The 10 and 10,000-foot views

 

Roundtable Q&A

What were the biggest challenges law enforcement faced throughout the past year?

   Chief Kiederlen: Increased demand for service and lower budgets.

   Lt. Twombly: It's budget right now. This is going to be one of the big issues if not No. 1 issue ... that's going to be facing departments for the next couple of years at a minimum until the economy improves. As Wisconsin, I think we've been pretty fortunate in comparison with other parts of the country ... where they've had to lay off big numbers of staff and cut budgets pretty dramatically. We haven't had to do that at this point.

   Chief Yaniero: Because of the most recent downturn in the economy and the housing market, one of the greatest challenges will be in meeting the demand for services with reductions in tax revenues. In addition, state and federal mandates, without additional federal funding, have forced police agencies to cut services. In my opinion, these mandates and budget constraints have had a profound impact on the ability of law enforcement agencies to engage in proactive policing. This forces an agency to become reactive to crime and community problems.

Have there been any changes to the threats your officers face?

   Kiederlen: I think there's a higher concern of those unknown threats -- not so much the potential of terrorists, but the individuals that look at some of those things that have been done and idolize that thing; the bomb-making, IEDs, those types of things. I think there's a heightened awareness.

   Is it necessarily a firm belief that, "Oh, it's going to happen to me" type of thing? No, I don't think so. But I think all of that type of awareness nationwide and worldwide has put everyone in a different mindset.

   It used to be we were worried about the guys in the traffic stops; now we're worried about somebody who's going to blow up their entire car. For me, I think the best way we can even come close to preventing something like that is by establishing those firm relationships with your community is really your best bet. That's what my focus has been as a chief -- finding ways to interact with your community through everything from class type situations ... and just a lot of community interaction in whatever way you can to hopefully befriend that one person who might actually find out something that could save a lot of lives.

   Twombly: I would say that we're coming in contact with more and more people that are much more likely to use force on us as far as either fighting with us or using weapons. There's always been a certain segment of the population that didn't like law enforcement or would do whatever they could to evade capture if they felt cornered. But I've seen that segment sort of increasing. [When I started] they were less hesitant to try to take a swing at an officer, let's say, as an example. That that hesitancy has deteriorated somewhat over the years, which I think is also evidenced by the amount of officers that have been assaulted and killed this year and last year, especially ambush style.

    People are starting to view suicide by cop more as a viable option. Especially you're getting these people where they've lost their jobs, they can't make their bills. The economic times [are] a huge stressor on them and they just don't care about their actions.

   Yaniero: Today, police officers generally face a different type of criminal: one that has no regard for human life. The recent ambushes of police officers, indiscriminately targeted for violence, may be a reflection of the current anti-government sentiment in our country. Police officers are the most visible symbol of government in any community. I believe that this anti-government sentiment will continue with the current economic climate. In addition, because of an increase in gang activity in smaller and medium sized communities, police officers have seen indiscriminate violence toward the communities that we serve.

What problems would you like to see addressed in terms of equipment?

   Kiederlen: I'd like to see more less-lethal technologies. I think things like the Tasers are nice, but they're cost-prohibitive. So some competition there would be nice. I'd like to see ... something [that] can reach out a little further than 25 to 30 feet.

   Right now we have the mobile computers in cars; I'd like to see a less expensive technology that reduces the size of those things and in some way integrates it more into the vehicle. So many vehicles now have those LCD displays in them already that being able to utilize something like that I think would be really innovative.

   Twombly: I see training as becoming an issue. Departments, including our own, are being forced to reduce our budget and there are very few lines we really can control. Personnel costs usually make up 90 to 92 percent of most budgets for most agencies. Short of laying people off, you can't control that huge chunk ... of your budget. I'm seeing training budgets decrease and the problem and fear that I have with that is in this profession, in order to stay confident in not only the legal changes and legal updates, but also the physical skills that we have to utilize [like] defensive driving, high-speed pursuit driving, firearms training, defensive tactics.

   When you cut back training, you really impair the officers from staying proficient in those skills. If they're placed in a critical situation, or an emergency situation, they aren't going to be as prepared and ... that increases the chances of them making mistakes.

   Even though shocking somebody with 50,000 volts or hitting them with a projectile that doesn't penetrate their body ... is better than trying to wrestle with somebody and breaking bones and causing internal injuries over a larger area, trying to develop less-than-lethal weaponry that is much more effective at neutralizing the suspect without hurting them or causing permanent injury still needs to be refined a little more.

    We're still getting a lot of officers that are shot and killed because the vests that we wear ... don't cover enough of our vital organs. The trade off is that it's so cumbersome, [I'd like to see] if they can continue to try to develop anti-ballistic material that would be much more comfortable to wear. The ultimate to me would be making an entire shirt out of it, where you didn't have side panels, where the front and back panels meet and [don't] have gaps.

   Yaniero: One of the most controversial topics in law enforcement today is the use of force. The balance of police authority and the credibility of police within a community are achieved when the police and community are woven together into the same thread. Nothing is as damaging to the relationship between a law enforcement agency and the community as an incident in which the use of force has not been clearly justified. The development of less-than-lethal weapons, such as the Taser, has resulted in a reduction of injuries to police officers and suspects, while reducing the overall need to use force. However, this technology has risks. I believe that this type of technology, in conjunction with focused training, should reduce the risks of improper use of force, injuries to police officers and suspects and the resulting damage to the police/community relations that result from a controversial incident.

What was the most innovative or most exciting product introduced in your career?

   Kiederlen: I think one of my favorites, and I'm going to make sure we're going to get it (we have received a grant to purchase one and we're in that process), is the LiveScan fingerprint technology. I think that's pretty amazing. With fingerprint submittal, there's always such a high return rate of unusable prints. With that technology it's almost impossible to submit a bad print. Additionally, the ability to quickly identify individuals that either you don't know the name of, they're unknown people in the case of deceased individuals and stuff like that, to be able to submit those fingerprints and get responses on such a rapid basis is just amazing.

   Twombly: I would say the implementation or the deployment of Tasers, And that's just been over the past roughly five years that they've come out. Because for the most part, the technology hasn't really changed. In the late '90s video hit, at least in our agency ... we started putting those in our vehicles.

   As far as from a technology side, I would also say the information management systems as far as the ability to integrate the dispatch information with the records systems to allow street officers the ability to access that information out in the field, that would be a big one too. Rather than having to wait to go to the precinct or to go up to the main office to check records and get copies of reports. Now they have the ability to do that from the squad, which really helps if they are investigating incidents for background information or even trying to identify people that they are in contact with. They can pull up mug shots so they can relatively immediately identify someone.

   Yaniero: Perhaps the most important change introduced during my 30 years in law enforcement is the computer and computer systems. As a police administrator, I have frequently looked to computer technology as a method for enhancing the effectiveness of police officers. As a proponent of the efficient practice of community policing, I believe that the use of high-technology equipment and applications is essential when addressing budget constraints in an environment requiring a high demand for service. Without effective technology, police officers would find it difficult to provide the level and quality of services that the community deserves. Technological tools such as computer-aided dispatch, mobile computers in vehicles, digital cameras, and automatic fingerprint systems provide effective support to police officers on the street. These tools also improve police officer efficiency with the overall goal of improving the quality of life for all the citizens they serve. In my experience, the use of pertinent technology results in quality improvements, an increase in efficiency and a decrease in costs. Service costs decrease because of fewer errors. Delays are less frequent, with an improvement in the management of time and equipment.

What do you see as the biggest future obstacles to the industry?

   Twombly: Right now, the biggest challenges we'll run in to will be with budgeting. As an example, replacement of our new squads. Just equipment and maintenance budget lines ... have never been fully funded in our agency due to the way our county does budgeting. I see in the next year, that's not going to get any better. We could use additional staff, but that's also not going to happen with the current budget, so we're just going to have to continue to again look for more efficient ways of doing business with the resources we've got.

   Yaniero: Budget constraints and issues will persist as the greatest obstacle to improved police services. The demands of the electorate will force legislative bodies to continue to cut governmental budgets. Police services will be challenged to improve services in this anti-tax environment. Another obstacle facing our police department and many others is the "CSI effect." Citizens and jurors expect highly technical forensic services in our investigation of crimes. In many cases, these services are not readily available or the technology is cumbersome and expensive. The need to improve forensic services, with little or no funding, will continue to be a challenge to police agencies in the next 10 years. In addition, the issues that surround recruitment and retention of police officers and support staff will continue to be a challenge. As a new generation of police officer enters the profession, police administrators will be required to adjust in competing for this most important resource. Technology will be the key, as this generation has been raised in a technology-rich environment. These individuals will demand a police agency that keeps up with current technology or they will seek employment with an agency that does.

Do you see better or worse economic times ahead?

   Kiederlen: It's tough. Again, we have increasing demands. I think we're going to see, as is the usual cycle, as the economy continues to be bad, crime will continue to go up. It's just the way things go. And when we're all in tough economic times, and our PD has a higher demand for service, service brings on additional cost, and there's no additional monies, and there's really no additional monies, it's interesting trying to figure out how you're going to do it.

   Twombly: I really think that we're facing this for a few more years out, unfortunately. The other thing is just continuing to try to -- I don't want to use the word "survive" -- but maintain the level of service in these upcoming budget years. I guess I've always tried to look at things with a glass half full type of guy. I don't see this economic mess getting cleared up before the next presidential election -- two more years minimum.

   I'm hopeful that by the time I retire, in the next three to five years, there'll start to be an upswing. But am I confident? I can't say that I am. I hope I'm wrong.

   Yaniero: I expect that we shall continue to experience economic challenges for the next five years. From a police point of view, an increase of property crimes will continue as a result of the challenging economy. In addition, in regard to budgets, there will be reductions in federal, state and local law enforcement dollars.

Where have budget cuts hit your agency the hardest?

   Kiederlen: We had to cut most of our auxiliary assistance programs; we had to cut back in some training, mostly because of travel expense, we just had a general budget decrease overall of about 10 percent.

   Twombly: All of our staff had to take a 3-percent pay cut. And then try to do more with less and then on top of that. It's not been an easy year for us by any means. Our budgets have been reduced and it's an issue of trying to prevent layoffs of staff while maintaining the level of service that we've provided.

   About 15 years ago, we were fortunate enough because we had fairly high turnover, we were always running short because someone would always retire or resign. We were able to institute a pre-hiring group where we were able to over hire. With this budget year, we've potentially lost eight positions, but we were able to absorb that without laying people off because essentially, we just eliminated that group of pre-hires.

   Yaniero: The state of North Carolina has endured significant budget reductions, which adversely affect local budgets. In order to address these budget reductions in a high growth environment, the police department staff has been working on a variety of call reduction strategies. We believe that these challenges allow the staff to focus on developing processes that improve the efficiency of delivering police services. These strategies include the development of an online reporting process, the adoption of a comprehensive alarm ordinance, the prioritization and delayed response for calls for service, and the concentration on problem solving at high call locations.

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