RESPONSE: Priorities for Street Officers
So, here you are, the day after a mass casualty incident in your city. An event that ‘could never happen here’ has happened. How did you respond yesterday? How will you react today? Your department has taken a public stance and now you are going back out into the community to work the streets and try to communicate to your citizens that they are still safer here than 99.5% of the rest of the world and that they can go on with their lives. Dirty bombs, terrorist acts, and WMD’s are designed to instill fear into the community. Yet, they are now part of your reality.
As a street officer, your priorities should be in line with the general objectives of the law enforcement profession overall and your department specifically. Your priorities of enforcing the law and protecting life and property are good examples. But, after a mass casualty incident, what is your priority on your particular beat? It should not be identical to your department’s only because the department as a whole will have a different picture in mind such as: the entire city’s response, the economic impact, the political ramifications and the costs involved in an on-going incident response.
Within the last few days there was a multiple shooting incident in a small town where a gunman entered a beauty shop and killed at least 8 people, perhaps more by the time this is posted. In a suburb of Columbus, Ohio four were shot and killed in a neighborhood after a verbal altercation earlier in the evening. The FBI interdicted an attempted terrorist attack in a major US city and a man claiming to be a terrorist used his car to run over as many people as he could in a small town in the U.S. Southwest. Some of these incidents are significantly smaller in scope and impact than what we normally pictures as a ‘mass casualty incident’ however, for that particular community such as the small town in California whose police press liaison said that this shooting was the type of incident that “doesn’t happen here” the impact can still be one that shakes the individual community to its core.
You must ask yourself, ‘What is the primary need of the citizens with whom I work every day?’ If the incident occurred immediately in your district or anywhere nearby, the very first need goes all the way back to what you were taught about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The first needs for human beings are, above all others, physiologically: the ability to have water, food and sleep and psychologically: the need to be (or feel) safe.
How can you best help those whom you serve to get their primary needs met? You will not be able to meet every need. Meeting their needs is not your responsibility. Rather, you can help those who require help to get their needs met. The issue is more than just semantics. If you choose to take on the responsibility for meeting all of the needs of those with whom you come in contact, you will, first of all, fail; disappointing and perhaps harming those you are trying to help. Second, you will burn out long before you can be effective. You must be well rested, nourished, and thinking clearly to help those with whom you are charged. Your best option is to shoulder the responsibility only for assisting those within your sphere of influence to locate a source for help in meeting their needs. You serve best by being a point of information for folks and to do that you must know what resources are available and for whom; where to find those resources, and how to obtain the necessary goods or services. When the people directly affected by a mass casualty incident (or another form of major incident) see those who are charged with helping them as effective, knowledgeable and willing to help; their confidence level increases, they become more positive about their chances for survival and it greatly enhances their own sense of security.
Meeting citizens’ needs to be, or feel, safe is part of the psychological level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. After the physiological needs are met, having the psychological needs addressed will drastically impact the positive response capability of your charges. As a local law enforcement officer, you can help address the psychological needs. It begins with something as simple as appearance. Your physical presence in the area, consistently and looking professional in dress and deportment goes a long way in promoting a feeling of safety and security. Anticipating their physical needs presents an appearance of effectiveness which supports the picture of a professional responder. After paying close attention to your appearance and your effectiveness, do not forget to watch for language. This is not a reference to having a multilingual resource or one for the deaf or hard of hearing, as important as those are; this relates to your ability to communicate. Negative comments about the administration or the official handling of a situation will do nothing to enhance the feeling of safety for your constituents; rather it will reflect poorly on you as a professional. This does not require that you are passive about your professional concerns about the situation, but it does require that you follow appropriate protocol to express your concerns.
Your initial response to the people you serve within the first days following a mass casualty situation will do a great deal toward helping them set the foundation for the strength of their future. The probability grows daily that the citizens you serve may someday be victimized by a mass casualty incident. “Many analysts fear that if smugglers can smuggle drugs and people into America, that it’s not a question of if, but when terrorist groups will smuggle trained terrorists or attempt to transport a weapon of mass destruction (WMD) into the US. Remember that WMD’s are attractive to potential terrorists because they create fear; are inexpensive, easy to build, easy to hide, and their use makes protection of large areas and large numbers of people impossible.” According to the Homeland Security Net Newsportal, “Former VP Dick Cheney ‘worries about another 9/11-style attack by terrorist, only this time using a crude radioactive dispersal device or “dirty bomb.”’”
Are weapons of mass destruction the only threat with which you should be concerned? Obviously, the answer is ‘No.’ Just within the last months, the “deadliest food outbreak in more than a decade has resulted in as many as 16 people to die from listeria that has been traced to cantaloupes grown on a Colorado farm.” (www.homelandsecuritynet.com/newsportal/October 12,2011) The citizens you work among can be as adversely affected by a large number of deaths from listeria as a lone-gunman. Your capability to help the citizens within your sphere of influence will have a long-term lasting positive affect on them and on you.