Roundtable: LE companies talk police problems, how they help solve them
Three executives from private-sector police enterprises weighed in on the challenges facing law enforcement today
Pulse of Policing 2015: The State of Law Enforcement is an ongoing research venture aimed at examining the current state of policing in America from the individual, organizational, and industrial perspectives. Below is an article in a series of columns which will address how the private industry is tackling the challenges police departments are currently facing. Learn more about Pulse of Policing
Three executives from private-sector police enterprises weighed in on the challenges facing law enforcement today and how companies that provide products and services to police can help in these difficult times.
Our panel of industry leaders includes: Bill Blauer, Principal of uniforms and PPE supplier Blauer Manufacturing Co., Stephen Armellino, president of body armor manufacturer U.S. Armor Corporation, and Steve Tuttle, Vice President of Strategic Communications for TASER International.
We asked each industry leader three questions. Take a look and add your own thoughts in the comments section.
1. From your unique vantage point, what have you observed about policing today as opposed to several years ago (before the reemergence of anti-cop sentiment we’d last seen back in the 1970s, for example)? How is today different?
Armellino: The resistance of the ‘70s was generated by a relatively small segment of society who shared a common ideology that really had no discernable effect on policing practices because the majority of society backed the police and supported their efforts.
Today’s negative sentiment comes from several groups spread across a much broader spectrum, each with their own separate agenda. There are the ideologically driven, there are those who want more government subsidy and less personal responsibility, and there are those who want to disable the police to advance their own criminal activities, to name a few. But by far the most dangerous is the large group subscribing to the mob mentality who are being misled by slanted and sometimes outright erroneous, sensationalist media reporting.
We now have several high-profile, adjudicated and justified police shootings where the police have been exonerated by multiple investigations and autopsies, yet thousands of people still rally around them wanting their vision of “justice.”
The “Ferguson Effect,” where police are deliberately standing down from enforcement activities for fear of becoming the next officer unfairly vilified by the press is clearly the most dangerous result of the current anti-police sentiment, both to the public and to the police themselves. Bad for the public because you now have police that are afraid to do their jobs and bad for the police because hesitation to act will clearly result in severe officer safety issues. Sadly, while we see this effect spreading rapidly, we can certainly understand it. You have an officer in Ferguson who was completely cleared, yet his career and his life as he knew it is completely destroyed now. He’s not the first, and he certainly will not be the last in this unfair and unfortunate position. All of this has had a terribly demoralizing effect on police.
The vast majority of the public does support the police and their efforts and are actually gaining a better understanding of the issues police face today, but this “silent majority” has not yet been motivated enough to be as visible and vocal as the opposition. Hopefully this will change going forward, but the tide will not turn until it does.
Tuttle: We’ve seen technology not only leap frog law enforcement, but we’ve seen it used against law enforcement. If you think of all of the advances in consumer products, nothing has changed our lifestyles more than disruptive technology. We’ve gone from big desktops to laptops, landlines to cell phones, paper maps to GPS.
But how often have we seen disruptive technology truly change law enforcement paradigms? When we released the TASER, law enforcement called it the biggest game changer since walkie-talkies. That’s a great honor, but shouldn’t there have been several more breakthrough technologies for law enforcement over the past few decades? Most officers will tell you that they have more advanced equipment at home than at work. How is this possible when it used to be the industry that employed the latest technologies?
As law enforcement continues to play catch-up with the consumer market, technology has also become a tool used against police. Cell phones capture police activities out of context while social media enables the footage to be uploaded before handcuffs are even placed on a suspect, and this microscope on every police action is clearly taking its toll. We have to do things differently or we meet the definition of insanity. We’re just now seeing law enforcement embracing technology, but they are years behind and the economic downturn in the past decade clearly did not help.
Blauer: Here on the East Coast, agencies are trying to be more active in the community. Community policing is the dominant theme. The “us vs. them” mentality is all but gone from the administration and while the pendulum has temporarily swung against police, it is purely media driven and is not the consensus of the American people. After crying wolf so often and misjudging events so badly, the people are less trustful of the media than ever before. In the meantime, incidents like the Paris attacks remind people that there is a thin line between civil society and chaos. Fortunately, agencies here have not been swayed by the negative press and most are staying the course. In Boston, the amount of tips and civilian participation in the local community crime watch is increasing; they know the cops are the good guys.
In terms of police tactics and strategies, most chiefs know their officers need better and more training to deal with a new set of challenges coming from “grays” (formerly known as lone wolves) and individuals with mental health issues. They are a very small minority, but are capable of doing great harm to innocent people.
Law enforcement will continue to add technology in the form of cameras or other devices to support their officers in the field. They will also invest in technology to protect individual officers as needs arrive. Preventing police injuries and fatalities has not yet become the standard by which local chiefs are measured, but there is more talk about it every year.
2. What drives your passion to help police through things like foundations and award programs that help cops know they’re truly appreciated?
Blauer: Blauer stands with many other industry leaders in trying to give back to the police community. The most obvious way we do so is by pushing innovation and delivering leading edge solutions that protect officers every day. Less obvious is our commitment to local and state law enforcement charities and foundations. We have worked with the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) from the beginning, attend Police Week, and work with the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Foundation and their initiative to provide educational scholarships and other benefits to the families of slain officers. On a local level, we work with our dealers on dozens of police-based fundraisers and memorials. Finally, we have published dozens of blogs on everyday issues police officers face in their lives, from thoughts of suicide to preventive policing and our digital future. Almost every week we are sharing our concerns and thoughts with the community.
Armellino: Our passion comes from a genuine concern for law enforcement safety dating back to my father’s founding of American Body Armor in the late 1960’s.
While there are a large number of charitable groups dedicated to supporting law enforcement groups and activities, U.S. Armor has a long-standing policy of assisting those charitable organizations and foundations that have some type of educational component to their efforts, such as training projects or college scholarship programs. While we cannot support all of them, we try to concentrate our efforts into those groups with the broadest scope of membership so that we can do the most good.
We also participate in the IACP/DuPont Survivor’s Club, an exclusive group of law enforcement officers whose lives were saved by wearing body armor during critical incidents.
Tuttle: We built TASER from the ground up with customer service at the forefront. We found out that law enforcement wasn’t used to being treated in a first class manner. Our efforts really resonated with them and believe me, law enforcement isn’t exactly the most trusting crowd. Earning their respect and trust takes years, but once you earn it, you simply don’t want to lose it. You get a special connection where the client no longer is just a client, but a friend. Police officers live by clues and they know when what you’re doing is from the heart. That led, among other special donations to officers and agencies, to our TASER Foundation for Fallen Officers, which is now being administered by the IACP. We’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to give back when those in law enforcement make the ultimate sacrifice.
3. What more can companies in this space do to help law enforcement in these difficult times?
Armellino: Companies in the law enforcement equipment industry could get involved more in joint ventures with their law enforcement partners in efforts to educate the general public and the press by having equipment manufacturers participate in law enforcement open houses, National Night Out, and similar activities where the equipment could be shown and their uses explained and demonstrated.
While these technologies are commonplace to us, we have seen great interest in our products from civilians when they have an opportunity to see them. We have seen an even greater interest by media personnel because while they report on the use of police equipment, they have very little knowledge or actual exposure to the products or their applications and are truly fascinated by them. Seeing it, touching it and understanding it would go a long way towards more fair and accurate reporting.
A training day/press conference event with tactical teams and equipment manufacturers could also be very popular with the media – this is the sexy stuff! And the timing couldn’t be better than now – most of the public opinion against police having military-style equipment flew right out the window after the San Bernardino terrorist attacks. The public was genuinely glad the police had that equipment; they saw how it was used and why it was needed.
Blauer: It is our duty to help spread the word about the great work that police officers do to preserve the civil society. We do this through our partnerships with great organizations like Major Cities Chiefs and IACP, as well as though social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We post positive stories about policing and everyday heroes when we come across them. There is so much negative media bias towards police that anything companies both inside and outside our industry can do to change minds is helpful.
We also believe that organizations like Wounded Warriors will eventually be formed on behalf of police officers and their families. We will of course join with such an effort to support law enforcement.
Tuttle: They can donate to agencies in times of need. We’ve donated when there have been tornadoes, hurricanes, death, loss of a K-9, but it has to be from the heart. Our employees step up. It’s not about making the sale but often about connecting and just helping out when there is a time of need. And it’s not just financial; it could be donation of time, talent and effort. My challenge to other companies is to be creative. Also, I truly believe you have to support law enforcement by telling their stories. It boils down to this: These are our guardians – they run to danger, not from it.