June 4, 2022

Back in the Saddle: It Feels Good to Meet in Person Again


PERF held our Annual Town Hall Meeting this week in San Francisco. Most years, that would hardly be news. But after two years of COVID lockdowns and precautions, it felt great to get back together again discussing issues, exchanging ideas, and just connecting – and not over a Zoom call.

I want to thank all the PERF members and other supporters – about 450 in all – who came to San Francisco for the meeting. It’s good to feel “normal” again.

If you follow me on Twitter, you got a flavor for some of the Town Hall discussion. I want to recap a few of the highlights.

The past two years. We opened with an examination of the challenges policing has faced over the past two years – COVID-19, demonstrations for racial justice and police reform, a spike in violent crimes, and the ongoing challenges of hiring and retaining personnel. This video really teed up the discussion, which covered topics such as what’s behind the surge in violent crime, re-engaging and motivating officers (who have been through so much the last two years), how prosecutorial decisions are impacting crime, recruitment incentives, and successful anti-crime strategies.

Gun violence. With the mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde (TX) fresh in everyone’s mind, we discussed the challenges local agencies are facing with gun violence, especially with the proliferation of ghost guns and military-style rifles. In the middle of the week, Chief Wendell Franklin had to rush back to Tulsa to deal with the aftermath of yet another mass shooting that killed three people in a medical center. As in Buffalo, the response by police in Tulsa was superb and heroic. Tulsa officers were there in minutes and immediately confronted the gunman, who took his own life.

A common theme was how everyday disputes are increasingly turning lethal because of the ready availability of firearms. Leadership from the ATF attended the meeting and implored local agencies to take advantage of their services, including NIBIN and the eTrace system. Given the heated nature of the gun debate, the ATF has a really difficult job, but several chiefs said the agency is a critical partner in helping them investigate both mass shootings and everyday gun violence.

Women in police leadership. We had a lively and insightful discussion about what it will take not just to get more women into policing but to help them advance into leadership positions. PERF’s Executive Search expert Charlotte Lansinger and Research Assistant Rachael Thompson presented findings from a recent PERF survey of women in police leadership. Then, we heard from a dynamic group of women police leaders who discussed their own careers and the importance of mentorship and networking, women having equal opportunities for assignments and training, and agencies addressing some of the cultural issues that can hold women back. PERF will publish the full report on this project later this summer, as part of our Critical Issues in Policing series.

PERF’s salary survey. Another Critical Issues report takes a national look at police chiefs’ compensation, the hiring process, and career pathways. PERF’s Chief Program Officer Kevin Morison presented key findings of the survey PERF conducted in 2021. Town Hall attendees got an advance copy of the report, which will be sent electronically to all PERF members early next week.

School resource officers. We had a robust discussion about the changing role of School Resource Officers (SROs). We heard from several jurisdictions – Montgomery County (MD), Oakland, San Francisco, and Washington, DC, among them – where political leaders have either taken SROs completely out of the schools or dramatically scaled back their operations. Events from Sandy Hook to the April sniper shooting at a DC school to the tragedy in Uvalde remind us that schools are sometimes a target, and seconds and minutes can be the difference between life and death in an active shooter situation. Communities that have scaled back or eliminated their SRO programs may need to reevaluate that decision.

Chiefs at the Town Hall emphasized that SROs not only can help interrupt violent crimes in progress inside our schools. They can also help prevent crimes from spilling over between schools and communities. I saw this first-hand in Chicago when PERF brought together school principals and district commanders to increase communication and help prevent gang conflicts that started over the weekend in the neighborhoods from escalating in the schools. SROs are a critically important resource in police efforts to combat both school and neighborhood crime, and PERF will be paying close attention to in the coming weeks and months.

Demonstrations. We opened this discussion with another video, which summarized the challenges agencies throughout the country faced during 2020 with widespread protests and, in some cases, riots following the murder of George Floyd. PERF’s recent report provides nine recommendations that agencies can adopt to improve their future responses, with a focus on less-lethal weapons, community engagement, and officer wellness.

Other issues. We explored several other topics, including rising threats against election workers as the midterm elections approach, the new 988 national suicide prevention helpline, and digitally enabled crimes such as doxxing and swatting. And we heard from Karhlton Moore, the new Director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance, as well as Deborah Spence from the COPS Office.

PERF’s Awards. One of my favorite parts of the Town Hall Meeting is the presentation of PERF’s awards

  • This year, the Gary Hayes Award, which recognizes up-and-coming leaders in the profession, went to Assistant Chief Mike Lee of the Harris County (TX) Sheriff’s Office – the first time the Hayes Award has gone to someone in a sheriff’s office. Mike had a distinguished career with the Houston Police Department before joining the Sheriff’s Office. There, he has spearheaded the development of numerous innovative programs such as Tele-Psychiatry, jail diversion programs, and other efforts to provide alternative services to people experiencing homelessness, mental illness, and/or substance abuse.  He also helped create a model program to train deputies in how to respond effectively to persons on the autism spectrum. Mike has assisted with several PERF projects as well, including our Critical Response Toolkit for First-Line Supervisors, our Sheriffs Initiative, and a current project that is developing guidelines on police pursuits.
  • The Leadership Award was given to Charleston (SC) Police Chief Luther Reynolds. As many of you know, Luther was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer last year and eventually had his entire right leg amputated. But Luther did not give up on himself, his family, his community, or his agency. Luther is back leading his department and inspiring police personnel everywhere. Since taking over in Charleston in 2018, Luther capably led the agency through challenging times. In 2019, he saw the agency through a third-party racial bias audit, which resulted in 72 recommendations that the department is implementing. Luther created a community-oriented policing division, which works with patrol to respond to community concerns with problem-solving activities. And he implemented a Leadership Development Institute, which provides leadership training to sworn and civilian CPD staff. In accepting the award, Luther said something that reflected his selflessness and passion for the job. “Cops are more important than ever,” he said, “and those of us in leadership positions have an obligation to get it right.”

I want to thank the San Francisco Police Department for its wonderful hospitality and support throughout the week. Chief Bill Scott, Deputy Chief David Lazar, Lt. Chris Wilhelm, and the men and women of the SFPD (including several police cadets) went above and beyond in making everyone feel welcome and ensuring a smooth and efficient meeting. I also thank the dedicated and talented PERF staff members who made it all happen.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I am energized and excited and hopeful about the future. The policing professions faces enormous challenges, but I hope everyone who participated in our Annual Meeting left San Francisco with a renewed sense of purpose and passion for tackling those challenges.

And I hope to see even more of you at the next PERF Town Hall during the IACP conference in Dallas in October. Have a great weekend.