Key Takeaways from the IJIS Institute’s Community Conference
Posted on June 19, 2023 by John Chiaramonte
Last week I attended the IJIS Institute’s first community forum in Austin, Texas, with several MCP senior-level colleagues, including Joe Wheeler, who chairs the IJIS Institute’s board of directors. Attendees mostly were state and local government officials, vendors, and association representatives, all of whom gathered to do important work on the organization and, more importantly, to explore current and future issues impacting the public safety and justice communities. The forum’s primary focus was on justice systems, data integration, interoperability of disparate data systems, and cybersecurity, but other important topics were explored. The following represents some of the more important takeaways.
Leadership development is sorely needed across the entire ecosystem
This is not a new problem, but it needs to be fixed as soon as possible. It happens innocently enough – someone is promoted based on exemplary work over some period of time but then isn’t provided training that aligns with their new role. We see this often in the 911 community, but it is also prevalent across the entire public safety/justice ecosystem.
For example, telecommunicators are routinely elevated to shift supervisor because they’re great telecommunicators, but then are left to figure out the nuances of their new role independently. The problem is that being a great telecommunicator doesn’t make one a competent supervisor. The answer to the problem is to provide job-specific training that also includes leadership training.
Such training is woefully lacking, so leadership – and the corollary vision needed to move the ecosystem forward effectively – is equally lacking. But training only is the first half of the equation – the second, more important, half is to assess candidates for promotion to determine whether they have the attributes needed to be effective leaders. Not everyone is cut out for it. Finding out who is cut out for it is imperative. A two-pronged approach is needed. It’s fine to continue promoting from within, but then candidates need to be educated on the specific aspects of the job, especially on what it means to be a leader, which at its essence, requires the ability to think and act strategically.
A final thought on this concerns expanding the candidate pool by tapping the private sector. Great leaders can be found there, and it could well be easier to take a great leader and teach them all they need to know about the public safety/justice ecosystem than to try to turn someone into a leader who doesn’t possess the requisite skills or abilities.
Austin is leading the way regarding mental-health policy reform
Assistant Chief Jeff Greenwalt of the Austin (Texas) Police Department spoke, and he was jaw-dropping. Greenwalt was incredibly articulate, and his passion was off the charts. He spoke about the challenges of providing effective services in a city that has recently experienced a fair amount of turmoil when the department lost about 500 officers due to the COVID-19 pandemic and budgetary constraints.
All of this strained officers' mental health tremendously, forcing many to leave law enforcement. Recognizing the severity of the situation, the department sprang into action to improve mental health amongst its officers, introducing and embracing tactics from simple meditation to the more complex eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), a psychotherapy approach to treating post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). The department has been very vocal about the need to prioritize officer well-being, but they’re also doing something tangible about it by leveraging technology and training their responders.
911 center consolidation needs to happen more
One thing heard during the forum is that in one state, nearly half of the 911 centers still don’t have computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems in place. It was stunning to hear this in 2023, indicating something is wrong. The CAD-less centers apparently are small operations – wouldn’t it make sense to consolidate them into a regional center with the financial resources to at least implement a CAD system? Recently, we published a case study about a client that successfully did just that – click here to read the story.
Cybersecurity is at the forefront, finally
There was a time, not long ago, when public-sector organizations didn’t seem to have cybersecurity on their radar screen, perhaps believing that cyberattackers would target the private sector, where large companies have the financial wherewithal to pay hefty ransoms to decrypt their files. But numerous high-profile incidents – the attack on the city of Dallas in May is the most recent – have gotten the attention of law enforcement, 911, and justice agencies. That was reflected during the forum, where converting the Institute’s cybersecurity task force into an advisory committee was discussed at length.
How cybersecurity policies developed by the FBI’s Cybersecurity Justice Information Services (CJIS) division could be applied to more routine cyber-hygiene initiatives on the local level also was discussed. An example would be to develop a short but actionable information resource that identifies the top-five things that chief information officers in the justice community need to know about cybersecurity and what immediate steps to take.
Emergency communications information needs to be put to better use.
It has been known for quite some time that Next Generation 911 (NG911) systems found in emergency communications centers will generate tremendous amounts of situational awareness if the data can be harnessed, made actionable, and shared seamlessly across the entire public safety/justice ecosystem. This is especially important when major incidents occur. But how to do that remains difficult, which made it a primary discussion topic.
Can (should) Florida’s “Alyssa’s Law” response become a national model?
Another interesting discussion topic focused on how the state of Florida is responding to the law named for Alyssa Alhadeff, a victim of the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The law requires all public schools (K-12) to install silent panic alarms that are connected directly to law enforcement agencies. The goal is to accelerate emergency response in active-shooter incidents at schools. So far, five states have enacted a version of this law, and five others have introduced one. The forum debate centered on whether what’s happening in Florida could serve as a model for the rest of the nation and review the technical, operational, and policy issues associated with school panic-alarm systems.
Stay tuned for more takeaways from the IJIS Community Conference in future blogs.
John Chiaramonte is the president of MCP’s consulting division. Email him at JohnChiaramonte@MissionCriticalPartners.com.