Let’s not forget how we got here

MCOLES tracks, among many things, the total number of licensed officers in the state on a monthly basis. As a state we have been in a continual decline since 2001 with a total reduction as of March 31st of 4,109. We presently have 18,379 licensed officers across the state which includes all categories of officers, State, County, local, tribal and others.

Recently I also read an article about the overall crime rate being down despite the decrease in officers. It has been my experience that there are many factors that affect the crime rate, law enforcement response or lack of being one along with economic conditions and others. My fear is that a story such as this will give rise to the belief that we have enough law enforcement.

As a former Chief of Police I faced this argument in the past and was careful to remind those who had this thought, that crime fighting and prevention is not all that an agency does. General calls for service that I used to call quality of life and order maintenance are a vast majority of a law enforcement agencies work load.

Additionally, it is easy to forget how we got to a low crime rate. I will agree that law enforcement is not the sole factor that reduces crime and are a part of all the other factors I have listed. However, it can’t be denied that law enforcement has an effect and is part of the overall solution to crime. The problem comes when we get complacent, take advantage of the reduced crime rate, and either continue to work at a low-level of staffing or continue reducing.

When I was a city manager, I always used the example of our water system, when giving a presentation on city services. I would ask how many people turned on a faucet that morning and flushed a toilet. Of course every hand would go up. I would then talk about how much continual maintenance it took to make the seemingly simple process of getting water in your house and back out again work.

Crime is no different and it takes continual maintenance by a community. That maintenance comes in the form of a strong economic environment and other factors with a good law enforcement presence being critical.

21st Century Policing

Earlier this week I attended meeting in Washington DC in regards to the 21st Century Policing Task Force Report.  The Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) organization sponsored the event as well as covered all costs.  For the first time ever, all Directors of Police Officer Standards and Training (POST) organizations from each state were invited of which 35 attended.  All are members of the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training ( IADLEST)

I was impressed that COPS did not necessarily have an agenda, but rather they were interested in the input from all of the Directors.  In fact they asked the group, what can COPS do to help the Director’s implement the recommendations in the report?  Of course funding is always huge and was one of the requests. We talked a lot about the possibility of conducting a nationwide job task analysis to determine the basic skills desired for a police officer in the United States and thus build minimum standards around the results.  That is a monumental endeavor and would take federal assistance to coordinate and pay for.

I think there are possibilities to build standards across the country.  I as a citizen and as a law enforcement professional expect to receive similar services anywhere I travel in this country.  The possibility is intriguing and ultimately makes our profession stronger. The  photo above is all of the Director’s who are my counterparts across the country as well as some COPS members and Presidential staff.

 

Is law enforcement still a good career?

I realize I am taking an opposite view of many both in the profession and out. However, it is my belief that this is the greatest time to be in law enforcement.  Yes there is a large amount of negativity in many of our communities about police officers, yes there is an extreme focus by the media on police officers and their actions and yes it’s not the greatest of situations.    It is not, however, the time to run, not the time to discourage talented people from joining the profession and it’s not time to refuse to change.

I was speaking to my nephew who happens to be a police officer and a generation behind me. His take is that what is going on is just cyclical, a new normal is being established, and in the end the changes will be good.  I agree and think that is the key statement, it is the “new normal”.

If we look at history, like every other profession, substantial change occurs at intervals. Some of that change is based on technology, demographics, economics and other factors.  Change is certain in every profession and to suggest that law enforcement can continue as it always has is ignoring the changes around us.

Why then do I believe it is a great time to be in law enforcement?   If we as a profession embrace the change, engage ourselves in the national debates and not refuse or hide from the criticisms we can as a profession reinvent ourselves.    We have an opportunity to change the profession in the way we would like it to go along with how our citizens want it to go.   Of course that takes compromise but change is inevitable why not grab the opportunity and make the best of it.  We are at the beginning of a “new normal” and to me that is exciting to be involved in developing new techniques that will enable us to do our jobs better and thus serve our citizens to the highest manner possible.

Lastly, not everyone or every group hates the police. Even the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing report does not solely recommend changes to Law Enforcement.  It suggests that changes need to occur in the Criminal Justice system which takes in all aspects of the system, corrections, courts, social services.  That is reflected in the task force overarching recommendations to the President (Task Force Report, p. 1).

When I am asked if I would go back and do it all again, my answer is absolutely. My 18-year-old son just announced that he wants to attend a police academy and I couldn’t be more proud. Even in today’s environment it is an opportune time to be involved in building the reputation of law enforcement with our communities and provide exceptional service to our citizens.  We know we already provide that service we just need to prove it.  We as a profession need some adjustment, but in the end we will be better for it.

Leadership training

I have had some great opportunities at MCOLES highlighted by my affiliation with the International Association of Directors of Law enforcement Standards and Training ( IADLEST). Through that affiliation I have been able to travel to several other countries to interact with their law enforcement trainers.
What I have observed in countries such as Nigeria, Serbia and Colombia is the amount of leadership training that is required. In all three the completion of executive level training that I would equate to our military academies is required to hold a leadership position in their respective police agencies.
When I contrast their overall training to the United States as a whole I find that our skill level training for patrol is superior. Much of the reason I was sent to those countries was to offer suggestions for improvement in the basic level and/or evaluate their current training academies. However, when it comes to command level training they have much more focus.
Through my career I advanced through the ranks to eventually become the Chief of Police. Some specific command training was offered such as supervisory schools from entry to middle management to Police Staff and Command for executive. Most however, came after I was promoted. Once I became Chief little or no training was offered and mostly due to budgetary constraints. Not all of that was the fault of the City administration as I made those decisions to spend my training dollars on the officers and not me. I chose along the way to earn Bachelors and Masters degrees, but was only compelled by my own desire.
It is long overdue in our organizations that we focus on leadership training long before an officer ascends to the next rank. Offering training after the fact to me is like offering the keys to the car without first obtaining a license to drive. It’s even more prevalent at the executive level where major decisions begin day one and that executive may or may not have adequate formal or departmental training to address the multitude of complex situations they encounter. We basically learn by experience     Pillar 5.3 of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing states ; “Law Enforcement agencies should provide leadership training to all personnel throughout their careers.” That training needs to start early and be continuous progressing from front line to middle management onto Executive levels. We simply as communities cannot say anymore that we don’t have the funding. Executives, especially need to focus on continuous training, not only formal, but with their respective associations whereby they can be exposed to issues, discuss strategies and be prepared for the dynamic situations that will occur and they will be held accountable for.
As I have said many times, we as practitioners, cannot always depend upon the organization to offer training. As professionals we must seek out our own, that’s what professionals do. Also, however, The City Managers and Mayors and other community leaders need to conduct their own cost benefit analysis and weigh the cost of training to the cost of a bad decision.
It is my hope that we as a profession develop training such as a command college. This college takes the learner from the basics to the advanced. Other countries already do this, it is our turn and the time is now.

Hiring and Standards

An ongoing issue but one that is growing even larger is the difficulty that police agencies are having in finding qualified candidates to hire as police officers. This is especially true for smaller agencies who depend upon part time officers and not only finding those officers is difficult but also retaining them. True there is a different standard to get into the academy vs a standard to get employed. When we allow pre-service to apply we cannot set as strict of standards as may be set by employers. Even if we could what would those standards be? As an example jurisdictions have various tolerances when it comes to driving records. To set a stricter standard for the academy it would be necessary for all 597 agencies to agree on that employment standard. The ultimate fix would be to allow only employed recruits who have met the various employer standards to enter the academy. Obviously that has other ramifications such as the agency’s inability to afford the training and wages/benefits for the academy. We do weed out numbers of candidates who are pre-service upon application to the academy. There are others who meet minimum qualifications but we believe are not employable. In those cases we advise them, or the local academy advisory board advises them that they may have trouble finding a job. The achievable answer for today is money to assist agencies in putting their own candidate through the academy. Unfortunately that money is in short supply at MCOLES due to budgetary issues. We are working on that issue and I have made several presentations to the House and Senate appropriations committees detailing this issue. Also we are seeing a 77% placement rate for graduates and that does not reflect the ones that go out of State as we have no tracking mechanism for that. We are actually getting to the point where the open positions of the field are out pacing the numbers of graduates we are producing. Currently 60% of our officers in the State are over the age of 40 and 22 % are over 50. That would seem to set a pattern where for the next decade and maybe more all agencies will be facing continued turn over. It is a problem all over the country and why you see many large agencies such as Dallas and Atlanta recruiting in our State. In a recent article in the American Police Beat ,”Staffing crisis may lure retirees back to the job” March 2016, it described a legislative initiative in New Mexico that would allow retired officers to work as police officers. Currently the State does not allow for that and a Bill is pending to change that due to the shortage of officers currently employed. We are working on solutions much of which is hinged to money.

MCOLES Executive Director Dave Harvey’s Blog

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Welcome to my new blog.  I’m Dave Harvey and serve as the Executive Director of the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards (MCOLES).  As part of the  MCOLES 5-year Strategic Plan, the Commission agreed that a good way to improve information sharing with potential recruits, basic training academies, students, law enforcement officers and departments, as well as the general public, was to create a blog by the MCOLES Executive Director.  I hope that you will gain a better understanding about who we are and what it is we do here at MCOLES.  To read a short biography about me, please click on the left link “About”.

MCOLES MISSION STATEMENT

The Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards is created by law to serve the people of the state of Michigan by ensuring public safety and supporting the criminal justice community.

We provide leadership through setting professional standards in education, selection, employment, licensing, license revocation, and funding in law enforcement and criminal justice, in both the public and private sectors.

I look forward to sharing information with you about everything that encompasses law enforcement, as well as the criminal justice community.