Thursday, January 17, 2008


  Probably in the last ten years I've had the opportunity to be at the center of three things that have been done extraordinarily well.  One was the tactical team, one was the changes in training over the last four years, and one was the Mental Health Team.  All of these things had stuff in common.
The need for a Tactical Team was pretty obvious.  The original team was nearly completely unarmed and expected to handle riots, cell extractions and even hostage rescue pretty much hand to hand.  You needed the best to pull that off.  But the original plan on the drawing board was terrible.  Someone had decided it would be unfair and possibly even discriminatory to limit the team members to people in good shape who can fight.  That first concept quietly died and the real team was selected very carefully.
        The training changes followed a definite and obvious need, at least from the perspective of staff.  When a quarter of your staff are getting assaulted and roughly 10% hospitalized a year, they need better preparation.
With a huge budget crisis in mental health, large numbers of people who really needed extensive help were going to be released to the street.  A handful of people predicted this and prepared, knowing that some of these people who should be in institutions or Halfway Houses were going to wind up first on the streets and then in jail.

These are the things that we have done well, better than anyone in the nation, in my opinion.  All three had certain things in common: they were envisioned, designed and executed by SMEs and the SMEs were empowered to make it work.

An SME is a Subject Matter Expert.  The original tactical team were chosen not just for their fighting ability, but for their control, professionalism and cool under stress.  They designed the team, the training and were given a free hand to plan and execute operations.  The end result was a team that has talked more people out than they've fought and even in situations where lethal force was clearly justified they managed to handle the majority with no injury whatsoever.  It was their team, and they were empowered to design a team that they could be proud of.

Same with training: look for the people who know both how to finish a force situation; how to communicate; how to teach.  Get the ones who know what the officers need, know the policy inside and out, and let them design the course.  It hasn't been perfect, of course, but staff assaults dropped by 30% in 2007 from the year we started this paradigm.

And the Mental Health Team.  Wow.  Interdisciplinary? Yeah, IMO our best counselors, best medical staff and best officers, both in the modules and working from Classification.  The results have been extraordinary.  A truly therapeutic environment but just as- possibly more- secure than the regular jail. Continuation of care on the outside.  One of the safest and quietest places in the jail.  The original officers were hand-picked for this.  It was new and no one knew if it would work or how dangerous it would be to have 65 severely mentally ill people, all with criminal convictions or pending charges in an open dorm.

These all confirmed something that every leader knows: If you pick your good people and let them do their jobs, they will exceed your expectations, sometimes in ways that you can't imagine.

Each of these groups had another thing in common: A real leader with a real vision.  There would have been no Tactical Team without Ron, and he went through the fires of bureaucratic hell to make it happen.  It probably damaged his career severely at the time but he was willing to sacrifice that to keep people safe.  There would have been no change in training without Jose.  He pushed it (and sometimes just got it done) against people resistant to any change who sometimes act like they pretend the dangerous side of the job doesn't exist.  Even when he was exhausted and frazzled, he did the right thing.  The Mental Health Team would never have happened without Cathy.  It was the right thing to do and she never had and never would back down from doing the right thing.

There is one other thing they have in common.  They are all in danger.  Something about success, something about SME's seems to draw (not fire, what is the opposite of fire? inertia?).  If people make a job look easy, people looking for an easy job lobby to be included.  Once people feel a little safer, they start complaining that what made it safe is too hard or too burdensome.  In a way, I hope that is it, or simple regression to the mean.  I hope it's not simply that people who work hard to be good, to be SME's, trigger a jealousy in the mediocre and the mediocre, as the majority, exert their power.  I hope I don't live in a world that punishes excellence for the crime of excellence.

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