I had to think (once again), why is it that police seem to have so much ‘drama’ (have their ‘dirty laundry’ aired) as compared to fire departments? I can’t think of a firefighter ‘leaking’ information to the media when a co-worker gets arrested for DUI or making a report under whistle-blower laws because a pump or ladder didn’t work right or because unsafe fire ground tactics were being used. I started thinking about how police departments (at least the ones that I am familiar with) compare to fire departments with regard to publicized controversies, employee discord, misconduct scandals, and similar drama.
Police officers, firefighters, school teachers — they are all public employees and are in the ‘public’ eye. They consistently get media attention when they are accused of serious misconduct or crimes, but the everyday gripes and grievances involving these public employees do NOT always rise to the level of receiving media attention. The reality is that public employees live in a glass house and they should be aware of the heightened focus on them and their conduct. Compare this to the casino employee who works conference set-up and gets arrested for drunk driving and does not make the news — unless there was a fatality or serious accident drawing attention to the incident, but NOT the individual. Anyone could search Las Vegas newspapers, even for just the last year, and see multiple stories about ‘drama’ within the police department.
An officer was recently accused of possession of child pornography and a ‘retired’ detective was accused of trying to extort a local physician. Just these two examples show that even RETIRED officers receive scrutiny from the media. I’m not saying it should not happen.
I always knew police were held to a higher standard. It is just something that has caught my attention. The sheer number of stories/scandals can’t be ignored!
In comparison, I do recall reading about the overtime ‘scandal’ with the fire department that County Commissioner Steve Sisolak attended to. Over the years I have also read about an occasional DUI arrest, a firefighter soliciting a prostitute, and a firefighter stealing pain killers. These incidents involved fire department employees and they did make the news. I don’t remember too many stories about a Las Vegas firefighter being arrested for a domestic violence incident. The question that I have is, do firefighters BEHAVE better than police officers or is the media less likely to focus on their employment/former employment when things go bad?…
It would be easy to blame the inequitable news coverage on the media… but comparing the level of ‘drama’ in the two types of agencies would only be a proper comparison if there was a comparable level of drama in each organization. In other words, if fire departments simply don’t have as many incidents of misconduct or employees getting arrested, then is that because they are simply not involved in ugly situations as often as police officers?
In defense of police officers, they are far more likely to make the news because of use of force, citizen complaints, and problems that arise due to their interaction with members of the public. A building does not complain or file a lawsuit about the fire department not extinguishing the fire quickly enough — neither does a car, after a car fire. Inanimate objects don’t complain. Fires don’t gripe and complain. It is possible that victims of traffic accidents might complain about how the firefighters and EMTs handled their wrecks. It is possible that fire departments could face liability for car crashes with their rigs due to speeding or other negligence. It is possible that a firefighter may even get into trouble for ‘hitting on’ a member of the opposite sex that he/she meets while on a call for service. It is even possible that a paramedic might be accused of using his/her position to take advantage of a vulnerable patient or victim. The human-to-human misconduct is possible in both police and fire services.
Maybe members of the fire service just insulate/shield their problems from the public better than the police. So do police ‘snitch’ on themselves and does the media receive calls from jail staff, receive leaked booking photos or police reports, etc.? Do the police sometimes
like to ‘nail’ each other and cause public humiliation? There are arguments that can be made that the police department already suppresses a large amount of information, so if there is already a lot in the news then just imagine how much ‘drama’ really exists. Another argument is that the police department is much larger than the fire department; so statistically, there are more opportunities for negative stories.
Maybe we are dealing with an issue of job satisfaction and compliance (vs. non-compliance) due to firefighters working in a healthier environment. Maybe employees believe in the fairness of the promotional system in the fire service. Maybe they can make complaints and actually have their complaints heard and investigated. Maybe there is a difference in how the fire departments and police departments are managed.
I actually took a fire administration class at CSN because I knew that some small town police chiefs also oversee firefighters (they call
them Public Safety Departments). I also was certified as a Firefighter in Michigan in 2003. In fact, I just saw an old email informing me of
my score on the state exam. My instructor told me I had one of the highest scores in the state. Studying for the written and practical exams was hard work. Equally, if not more difficult, than the academic rigor of the police academy. I also had firefighting and Hazmat training as a loss prevention officer in an industrial security setting. I was a member of the fire brigade/Emergency Response Team. I learned a lot about how other public safety agencies operate and had an interest in improved working relationships when I was the Emergency Management Coordinator for a Las Vegas area sheriff’s department in the mid-1990’s.
I liked learning about incident priorities in the fire service (Life Safety, Incident Stabilization, Property Conservation). I like the risk assessment concepts in the fire service (risk a lot to save a lot, risk a little to save a little, risk nothing to save nothing).
For example, fire commanders do not risk the lives of their firefighters to ‘save’ an abandoned building that is known to be unoccupied. I really liked that LIFE SAFETY goal and wish there was more focus on it in policing — as in life safety of all parties — not just the police!
Is higher quality administration and management in the fire service the reason that there may be fewer fire department problems in the news? Let’s examine organizational structure first. ‘City’ police departments and ‘City’ fire departments are different than elected sheriff’s departments. City department heads either report to a Mayor, City Manager, County Manager, City Council or County Commission or even a Public Safety Director who oversees both police and fire services.
I don’t question for a moment that a fire chief in Las Vegas is more susceptible to losing his job or being disciplined than the sheriff. I think administrators in these agencies must be more responsive to the needs of the community and realize that they are one member of the ‘team’ providing public services. They can’t just be bull-headed and arrogant because they will be held accountable. This could happen through negative votes on budget requests or lack of support in other areas. There is a system of formal (or informal) checks and balances when you can be fired! A sheriff can’t be fired; so ongoing and systemic problems that fester in an organization which has lost hope can eventually show up in the form of negative conduct by employees.
Does the City of Las Vegas (or Clark County) have an HR Department that is different than the ‘in-house’ HR at the police department? Is there a broader, more objective, and more professional focus in city and county organizations because their futures don’t depend on a sheriff who can direct personnel departments to take action or not to take action? Do city and county HR personnel feel that they must contribute to the ‘campaigns’ of their supervisors to stay in good graces?
I have not reached any conclusions but I think these issues need further examination. If employees see ongoing and unresolved problems in hiring/firing, training, promotion, and performance evaluation systems, then does this cause them to have poor morale, to lose pride in their careers and themselves, to feel a sense of hopelessness every four years and to eventually act out and make the news? I’m not making excuses for misconduct and certainly not for criminal conduct, but start paying attention to the news and keep track of the police department ‘drama’ as compared to the fire department ‘drama’ and consider whether a major contributing factor might just be the LEADERSHIP (and oversight) of the organization itself.
One last point of view on the rioting that is about to break two hours away in Ferguson, Missouri. If social problems and systemic problems need to be addressed in that community, then ‘real’ residents in the community should take action to deal with those problems. The ‘fiasco’ is when they try to use a ‘bad’ case to promote their cause. If people want to use a WHITE ON BLACK police shooting to rally for social justice or for improvement in social conditions, then they picked the wrong case — Michael Brown may not have had a firearm or traditional ‘weapon’ in his possession, but his conduct was felonious from the moment he shoved and intimidated the ‘minority’ grocer and walked out the store.
It continued when he feloniously forced himself into the police officer’s car and Officer Wilson’s gun was discharged. His life ended because of the actions that he took — NOT because of his social condition and NOT because the police officer caused his life to be what it was. Police have broad shoulders and now expect to have all of societal problems blamed on them… even the mental health crisis that ends in many deaths on the streets. Police can also start to publicly acknowledge when they have screwed up and when they need to improve.
Police departments all across the U.S. should be learning lessons from the Ferguson shooting and this should include improved tactics for initial approach, use of back-up, and (when possible) balancing the severity of the crime and the need for immediate apprehension with the level of force used. The ‘game changer’ for me was the physical evidence of a shot fired IN Officer Wilson’s car. This case was not a matter of social justice — it was a matter of a criminal’s actions.