Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Dispatchers in training

I spent the afternoon yesterday with a group of eight new dispatchers who are going through the classroom portion of their training. My topic was similar to one I've done for years with police officers in training: how to use the department's information resources effectively.

We barely scratched the surface in four hours, but I hope it was a good introduction that encourages the trainees to continue to explore and learn independently. I was impressed by the group. Working in a public safety answering point (what most people would call a 911 center) is a challenging job. It's one of the few jobs in City government where you are locked to a position, and can't get up for a change of scenery now and then. The shift work, odd days off, and overtime requirements can be difficult. You handle a lot of calls that could be frustrating or even disturbing.

But on the other hand, dispatchers are the front-end of the public safety team, and the job has the incredible rewards inherent in being part of that team: truly making a difference in the safety and wellbeing of the community. Lots of people are going to jobs today that are boring and unrewarding. You never have to worry about that as a dispatcher. You have an opportunity every day to help others and to make a difference. Your days are filled with variety, sometimes dramatic events, but always opportunities to help others. I told the trainees that they will almost inevitably play a role in saving a life in the first few months of their careers, but the the small stuff is the key to feeling good about what you do.

A great example of this happened during the class. Somehow, a call got transferred to my cellphone, which normally buzzes only when there is something quite important that I must answer. The students listened in as I handled the call. It was a person with a rather small problem, who didn't know what to do. I listened carefully, and provided my best advice. Her issue had nothing to do with me, but just by treating her kindly and giving her a good referral, you could tell by her voice that she was feeling better about matters. It only took about 90 seconds.

Afterwards, I told the trainees that this tiny little interruption to my day actually made me feel good. Rather than being annoyed at a mis-directed blind transfer, I got to help someone through a minor bump in the road. If you can take away positive feelings from such things, you can do this work for decades and still enjoy it. The big events will come along as punctuation marks in your career, but the little ones happen every day, several times a day, and your approach to those is the difference between  becoming a jaded 25 year old cynic or a fulfilled 62 year old optimist looking forward to the next day.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Strange day

The ebb and flow of policing in Lincoln has a strong temporal pattern. The demand for police services ramps up in the late afternoon,  peaking with the evening rush hour, then cools in the evening. Around midnight it takes another uptick, until shortly after the bars close at 2:00 AM, and then begins sliding to it's low point around 5:00 AM.

When I first wrote about this back in the beginning of my blogging career, the bars closed at 1:00 AM, so the second peak was a bit earlier, and also a bit steeper.

This morning, I noticed that yesterday's pattern was quite different. Here's what it looked like for Monday, August 24, 2015:


There's no obvious cause to the peak between 8:00 and 9:00 AM, there were just a lot of unrelated calls. The same is true for the spike between 3:00 and 4:00 PM (1500-1600 hours.) Again, it is composed of a variety of unrelated calls with no apparent connection. The lack of a larger rush hour peak is unusual. By comparison, here is the previous Monday, August 17, 2015:


While the unusual pattern yesterday caught my attention, what's really interesting to me is the difference between the 2007 pattern (linked above) and the 2015 pattern. Essentially, the huge bar break peak we were experiencing a decade ago has moderated. It's still plenty busy, but does not compare to the evening rush hour in terms of sheer volume.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Technology dependence

Those who know me, even in passing, generally realize that I'm interested in technology. Probably because this is so well known, I am often asked to serve on advisory groups, committees, and such when the issue at hand is technological. In reality, my reputation exceeds me, but nevertheless, it has stuck.

This week, two meetings on matters technological caused me to think. The first was a rather informal get together at the Lancaster County Emergency Operations Center. This one was intended as a demonstration for those in attendance of some of the web-based applications we have, both public and internal, that assist in managing critical incidents. The second was a meeting of the FirstNet Working Group, which I was drafted to chair. FirstNet is a nationwide initiative to deploy a secure, interoperable, public safety broadband communications network.

Both of these meetings made me think about how much we rely on technology these days, and to reflect on our capabilities, in public safety, of continuing to function smoothly when the technology is not available or is crippled by a castastrophe. The catastrophe might be as small as a power outage, or as large as a tornado. How would we do without our web maps, field reporting systems, instant messaging, remote monitoring, and so forth?

There is a risk in our dependence on technology that we will lose important skills that we will most need on the worst day. Every public safety agency ought to have a continuity-of-operations plan of some sort, and ought to exercise from time to time, so they do not lose their ability to function in a disconnected world with no cell phone, no Internet connection, and no Google.

As my pal Sgt. (Ret) Mike Siefkes always said, "A luxury once tasted becomes a necessity." Technology can be helpful and very valuable, but we should try to avoid a situation where it becomes so critical as to constitute a necessity. We need to refresh our recollection, now and then, that a patient can still be treated, a crime investigated, a fire suppressed, an evil-doer arrested, without an MDC, WLAN, PCR, MACH, NCIC, PDMS, or any other alphabet soup.

Heck, there was a time when you could actually drive to an unfamiliar address without GPS. Be sure you still can. By the way, once you unfold this, you will never be able to make it look like this again.


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Pretty good response

Last week's post about cleaning up our data pertaining to the location of AEDs in Lincoln got a pretty good response. A couple dozen AED registrations followed, and a few photos of AEDs in their context were added by users as well.

Several of these updates were made using PulsePoint AED, the free smartphone app made specifically for the purpose of collecting information about where AEDs are located in the community. Over the weekend, a big article by Erin Andersen in the Lincoln Journal Star gave a perfect example about how an AED in the workplace saved a life.

I'm certain there are more AEDs out there we don't have registered, though, and plenty of photos that could be collected using the handy "add photo" function in PulsePoint AED. Is one of them at your workplace?

PulsePoint AED is a companion app to PulsePoint Respond, which we hope to launch later this year in Lincoln. If you've followed my blog for a few years, you know that I've been interested in the technology of location-based services, which has been a frequent topic here. I can think of few other examples of how this technology can improve public safety than PulsePoint. Here is a short piece from ABC World News Tonight earlier this year that explains why:

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

You can help

PulsePoint is coming to Lincoln. In preparation for its launch, we have been working to improve the accuracy of the database about Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs). Lincoln Fire & Rescue maintains a registry of AEDs, and this is the source for the location information needed by PulsePoint. People who manage facilities can register or update the information about their AEDs at LF&R's website using a simple online form. Registration is actually required by State law.

Ordinary citizens, however, can also help us--if they use an Apple or Android smartphone. Here's how: download the free PulsePoint AED app. Whereas PulsePoint aims to notify citizens of cardiac arrests in public places near their current location, PulsePoint AED is designed to crowd-source information about the location of AEDs in the community. Data collected via PulsePoint AED is fed to PulsePoint Respond.

If you see an AED in Lincoln, open the PulsePoint AED app to check if it shows up on the map. If not, tap the plus sign to add it. You can also use your smartphone to take a snapshot of the AED. We'll double check the data, approve the submission, and within a short time it will be added to the map. If you see an AED that is already on the map but lacks a photo, take one and submit it. Try to take the photo with a little of the context around it, like the one below in the lobby of Hall of Justice.

We know there are lots of AEDs out there that we don't know about. We also suspect there are others that have been moved, or been retired. We'd really like to clean the data up, so we can maximize the chance that citizen-rescuers can find a nearby AED in the event of a cardiac arrest.

Screenshot from my iPhone

Friday, July 3, 2015

Busy weekend looms

Thursday LPD hit 418 police dispatches, making it one of the busiest days of the year thus far. The Fourth of July is huge every year, but with the holiday landing on a weekend, it could be massive. LF&R had a brutal Forth of July last year with 87 runs total, but an incredible dump started around 10:00 PM: 26 incidents in two hours, including four working fires. It continued well into the wee hours of July 5th.

We're fielding extra fire & rescue assets this year, after sucking wind in 2014. That's probably a guarantee things will be relatively calm; sort of like washing your car on Saturday morning inevitably brings on an afternoon thundershower, while leaving it dirty guarantees sunshine.

LF&R's GIS analyst Phil Dush and Battalion Chief Eric Jones, spun up a web mapping application to provide personnel with an interactive event management tool. It's a nice upgrade from last year's inaugural version. Visualizing the Incident Action Plan on a map is very useful, and this will look great on the big screen in the command post.


Matter of preference, but the application can also be viewed within the framework of FireView Dashboard. One of the neat features of these web mapping applications is that you can click on any of the icons or symbols to bring up the details. It's a far cry from the flip chart taped on the wall and plastered with Post-It notes. Moreover, staff can view it on any Intranet-connected device: desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

It's not the equipment

There has been a lot of talk this past year, in the wake of Ferguson, about militarization of the police. Most of the commentary on this issue has focused around the acquisition by local police departments of surplus equipment from the armed forces. Police departments have been using military surplus equipment for decades. As a rookie officer in 1974, the S&W .38 revolver issued to me was stamped "U.S. Navy" on the back strap.

I see no major concern in police agencies taking advantage of this surplus gear, within reason. A few rifles, a truck, a night vision scope, or a HumVee doesn't really worry me. Police need this kind of equipment from time to time, and normally buy it (or something similar) brand new. If you can save a few tax dollars by reusing something the taxpayers have already purchased, that's generally OK with me. Look over the list of gear Nebraska agencies have received, and it's pretty typical stuff for which there are civilian counterparts: nobody is acquiring RPGs, mortars, and land mines.

The issue of militarization of the police that concerns me, rather than surplus equipment, is the intrusion of a war-fighting ethos into police culture that is not properly counterbalanced with an even stronger mentality of service and guardianship. There was an interesting article about this recently in the Harvard Law Review. I'm all for good training and tactics for protecting police officers from the risk of violent assault. Policing is one of only a handful of occupations with a sustained record of practitioners facing felonious attacks in the course of their employment. Safety is good. Better training and procedures, along with body armor, have dramatically reduced the number of officers killed in the line of duty in felonious assaults during my career.

But it is critical for police officers to recognize that the vast majority of citizens--rather than representing a threat to their safety--are firmly on our side, and depend on us from protection and service. The public is not the adversary. Many of those citizens would put themselves in harm's way without hesitation to help an officer in distress. When police officers begin to view citizens as a population of which they must be constantly wary, it is difficult to develop and sustain good relationships. Suspicion, distrust, and fear are corrosive to trust, collaboration, and partnership.

The line between good safety practices and good interpersonal relationships is a fine one, to be sure. I don't think relationships with the community are strained when a police SWAT team executes a high-risk arrest warrant. On the other hand, it's pretty tough (although not impossible) to have a friendly rapport with an officer decked out in fatigues, a load-bearing vest, and a slung MP5, which is why the drift towards military-styled language, BDUs, and tactical gear for street officers bothers me. It is the attitude and outlook behind the uniform, however, that matters most, and that one must be one dominated by the desire to protect and help others.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

First impressions

The Lincoln Police Department is preparing to start a new recruit class in July. I happened to be at police headquarters yesterday, as the soon-to-be-trainees were getting some preparatory administrative work out of the way. I was pleased to see a young woman in the class that I met earlier this year over a cup of coffee at Bruegger's. I did not intervene on her behalf in any way, but I could tell from our conversation she'd be an excellent candidate.

During my entire career, the LPD recruit academy has been based on an academic model, rather than a military one. Sgt. Lancaster, who ran the short academy when I was a newbie, was a friendly, avuncular fellow that set a nice tone. When I was running the academy in the early 1980's, I tried to avoid the drill instructor style you see in the movies and on TV. My current role is only a couple of days, but along with other instructors, I try to follow the principles of adult learning.

It's not this way everywhere. David Couper, who served as the Madison, Wisconson chief for twenty years, reminisced in his 2011 book, Arrested Development: A Veteran Police Chief Sounds Off About Protest, Racism, Corruption and the Seven Steps Necessary to Improve Our Nation’s Police, about the paradigm that was common in police academies, and still persists in some places:
"When I was introduced to the academy class that was already in training before I was appointed, the class stood at attention when I entered the room. In fact, I found that not only did they stand at attention when I entered, but that they did so for every supervisor who came into their class. A coercive, top-down leadership model had no place within a police department that was seeking highly educated people to come and join it. Some of the people we were trying to attract into a police career were currently in business, law, social work, or teaching. And most of them wouldn’t choose to remain in a police department that ran like an 18th century British warship."
Jack Lancaster set a good tone for me in 1974. I hope I'm doing likewise for trainees today. Its great to see these folks beginning their career, and the impression we make at the outset is an important one throughout their careers.