Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Not a fair fight

I stepped into the police academy class yesterday morning. Officer Chris Ehrhorn was teaching a great course he's developed on follow-up investigation. I was particularly interested in a discussion Chris had with the trainees about using the resources of coworkers to your advantage. He was talking about the wealth of skill, experience, and knowledge that individual officers bring to their job, and how accessing what your coworker might know can be incredibly helpful. Police work, though often done by a single officer alone, is in many respects a team endeavor, too.

A few times each year, I will deal with someone who is upset that after encountering a small team of officers during a resisted arrest. "Not a fair fight" is the theme. They are right. When it comes to crimes and arrests, we're not like a bowling league where everyone has a handicap to equalize the competition more even. We're more like the army: it is not our aim to fight fair or on equal terms with an adversary. We try mightily to get the odds decisively in our favor by whatever means are available--albeit within the rules of engagement established by the Constitution, laws, court precedents, and policies.

When a suspended driver bails from the traffic stop and flees on foot, we do not give him a half-block head start. If circumstances allow, we would actually consider it perfectly sporting to let the pursued wear himself out (nobody outruns radio waves) while we vector in more help, including somebody like Mark Fluitt, or the fleet-footed Kony.

Teamwork occurs on many different levels. During the police academy, I teach a course called "Information Resources" to our new police trainees. The object of the course is to acquaint the students with the resources available in our Records Management System and other data systems. After the classroom portion, the new recruits spend a half day working through a series of exercises designed to take them into many of the nooks and crannies of the LPD information stream. The primary purpose, though, is to teach them to practice two things:

1. Think creatively about how you might bring information to bear on a case or a problem.
2. Work collaboratively to solve problems: two heads are better than one.

That's how we do it in the real world. If I'm trying to find some information and I can't remember how, or don't know where to go, I get help from others. In a group of officers, somebody is more likely to have an idea. This is also true if I'm trying to conceive an interview strategy, think about a possible motive, identify a potential suspect, come up with a good solution, and so forth. Working independently is not nearly as effective as working collaboratively with others.

This shift in thinking isn't always easy to accomplish. Our police recruits are used to doing their own work in school. They've been taught not to plagiarize, not to look at anyone else's paper, to keep quiet during quizzes, and so forth. Now, I want them to do just the reverse--things that might be cheating in a college test. On this "test", I need them to talk with each other. Rather than everyone working every problem, divide the labor and share your answers. Get the answer any way you can. It takes a while for them to get the difference.

Practice helps, so a couple of times after the Information Resources class, I've popped into the classroom, asked them a question, and told them to find the best answer. Today, I relied on a couple of emails that other officers sent out department-wide over the weekend. One officer had recovered a blue Schwinn girls bike that had been abandoned. A second officer had recovered a Stihl chainsaw. Both were alerting other officers and looking for anyone who might have taken a report of a similar stolen item. I asked the recruits if they, too, had received the emails. They had. So I gave them this impromptu assignment:

Give me the most likely case numbers of the offenses that match these
found property descriptions.
It didn't take long before the designated messenger, Mark Kounovsky emailed the results to me. He provided the case number of a recent bicycle theft with a description that was very similar to the found bike, and not too far away. He had the case number of a recent burglary with a promising description of a Stihl chainsaw. The recruits were in other classes all day, so they must have worked on this during their short breaks. Here's what I really appreciated, though--not just the find, but the signature line:

Chief,

We have the two original case numbers for the bike and chainsaw for
you. The chainsaw case number is A7-043428. We think the bike case number is
A7-029815.


Thanks,
Academy Recruit Class

Everyone shares the credit. Ten heads are much, much better than one.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Commenting on the first part of your post - what most people don't understand is that the likelihood of injury (to either officer, suspect or bystander) is inversely proportional to the number of officers on scene. The more good guys on site - the less likely someone is going to have to escalate force to control the situation. It's amazing to see a suspect respond to verbal commands when he's outnumbered 6-1. If the odds were 1-1 or 2-1, compliance is much less likely.

Statistics show that if an officer loses his firearm, 9 in 10 times, he'll be shot with that gun. In the face of that reality, you have but one choice - if you have to lay hands on a suspect, you don't lose. period. Sorry if I don't fight fair with those odds against me.

True Blue said...

Chief,
Maybe we could get the recruit academy, and their ten heads, to think up a way to raise moral around this place.
With all the recent "issues" the dept has been having internally: staffing, lack of funding for training, etc... Moral is at an all time low. Not to mention proactivity is all but a dream, since their aren't enough cops to make a traffic stop, and handle all the calls at the same time.
The problem won't go away, and academy classes of 6 to 10 people won't fill the hole that the 10 who retired, got fired, or resigned because of all the BS write ups that go on during the promotion hunt from Sgt to Captain, is going to make
P.S. If McDonalds needs 10 people to operate a shift, and they are three people under that number.... THEY CALL IN OTHER WORKERS. So does the Fire Dept.

Why doesn't the POLICE Dept?

Anonymous said...

I agree with True Blue. There are alot of police departments that are short officers on the street. Instead of just "being short" they allow officers to work entire shifts on overtime. At LPD there are many mornings that entire squads of officers from the same team are having to stay late (on overtime) just to finish the paperwork from the night before. This is a huge hit for moral when it happens every Sat. and Sun. morning. If there was an equitable way to allow officers to work a shift on a day off, the "personnel shortage" would not put such a burden on those at the bottom of the LPD pyramid. I know it's easy to blame the Chief for these problems. It's not his fault. The City of Lincoln has understaffed the police department since day one. Where is the fugitive apprehension unit, street crimes unit, crimes against persons unit, crimes against property unit, auto theft unit, vice unit, crime scene investigation unit, cold case unit, equestrian unit, Traffic unit(that works accidents), DWI unit, gang unit, and K-9 Unit (has four dogs, we need at least eight to cover the shifts)? The answer is we have all that. It is the four or five cops in a patrol car on each team. As for the spate of recent write ups, ask any cop and they will tell you that at promotion time petty write ups increase. Blind adherence to policy has replaced common sense. There is not a day that goes by that alot of us don't think of or discuss getting out of law enforcement. Those UPS drivers look so serene. But I guess that in the end we will continue to take our calls and endure the second and third guessing. Some will say, "Quit your whining." But they know as well that things are not as they should be and could be better. We all want to be happy (and safe) in our jobs. We all want to be proud of our department and to trust that our superiors will support us when we are right. The city better sit up and take notice of the problems or one day the situation will be of proportion that can no amount of money will correct.

Anonymous said...

Three issues that need to be addressed at the Lincoln Police Department are, but not limited to, 1) Extreme inconsistancies within the progressive dicipline system employed at LPD, 2) The recently constructed Northeast Station, Center Team station (27th Holdrege), and the main station and how these locations are managed inconsistantly within each other. Officers are treated, diciplined, and governed by various abstract and sometimes broad policies per what location they work at. What happened to the consistancy within the Lincoln Police Department and how employees are treated. 3) Last but not least, the moral on this department is absolutely horrible. People can bitch and bitch all they want, but complaining will only get you one place, NO WHERE! (Sorry for the CAPS) These complainers need to not only employ constructive criticism, but need to create or suggest a solution along with the gripes. Negitive bitching is a reflection of a negitive attitude, a positive well articulated behavior is a reflection of good character. Let's employ some stratagies to make LPD a place employees look forward to coming to work, not looking forward to the 2, 10, 15, or 20 years till they can finally "be outa here!" There needs to be a change, but that change is not with the Chief, it's with the officers themselves, with the support of the command staff, and the supervisors alike. The Lincoln Police Department can be a great place to work and offers great ammenities and opportunities for officers and all employes. We are just at a point where some small but equitable changes need to be made to put LPD back on a path where its employees don't look forward as much to retirement, rather than count down the days until they reach it, until their "outa here!" There is potential for things to get much worse. Lets turn things around before we fall into crisis mode. We need not lose anymore good officers to other agencys, new careers or early retirements.

Anonymous said...

The idea of an "unfair" fight should apply to civilians defending their own or their families' physical well being or life, not just LEO's.

If you find yourself in a fair fight, your tactics need to be re-evaluated.