Profiles in Progressive Policing: Post Falls, Idaho

Editor's note: Please click on the gallery below and to the right to view the innovations.

When it comes to policing, the Post Falls (Idaho) Police Department has set the bar high. It’s an obvious choice to begin this series on America’s most progressive police departments. I’ve known Chief Scot Haug for more than a decade, having met him when he was a police lieutenant attending the FBI National Academy. Over the years, I’ve crossed paths with him several times as the department’s programs were often cited as examples for other agencies. Three years ago, we ran an extensive piece on the department’s license plate reader (LPR) program because it was one of the first to combine mobile and fixed LPR efforts into a regional server that benefitted multiple agencies (January 2009, “Kootenai County Goes High-Tech,” or www.LawOfficer.com, keyword search “Kootenai.”)

According to Haug, the primary consideration with technology is always how it will benefit the department and the community. “We’re not getting additional staff, so most of the time with technology we’re looking for ways to become more efficient, to benefit from a force multiplier,” Haug says. 

“Typically when we consider something new, there’s a group of five or six people that initially review the project and then we expand to gain input from others.” Haug says. “I’m a true believer that when possible, use a democratic style of leadership. It’s important to get input from as many as you can before you make the decision. Nine times out of ten, you’ll have a successful project when you do it this way.”

Of course, just because you may want something new doesn’t mean you’ll have the money, and Post Falls is no exception. Although city general funds pay for basic operation, most projects have required grant funding.

“The LPR system was from an Office of Homeland Security grant,” Haug says. “Our public safety camera system was the same. We would not have been able to do the majority of our tech projects without the grants.” To write grants, Post Falls relies on Carol Prosser, an evidence custodian, who has a knack for putting together winning proposals.

Rather than a scripted technology plan, Haug concentrates on emerging challenges. “We keep our ear to the ground and watch as new tech comes out. When problems are brought up, we look for solutions to address them.”

Haug has advice for departments that are always looking for the next big thing: “Remember: There’s a difference between cutting edge and bleeding edge,” he says. “Just because there’s tech out there that’s ‘cool’ doesn’t mean it’s right for your deptartment. Every project takes time, IT staff, money to start it and money to maintain it. You really want to invest in tech that will provide strong benefit for your time and money. I can’t stress enough that we’ve learned over the years that project planning is important.”

When asked which technology has provided the greatest benefit, Haug points to the broadband efforts begun in 1999. “Wireless technology has given us the best ROI and has probably been the best force multiplier,” Haug says. “The officers are able to do everything in the field without driving back and forth to the station, making us a lot more efficient.” Taking this to the next level, PFPD is starting to use cellular MiFi units to turn patrol cars into mobile hot spots. “The MiFi can even be taken out of the car to provide broadband support at a crime scene away from the car,” Haug says. 

Another technology favorite: in-car and body-worn video. “These have been absolutely great for reducing liability and increasing convictions,” he says. “They’re invaluable.”

Demonstrating an ability to adapt to cultural changes, PFPD recently took steps to enable dispatchers to receive texts from citizens. “We realized that for some people texting is the primary means of communication,” Haug says. “We’re trying to solve as many crimes as possible and this was just the right thing to do. With the next generation of 9-1-1 coming, this is a good way to prepare our community and our staff for what’s ahead.”

Text messages are displayed on a dispatch screen and the dispatcher can interact with the texter. The system isn’t intended as an alternative to 911 but it may prove especially valuable to the hearing impaired.

It’s important to note that force multipliers aren’t always technology and they’re not always  really fancy or expensive. Here’s an example. PFPD recently implemented a program for citizens to turn in unused prescription drugs. Unfortunately, an officer had to come in from the field, meet with the citizen, take a report and then place the drugs into evidence. While at a recent conference, Haug noticed a drug drop-off lockbox from MedReturn. Using the box, citizens can drop the drugs directly into the box and officers can spend more time in the field—cheap, straightforward and effective.

Like most departments, PFPD has never had enough money to get everything done.

“About 10 years ago, we realized there were some serious deficiencies in our service level,” Haug says. “We reached out to the community and began a volunteer program.” Today, there are 28 volunteers providing assistance with phones, handling errands, working at the animal shelter, doing volunteer patrols, putting together DARE packets and a program called YANA—You Are Not Alone—which checks on shut-ins.

“We could not provide these services without them,” Haug says. “The key to the success is that they really complement our other efforts, not replace them.”

For more information, visit www.postfallspolice.com.         

Dale Stockton is Editor in Chief of Law Officer.

Lessons from Post Falls

• Keep it simple. Example: A lockbox in the police lobby allows perscription drug drop offs rather than requiring an officer to come in from the field.

• Wireless service is a great force multiplier. It allows officers to do more in the field. Remember: Mobility is the future. PFPD is currently implementing a mobile hot spot capability for patrol vehicles.

• Get the community involved! You can provide a greater level of service, develop friendships and build support.

• Don’t rush into new technologies. First determine if the technology is appropriate for your agency. Every project is going to take time and money, so plan carefully. Put a priority on technologies that will make your officers more efficient and safe.

• LPR is more than just a way to track stolen vehicles. Fixed and mobile applications, with assets shared among agencies, allow Post Falls to make the most of their investment.

• Grant writing is an art. If you want to get your technology products funded, you’ll probably need to write a grant. Make sure the most capable person at your agency undertakes this critical function.

Editor's note: Please click on the gallery above to view the innovations.

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