Women are effective police officers

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PSO Jessica Solomon, PSO Monica Church, Officer Farah Hilliker

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(From top left) PSO Reyes, PSO Thomas, PSO Tuff, Officer Frederick, Officer Hesse, Officer Carlson

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Lt. Jill McDonnell, me, Detective Ivette Brown

A couple of days ago I found this interesting article on the subject of women police officers and the national concern about police use of force.  As you might guess, I was pretty interested in what it had to say.

I also gave a report on the police department to the members of the city council last month –sort of a state of the department.  And one of the pieces of information I shared with them was that we are higher than the national average of women in our department among sworn staff (only those who can make arrests – no dispatch or clerical).  We have 17% women (including myself) and 83% men — the average nationally in 2013 according to the FBI is 8% women and 92% men. (2013 Uniform Crime Report)

We believe that the men and the women each bring skills and abilities to the job.  When we work together we find the best possible outcomes for our community.  I hear other chiefs lament how difficult it is to find and hire women as police officers –something we don’t struggle with.  I attribute that to the presence of women in our workforce right now–they can be seen in patrol vehicles, among detectives and command officers.  It is very common for the residents and businesses of our community to have a male/female team or 1 or even 2 women respond to calls for service. And we don’t have issues with that — our workforce is a group of people who focus on their jobs –not gender differences of co workers.

With respect to police and improper uses of force that can be a complicated set of factors:  training, leadership, officer selection are all factors.  There are only a handful of studies and they don’t all point in the same direction.

We do not actively seek to hire a certain percentage of any type of person.  We do recruit as widely as we can; we work hard to maintain a positive reputation as a good workplace for anyone and we use the best possible tools to find the best people for the job.

Here is the article:

How more female police officers would help stop police brutality – The Washington Post.

Arrested Person Calls to Thank Us After Home Raid

This is an interesting job.  Some surprising things happen sometimes.  This morning we got an email from Police Service Officer Raquel Reyes:

I received a phone call from XXXX at approximately 1230 hours on 8/28/15. He wanted to express his appreciation & thanks towards the multiple officers that came out to his residence (XXXX Commonwealth) on 8/8/15. He had written a letter to the officers and wanted me to forward the message along:

“Thank you for being human beings and upholding the law, no matter the cost to society. Thank you for your professionalism and treating the situation as if it were your own family & people that you personally knew. Also, thank you for not shooting my pit bull, I really appreciate that.”

I see that there were many involved in the case, and again, XXXX thanks everyone involved (he was quite emotional on the phone).

I’ve taken out his name and specific address since he and some friends were arrested on the scene and are awaiting trial on drug possession.  I reviewed the report yesterday as I do on all cases when force is used by officers.  In this case we had a search warrant to enter and search this home for illegal drugs (something more than marijuana by the way).  Our supervisor, Sergeant Hollenbeck had taken time to put together a plan to raid this home that took into consideration the safety of the officers and the people who lived there.   When we learned there was a pit bull at the home, we even had a special plan to deal with that without having to hurt the dog.  What made it safer is that the persons at the home were very cooperative and did as the officers asked.  The whole matter can be disputed in court, the proper venue, as is the right of the defendants.   When people choose to make a violent response, the chance of injury goes way, way up for both officers and the arrested persons.

I must admit I was surprised to hear the defendant called us.  I hope he can get his life straightened out.

Barricaded Subject Last Night

Last night, in one of our neighborhoods in the south end of the city we received a call of a subject barricaded in a home with a machete threatening suicide.  He also threatened any officer who tried to come into his room.  He is a young adult with a history of mental health issues who was drunk and suffering from a recent break up with a girlfriend.  We responded to the home and after an hour or so on the phone with him talked him into coming out and going to the hospital for treatment.  No one was injured – no crime was committed.  Sergeant Bryan Eftink and his afternoon shift did a great job of managing a challenging situation and getting a positive outcome.

Today, I was reporting on crime statistics for our city’s state required dashboard.  The dashboard is a requirement in the last few years as part of an open government movement.  While I agree that open and transparent government is a good thing.  I can’t agree that measuring public safety only by crime statistics handcuffsmakes sense.  Last night’s incident is a case in point -there won’t be any crime statistic on that case last night.  No crime was committed – he was a person requiring treatment.  And this type of case is on the rise although crime is not.  Our crime statistics are pretty stable and have been over a long period of time.  But we are seeing increases in mental health type calls.  Last year we responded to 122 calls of this type.  This year to date we have 103 calls.  I didn’t count the drug overdose cases that police have responded to: 5 and the suicides:  3.  They do include the attempts at suicide: 25.

No one is looking at or counting this kind of police activity yet it is a major factor in what we do.  On the scene last night, there was a sergeant and at least 6 officers and given the gravity of the situation we responded a lieutenant and more 2 more officers.  You never know how these situations are going to turn out.  Many of the controversial police situations that end up as officer involved shootings begin as exactly this kind of event.  Officers rush into the situation in an attempt to resolve it quickly and there is a violent confrontation.  So we slow the situation down and attempt to talk the person into coming out.  We train for just these kinds of situations and we rely on our high quality supervisors to achieve the best outcome with the least possible force use.

We think that is what you want us to do.

The Challenges of Dealing With the Mentally Ill

One of the bigger challenges we have is dealing with the mentally ill.  It has become a commonplace call for our officers.  People in a mental health crisis are often combative, frightened and can be

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frightening.

Yesterday I was reviewing incidents of force use as we do here to look for policy compliance, need for training or improper actions.  I review the reports and the in car video, recorded radio traffic and any other available information.

One of the cases I reviewed was a recent one where officers were called to a bus parked in front of the Palace on M-24.  There was a passenger on the bus who was having an episode, standing up, talking irrationally, frightening other passengers and refusing to obey the directions of the driver.  So she pulled over and called the police.  Officer Michelle Hesse and Officer Mariusz Skomski were the responding officers.  Hesse arrived first and got on the bus to talk with the man.  While she was not wearing a body camera her in car system recorded the audio.  She attempted to talk with the man to determine if he was on some sort of drug or if he was having a mental health crisis.  He was incoherent and rambling in his response.  The driver wanted him off the bus so that they could continue and meet their schedule.  Hesse requested an ambulance because she suspected that he was having a mental health crisis.  When the ambulance arrived the officers tried to convince him to get off the bus with them and into the ambulance. He was frightened and became combative.  At one point he pushed Officer Hesse down into a seat and tried to rush past Officer Skomski.  They finally managed to get control of him and carried him off the bus and into the ambulance where he was restrained on the cot.  The only force use was to gain control of him to carry him off the bus.  No weapons were used or displayed.  Interestingly the officers later said many of the fellow bus passengers were using their cell phones to record the incident.  The officers are accustomed to citizens recording them with their phones–it is legal to do so.

I talked to Officer Hesse yesterday in passing and she told me that she decided she was not going to seek an arrest warrant for the individual for pushing her because he is mentally ill and she couldn’t see how jail would be a solution to that.  She felt that transport to the hospital and a petition to secure him a psych exam was appropriate.  I concur.

This case illustrates the challenges we have. Across the country you see stories of police use of force against the mentally ill that can result in the death of the individual or the officer.  It is a difficult problem for which we have very few resources.  There are no mental health specialists that come into the field–we are it.

Recently we had an opportunity to train 2 officers in 40 hour training sessions to improve our skills in dealing with these situations.  Given the week long school we could not train more than 2 people in 2 programs.  We just can’t spare that many people at once.  Officers Jeff Malone was trained in December and Officer Paul Wagonmaker in May.  As a result of the training Officer Malone trained other officers as we rolled out new policy and procedure designed to assist officers in handling these cases.

Jail diversion by the numbers | C & G Newspapers.

What We Can Learn From the Police That Pioneered Body Cameras – Governing Magazine

Among police and their communities across the country there is 1208_taser-800x480an important conversation occurring about police worn body cameras.  Should we or shouldn’t we?  There are many aspects to be considered on this important and expensive topic.  We have already had discussion with our city council to educate them on the issues that surround any potential adoption of this technology.

Governing magazine published this article which gives some insight into this important issue.

What We Can Learn From the Police That Pioneered Body Cameras.

NBC News posted this short video on body cameras

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Are Police Body Cameras the Answer? Or a New Problem?

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One version of a body camera.

If you are a person who believes that body cameras for police are the answer to improved police conduct, consider this:  what are we going to do with all of this video?  We have to store it and we have to release it under the Freedom of Information laws, subject to exceptions in that law that call for redaction under certain conditions.  We are often in the homes of people at their most vulnerable – a woman reporting a rape, for example.  Should we release that video?  Should we release video of someone’s suicide attempt?  I can assure you that if we have the video media and other parties will make that request.

One of our officers, Greg Super, is following this issue too.  He let me know that he recently heard a public radio piece on this topic that he thought I’d be interested in.  I was and I thought you might be interested too.  Its short – a little over 3 minutes but it does a good job of explaining a potential downside to the cameras.

At the same time when there is a call for camera and more training for police, the State of Michigan has defunded training to the locals.  Where we had $11M to underwrite grants for police training in the PA 302 Fund just a few years ago, we now have nothing.  Zero.  We retain a second portion that gives us a per officer amount – last year it was roughly $97 per officer.  How far do you suppose that goes?

Here’s the report:

http://www.npr.org/v2/?i=371821093&m=371821094&t=audio

Chinese Businessmen Visit AHPD and Shoot Guns on Our Range

chineseWe had a really great experience today.  A group of 18 Chinese businessmen visited our department and shot guns on our range.  Our Economic Development Director (now retired) Laurie Renaud, asked me about this when the visit was being planned way back in the spring.  I was a little concerned because I didn’t want to feed into stereotypes they might have about American police as a result of watching American movies and TV.  But Steve, their coordinator, assured me that they just wanted to have the experience of shooting a gun while they are here in the US.  Guns are very rare in China, I understand.

So we arranged for them to have a shooting experience under the watchful eye of a range officer, 4 at a time.  Safety is always first when handling firearms.  Each had an opportunity to fire a pistol, a shotgun and a rifle.  The assisting range officers were Lt. Gagnon, Lt. Miarka, Officers Brandon Hollenbeck and Matt Halligan.  Deputy Director Hardesty helped with getting everyone in the bullet resistant vests, eye and ear protection.  We had 4 on the shooting line at a time while everyone else could watch through a window in the rangemaster’s office. 20141014_160335

Judging by the smiles and laughter among among the officers and our guests, I’d say we all  had a good time.  Policing is done so differently in the world–particularly in the non democratic world that I wondered what they think of us when they compare us with their local police.  Most spoke only a little English and I spoke no Chinese so we had no opportunity for an in-depth discussion.

In any case it was great fun.

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Mall Exercise Last Night

We had an EXCELLENT training event last night at Great Lakes Crossings Mall.  It was a full-scale event involving people who played roles as the bad guys AKA active shooters, press people, wounded victims.  Most of us, including me, played our own roles–what we would do in the event of an incident like this.  FBI was there.  Oakland County Homeland Security,
Great Lakes Crossings Security, other police agencies with officers trained to respond to this kind of event, Oakland County Sheriff’s Office swat team members–all in all more than 300 people.  Even the Salvation Army came out to help with coffee and hot dogs for the participants in that cold, cold rain.

Lt Miarka briefing the teams in staging prior to event start.

Lt Miarka briefing the teams in staging prior to event start.

Of course, there are always unexpected things that happen.  Like the rollover freeway crash on southbound I-75 right at the time the mall traffic was exiting.  We had to close the freeway ramp at Joslyn for a while so as not to add to the traffic jam since we had to close some lanes for a time.  Then another injury crash came in north of the mall area in a subdivision and we had to divert units there.  So we got started a little late.  Not to mention that yesterday was a looonnnggg day for our Fire Department.  Deputy Director Manning, Assistant Chief Macias and many of our personnel were on the scene of the tornado hit in Rochester Hills as mutual aid beginning at about 6:30 am.  And it was a cold, dank rain.  But that is just what life is like–we operate in the real world so there is no idea of postponing for any reason.

I admit that it was chilling listening to the original dispatch of armed men in the mall and an officer down.  I was sitting in a vehicle with Deputy Director Hardesty waiting to be deployed.  Deputy Director Manning was in his vehicle parked behind us, also waiting.  There is a system to the response on an event like this and we have all been trained extensively.  We use the federal National Incident Management System developed by FEMA after 9/11 to organize ourselves and make it possible for agencies to work together.  My job was to establish an incident command post taking over command of the overall incident and assisting the operational command post staffed by sergeants on scene, so that we deal with the next level of the incident.  There is a great deal to be done.  At first we waited silently listening to the dispatch and the response of the initial officers–after a while training takes over and you begin to think about what needs to be done, by whom and when.  In the initial phases we have limited resources so there was only a handful of us at the command post level to deal with everything from city elected officials who are calling wanting information, to the media and public information, to the needs of reunification of people and victims involved in the event, to the investigation (it is a big crime scene, remember?), as well as the overall fire and rescue aspects.  The event is dynamic and moving very quickly.

Overall it was a big success.  Whenever we do it we learn some things that we think we can do better next time.  We had lots of observers watching and evaluating us.  We’ll get that information assembled in the coming days so that we can review it and consider specific improvements.  But I think we did well overall.  One of the things we wanted to test was the Rescue Task Force.  We recently developed and trained our fire and police personnel to respond together to a “warm” zone  (not totally safe) to treat injured.  We are the first ones in this region to take up this new aspect.  We decided to do it because in some of these incidents like the LAX shooting, Aurora theater and others, victims have died while waiting for medical help because they were down in an unsecured area.  Traditional fire training puts medics in a triage area away from the action with the police bringing victims out.  Of our team of medics, 14 volunteered for the training –they are not armed but they wear ballistic helmets and bullet resistant vests and are guarded by police as they enter “warm” and even “hot” zones to locate and give basic treatment.  We had some local fire chiefs on hand to observe that aspect.

Firefighters gearing up as a rescue task force.

Firefighters gearing up as a rescue task force.

Lt. Miarka, who with assistance from FBI personnel, Oakland Sheriff’s Office and others, set up this mammoth undertaking which took about a year to plan.  He was here early this am, just like usual–( he looks a little tired though.)  Part of the planning was his extensive study of mall shootings around the country to learn what other police said about what happened and how they dealt with it.  He shared with us what he learned.  The event was modeled on some of the other events.  The bad guys keep morphing their techniques and we must do the same.

Rescue task force in action. Officers guarding medics who are helping victims.

Rescue task force in action. Officers guarding medics who are helping victims.

Great Lakes Crossings Mall is a very safe environment, precisely because they enthusiastically partner with us to train and practice for an event we pray we never have to meet.

Even Fox 2 came out to report on our training.

http://www.myfoxdetroit.com/story/26590126/disaster-drill-held-at-great-lakes-crossing-outlets

How Much Military Equipment Does AHPD Have?

Virtually none is the answer.  We have about 7 ceremonial rifles used by our Honor Guard.  That’s it. DSCN3270

We’ve seen these programs come and go over the years based on what is happening with the military and what war they are or are not engaged in. We have not seen a lot of usefulness for us in the military surplus.  We don’t need armored personnel carriers or grenade launchers.  Police and the military don’t do the same job.  The military mission is to win this country’s wars on foreign soil.   There are times and places for some kinds of military equipment for police but they are very few and very far between.  In contrast, we are part of the fabric of our community.  Which means that we do our job in ways that builds trust with our community.  We want you to know you can count on us to be fair and to do the right things while doing our job in the most professional way possible.  And we know that relationship is built over long experience.

We don’t have a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team here in Auburn Hills.  We have trained our officers to a higher level to be able to take some kinds of actions to protect themselves and rescue others.  Often being able to act quickly can resolve a situation before it devolves into a crisis.  We have been local leaders in less lethal force options because we believe that you want us to take that step first, if we can.  When we have exhausted our options and we have need for a SWAT team we call the Sheriff’s Office or the State Police who work with us to achieve a necessary end. But the responsibility for our community is still ours–we don’t turn it over to someone else to make decisions for what is right in our town.  The SWAT teams are leaving when it is all over–we are staying.

DSC_2604So the same people you see at National Night Out handing out raffle prizes or in your neighborhood registering your child’s bike or the school officer at your child’s school or having lunch in our local restaurants or giving safety talks at preschools and businesses are the same people who will make decisions in our town when a crisis occurs.  We have invested our lives here, we know people here and we understand how this community wants to be policed and their expectations of us.

And we don’t see a role for military grade weaponry.  That is not what we are about.