April 25, 2020

 

Dear PERF members,

For the last six weeks or more, PERF has been researching how the policing profession is doing its job in the COVID-19 environment. Mostly this is about using technology as a substitute for human contact. Police are using online communications to stay connected to their communities, and PERF is using technology to stay connected to you.

It’s impressive how much we can do with Zoom, conference calls, and using laptop computers, tablets, and smartphones to work remotely. It’s amazing to see 25 people’s faces on a Zoom call.  At PERF, our computers have Microsoft Teams software, and that works well because we not only see each other’s faces, we also can review documents jointly as we converse.

Of course, the technology doesn’t always work perfectly.  I was embarrassed during one of our first COVID-19 conference calls. About a dozen busy police chiefs had made time in their schedules to join us, and after 15 minutes, the call went haywire with echoes and noise. Someone later explained that it probably happened because phone lines were overwhelmed, with everyone suddenly working remotely. I was grateful that the chiefs were good enough to call us back on a different number to continue the call.

Anyhow, our New Normal is communicating via technology.

But I’m already missing the days when we could get people together in a room, put our heads together, and generate ideas, because that’s what PERF is about.

PERF is like a New England Town Hall meeting.  

There’s something about the in-person, human interaction of a live meeting that is productive. When we get 500 police chiefs, sheriffs, and other experts in a room, it creates a special kind of energy.

Please indulge me as I recall a few of the moments we’ve had at PERF meetings that wouldn’t have been the same online.

-- One simple question:   Some of the best times are when I can ask a single question, and then sit back and listen. Once at a Town Hall Meeting, I asked, “What should police departments do with officers who lie?”  And for the next 45 minutes, chiefs in the room spoke about how a police officer who lies creates enormous problems for their agency.

-- Learning from a mistake:  Years ago, protests at a World Trade Organization conference in Seattle got out of control.  After it was all over, Police Chief Norm Stamper stood up at a PERF Town Hall Meeting and candidly gave us the details about everything that had gone wrong. PERF members learned from Norm’s experience, and departments nationwide adopted better policies about managing demonstrations.

-- Taking on a troubling issue:  In 1999 there was a high-visibility police shooting of an African immigrant in New York City, which resulted in a national debate about whether the police had engaged in racial profiling.  The prevailing thinking was that by and large, police didn’t do racial profiling. PERF invited 20 police chiefs to come to Washington, and we asked each chief to invite a community leader from their city.

A key question going into this meeting was, “How can we have a conversation on something as sensitive and complicated as race without people just talking past each other?” So we decided to ask the community leaders to speak first.  And they told compelling stories about encounters they had had with police. For many of us in the room, listening to these stories was an epiphany.

That evening I ran into Philadelphia Commissioner John Timoney and Boston Commissioner Paul Evans in a bar, and I showed them a draft statement of consensus that we could release. But they said no, the statement didn’t really say anything. So we tore it up and created a new statement, which resulted in a New York Times story titled “Police Chiefs Say Criticism of Departments Is Valid.” The story quoted Timoney as saying, “Frankly, there is a problem with race in policing. To solve it, we have to deal openly with it. If we don't stipulate that race is an issue, everything flows from that, and then it's just an academic exercise.”

Our meeting helped to turn around the conversation about race, and reframe the issue nationally.

-- Sometimes conflict is good:  In October 2016, PERF released our ICAT Training Guide, which is about teaching officers skills for de-escalating incidents, including those that involve persons with mental illness who are behaving erratically but do not have a firearm.

That month, we held a Town Hall Meeting in San Diego.  A lawyer stood up and said, “You’re going to get cops killed with this.” And NYPD Commissioner Jimmy O’Neill, who would later become President of PERF, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “I’ll take this.” He took the microphone and said, “No, this will save lives, and it will save cops’ careers.”

That was a “had to be there” moment that couldn’t really happen on a Zoom call, in which a leading police official told a nay-sayer that policing requires constant efforts to improve.

-- Helping troubled officers:  In 2019, we took on the issue of suicides by police officers. We know that more officers take their lives than are killed in the line of duty, but the issue had been hiding in the shadows, because there’s a stigma associated with suicide, and there’s no official record-keeping about it. We found that PERF members really wanted to discuss this issue; more than 300 of you traveled to NYPD Headquarters to participate in our conference. We heard heartfelt stories, include accounts from three officers who told us about their histories of suicidal ideation. And the result was that we identified 10 Recommended Actions for preventing officer suicides.

PERF’s story is largely about what happens when leaders in policing get together to create best policies and practices.   

This is what we have done on issues like:

-- The increasing role of police and sheriffs’ agencies in preventing opioid overdose deaths,

-- Best practices in helping people experiencing homelessness,

-- The use of drones by police, and the threat of drones by malicious actors,

-- Guidelines on the use of body-worn cameras,

-- Improving the investigation of sexual assault cases and bringing greater transparency to the process,

-- Rules for deployment of Electronic Control Weapons, and many more.

All of these advances were generated from frank discussions by our members. We bring people together in a safe environment, where they can speak freely, admit mistakes, and argue about what’s best in new approaches. 

It’s not just people telling their war stories.  It’s a learning environment, a unique “safe room” where the next generation of police leaders learns from the current leaders – and vice-versa.

And these discussions are just better in person, as opposed to a Zoom meeting.  It’s better when people can take the temperature of the room, react to each other in the moment, absorb each other’s points of view, sometimes reach toward a compromise, or use each other as catalysts for new insights.  It’s the synergy of people coming together.

No one knows when we’ll return to the days of people traveling freely and gathering in groups.  It doesn’t seem like it’s going to be any time soon, so I’ll have to remain in the world of Microsoft Teams and conference calls for now.

But I can’t wait for the day when we hold another old-school PERF meeting with 150 or 200 people in a hotel conference room.

(Until then, keep an eye out for news about the Virtual Town Hall Meeting that we’re planning, instead of the in-person Town Hall in San Francisco that we had to cancel.)

PERF’s Weekend Clips are below. Thank you for everything you do.

Best,

Chuck

 

Weekend Clips

Washington Post: Researchers reviewed thousands of gun policy studies and teased out a consensus

A new report from Rand Corp., a nonprofit think tank, has distilled reams of gun policy research published since 1995 to tease out the scholarly consensus.

Not all academic studies are created equal. Many simply show correlations between various phenomena — links between assault weapon bans and mass shootings, for instance, or between suicide rates and gun purchasing habits. Such research can be useful when higher-quality data isn’t available.

But policymaking requires higher-caliber evidence, from studies that go beyond simple correlations to demonstrate a causal effect. Distinguishing those studies from less-powerful ones was one of the chief objectives of the Rand report.

They narrowed down thousands of studies to those that met high standards for causal evidence — just 123 of them since 1995. Taken together, this research yielded a number of conclusions.

 

WIRED: 25 years after Oklahoma City, domestic terrorism is on the rise

As the United States marks the 25th anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Federal Bureau of Investigation director Christopher Wray says technology is radically accelerating—and confusing—the landscape of modern terror threats.

“Terrorism today—including domestic terrorism—moves at the speed of social media,” Wray tells WIRED in an exclusive interview days before the anniversary of the attack known inside the FBI by the case name OKBOMB. “That has all kinds of ramifications that weren’t really present before, certainly not in OKBOMB and not even at the time of 9/11.”

Particularly troubling, Wray says, is how once-clear lines are blurring between “foreign” terror movements, like al-Qaeda or ISIS, and domestic terror groups motivated by white supremacy or the dislike of the US government. “We’re monitoring very closely a trend that may be starting to emerge, for example, of neo-Nazi actors here in the US who are communicating online with similar like-minded individuals overseas,” Wray explains, speaking by phone from the seventh-floor director’s suite of the FBI headquarters in Washington, DC, which has largely emptied out as part of the Covid-19 pandemic.

 

Washington Post: ‘A heart of gold’: First California police officer killed by covid-19 inspires kindness

When Marylou Armer saw the traumatized child, small and scared, she bent down on her hands and knees without hesitation.

The child had allegedly been sexually assaulted, and Armer, a career police detective in Santa Rosa, Calif., had been called to investigate. Slowly, she conducted her interview while still providing emotional support. Once she finished, she talked with the child’s worried parents, explaining the excruciating situation and letting them know how they could help.

Christine Castillo, who heads Verity, a Santa Rosa-based nonprofit organization that represents survivors of sexual assault and abuse, recalls the difficult scene vividly when she remembers Armer.

“That’s how she was with survivors,” Castillo said. “That’s how she was with the world.”

Armer, 43, died on March 31 from complications of covid-19, the first California police officer to lose their life to the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Family members, friends, colleagues and victims’ advocates alike have remembered Armer’s thoughtfulness toward others. Since her death, she has inspired others to carry on her selflessness.

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