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Cruel, Cruel Summer - Where Do We Go After Dallas?

Author: Barry Furey

Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

Date: 2016-07-08
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I was putting the finishing touches on my column this month – a piece about smart phone applications and their threat to 9-1-1 – then along came Dallas. A very different kind of threat. It was late at night on the East Coast when the reports came trickling in. At first, information was sketchy. Those of us in the public safety community are used to dealing with this confusion. Officers were shot. How many? Three? No wait, three were dead. Ten were shot, or was it eleven.  Ten? Eleven? Clearly this wasn’t a traffic stop gone bad, but what?

As I sit here the next day, I (and we) now know that a total of five officers were killed and another seven were injured in what has been described as an ambush style attack, carried out as they provided protection for a rally protesting police violence. Unfortunately, the motive for these murders seems to be what we initially feared, and it appears that once again a lone veteran with a rifle in Dallas has made his mark on history.  In the wake of the deadliest law enforcement encounter since 9/11, the names Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Brent Thompson and Patrick Zamarippa will be added to the Fallen Officer Memorial in May. Their deaths, and the death of their alleged assailant represent the known facts of the incident. As with the other more infamous Dallas assassination, that of President John F. Kennedy, conspiracy theories abound. A deceased individual has been identified as the shooter, but did he act alone? Were others involved in the planning? Did the gathering provide a target of opportunity, or are more sinister motives afoot?  Is this an isolated incident, or part of a larger violent plot?

At this point, I’m not sure that anybody has the answers. Perhaps this is a singular event; the act of a disgruntled malcontent. I’d like to believe the best, but in our business we have to plan for the worst.  As I sit here typing, I am also reading a news brief from NBC stating that officers have come under attack in Georgia, Missouri, and Tennessee. Unfortunately, the copycat syndrome seems to follow many major incidents. Closer to home, the Fayetteville, North Carolina Police report the receipt of more than sixty threats since the shootings. So far, none has proved credible, but as we unfortunately know, it only takes one.

Back in March this website carried my column, An Unprecedented Time for Violence, which was written in response to tensions that existed at that time.  I invite you to read that piece again as these tensions seemingly continue to grow. I also ask you to revisit the suggestions regarding officer safety, and now offer additional considerations for telecommunicator safety, as well. Overall, coordination with the law enforcement agencies you serve is especially critical at this time. Any changes to tactical deployment that are made, such as the conversion to two person units, will have significant impact on the way you dispatch and on available resources. Make sure these adjustments are properly documented and understood by staff.

 As a communications manager, I would currently discourage my employees from wearing any uniforms in public that in any way resembled law enforcement issue. This means the use of civilian attire to and from work, and at off site meal breaks. Even T-shirts, hoodies, and sweats that bear department logos should be avoided. While this may sound a bit extreme to some, until we adequately assess the level of the current threat, it is wise to err on the side of safety. I would also seriously reexamine existing physical plant security measures to minimize risk. If you are a stand-alone Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP), how vulnerable is your compound? If you are located in a police station or other government facility, how close can people get? Follow up stories from Dallas indicate the discovery of bomb making materials at the suspect’s residence.  Where best to attack officers than at the station where they gather? And what about parking? Officers can be particularly vulnerable when reporting to work. If your staff shares common parking areas and entrances, they, too, share the risk. 

Watching these events unfold, I cannot help but reflect on another turbulent period in American history: the 1960s. Precious few of you will recall the Summer of Love. It was 1967 and peace was in the air. The Beatles’ released their Sergeant Pepper album, Scott McKenzie urged us to come to San Francisco, and the Jefferson Airplane went looking for a White Rabbit, for whom P!nk has just recently joined the hunt. The soundtrack for a decade was literally born in a few short months, and although Viet Nam and Civil Rights were clearly concerns, the mood was upbeat. Then came 1968 and what I call the Summer of Hate.  Martin Luther King was killed. Riots in several cities followed. Senator Robert Kennedy was killed. Riots at the Democratic National Convention followed, and international coverage of clashes between protesters and Chicago Police often left the latter in a less than favorable light. The year 1968 was also marked by the line of duty death of 200 officers. Seventy five succumbed to gunfire, some of them as a result of carefully planned ambushes. Sound familiar?

While we move quickly into the summer of 2016 we can only speculate on how it may be remembered. Will it be the Summer of Evolution, where differences will be put aside, and meaningful strides made not only in community relations, but also in human relations? Or will it be the Summer of Revolution where differences are settled through violence, bridges torn down to build silos, and gaps widened into unfordable chasms? I don’t know. We survived the sixties. We can survive this. But we all have to work together to do it. RIP brave officers. May your deaths not be in vain.

With more than 45 years’ experience in public safety, including managing large consolidated dispatch centers in three states, Barry Furey now serves as a trainer and consultant for the 9-1-1 and public safety communications community.  See www.barryfurey.com 

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