Trending Topics

6 ways to improve cooperation among public safety disciplines

In many places, failure to cooperate with other public safety entities is not an option – there’s no embarrassment in asking for help when the situation requires it


Hashing out formal memoranda of understanding (MOUs) is a great way to begin planning for interagency cooperation.

AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan

In my most recent leadership experience – with a campus police agency in an economically challenged, sparsely populated area isolated by a ring of mountains – failure to cooperate with other public safety entities was not an option.

The campus police department is one of 20 agencies in the six-county region in which about 200 law enforcement officers of various stripes serve federal, state, county, local and specialty assignments. While the campus at any one time might contain half of the population of the town in which it exists, the university’s police resources are limited to patrol response with no additional special units or equipment.

Here are six ways we learned to overcome our isolation and limitations.

1. Hash out formal agreements

Hashing out formal intergovernmental agreements or memorandum of understanding (MOUs) is a great way to begin planning for interagency cooperation. Beyond command and control issues and borrowing equipment, there are a host of legal and liability concerns that will inevitably crop up. No use reinventing the wheel.

Check with your emergency management specialist to ensure your agreements are consistent with FEMA guidelines. In case of a declared disaster, your mutual aid agreements may determine what costs can be reimbursed.

Make sure to include your risk management folks and bean counters. Review and renew the agreements. I borrowed our basic pattern from another institution. Issues of jurisdiction, expenses and accountability were our priorities. Yours may differ.

2. Take inventory of your unique assets

Even though it was one of the smaller agencies, our campus had resources that were unique in the community. During regional wildfire emergencies and an extended National Guard deployment during a six-week period of contaminated water supply, the campus was able to provide dorm housing and meals for refugees and troops, as well as a large indoor area for emergency mass gatherings. Know what resources you have in your region for a number of possible large-scale events.

3. Know your non-LE personnel

I – or a designee – made sure to invite ourselves to every group and task force involving possible stakeholders for the campus community. Domestic violence shelter and counseling providers, mental health workers, public health agencies, medical providers and anyone who we might touch or be touched by were people we wanted to know. This often means time devoted to annoying meetings, but the relationships prove to be critical for sharing resources.

4. Work and play together

Invitations to social events and ceremonies should be extended to everyone in the law enforcement community regardless of badge. Our chiefs and sheriffs meet regularly for an informal lunch or breakfast.

A weekly intel meeting is open to all law enforcement in the region. Create the opportunity for connections to fire and EMS personnel. Make sure agencies that are likely to assist know your territory. I invited the town’s SWAT team to survey the new stadium before it was open; now they know where roof tie-downs are for rappelling and where exits and stairwells are.

New officers, firefighters and EMS personnel have an open invitation to get a tour of any of our campus buildings and especially dorms. Each local officer is given keycard access to the dorms since one of our officers who might call for assistance could have a locked door behind them.

5. Plan joint training

Our region formed a non-profit organization to receive grant funds to benefit multiagency training. Every agency is welcome to participate in planning, as well as attending training sessions. The regional training foundation worked with the local community college police academy program to obtain training equipment and facilities. Items and projects no single department could afford or justify are obtained through the foundation, and redundant resources are avoided.

6. Ditch the ego

There’s no embarrassment in asking for help when the situation requires it. We have used the FBI’s evidence team on a suspected pedophile’s lair, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation white collar crime unit for a financial aid fraud, the U.S. Postal Inspector to investigate an employee suspected of stealing from our campus mail room, and pulled perimeter duty on many off-campus police operations.

I made sure campus officials understood the quid pro quo advantage of using campus assets off campus in order to increase cooperation of off-campus resources while on campus. We contributed to a plainclothes armed robbery intervention strike force, assets for a drug task force and traffic control for local parades.

Building bridges is always better than arguing on them.

This article, originally published 3/11/2015, has been updated.

Joel Shults retired as Chief of Police in Colorado. Over his 30-year career in uniformed law enforcement and criminal justice education, Joel served in a variety of roles: academy instructor, police chaplain, deputy coroner, investigator, community relations officer, college professor and police chief, among others. Shults earned his doctorate in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis from the University of Missouri, with a graduate degree in Public Services Administration and a bachelor degree in Criminal Justice Administration from the University of Central Missouri. In addition to service with the U.S. Army military police and CID, Shults has done observational studies with over 50 police agencies across the country. He has served on a number of advisory and advocacy boards, including the Colorado POST curriculum committee, as a subject matter expert.