After Action Strategies

The sheriff is notorious for after action failures. Failure to follow through, to assess and analyze, to implement new ideas and improve policies based on events that would serve most agencies as learning experiences by which to improvement themselves.

This recent incident with a deputy being assaulted at the jails is no different. We were curious, seriously curious as to why this incident brought the sheriff out with all her false empathy. Why not the sergeant a few weeks ago who was assaulted in a cell at Main Jail and still off duty due to injuries? We haven’t heard a word about him.

The story that came down the stairs was that the sheriff panicked when she realized how upset, angry, and frustrated staff was in the jails over this incident. She feared they would go to the media and destroy all the work she’s done trying to prove how hard she’s working to show she cares. Her team immediately put together a plan of public concern and empathy. It was their goal to override the fact that this was yet another incident that exemplifies what we’ve been pointing out to the public for years — ignoring minimum staffing standards in enforcement and corrections was a serious safety risk to everyone.

The sheriff chose to pull at our emotional heartstrings and tell us how “fortunate *we* were that it wasn’t worse” rather than allow you the time to recognize her intentional neglect to maintain staffing standard minimums of any kind. She didn’t want you to realize the environment she has intentionally created endangers everyone. It’s not just a “few bad apples” that are running around, it’s an entire system failure which she has piloted into this iceberg.

Do you want to understand how the deputies felt about what was happening during this attack? Put yourself in a place where you have a baby monitor or communication system in your house, just steps away you suddenly hear your spouse screaming for help over the monitor. You, however, have to stay where you are for the next 2 minutes. The call becomes incoherent, but you still have seconds before you can run to help. You know that your spouse is in dire need of your assistance, engaged in a life threatening situation. You can’t go to their assistance. Doesn’t matter the reason — you can’t go.

The sheriff had all the “right” responses for the public afterwards — a sudden understanding in the issue of under staffing, the risks involved in a day room with a 1:40 ratio involving mostly gang members. She expressed a concern for the injured deputy.

But what was missing from our cutting edge sheriff with a global view of how to better law enforcement and sits on POST to share her shining ideas? The same thing that was missing in all previous critical incidents, be they in the jail or enforcement. A Critical Incident Stress Management team to support her staff after such an anguish inducing crisis. More and more departments have been looking to develop some sort of critical incident stress management response, if not an embedded team to identify red flags early as well. They are starting to realize law enforcement is human, no matter how well deputies hide their emotions, that does not mean they don’t exist.

There are organizations that are working with law enforcement to foster the attitude that seeking support is okay in this environment. They work to help administrators and officers understand that addressing stresses, creating intervention teams, support programs, and being overtly aware of when an officer may have been in an incident with a potentially negative emotional impact can be critical in improving police performance, public interaction, preventing suicides, and reducing domestic issues in law enforcement families.

Stress issues that police face came to the forefront when an officer in TX appeared to some to lose control of himself while dealing with a large group of unruly teens. It was later released that this decorated and locally recognized officer had responded to two high stress, highly emotional call outs just prior. He probably should not have responded, but the call was nearby, and there was no policy to pull him out and give him a “cool down” period. The media missed the boat on this story, focusing on “police violence” but failing to see a promotable solution to add to their stories.

PTSD more and more is being discussed in policing . Much of the conversation started because of military veterans coming onto the force. More and more the realization has come about that events police face every day, day in and day out have the same end result. PTSD is difficult to pin down in some ways — it can happen a day, a week, a month, or even years after an event. It can be a short term issue, or it can be a lifetime issue. Each of us cope with this type of stress differently, what one can handle another may not.

The reality is some of what we’re seeing in the jails could be a result of PTSD. Events like hearing a co-worker calling for help repeatedly as he’s being beaten, without a doubt have the potential to cause or trigger PTSD. It is an issue that needs to be considered within a professional organization.

But the sheriff is more interested in how this affects her. We can see that by her dash to beat the deputies to the media. We can see that by her lack of response to address the impact of various events in both enforcement and the jails, to include two recent shootings.

The sheriff’s lack of intervention and support of her officers is “old school”. Suck it up and get back out there. But we’re learning in the environment police face today, this is not the best practice. The jails have seen several attacks on officers over the past weeks. The Mercury News even stated the sheriff calls these events “common place”. The lack of media coverage of problems the sheriff has created in enforcement leaves the risks there wide open, as far as I’m concerned. Part of what we desperately need to change if we’re talking about changes that will improve law enforcement in general, and our office in specific, is how we mitigate the impact of events like these on the people in our office.

Yet another area our sheriff, the person who claims she strives to ensure California law enforcement is progressive through her position with POST, has failed in. I find it again necessary to point out to our sheriff — progressive leaders lead with ideas, be they theirs or others; they do not chase the good ideas of others in a moment of crisis pretending that this shouldn’t have been done months, years, or even decades ago in some cases.