Friday, September 20, 2013

Commanders get called out

When an emergency happens in Kansas City, I want everyone on this department from the top down to be able to respond. That’s why we conducted a commander call-out earlier this week, the second since I took the office of Chief of Police.

The goal was to have all commanders (deputy chiefs, majors and captains) respond to and work through a critical incident exercise. I want all commanders to be more involved in large emergency events, and I want them to exercise their critical thinking in a situation they don’t face on a regular basis. It’s one of the reasons I require all commanders to do regular ride-alongs with patrol officers. I want them to stay in touch with street-level policing.

They did not know this week’s call-out was coming. The only people who knew were the five department members who created and administrated the exercise and me.

At 1:15 p.m. Monday, I ordered the Communications Unit (this was a test for them, as well) to notify all commanders to report to the Police Academy immediately, no matter where they were or what they were doing. Once there, they were randomly divided into groups and presented with the critical incident scenario: A man wearing an explosive vest walks into Police Headquarters during the Republican National Convention (which Kansas City is hoping to host in 2016) and demands the convention be stopped. We let them take the scenario from there. There weren’t necessarily any right answers. I wanted to ensure a few very basic points were covered – such as activating the Emergency Operations Center and calling an Operation 100 at Headquarters.

Everyone did an excellent job. I was impressed with their teamwork. No one pulled rank, and everyone listened to each other’s ideas. That cooperation is necessary because a critical incident of this scale would certainly be handled by a group of commanders, not just one. Working through this kind of scenario allowed them to activate and utilize all the resources the department has available, such as manpower, specialty units, federal partners, neighboring law enforcement agencies and other city departments like Emergency Management and Fire.

I want us to be responsive in a critical incident, not reactive. In the police world, those are two different things. Responding to an emergency means coming in with a rehearsed plan of action. It means police know what needs to be done and who needs to do it, and they put their plan into action as soon as possible. Reacting to an emergency means police are unprepared and chaos reigns. A critical incident is not the time to work out details. Exercises like this week’s ensure we are responsive.

Right after I became chief, we conducted a much less-involved exercise in which I ordered the Communications Unit to contact all commanders and tell them to come to a location to see how quickly they responded and how they used their take-home vehicles. That covered response, but I wanted this to engage their critical thinking skills.

This will not be the last time such a surprise exercise is conducted. Why? Because someday it might not be an exercise. It might be the real thing. If it is, I want a department of men and women who are prepared, regardless of their assignment. Future exercises will include regional, state and federal partners.

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