Author: Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed.D.
Police executives have become increasingly adept at reaching out to community stakeholders when adopting new technology or policies. Changes in dealing with conflict, use of force, or media relations are things the public wants to know about. Acquisition of special vehicles, weapons, or teams can cause public relations friction. The use of traffic cameras, body-worn cameras and automatic license plate readers create privacy concerns that can cause resistance to helpful technology. Awareness of concerns in the community can preempt relationship problems before they arise.
Policy makers must also be aware of the concerns of internal stakeholders. With the widespread adoption of bodycams, many agencies engaged in public awareness programs, but implemented the technology and accompanying policy without hearing from those most directly affected.
In any decision-making effort, and particularly with intentionally collaborative decision-making, one of the initial steps is identifying who will be affected by a new policy, procedure, or piece of equipment. Brainstorming with leadership can begin a list of persons and departments within the jurisdiction. At this point write down any person or department that gets mentioned. This is not a time for arguing for or against anything or eliminating bad ideas.
Learn from others
Peer agencies that have implemented BWC are a great source of lessons learned. Choose an agency that is about a year into full implementation. Their experiences, for good or bad, will be fresh and their adjustments can be instructive. If you have chosen from potential vendors, choose an agency with the same products your agency is looking at as well as competing products. This may reveal whether issues are general to BWCs or specific to a product line.
Develop a timeline
Managers often look ahead at budget and proposal deadlines to determine schedules for implementation. Planners are well advised to extend the timeline to include time at the start for getting input from stakeholders, and time at the end for revisiting those same stakeholders after implantation to review and potentially revise policy.
Not just your budget
Internal stakeholders will likely be very careful about how your BWC program impacts their staffing and budget. Digital storage capacity, public information requests, physical space, attorney costs and a dozen other unexpected budget busters are sure to arise, and they won’t all be from the police department pocketbook.
Information is an essential part of decision-making. As a collaborative team is gathered, each member should have access to the same information available to police leadership leading the program effort. If the invitation to provide input on a BWC implementation fails to include articles and vendor material about successes and setbacks in other jurisdictions, then team members will be operating from their own notions and opinions that may not have a factual basis. If the notion that the program is going to be more trouble than it’s worth sprouts in any stakeholder, implementation can stall.
On the line
The ultimate user of the BWC is, of course, the uniformed patrol officer. In top-down, unilateral decision-making the workers most directly affected are sometimes unheard since they can be compelled to comply with orders. Having representation from line officers, supervisors, trainers, quartermasters and any other units directly affected will make for a smoother transition, better morale and fewer short-term adjustment problems.
Basic survey questions
One of the initial components of the implementation process is to determine what questions will be asked of each of the decision team members. Using best practices and lessons learned from other technology and policy updates on other projects, police leaders can prime the pump by offering a set of survey or discussion questions to team members including the question of who else should be consulted. Encouraging team members to think about the impact on other department heads or personnel can help fight the silo effect where narrowed thinking concentrates only on each individual’s immediate concern.
The time invested in exploring opportunities and suggestions from as many voices from within the agency and government entity under which it operates can be the difference between failure and success, economy and waste, and foster good relationships for further collaborative efforts in the future.