Surviving February

“Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.”
      – Susan David

I’ve never been a fan of February. February is that unfortunate month standing between us and spring. Like the first post-lunch conference presenter, or the safety instructions mindlessly issued by flight attendants, or a colonoscopy, February is something to be endured. Lest you think I’m being too hard on February, the month does offer a highlight or two in an otherwise relentlessly cold and gray string of days. For instance, it is the month during which my son was born and who doesn’t like roses and chocolates for Valentine’s Day? And as if it somehow knows how tired we are of winter each year at this time, February throws us a bone by lasting only 28-29 days tops. Of course, every four years we can look forward to watching athletes from around the globe make the most out of winter by hurtling down snowy mountains on skinny fiberglass planks, launching themselves from snowy high jumps hundreds of feet in the air, flying down iced chutes at 80 mph on sleds, wearing bladed shoes to dance, jump, glide, and slap pucks into nets, or surfing giant icy tubes cut in half. So thank you, February, for that.

For many people, February finds bold and daring new year’s resolutions giving way to old habits and routines. As winter wears on it can wear us down a bit, making it difficult to remain resolute against the pull toward the familiar and the comfortable. But the mission and vision of UWPD are rooted in a commitment to Reaching HIGHER and this commitment demands that we resist the pull of “business as usual” and instead push past comfort zones in the interest of continuous improvement. To this end, I believe it’s important to occasionally take stock of where we are and where we’ve been in order to set a course for where we want to go. This inventory is more than a list of achievements – it’s a roadmap to successful and collaborative policing that not only shows us what we are capable of but reminds us as well of mistakes made and lessons learned.

Looking back at my first year as chief here, I am certainly proud of the many things we have accomplished together as a department and as a campus community. During this past year, I hired 24 new employees, made 16 promotions, swore in 14 new officers and ushered four employees into retirement. We established the first UWPD Employee Advisory Council comprised of elected representatives from various department work units. This group worked on employee issues ranging from vacation pick processes to uniform adjustments to equipment needs – and together we improved information sharing and department transparency. We bolstered our partnership with the Madison Police Department through improved communication, crowd management support at Freakfest, collaborative training opportunities, and special team support. We worked with UW’s Center for Healthy Minds to apply for and receive grant funding to include UWPD officers in a two-year study researching mindfulness and resiliency for police officers. We implemented a formal employee recognition process to acknowledge and document exemplary performance and hosted our first New Employee/Promotion Reception. We partnered with the Division of Student Life to develop response guidelines for campus demonstrations and protests, and established an Incident Review Group comprised of key campus stakeholders to gather information about specific incidents that have occurred on certain campuses across the country, such as the active killer at Ohio State or the tragic protests at University of Virginia/Charlottesville, in order to identify our own potential vulnerabilities and areas in need of attention or improvement. We hosted our first in an ongoing series of Community Forums, conducted webchats to engage the community in conversations about campus safety, and after months of collaborative planning and discussion, this past January we convened the first UWPD Police Advisory Council. Comprised of various and diverse campus stakeholders, the Police Advisory Council acts in an advisory capacity to provide community input and feedback. The council will accept, review, and discuss concerns voiced by students, faculty, and staff and provide input on programs, projects, and policies aimed at improving campus safety. These are but a handful of our many successes this past year. Not an organization accustomed to resting on our laurels, members of UWPD understand and believe in the importance of advancing our vision to support and facilitate the educational mission of the university and cultivate a campus environment in which all students, faculty, and staff are safe. To this end, we’ve worked throughout this past year to develop a four-year strategic plan.

Building on the mission, vision, and core values of UWPD, our strategic plan is framed around four identified priority areas:

  • Employee Recruitment, Hiring, and Training
  • Employee Health, Growth, and Development
  • Organizational Culture and Climate
  • Community Outreach and Collaboration

All four of these strategic priority areas are inextricably linked and serve a primary objective: individual, organizational, and community wellness. Our success in recruiting and retaining qualified, diverse, and dedicated employees must be supported by a thoughtful and relevant hiring strategy. Once hired, our initial and ongoing training and departmental systems must promote individual employee health, growth, and development. This, in turn, fosters a healthy organizational culture in which employees feel included, empowered, prepared, and motivated toward positive community engagement and collaboration – all in the service of ensuring safety and wellbeing. I look forward to sharing more information in the coming months regarding specific projects we will begin working on in each of these areas. In addition, strategic plan progress updates will be regularly provided to the Police Advisory Council and their insights, feedback, and guidance will be essential to this ongoing process.

In her poignant TED talk entitled, “The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage,” Susan David notes that, “At a time of greater complexity, unprecedented technological, political and economic change, we are seeing how people’s tendency is more and more to lock down into rigid responses to their emotions”. Her message encourages us to allow ourselves to sit with, learn from, and support one another in the “messy, tender business of life” and further reminds us that it is only by learning to be comfortable with discomfort that we can be our best selves and truly flourish as individuals, as organizations, as a community. Growth and improvement require that we take occasional inventory of where we’ve been, where we are, and where we want to go. It requires more than just showing up. It requires a willingness to be vulnerable, to wade through the muck and to step outside our comfort zones. With a little over a year under my belt now, I am ever more committed to Reaching HIGHER and have come to better understand that the key to surviving the Februaries in life is in our ability to keep moving, in all ways, forward.