Podcast: A Citizen-Centered Approach to Police Reform

gothamCulture Podcast

In this episode, Chris Cancialosi talks with customer experience expert and CEO of TribeCX, David Hicks, and law enforcement officer and mindset and wellness expert, Joe Smarro about taking a citizen-centric approach to police reform.

Released: June 24, 2020

Show notes and transcript:

A Citizen-Centered Approach to Police Reform – gothamCulture Podcast Transcript

Chris Cancialosi:

Welcome to the Gotham Culture podcast, where we talk about any issue you like, so long as those topics are organization of culture, leadership, or people strategy. Each week, we talk with industry leaders and discuss cultural opportunities and challenges in the workplace, providing you with actionable tips and strategies that you can implement in your organizations. My name is Chris Cancialosi, and this is the Gotham Culture podcast.

Nationwide, calls for police reform have reached a fever pitch. Systematic racism, the excessive use of force and power by select law enforcement officers over the decades, the militarization of police have created a culture within law enforcement that really is misaligned with the diverse needs of the citizens that they’ve sworn to serve and protect. According to MappingPoliceViolence.org, more than 1,000 people a year are killed by police in the United States. In 2019 alone, 1,098 people were killed, 24% of them being African American, despite African Americans only making up 13% of the United States population. That’s nearly 1,100 people killed by police in the US, compared to other nations like Germany, the UK and Australia, for example, that have police-related killings in the single digits annually. So, something is obviously going on here, and it needs to be examined.

As law enforcement agencies begin to rethink the way they approach their work in order to ensure law enforcement is able to serve and protect in equitable ways, they’re going to be forced to examine the culture of policing in this country to its very core. How did law enforcement’s identity in our society form and evolve over time? What beliefs and assumptions do law enforcement officers and the agencies they serve believe to be true? And how do those beliefs and assumptions stack up against the current realities and the needs of their communities?

This is going to be a difficult process for many to engage in, as it fundamentally asks people to question their own personal and professional identities. One of today’s guests, Joe Smarro, discussed during one of his own recent livestream discussions with several police officers of color. He said, “The system is not broken. In fact, it never worked to begin with.” And his point was that the system was created by white men as a system of aggression. This is a pretty deep thought that challenges us all to take a hard look at the systems that we’ve created or perpetuated only because they make us feel comfortable. We’ll have a link to that discussion in the show notes, and I encourage you to take some time to check it out.

And it’s not just law enforcement organizations that are asking themselves these questions. I recently read an article by Dustin Riker in Northwest Sidebar about the need for law firms to do the same. It’s heartening to see organizations across the spectrum taking time to stop, to learn, to reflect, and to commit to changing for the collective good. We’ll also include a link to that article in the show notes, as well.

My guests today join me in a discussion about how law enforcement agencies might take a very different approach to evolving their cultures by building their reform in a citizen-centric way. Joining me today are two respected colleagues, David Hicks and Joe Smarro. David Hicks is CEO of TribeCX, a customer experience advisory firm that works with organizations globally. Amongst his expansive clientele, David has partnered with police agencies to redesign the way in which they approach their work in order to have more positive impact on the experience of their constituents, those being the citizens that they are sworn to serve and protect.

Joe Smarro is a police officer, and CEO of the wellness firm, SolutionPoint+. He’s also one of the police officers who was featured in the HBO documentary, Ernie and Joe: Crisis Cops, which tells the story of the way in which San Antonio Police Department evolved its approach to responding to mental health-related calls, and the impact on those individuals and the community as a whole. I highly encourage you to check out this movie if you have not seen it. It really illustrates different ways of approaching police work. We’ll also include that link in the show notes for you, as well.

I’m thrilled to have David and Joe with me today to share their experiences and perspectives on this important topic. Gentlemen, welcome.

Joe Smarro:

Thanks, Chris. I appreciate you having us.

David Hicks:

It’s a pleasure to be here. Thanks for the invite.

Chris Cancialosi:

To start off, I’d like to start with you, Joe. As somebody who’s worked in law enforcement for many years, and you’ve worked also with other law enforcement agencies as a trainer around some of the lessons and best practices that you and your colleagues at San Antonio PD have developed in the mental health unit, this was really a seismic shift in the way that law enforcement officers interacted with the portion of the community that was suffering from mental illness, and it had a lot of really positive effects. Tell us a little bit about it, Joe.

Joe Smarro:

Yeah, thanks, Chris. Our mental health unit started in 2008, but what people really don’t realize is that what we refer to as CIT, crisis intervention training, it started in 1987. There was an incident in Memphis, Tennessee, where a black individual was killed by police, and there was outrage in the community, and as a result of that, they came together, they partnered with NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and the University of Tennessee in Memphis, and they created what is now known as the 40-hour CIT model, and it’s called the Memphis model. So, this has been around for a long time.

In San Antonio, they started this practice in 2002, they started the 40-hour training. Our full-time mental health unit started in 2008 as a pilot project, just to see, is there a need? Can we justify allocating manpower to this type of unit? And it was just two officers, and over six months, they collected so much data that it was like, okay, we have to actually make this a unit. That’s when I came on. It was in 2009.

So, I’ve been serving on the mental health unit full-time for about 11 years, and it absolutely goes against what most would expect when you think of a policing or law enforcement unit, because we wear plain clothes, we drive unmarked vehicles, our weapons are concealed, and we show up, and everything about our approach is different, right? For starters, we introduce ourselves by our names, not Officer Smarro. It’s just, “Hey, my name is Joe, and this is my partner. We’re here to help you out. We’re here to check on you.”

But because we are so saturated in this environment, because every call, 100% of the calls we respond to are people suffering from mental health crises, we know what we’re going into. Patrol officers, it’s such a wide variety of calls that they’re going to get, so it’s very, very difficult for them to have to put in the right mindset, if you will, for every call. And some are really, really intense. Some are low drag. And so, they have to be able to fluctuate. We know, every call we go into … Now, granted, they’re all different on some level, but we know, hey, we’re dealing with someone who here is a consumer, and they’re having a mental health crisis, and so it’s much easier for from that stance.

Chris Cancialosi:

Got it. And what’s the, in terms of the approach, because this is really the way in which you and your team interact with your customers, your citizens, those suffering from mental health crises, and you talked about plain clothes. Talk about the process, interns of how it differs, just in terms of the engagement, interaction dynamic.

Joe Smarro:

Yeah, so, for a long time now, I’ve been saying that one of the big differences between us, and again, nothing is one, right? So, I’m not saying 100% of anything, but a majority of patrol officers, their priority oftentimes is time, and when there’s calls holding in the queue, they’re trying to wrap up what they’re doing and get to the next one. For us, we truly, as cliché as it is, the most important call that we’re on is the one that we’re on, and we’ll take as long as it needs until we find a resolution that we’re all happy with.

But beyond that, we focus on the person, not the problem. Just understanding human behavior, understanding psychology, understanding what people are doing when they’re in a crisis. Even if they have a serious mental illness, they’re still human beings, and they’re essentially communicating something. And most often, it’s like, there’s something wrong, there’s something off. I need something, whether it’s attention, whether it’s love, whether it’s housing, whether it’s food, whether it’s medications, I need something.

And so, if we only focus on the behaviors of the individual, if we’re only looking at the surface … And that’s what I teach these officers. I say, your eyes deceive you. Don’t ever react based on what you’re seeing. Pause, take a step back, and think. What is actually happening underneath this? Why is this behavior being presented? And it’s in that curiosity I feel like where, that’s what we teach, is learn to be curious. Yes, this person is over here acting very, very symptomatic to their mental illness because they’re off their medications.

Where some officers, if they’re not educated or comfortable, they’re going to overreact oftentimes, or this is where we quickly see people resorting to a use of force, is because cops are very comfortable handling things through using the use of force continuum, right? We have this old way of policing called ATM, and it was ask, tell, make. I’m going to ask you do something, I’m going to tell you to do it, and then I’m going to make you do it. And it’s very quick. You get two chances, a third one, I’m going to force it on you.

We have to learn to slow down. Patience is one of our best friends. It’s one of the best tools that we rely on. And so, earning how to take a step back and just observe. As long as someone is not being physically hurt or injured, we can pause. We can take a step back and pause, and just observe what’s happening, and then ask ourself, I wonder what actually is going on here? This is a person in crisis.

And then I tell them, hey, learn to have some empathy. Imagine that that was you. Imagine that at 25 or 30 or whatever, that you were dealt this deck of cards, and it was like, you know what? You’re going to have schizoaffective disorder. You’re going to have major depression, or bipolar. How would you deal with that? And so, how would you want to be treated?

We talk about this all the time, but people get so lost or confused, and again, especially with officers, because if you think about everything going on right now, there’s this huge debate about police should not be responding to people in a mental health crisis. And I can understand, from a cerebral point of view, I can get that, because I do believe that if you are a person with a mental illness, you shouldn’t have to interact with the police just because you’re symptomatic.

But what’s the alternative? There isn’t adequate social services. There’s not adequate resources in the community, and because people aren’t trained in mental health, because it’s not a mandatory course, oftentimes people overreact when they see someone who’s simply symptomatic, and they end up calling the police. And then the police show up, and if we’re not trained to deal with it, it’s like, of course this is going to go wrong. Of course this is going to be handled pretty poorly, because I don’t know what it is I’m dealing with. But here’s what I do know how to do: force my presence on people, be overly authoritative, and then put handcuffs on people and figure out what to do with them after the fact. And so, sadly we get there very quickly, sometimes.

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah. Thank you for that background and that context, Joe. It’s really enlightening. I’ve got a million questions.

Now, David, you’ve got a very different background, as the CEO of TribeCX, working in the CX field, the customer experience field. But you have worked with various law enforcement organizations over the years. Talk to us a little bit about your background, and how your work has evolved within law enforcement agencies.

David Hicks:

Glad to, and I want to pick up from what Joe said, and so, what’s the alternative? If somebody’s got mental health issues, what else could you do? Well, let me take you back a few years. When I started to get involved with this, Tony Blair was responsible for the British government, and they had this interesting mechanism for directing police funding based on some key outcome dials, and how well local constabularies … the UK is split up into not quite state-based institution, and 20 or 30 separate constabularies based on geography.

And the one in Cheshire, where there’s Manchester, so it’s a large number of rural areas, was doing particularly badly in the measures related to stalking and harassment. And a guy from the sort of central police body, the National Police Improvement Authority, saw me speak at a conference, and my area of interest is in helping organizations make change, so as they’re better aligned to their customer and to their stakeholders. Those are large telcos, government institutions, yes, but principally commercial organizations.

But the tools that you use in commercial seemed to be of interest to this guy from the National Police Improvement Authority, that said, we’re putting more and more and more cash into Cheshire to improve their stalking and harassment. The more we do, the more we spend money on that, the worse the actual scores get, the worse the outcome measures are. Can you take a look, and maybe use some of the tools that I’ve been describing at this conference around mapping the end-to-end experience from a customer’s or victim’s point of view?

And I’m happy to dive into that with more detail, Chris, but the reason that Joe’s point stuck in my head was, do you know, there really was a better way of doing it. There’s a whole bunch of folks in the voluntary sector, in the other state institutions like the health professionals. When you stitch together that end-to-end experience with the victim in mind, then you find that the areas where the police service need to be evolved are a lot fewer than they were. They were basically the first call that was made.

And what Cheshire piloted was a different approach, a differently-designed approach, one that had the victim at the center of the whole thing. Good news for police service: they reduced their costs in this area by 70%, seven-zero percent. Massive reduction in cost, and the improvement in the outcome was off the scale, three or four times better in the eyes of the victim.

So, I hope to go into more detail there, but the alternative is, Joe, maybe organizations responsible for the police service and sort of state institutions should do some thoughtful, what’s the best way, from a victim’s point of view, from a person suffering those mental health crises, what’s the best way of actually designing that intervention? Because rarely, when you do it with the customer or the victim at the center, does it cost you more. It ends up costing you less, directly and indirectly, all the downstream issues that those things cause. So, that’s what stuck in my mind from Joe’s point. Police shouldn’t be the first port of call, because there are probably better ways of doing it, if you were to design that.

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah. And from my perspective, as somebody who works in the area of organizational culture, I get why there is the call for reform and change. I also understand why there would be pushback against, that as people who have committed their careers to the beliefs and assumptions that have been there for many decades. There’s a certain way of doing things, and sometimes you start to develop your own professional identity around that, and it’s hard to kind of zoom out and see, and really take a look at what is working, what’s not working, and why.

Joe, from your perspective, I know there seems to be lately, especially in the last few weeks, there are all sorts of announcements coming out from left, right and center in the law enforcement community of police departments making massive changes. It seems from the outside to be reactionary or quick, and that may or may not be the reality of what’s really going on in those organizations. But for example, the NYPD commissioner last week announced the immediate reassignment of 600 plain clothes officers to other assignments, immediately. I’m curious from your perspective, Joe, what are some of the pros and cons of taking on some of those actions so rapidly?

Joe Smarro:

Yeah, I think, I agree with you Chris. I do believe, this is my opinion, that there are a lot of decisions being made based on emotion, based on the desire to please a part of your base, whatever that is, and there’s also a lot of political pressure, and there’s community pressure, and people are getting squeezed from every side. And so, I think that from leadership, they’re doing whatever they can to survive right now, because in essence this, as a profession, it feels so much like we’re drowning. We’re flailing right now, trying to grasp at anything that we can hold on to.

I worry about, as someone who’s been doing mental health for the last 11 years, we know the significant trauma that comes with doing this job as a first responder in this country, and we know the toll that it’s taken on the officers’ mental health. In the last year, we had 228 completed suicides, and I fear that we’re going to have a catastrophic, hockey stick-type of an increase, off the charts, of officers struggling. Whether they’re quitting out of emotion, and then they’re just negatively impacting their lives and their livelihood, or they’re trying to stay the course and fight the fight, to no avail if they’re not emotionally resilient or if they haven’t been taught self-care courses, or whatever it is, and they don’t have supportive policies in place from their department, and there’s nowhere to turn to.

I can tell you, as a first responder, our agency hasn’t done anything drastic yet. It’s like status quo. Everything is just happening. And what’s even more compounding to this is, it’s right on the heels of COVID, right? So, we were already dealing with this pandemic and the quarantines and all this stuff, but now, since the killing of George Floyd, it’s like this is a whole different thing that we’re dealing with. And so, when you talk about automatically saying we’re going to move 600 people, those 600 people are like, whoa! How come … it feels like a punishment. I had my job, I had my duties, my responsibilities, and now suddenly I’m just going to get moved over here just because of something that happened somewhere else.

And one of the frustrations internally, there’s no … I really am not trying to be insensitive about any of this, but we are all aware in this country of what happened in Minneapolis. Many are aware of what has happened over this profession in law enforcement. But when you make changes nationwide based on a singular incident, or even a trend of incidents, which we can then say have happened over the course of time … Again, there’s data for all of this stuff, but you could say, let’s look at the last 25 killings, whatever, and changes are being made just sporadically throughout, or universally across the board. It doesn’t always make sense.

And again, as the end user, as the officer who’s being told, we’re just foot soldiers, right? So it’s like, hey, you’re going to do this now. Yes, sir. I don’t understand it. I don’t know why I’m doing this. It’s not being communicated, but I know that I have to just say yes and do whatever I’m told. And so, all this ebb and flow, the wishy-wash and the go do this now, no, no, we’re going to do this now, it’s clear that there’s just a lot of attempted effort to please the constituents and keep the community at bay and keep them happy, but at what cost, is my fear.

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah, thanks for that perspective, Joe. And David, for your perspective on this question, I’m curious from you, what are the costs of not including all of the stakeholders in this process, so that we really understand what’s going to be most positively impactful for the citizen, in this case, or the customer?

David Hicks:

Well, I’m not qualified to comment as Joe was from a policing point of view, but I was listening to him and nodding, because it reminded me of the major changes that commercial organizations are facing, of necessity. And these are organizations where people have put their whole life into careers, and there’s a degree of positional power, and the onset of digital, onset of different competition sets and so on, meaning the very fabric of their organization, the very fabric of their lives are being ripped apart. And they have no control over that, and people feel pretty bad about it. What folks will do is what they believe is a good job.

It reminds me, do you know, of a situation. There was a guy, I think his name was Dr. Dao, a Korean dentist who got on a plane to O’Hare, a United plane, to fly south. Last plane of the evening to this particular airport, and three pilots needed to get there for the next day. So, the United Airlines crew said, “Anybody want to get off?” Nobody did. They said, “Well, we need to take the last folks on the plane off,” and the three folks were a family, it was a guy and his two daughters, and they refused to. So, they went and got staff from off the plane, and they dragged this poor guy off. They dragged him out physically. They knocked his teeth out, apparently. Everybody was filming this, and it wiped a massive amount of value off the value of United Airlines.

I was fortunate enough to talk to the folks, the leadership of United Airlines. I said, “What did you end up doing with those folks?” And they said, “Well, we kept them off, because we couldn’t in all honesty do anything about that,” because they were doing what they thought was a good job. The good job is, you’ve got to be able to get pilots in the right part of the world. It’s a very different context, Joe, to your point, but folks will do what they believe is a good job, and in the absence of clear understanding as to what’s important and why, they’ll do what they sincerely believe is the right thing, even though that’s often at the cost of the other stakeholders: the passengers, and in this case, the shareholders. In complete innocence, they’re doing what they believe to be the right thing.

So, it strikes me that there’s some real things to be learned here, because the scale and pace and extent of change that folks face in not just the police service, but in many walks of life, there are some practical things that are proven to work, in terms of giving folks support, being clear around that purpose and intent. All the good stuff I was seeing Joe talk about in his shows, that helps folks to actually understand, to recalibrate, and to make the right sorts of choices when they’re executing their roles, whether it’s a police officer’s role, or any role that’s facing folks.

We’re crazy, frankly, not to be leveraging those sorts of proven approaches, because the casualties are the folks getting the rough end of it, but also, you’ve got to really, obviously, wonder about the police officers. I mean, you were quite earlier on, Joe, about the 220 folks that took their lives because all their career and belief systems are being eroded. They don’t know which way is up because of the changes that they’re facing. That’s what happens. I can give you some corporate examples.

A great example, a tragic example, in the French telco sector, they massively changed the way that telco was working, and people threw themselves out the bloody windows. I mean, can you imagine that? That was happening because their whole set of priorities and beliefs were being challenged by the commercial realities of that company. So, you do this role, and there are casualties at every level, every layer in the organization.

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely. Yeah. It kind of goes back to this concept, the word that keeps ringing in my ears as I’m listening to you both, I mean, it’s about learning. We have to be comfortable enough to be uncomfortable and say that maybe, just because we’ve done things for a long time a certain way, maybe that’s not necessarily the best way to do it, but that’s not necessarily an indictment that you are a bad person, but there may be a different and better and more equitable way to do it, and accomplish the results that you want in that career to accomplish to begin with.

We’re going to take a quick break. When we come back, we’re going to talk about what this might look like, really, from both of your expert perspectives. If we were to truly look at law enforcement reform through the lens of the citizen or customer, how might that change things in a way that are sustainable and positive and equitable? So, when we come back, we’ll continue our discussion with Joe Smarro and David Hicks. Be right back.

Chris Cancialosi:

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Chris Cancialosi:

Okay, welcome back to the show, everybody. I’m joined today by Joe Smarro, CEO of SolutionPoint+, and Mr. David Hicks, CEO of TribeCX. Let’s continue on with our conversation. David, I’d like to start with you on this one. Really, from your perspective, in order to take a truly citizen-centered approach to re-imagining policing in our country, what will need to happen? And I’m curious because I’d love to learn more about your example you were talking about earlier in Cheshire.

David Hicks:

Right. I think the answer to the first question is, you do this one piece at a time. I’m not sure if throwing everything in the air works in any context, whether it’s commercial or police. But you do this one set of problems at a time. And I mentioned the National Police Improvement Authority doing a pilot in Cheshire around stalking and harassment, and what we did, Chris, was we basically got the various stakeholders involved. There was the local health service, the volunteers, victims, of course, and we basically mapped out everything, from before I’m even a victim and I learn about these sorts of issues, through to I’ve had an incident, I’m reporting it, and I’m an ex-victim. All of the possible stages, and all of the possible sort of points where I touch institutions.

In commercial terms, you call that a customer journey map. We called it a victim journey map. Two great female colleagues actually run this project, and what emerged was a map, for the first time, from the victim’s point of view, of all the possible touch points. And that was invaluable, frankly, not just from the police service point of view, but from the point of view of all of the stakeholders involved there.

And then, you started to ask the victims, “Okay, where were the really touches that were really, really important to you as a victim?” And they had a chance to vote. And then we said, “Where, in your view, were things broken? Where did they actually cause you hurt, cause you discomfort and pain?” And what you’re able to do was to look at those really critical touch points, and the ones that were broken. And the ones that were both critical and broken, they needed to be redesigned first.

So, we did some very basic things around who’s best to deliver that, what is it that’s important, in terms of the needs of the victim at that point, and just redesigned, reallocated the really critical points first, and tried it. We actually tried to change the delivery of that service in Cheshire.

We piloted it and tested it, piloted it and tested it, and over about four or five months, what emerged was a redesigned, re-imagined end-to-end experience that really had, not because anybody was trying to minimize the amount of police involvement, but police weren’t helpful from a victim’s point of view, to be involved very much. What was more important was to have the victim, support groups and other volunteers and professionals involved.

So, when this was running after five months, we baked it into a process that was actually scalable. We did it for the rest of the Cheshire constabulary, and took it back to the national body for police officers in the UK, the Association of Chief Police Officers, it’s called, and that’s where we shared it. We described it. The home office, this is the central governmental body, endorsed it as a proven practice.

So, that was very pleasing, but what was also interesting was, we always, six months after, we can go back and ask how it’s working. And we sat down with some of the victims that had been involved, the two folks who did the delivery. Said, “How do you feel?” “I still feel the victim.” And that wasn’t expected. So, somebody asked the really dumb but incredibly smart question, said, “What would it take to make you not feel the victim anymore?” And the women, it was all women, they said, “I want to stop this happening. I want to get in front of the game. I actually want to stop these guys doing this to other people. So, we need to build something, create something at the front of this whole process that gets people like me out to school, social clubs, and so on, so I can actually educate women not to become victims.”

Now, when we did that, we’re about six months later, boom, that was when something magical was happening. Those folks didn’t feel like victims, plus they’re actually just reducing the whole number of women that got involved, in terms of stalking and harassment, as victims. So, it was … it still chokes me up to even describe this, but it was a fantastically powerful, very cost-effective, from an economics point of view, but the service that was delivered to the victims was significantly better than what was there, and all of the stakeholders felt better about it, more specifically, the really critical ones. The victims, they actually took control, and they felt great, or I guess as best as you can as a victim, that they were actually taking charge, taking control of this, and preventing young women getting involved and becoming victims in their own right. Those tools enabled all of that to happen.

Chris Cancialosi:

Thanks for sharing that, David. What a fascinating story. In terms of just an outsider looking in on that story, it is interesting because you don’t often hear about any organization, law enforcement or otherwise, bringing in all of the stakeholders, including the customer or victim in this case, to have a discussion about what the issues are and what the best solutions would be. And I would imagine that the relationships that were built between those people that were engaging in dialogue, coming to the table, wanting to do the right thing, and able to learn from each other and have honest conversations with each other, was something really, particularly magical.

David Hicks:

Yep. And also, what’s the worst thing that could happen? It helped because the funding, just to be really cynical for a second, there was some significant funding implications to getting this right, so that helped. The net net was it cost less. Some of the discretionary funding available from central government flowed in the direction of those places that were doing a better job. But yeah, at the end of the day, it’s about the leaders of those institutions just being brave, and what’s the worst thing that could happen, just getting some folks together and humbly listening? And giving folks some of the basic tools to listen, not to be defensive, not to react crazy and sort of fishbowls, as we call it, where you just sit down and listen to everybody before you have a chance to respond.

And you can see people growing and developing, and it was cathartic, frankly, for everybody involved. So, what’s the worst that could happen? People would start shouting at each other? What’s the best thing that could happen, is you can actually end up with something that’s better for everybody, and people grow in the process.

Chris Cancialosi:

And David, what was your experience, or I guess, what was the experience of the officers in that process? How easy or difficult was it for them to shed certain identity, take on different aspects of an identity?

David Hicks:

Yeah, I mean, that’s a great question, and is, they were frustrated, Chris, to be truthful. I mean, they were deploying standard operating procedures that were there in the Cheshire constabulary. They were doing the right thing, and the more they did the right thing, the worse the numbers got, which was perverse. So, they were actually, at the end of this process, it was those folks who were involved, the officers who joined me at the Association of Chief Police Officers, to actually describe how it felt being part of that team in Cheshire.

And they were very different. Sorry, I feel emotional talking about it, but you actually had people in tears, saying, “I actually feel I’m making a difference now, rather than being part of the problem.” So, it was truly transformational for those folks. They wanted to do a good job. I mean, that’s the irony of this, that the procedures are getting in the way of folks doing the right thing.

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah. Thank you for sharing that. Joe, I mean, as a law enforcement officer yourself who has been re-imagining, you’ve been part of the process of re-imagining law enforcement with a mentally ill population of your community. What needed to happen in order for that to be accepted within the culture of the police department? That was a rather, it may not necessarily be a new concept anymore in your organization, but it was for a time. What did it take for people to be open to really reimagine that?

Joe Smarro:

Yeah, it really came down to having an excellent delivery and a really good product. The original, again, the CIT model believes that you should only train about 25% of each agency in the 40-hour crisis intervention. I don’t agree with that philosophy. I believe that if you’re in law enforcement, until there’s a day where you get to pick and choose what calls you respond to, you shouldn’t get to pick and choose how prepared you are to respond. And so, I think everyone needs to have a certain level of training, at least a basic level of training. And so, for me, I think even the 40 hours, while it’s great, I still think it’s quite introductory.

And so, to say that it’s only for voluntary officers that wanted to volunteer to sign up for the training, here’s what we learned when our chief mandated it, and we’re a large department, right? 2,300-plus officers. And the original goal was 10%. I’m going to strategically place officers on certain shifts, at certain substations, and any time there’s a call involving a mentally ill person, we’re going to deploy one of those trained officers. Well, the problem was that as soon as we hit our 10% mark, the calls were still so far beyond our manpower allocation for that call that he finally was like, okay, let’s just do 100%.

Now, as the trainers, we were like, whoa, this is going to be a huge undertaking. But here’s what we learned, and this is why I believe it should be mandated. First, anytime you mandate anything to first responders, law enforcement officers, there’s pushback, right? It’s like, why are you going to make me go do this? If I wanted to do it, I would have done it. Why are you making me do it?

But here’s what we learned, a very, very valuable lesson by mandating this training: the officers that would show up by force to be there, on that first day, Monday morning, they were the most outspoken, like I don’t want to do this, I don’t believe in this type of stuff, this isn’t police work, this is social work, I shouldn’t be doing this, and just mad about it. They let us know. And then, when I started, I had four years on at the time, and so these guys with 20 years on at the time were like, what the hell do you think you’re going to teach me with your four years on? I’ve been doing this for two decades. But I’m like, okay, here’s your seat right over here. Enjoy the class.

And we learned by Friday, because our delivery is good. It’s based on experience, because we’ve really fine-tuned it over the years. The people who were most outspoken on Monday became our biggest advocates on Friday. And just like David was saying, they became our champions, because they were like, mind open, blown. Because of the way we structure our training, we were identified under Obama’s administration as the gold standard in 21st-century policing for having this national standard of CIT.

So, so many people were looking at what we created, and it was really based on collaboration. Again, it was put the end user in mind. On Thursdays of our training, we bring in consumers with lived experiences, and we let them talk to the officers, not on a call during crisis, but in a moment of training to learn. And for them to have that shared experience, it really is for the officer like, whoa. They see them as a human being, not as a problem, and the person with the lived experience sees the officer as a human being, not an authority. And so, just to see those relationships established is a beautiful thing.

And so, yeah, I believe in the mandated training, but also, too, I think there’s this whole thing of CIT isn’t for everybody, or everyone’s not for CIT, but CIT is for everyone. Again, I think it’s something that needs to be mandated very early on. I know that there’s departments making these emotional reactions. I think San Francisco was like, effective immediately, we are no longer responding to non-criminal-type calls. There’s departments that are being stripped from responding to any type of mental health related call, and they’re saying, we’re just going to create some arbitrary city department to handle this. I think we really have to be slow to respond on things like this, and not just think we’re going to put some team together.

And it goes both ways, too. I hear officers, out of frustration, and it’s funny to me, it shows that they care. They complain a lot about these types of calls, right? Because not only are they emotionally taxing, but they can be time-consuming. But hearing that they’re going to be taken away from us, it’s like, what are they going to do, just send clinicians out there to handle these types of calls? Good luck. It’s only a matter of time before they get shot or stabbed. I’m like, why does it immediately have to go there?

And then I ask them, how many mentally ill calls have you handled where you’ve been shot and stabbed? And they kind of looked at me like … And I was like, exactly. Our mind goes to worst case scenario, but I’ve never been killed one time on my job, and I’ve been doing it 11 years. Thousands of interactions, and I’ve yet to die. And so, to just assume we’re going to send clinicians out there and suddenly it’s going to be deadly, I don’t think that that’s a fair jump.

Chris Cancialosi:

As you guys are talking, and it’s really going to take us, again, being courageous enough to sit down and say, hey, none of us have it all figured out. We have to be willing to engage each other in dialogue and not just in throwing memes around and hashtags. There’s a lot of emotion about it, rightfully so, but there are productive ways to handle this.

Joe Smarro:

Let me jump in real quick, Chris, on that. I want to make a point I was going to say earlier when you were talking about learning, and you’re touching on it again right now. I think what’s also important is that we focus on what we are learning, because I believe, it’s much like the public education system in this country. We’re teaching kids how to take a test, to pass standardized tests. We’re not teaching kids how to become adults in this country.

And I believe it’s the same thing in law enforcement. We’re teaching the wrong things. The emphasis is misplaced. We’re prioritizing so much, and if you really peel back the layers on all things within law enforcement, you can Google or YouTube any police agency in this country and look at their recruiting video, and so many times it is this high speed to heavy metal, and it’s showing this minutia to police work that just doesn’t exist. It’ not that it doesn’t exist, but it’s so infrequent. But you’re going to see the helicopter, and people rappelling, and the K-9 unit and the SWAT members, and they’re clearing houses and doing all this stuff that 99% of police officers are not going to do.

And so, we’re attracting people the wrong way, and then we get them into the academy, and right away we start telling them about the dangers, and we’re showing them videos of ambushes and cops being killed while they’re eating at a restaurant, and so we’re instilling paranoia to a certain level in these officers, and they graduate terrified, thinking my goodness, I’m going to get out here on the first day, someone’s going to kill me because I’m in this uniform, and it’s so scary.

But I want to point back to the data and the numbers. 228 officers killed themselves last year. 59 killed in the line of duty. And while that’s terrible, it’s not even close to the amount of harm we’re doing to ourselves. And yet, the emphasis is so much on preparing for the enemy, and I feel like we just really could do a better job of restructuring, I mean, entirely.

And just to David’s point of one thing at a time, I think that that is a great place to start, is let’s take an honest look at our academies. We’re so decentralized. Nothing is standardized. Some places academies are eight weeks. Some are eight months. Some are three month. It’s just, you can make up whatever you want based on your location and your own set of laws. And then, your training curriculum, even that, we’re going to pick and choose what we’re going to train you. And there’s so much of this warfare type training and militarization of policing in this country.

And I tell people, you cannot wear an outer carry vest with nine magazines and tasers and drop holster guns and all this stuff, and show up to someone in crisis, and say, “I’m just here to help. My name is Joe and I want to help you.” They are so terrified by your physical presence that you’re not going to be able to get that interaction or their engagement. And again, it can happen, but it’s not likely.

And so, why not be honest about what are we really doing? What’s the message that we’re communicating to the communities that we’re claiming that we’re here to serve, and how are we training our officers to prepare for this job? And I think that there’s a lot of work to be done there.

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely, and it’s interesting, because having been in the military, I can obviously tell the minute differences when I look at images of certain police and soldiers. But to a layperson, I bet that they would be hard pressed, in many cases, to tell the difference. It’s a really interesting point, just the way you show up, the way you look, it sets a tone. That’s where a lot of this dissatisfaction and anger and frustration and rage that we’re seeing is coming from. It’s disproportionately affecting people. I’ve never had somebody in combat gear knock on my front door. That’s for damn sure.

Joe Smarro:

It’s no different than when we have a jumper. A person, clearly unarmed, wanting to jump off of a bridge or an overpass. And you’ll have 15 cops show up. They’ve got shields, helmets, long guns, screaming commands, and it’s like, what the hell are you actually communicating here? How is this an attempt to help somebody? And we believe, because all we know is showing force, oftentimes. I have such an issue with this, when we’re talking about, whether it’s someone who is suicidal or someone in crisis, and I argue that a vast majority of police calls, people don’t call the police because things are going well in their life, right?

So, there’s always some level of emotional disturbance happening, and so having people trained, having people experts and knowing how to deescalate, and having that be their mindset, not rushing to the scene, adrenaline pump hitting, acting irrational, just so you can show up and start screaming and pointing your gun at people, which is just going to exacerbate the problem. Very rarely does that deescalate someone, when you’re pointing weapons at them and shouting commands at them.

Oftentimes, we’re just not willing to take that honest look at ourselves and say, are we responsible for things going wrong sometimes? The answer is yes. I’ve seen it so many times in my career that we showing up is what escalates the situation, because immediately they want to challenge us, and if you show up in that turtle gear, and you’ve got shields and helmets and armor and all of this, they’re like, the assumption is you’re going to inflict harm or pain on me, and then the animalistic response to that is I’m going to fight back, or I’m going to flee, or do something, which again just creates a bigger problem.

Chris Cancialosi:

Right, and we see that happening daily in the last few weeks, with protests and beyond. So, David, let me ask you. We’ve covered a lot of ground here, and I think the lesson for me is, it’s all about the dialogue, and bringing people to the table, and establishing authentic relationships, so that we can solve the issues that we’re confronted with today. There’s a law enforcement official listening to this program right now, saying, holy cow, yes, I get it. Where the heck do I start? What would be your response to that person?

David Hicks:

I’d probably give them the same answer that I often ask that in commercial context, and I say, start where there’s … maybe an inappropriate analogy. Start where there’s blood on the floor. Start where there are problems, because you can actually help and improve things. Or start where you’ve got a turned-on, tuned-in leader. Or better still, start where you’ve got a turned-on, tuned-in leader, where there’s blood on the floor, because you’ve got all the things pointing in the right direction, and then start. I mean, start with dialogue. I mean, your earlier point, Chris, is around getting people in the room, the stakeholders in the room, humbly listening to each other. That can only do good.

I’d say, for law enforcement, a leader, to take a look at the metrics by which you run your organization. What we’ve been talking about here is, there are rational and emotional components to policing, yeah? There’s a what you do and a how you do it. And you leave that to accident, people gravitate to what they believe is right. You need to deliberately design that. And when folks turn up to jump, you need to deliberately design how you present yourselves, or you’re quite likely to present yourselves in the wrong way.

So, there’s a rational and emotional. There’s a what and a how. And the measures, certainly the RCMP and the British police service, when I was working with those guys, they were saying, these are our metrics. The number of miles our patrol car has traveled every month. The number of arrests we’ve made. The number of firearms that we seized. The amount of drugs we seized. Those are activity metrics. Those are input metrics. Relatively few of them were actually measured on how safe, how policed do I feel as a community?

Now, that’s a much harder thing to actually go after, but candidly, that’s the reason why, as taxpayers, we’re investing in our police force. I want to feel safe and secure. I want my family to feel safe and secure. And that’s an outcome metric that I would imagine is relatively rare, in terms of police administrations worldwide.

So, I would say to that police leader, the worst you can do, you get groups of stakeholders together, the worst you can do is actually reflect on what your success metrics are, and tackle those two pieces. Start there, and that will start to highlight where maybe you should redesign.

And in terms of some of the things that I mentioned, the mapping of the end-to-end experience, what’s our intent? It’s a commercial tool that seemed to do very well when they’re applied to policing. UK, Canada, US, it’s been useful in all of those contexts.

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah. Thank you for that, David. And Joe, we touched on it earlier in the intro. You’ve got a lot of great content out online, and being one of the primary subjects of the HBO documentary, Ernie and Joe: Crisis Cops, really goes into the work of you and your colleagues. I mean, you’ve got a really unique perspective on all of this. From your perspective, same question. I mean, you’re talking to the law enforcement leader out there somewhere listening to this right now who is just kind of overwhelmed by it all. Where do they start? What do they do?

Joe Smarro:

Yeah, I love what David said, and I agree, and I would just add that you have to be willing to take an honest look at yourself and your department. And again, in this country, it depends on where you are, right? Not every city has the same problem as every other city and town and county and state. And so, it does matter geographically where you’re located.

But to the point David was making, if the people are paying for the service and they want to feel policed, but they’re saying they’re not, it does no good to defend it or start talking about things you’ve done well or right. And this is one of the problems that I’m seeing, is police chiefs and sheriffs are coming out and they’re promoting the good things that they’ve done. Now is not the time. People don’t want to see or hear about that right now, and also, all it’s being met with is just, “And?”

Policing, it’s the equivalent of, say, a pilot. The expectation is 100% pass rate, right? You don’t get to crash your plane with everyone and be like, “We messed this one up, let’s get the next one.” There’s massive fallout, and that’s what we’re seeing right now. We’re not allowed to have the errors that we’re having, and the entire profession takes a toll.

And so, if I’m a law enforcement leader, I genuinely want to meet with the community, but not to defend my stance, not to promote anything that we’ve done well, not to say, well, what about this and this, and we’ve done this, or you guys do this. No. Healing starts where listening begins, and I feel like we have to be willing to listen and have those difficult conversations. You have to be willing to listen to what people are actually communicating.

But I think that’s just a piece of it. There has to be, then, an outlet. Okay, I’m hearing you. I’m listening to what you’re saying, but now what? And I feel like if we’re truly going to move forward from where we’re at, there has to be a true integration, and we have to allow the comm