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Apr 19

Fake News, Alternative Facts, and What’s Goin’ On….

Posted on April 19, 2017 at 3:57 PM by Office of the Chief

Marvin Gaye was masterful at the art of singing, and one of his best was “What’s Goin’ On?” As I prepared to write this blog entry, I keep hearing his refrain in my head, “what’s goin’ on?”……

Police departments and the traditional news media have a long history of interacting, and the relationship truly varies from agency to agency and from one news outlet to the next. Overall here in the Hampton Roads, police enjoy a relatively healthy relationship with the media, although there are variations between broadcast media and print media and between public safety agencies. Most agencies have assigned public information officers who have the day-to-day responsibility of fostering the unique relationship with the media. Here at the Newport News Police, we have several folks who work in our PIO office, including a social media content specialist, and we’re soon to add a Communications Manager to oversee both our internal and external organizational communications.

We are deeply committed to being a transparent organization, and we pledge to post information as factually as we know it to be at the time of its publication. The previous sentence may be straightforward to read, but very complex to execute. First, given the nature of conducting criminal investigations, it is not uncommon for us to necessarily withhold information that might interfere with the ongoing investigation, or jeopardize a successful prosecution. Second, most of the cases we’re involved in include multiple people, whether it is a victim, offender, witness, investigating officers, etc. Everyone has and deserves some level of privacy and protection against retribution or other unintended consequences. Third, in reporting out on dynamic situations, we typically find that what we know hours after an incident is completely different than what we knew both DURING the incident and days after the incident….meaning, information we may release at one point in time may not prove to be fully accurate later. This creates a balance beam; do we risk putting out what might prove to be inaccurate information to feed the public’s need and desire to know, or do we wait until we know with greater certainty?

Another challenge of being transparent is that pushing a high volume of information out means that some of it is going to be published without context or under a misinterpretation. This is why some police agencies are much more restrictive in what information they release; if they can’t ensure proper context, they’re going to withhold the details. As a result, when the NNPD releases details about almost all activity and incidents and it is broadly reported by the media, and other communities may follow a more moderate level of release, it can make our community believe that we experience a disproportionate level of activity. This doesn’t mean that we don’t consider the level of crime in some of our neighborhoods as excessive; we have a lot of work to do in getting some of our neighborhoods more engaged with us to lower crime and raise quality of life. But I believe our very open policy about releasing information on incidents may sometimes decrease resident perceptions of safety, and that is an unfortunate and unintended consequence of transparency.

In the final analysis, statistics and press releases are meaningless if you are a victim of a crime. On the other hand, the percentage of residents and visitors to our community who become victims is low. Trust me, when the doctor says “well, you’re the FIRST patient I’ve ever had that THIS has happened!” it doesn’t make you feel one bit better about the situation, or say, “well, I’m so privileged to be the first of your patients that has suffered this extra malady, how lucky for me!” This is why, when traditional media reporters ask me about murder rates from year-to-year, I ask them, “what level of murder IS acceptable to you? How many lives lost to violence is ‘ok’ compared to ‘not ok’?” My belief is: none. Zero. We should not be complacent over any loss of life to violence.

This blog, our recurring press briefings, our PIO office, and our social media efforts, all reflect our efforts to be increasingly transparent. Transparency is a foundational piece of public trust, and the police cannot carry out our mission without public engagement and to get that requires public trust. We welcome your input on how well we’re striking the balance to keep you aware of “what’s goin’ on”.
Apr 03

Police Funerals

Posted on April 3, 2017 at 2:31 PM by Office of the Chief

One of our police officers died over the weekend as the result of injuries from an off-duty accident a few weeks ago. Officer Kevin Ryder was a 21-year veteran of the Newport News Police, and highly regarded by all who knew him. All of us at NNPD extend our deepest sympathies to his family.

Sometimes people wonder why police officers mourn so publicly when one of our own passes, why police funerals are significant, and why do we include several traditions and symbols in our memorializations. Unless you’ve ever spent significant time with police officers, worked countless midnight shifts where you’re only support comes from your shift partners, learned to rely on your co-workers to have your back at all times, and experienced harrowing events within a close-knit team, you will probably not be able to fully comprehend the bond that develops between officers. Policing is one of the few professions where life and death matters are a daily part of the job, and even fewer professions where OUR lives are sometimes the ones on the line. All of this contributes to a significant sense of loss when one of our own passes, whether an active employee or even a retiree.

There is a distinction between a Line of Duty Death (LODD) and an off-duty or natural death. LODD’s are almost always followed by a large and public police funeral, complete with pipes and drums, a long police car procession and hundreds if not thousands of attendees. But even when the job was not the proximate cause of the death, we still see many officers from within and outside the agency attend, to show respect for the departed as well as to show sympathy and support for the men and women of the agency who struggle with the loss. These gatherings of the bravest and dedicated public servants are very cathartic; they demonstrate that despite the national narrative against police in general, people really do care and acknowledge the stress and risks faced by officers every day.

Last week, I participated in the retirement ceremony of a 34-year veteran of our agency who is leaving us for his next chapter. There were a lot of laughs, stories, and an acknowledgement of the contributions that all police officers make to their community. In a way, the funeral of an active officer, even one that isn’t a LOD death, is another way to celebrate their career along with their life. I’d much rather attend a retirement ceremony than a funeral to celebrate a career in policing, but we don’t always get the chance to have our life plans play out as we envision them.

Over my 40 year career in policing, I’ve lost count of how many police funerals I’ve attended, but I know it is way too many, and I find that with each passing year, I struggle more to get through them. Perhaps it is because I’ve had the chance to raise children into adulthood and become a grandparent, and I ache for those whose lives are cut short prematurely. Trooper Chad Dermeyer’s funeral one year ago impacted me significantly, even though I had never met him, as I thought about his beautiful young family left without a husband and father. As a chief, I’ve also lost some officers over the years for natural or accidental causes off duty, and seen the impact on the other members of the police family. I truly believe and refer to agency members as a family; we often spend more time with each other than with our own families, we experience many life events together, we have our dysfunctional moments and members, but during tough times, we come together like real families do.

Along with the humbling honor and responsibilities of serving as chief of a police agency is the paternal role of stewardship of employees. Because we hire mature and responsible adults, train them extensively, and empower them with extensive authority, it would be inappropriate to approach leadership with the parent/child relationship in mind. Nevertheless, I find myself thinking about the burdens of our NNPD family; whether it be those with serious illness, those facing major life dilemmas, those contemplating major career or life transitions, those who may be facing significant discipline, and I must never forget the impact that organizational-driven actions like policy changes and work environment can have on all members. This is why today, as we all are shocked by the unexpected loss of a co-worker, I am deeply saddened not only for his family and friends, but for all of his colleagues here at NNPD.

From past experiences, I know there are some folks who resent police funerals and interpret them as reflecting some inflated sense of self-importance or unworthy for some other reason. I won’t seek to reverse your opinion here, I simply hope that you’ll better try to understand why we do what we do, and ask that you join us in honoring Officer Kevin Ryder and his family with your respect and thanks, just as we will collectively do at his funeral service.
Mar 27

What is CALEA and why is it important?

Posted on March 27, 2017 at 3:58 PM by Office of the Chief

I just returned from the Spring meeting of CALEA: the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. I’ve had the honor of serving as one of the 21 volunteer Commissioners since 2009, and at the end of this year I will be “term limited” and retire from the Commission.

CALEA was formed in 1979 by the founding organizations including the International Association of Chiefs of Police, The Police Executive Research Forum, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, and the National Sheriffs Association. It was started with the recognition of an absence of national standards within the policing industry, and that to build the public’s trust and partnership required a credentialing process that upheld best practices. Think of it this way: you wouldn’t think of getting a medical procedure at a hospital that wasn’t accredited, you probably wouldn’t want your hard earned money going to tuition for a college or university that wasn’t accredited….why wouldn’t you expect the same of your police department?

From its humble beginnings, CALEA has evolved over the years to the point that even though just under 1000 of the more than 18,000 police agencies in the US are accredited, they represent almost 25% of the sworn officers working the streets of our country. Additionally, police agencies in Canada, Mexico, and Barbados have carried the CALEA accreditation seal. The process is rigorous; after a lengthy process of “self-assessment” during which agencies must ensure a strong infrastructure of policies and procedures coupled with training and accountability, a candidate agency undergoes an extensive on-site assessment by CALEA assessors sent from states other than the agency’s. After an exhaustive review of the proofs of compliance with every standard, the on-site team files an official report with CALEA; the report is then sent to a team of reviewing Commissioners, and on the Saturday morning of every CALEA meeting (3 times/year), the review committee holds a hearing on the assessment, and votes to advance the recommendation on to the full Commission. Finally, accreditation awards are presented at the Saturday night banquet after action by the full Commission.

To maintain accredited status, every three years an on-site team arrives and conducts another thorough review. It is necessary that each accredited agency maintain its efforts of standards compliance; those who let it all sit for 2.5 years before starting to prepare rarely get through the renewal process without significant issues or conditions imposed. Every year, there are time-sensitive reports and analysis required by the standards. Starting in 2016, the cycle has shifted to a 4-year period between on-site visits, but a new added dimension is an annual review by CALEA staff using electronic means to access the hundreds of standards files maintained by each agency, to ensure that ongoing work is being accomplished as required.

There are many benefits of accreditation, some more tangible than others. Quality applicants tend to look for indicators like accreditation status, so it is a useful recruiting tool. More practically, accredited agencies tend to get sued less; under the Federal Codes through which many police lawsuits emerge, plaintiffs must show a “pattern and practice” of doing things wrong. Accreditation is a ready example of a pattern and practice of doing things right, AND doing the right things.

The Hampton Roads area is well represented in the CALEA family: Chesapeake, Hampton, Norfolk, Suffolk, Virginia Beach, and Williamsburg, as well as the Virginia State Police are all CALEA accredited.

Newport News was one of the earliest agencies to embrace the concept of accreditation, having first become accredited in 1986. Newport News is also one of only 15 agencies to achieve what is known by CALEA as the Tri Arc award, meaning that NNPD holds three CALEA accreditations: the Police Department, the Public Safety Communications Center, and the Public Safety Training Academy.

Newport News PD is my third consecutive accredited agency, and its long time relationship with CALEA held great importance to me in seeking appointment as chief here. Walking into a CALEA accredited agency means that it has a proven record of complying with internationally established best practices, but more importantly, reflects a culture that is willing to explore new ideas and engage in constant self-improvement and assessment. Newport News residents can take pride in knowing that NNPD’s multiple accreditations reflects CALEA’s motto of being the “Gold Standard” within the policing industry.