Life at MCP: Meet Joe Wheeler, VP of Justice and Courts
Posted on March 10, 2021 by Glenn Bischoff
Over the last two years, Mission Critical Partners has grown significantly through acquisition, starting with Athena Advanced Networks in 2018, and continuing with Black & Veatch Public Safety and URL Integration last year. Last month, MCP announced its latest acquisition, Seattle-based MTG Management Consultants. The subject-matter experts who are joining MCP will enable us to better serve clients in the public-safety and justice communities by helping them enhance data integration and address their technology challenges.
Joe Wheeler, who formerly helmed MTG, joins MCP as its new vice president of justice and courts. MCP Insights chatted with Joe about joining MCP, recognition that he recently received, and more.
Insights: Recently, you were selected to receive the IJIS Institute’s Robert P. Shumate National Public Safety Contributor to Excellence Award—what is the significance of that achievement?
Joe: The award reflects upon one’s life’s work and focus. In my case, when I first was getting started in supporting public safety organizations, I was spending a lot of time crawling through criminal history records. This was about the time that the Brady Bill* was passed, and an effort was underway to determine the quality of the information that was being used for firearm background checks. I found that the records were horrific, and the reason was that people didn’t talk to each other and they didn’t share the records effectively. So, I started working to find ways to solve that problem and never stopped. Data really is the currency of the public safety and justice communities, and they depend on the quality of that data.
Insights: How did you approach this task?
Joe: We started by looking at the links and standards that enable data integration and analyzed how to put them together. Over time we examined criminal justice operations, which largely occur at the county level because that is where service is delivered. Data integration is vitally important in this environment. For example, you have to know who you have in your county jail at any given point, because you have to get them in front of a judge within a certain time period so that you don’t violate their civil rights. How are you going to do that?
Insights: How does this apply to the public safety community?
Joe: It’s just as important. For example, when a law enforcement agency responds to a call for service, it has to ensure that the responding officers have the information they need to do their jobs well and stay as safe as possible. Let’s say that they roll up to a house for an alleged domestic-abuse incident—it would be good to know whether any other incidents had occurred at that address, and their nature, or whether someone with priors was living there.
Insights: So this is all about improving data quality and breaking down silos?
Joe: Yes, and when I think about silos, I think of my iPhone as the standard in terms of breaking them down. This device connects all of my health data through various applications, some that Apple makes and some that it doesn’t make. There probably are a couple of dozen apps in play, and their developers have agreed on standards that allow them all to be interconnected and to share data seamlessly. That’s the way it needs to work in the public safety/justice ecosystem. But one big challenge is that the information technology (IT) companies that serve this ecosystem are nowhere near as large as the Microsofts, Apples and Oracles of the world, and thus have much smaller research-and-development capabilities. So achieving a similar level of data integration will take longer. However, the IJIS Institute is a good example of things moving in the right direction, because it creates an environment where people can talk about standards that smaller organizations can implement to enable systems to interoperate.
Insights: What drives you? What are the underlying philosophies and strategies that guide your work and make you who you are?
Joe: Our tagline at MTG for years was, “Helping our clients make a difference in the lives of the people they serve.” That’s what it’s all about—helping our clients do what they need to do to help citizens. That’s what drives what I do. A big part of that is ensuring that they have the information they need to perform their jobs optimally and take care of the people who live in their communities. But getting that information to them traditionally has not been easy.
Insights: What makes it so difficult?
Joe: Well, it’s not the technology—fundamentally, technology is the last major lever. Instead, the issue is governance. And the reason why governance is so problematic is that it is based on rules that were created before the advent of information systems and the data that they generate—that has persisted, which doesn’t help clients grapple with today’s issues. For instance, we have a client that is looking at the use of virtual-reality applications in the courts space. This is a very progressive thinker, but we haven’t been able to get the client to focus on the policies that would enable the implementation of that technology. How such technology will impact access to justice and procedural equity has to be considered. The point is, as technology evolves, governance has to evolve as well.
Insights: As you thought about MTG’s evolution, why did you decide that MCP was the right place to land?
Joe: No one else understood the marketplace as well as MCP. I used to get calls three times a week from people who wanted to buy MTG, but no one knew what they were talking about—until I spoke with Darrin (Reilly, MCP’s president and CEO). The focus, values and principles of the two firms, while articulated somewhat differently, essentially are the same. That’s why I took notice. This time last year, something like this was not on my radar screen—I had a totally different transition plan in mind.
Insights: Now that MTG is part of the MCP family, how do you think that will accelerate and expand the work that you want to do in this space?
Joe: It provides us with expertise in adjacent vertical markets, for example the law enforcement and 911 communities, where MTG was not a leader. It provides additional skills and services that are gained through the Data Integration Services team, which is led by the former URL Integration subject-matter experts, as well as the cybersecurity and information security skillsets of the Lifecycle Management Services team. The clients we served at MTG are clamoring for those capabilities. We now have an opportunity to bring some of that talent and expertise to those clients at a scale that previously was unattainable. In addition, MCP offers an environment to the MTG team members that enables them to explore things that they couldn’t explore before, because MCP has broader client diversity. This will make it possible for the MTG team to pursue exciting new passions because they now have a beachhead in these other verticals. It’s a great fit.
Insights: How do you think this collaboration benefits MCP?
Joe: MTG has a history of serving a broader range of government entities, such as departments of motor vehicles, especially at the county level—all of the entities that a chief information officer worries about. This is an opportunity for MCP to be about more than just public safety.
*The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act was enacted in 1993. It mandated federal background checks on firearm purchasers and a five-day waiting period for purchases. The law is named for James Brady, press secretary to President Ronald Reagan, who was shot and seriously wounded during the attempt to assassinate Reagan.