinate the call for help. With Next-Generation 911 as you all probably know this will allow us to receive photos, streaming video in the future and that’s really changing the landscape of a 911 call taker from a person who audibly receives information and just you know, interprets it and disseminates it, to a new landscape, where they’re going to be the first person on scene, thanks to live streaming video. They are witnessing something in progress. It’s completely changing the landscape and there is so much that goes into preparing for that technologically, psychologically, and logistically that we just have a lot of work ahead of us, but we’re right on the cusp and it’s a very exciting time to be in our industry. Now, more than ever, it is time for us to take a step back and evaluate the role of public safety communications as truly the nerve center, as the eyes and ears and the brain of what’s going on in public safety and along with that. I’ll also plug-in that I hope that our legislators are playing paying close attention to the great work done by 911 across the country, because it’s time to address our federal job classification and move public safety communicators into the protective service category, where they rightly belong. With that, I’ll turn it over to Justin.
Justin Smith: I want to cheer you on that Tina. Certainly, that’s a movement we’re seeing in our area, around the country on recognizing what the 911 communicators go through. I think you’ll find full support for that and is a good opportunity to carry that. What I’ll just throw in as an addition for those of us who operate a jail or do court services, we’ve done video court for the first appearance for quite some time, probably 30 years or more but they’re still an amazing amount. My office on any given day runs between 60 and 90 inmates across town to go to courts for any and everything. Certainly, some of those are mandatory but we’ve seen the courts more open to more video, which is certainly a time saver for us. Also, it reduces us compacting a lot of inmates into vans together where you have contraband issues, you have issues with them passing on diseases, Etc. The other is even broader. We do a lot of movement between facilities, between state facilities to another county facilities what’s referred to as a writ where we have to move an inmate that might be down in Douglas County up here for appearance. We’re finding out a lot more ability between the different agencies around the state to even do those where we don’t have to bring an inmate up from Douglas for an appearance in Larimer. We can actually do that by video. So certainly those kinds of things are helpful as we look into the future of what things we can simply do differently, reduce some of the things that have always taken a lot of time. The other part of that is again in jail environments it’s a lot of money spent moving inmates to hospitals and seeing specialists and they’ve loosened up on telemedicine. So we have opportunities specifically in the correctional environment to save money save time and probably even improve the services. So again, these are some of the good things that can come out from facing this crisis.
Audience Question: As leaders, you all support your staff but who supports you?
Kimberly Miller: So Doreen and I maybe Jack too on that but I’ll let Doreen start with that.
Doreen Jokerst: Sure. I would say for me my support, my supervisor is an executive leader with the university so similar to like a municipality they may report to the city manager. I would report to an equivalent here. There has been a tremendous amount of support because the overall mission is obviously to support the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff, and community as a whole. Here at the university, we have a unique position. We’re a dual certified. So we’re certified as state officers here at the University but all of my police officers are also certified as a municipal officer within the city of Boulder. So they have a dual commission. It provides some unique responses when it comes to a university or perhaps a community support mechanism. What has been great as seeing some additional support inside and I’ve received many emails from people or phone calls saying Chief we see you at this or you’re doing this. Are you okay? It always takes me back for a second because then I think oh man, they’re checking on me. Did I not check enough on our people and so for me, I would say it’s almost a 360 approach which I think is great. It speaks to the culture of our organization. It’s coming from the bottom up for me and it’s coming from the top down. So that’s how the support for our agency is currently working, which is really good.
Jack Cauley: I have to agree with that. For me, it’s about connecting with my peers in law enforcement throughout the county. So there is this great support of family and friends, to lean on. . Also, I agree with Doreen. Individuals within our organization really care. Whether asking leaders within our organization, how are you doing or how they can help?, that means a lot. I think just having that makes a huge difference and just reaching out to people outside law enforcement is important. The community has also been for me a big driver on motivation because like Doreen we have received so much support from our community, I’ll get emails from people saying hey chief, thanks for taking a measured and balanced approach to the COVID crisis . We really appreciate it. This doesn’t go unnoticed. So those types of things really keep me going.
Audience Question: Is there anything that we as probation officers can do to support the support you all, our police officers, our Sheriff’s departments in the communities where we work? Is there anything that we can do for you?
Kimberly Miller: Joe, do you want to take that one?
Joseph Hoebeke: Sure, I’ll take a stab at that. I think the big thing for us is just the communication piece certainly in New Hampshire and I’m not sure how it’s structured in other parts of the country. Because we’re a small town. We don’t typically have a high interaction rate with probation and parole. When we do it’s typically because they have a detainer and they need us to pick up someone but I think just expand to the agencies within the counties or areas in which you serve, maintain those lines of communication, let them know that you’re a resource for them and that you’re available to assist them because oftentimes, you know agencies are looking for assistance to you know, supplement services they’re providing to the community. So you might be a huge assistance to agency particularly agencies that lack resources in terms of workforce numbers. So that’s just my thoughts. I don’t know if anyone else wants to comment as well.
Justin Smith: You know I don’t have a whole lot to add to that. You’re right about the communication Joe. I guess I would almost turn that around and look at the challenge that probation officers have. I know what a lot of places that the reaction has been to really loosen the restrictions or loosen the consequences on offenders and a lot of people have been pushed into probation that might not have otherwise. To be honest from my perspective, I’m just as concerned about our probation officers because I know sometimes they felt like over recent years what’s been listed as criminal justice reform is really throwing a lot at their feet without giving them the tools that they need. I appreciate the ask and let’s simply turn around to say. Let us know what we can do to help you and your jobs because certainly, you’re critical to dealing with those offenders that have been assigned to you.
Audience Question: What experience have you had in dealing with employees who have presented documentation from medical professionals limiting or precluding their availability to report for work in person? Have there been any instances where after consideration of this documentation the employee’s requests were denied and they were directed to report anyway? What was the result if we’re there any accommodations made with the employees with valid documented medical concerns? Were there any negative overall team morale issues?
Joseph Hoebeke: I just dealt with this with a member of the communications agency that is housed in our facility. It’s kind of a unique setup. I don’t technically manage them but I’m on the advisory board. I oftentimes deal with their personnel issues. We have a female dispatcher who has a pre-existing medical condition that weakens her immune systems. So we had implemented very rigorous practices, restricted any officer from going in there. They all have to wear masks and gloves, but she provided a note from her doctor, which did not meet the requirements of FMLA in terms of being a quarantine order. When she provided it was, “Hey, I have this letter I’m not coming to work”, and we were like “Whoa, whoa, wait a second. This is what we need from you.” And again, this comes back to communication. She thought that she could come in and present a letter that said because I have this pre-existing medical condition. I can make a decision to self-quarantine and I’ll although I may be qualified for FMLA. I’ll still get paid too, which unfortunately wasn’t the case because it didn’t meet the requirements. So in working with her over the course of a few weeks, we were able to get the proper documentation to ensure that she would receive adequate pay while she was off duty. It’s just you know, making sure you’re taking care of your people. Obviously, there are certain things that are beyond your control but again, those effective lines of communication not only with the employee but with HR staff because they have a job to do as well and recognizing that and then working to resolve those issues because oftentimes what I found and sure every panel member has as well is that it’s often times they lack communication and understanding about how the process works. So I’ll just finish there. I don’t want to take up too much time.
Audience Question: How do you provide guidance to your officers in balancing individual constitutional protections, so the laws, versus the rules or the executive orders that come from your State’s Governor or perhaps your health department? It’s a tricky situation. Kimberly, I’m not sure who you want to start off start us off.
Kimberly Miller: I’m going to have Bill start us off on that one.
William Beck: Our Governor put out executive orders, stay at home, and so forth. There is a warning requirement. The way it’s worded, we haven’t been put in a position to actually enforce that from a criminal standpoint. That is a touchy situation, obviously. In our case, my director works for the Governor. I think it depends on how it’s worded but from a leadership perspective, we have an oath we’ve taken., We’ve had some issues where we had one of our detectives who was a new father and he was very reluctant to go out and work. It’s just like anything, you refocus them. What is the mission? What is your vision? What is your oath? What does your team need you to do? What precautions can we take to protect your family and so forth? So, I think that transcends into that issue as well. As far as are we comfortable doing this or not? The thing to look out for I think from a law enforcement perspective is we don’t want to violate anyone’s rights because even though we’re maybe told to do that by a non-police supervisor, they won’t be around when the lawsuits come. I’ve heard this said a few times. We have to be cautious about that. We don’t want to put ourselves in a predicament as a profession to jeopardize our future or future careers.
Justin Smith: Yeah, I would just add this that we’re working with our local health officials. We push to minimize what’s needed to keep people safe and it’s a reminder of that mission as I spoke earlier reminder of the why. Start with your why. The rules that what you’re being told if it doesn’t match up with why you’re there then, as Bill said, you’ll be very cautious about that and we can get the vast majority compliant because you’re getting pressure from both directions on one end. You got people would like you to be the social mask police and on the other the total freedom on everybody and we’re in that middle ground. I think all in all our staff with the vast majority of our organizations understand that very well and that’s going back to empowerment. Empower them to do what they know is right. By golly, they deserve to have us back them up when they make those decisions and not be afraid that they’re going to pay a political consequence for understanding the Constitution and doing the right things.
Kimberly Miller: Thank you all so much. We were so honored to have so many of you on the call today. I want to thank the panelists for their amazing work preparing for this and the wonderful advice. They shared as we mentioned all of our contact information is on that document. So please download it now if you haven’t. I know we didn’t get to a lot of your questions, but please feel free to reach out to any of us and we will respond and we will help you. We are here for you. Just reach out. Let us know how we can. Thank you so much.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Leadership on the Front Lines: Navigating the COVID-19 Pandemic.