How police departments and integrators can come together in partnerships for the well-being of their communities

A Crucial Collaboration

How police departments and integrators can come together in partnerships for the well-being of their communities

There are two essential components to effective school safety—security systems and police response. For years, the two have been divided and seen as two separate entities—the first provided by integrators, and the second provided by the city or state police department. Chief Tom Weitzel, the Riverside, Illinois Police Department’s chief of police, suggests that if the two were blended into a partnership, security measures could become more effective than they are when working autonomously. Weitzel, who oversees security for the Riverside school district, said that by bringing the two organizations together, industry leaders and government officials can create a school safety plan with better integration and communication.

Resolving the Tension

While speaking with some individuals from the security industry at a conference last year, Weitzel realized there was an overwhelming tension between police officials and integrators. After they had been sitting discussing security for a time, he began to understand the strain was on their relationships. He quickly came to the realization that the strain came from the reality of police officials who weren’t communicating with integrators, even though they offered a multitude of expertise in their areas. He said it felt as if each of the organizations— law enforcement and integrators—had proficiency in certain safety fields, but neither of them wanted to look to the other for help.

“I realized we really couldn’t do our job without their assistance when it comes to school safety, and even safety in general,” Weitzel said. “There was this real disconnect between public law enforcement and the [integrators] that were there.”

Weitzel gave a presentation at the security conference, and after presenting, he sat back down at his table. As soon as he returned, an individual turned to Weitzel and told him that he had just been contracted to install the security cameras for Weitzel’s school district.

Weitzel said it took him aback, as he didn’t even know the integrator had been hired to install the cameras. Even though he was directly involved in the overall security of the schools, he hadn’t been put in contact with the integrators. Weitzel continued to make conversation with the individual while wondering why they had not spoken previously about the district's security needs. As he was discussing the installation, he realized that the integrator had an abundance of expertise in his field, and that he could become a meaningful partner with police to maximize security.

“Talking to him, I realized he had this wealth of knowledge,” Weitzel said. “He knew exactly what he was doing. He had a plan for how they were going to put in the cameras in the schools strategically. Then, I invited him to tie them into our current system here at the police station so that the 9-1-1 center, along with my officers on their laptops, could access these cameras.”

Benefitting School Security

Weitzel said this camera integration will be taking place in the near future, but it’s just one of the ways this partnership can benefit school security. Since the integrators know how the cameras will be used, and what their capacity is, they can guide police officers on how to best use the equipment to amplify security. Additionally, he said the integrators can help officers draw the line between creating a secure campus and making the school a fortress. The security professionals can also build camera programs into squad cars for police to monitor and teach police how the perimeter security systems work to ensure they’re being used correctly.

Furthermore, integrators will often offer security surveys to show facilities which equipment they should install to best increase security. This could include a number of products ranging from physical barriers to buzzer doors to bullet-resistant glass. Weitzel said if the police officials and the integrators were to work as a partnership, they could work together to recommend proper security measures to the school board after a survey took place.

“He goes to the facility and he gives them a written report,” Weitzel said. “Then, both of us—the police and the [integrator]—will institute the recommendations that your school board approves, but we’ll do it as a partnership.”

So, what’s the hold-up? Why hasn’t this partnership idea already progressed to a place of paramount security? Weitzel said delays to these alliances can reside in the finances of smaller communities or even the egos of those involved.

Some bigger, metropolitan communities have already begun to work on these partnerships, but many smaller, suburban community police departments fight back because they don’t believe they can afford the equipment these security integrators provide, thus preventing a partnership. Weitzel said this is false, and many individuals are so willing to partner that they will help you to obtain available grants. All the materials to obtain a grant are out there for the department to take advantage of, Weitzel said, and integrators are financially incentivized to help law enforcement obtain them.

One of the other ways smaller, suburban departments might resist a partnership is by saying that they’re understaffed, or they don’t have the expertise necessary. Weitzel said this isn’t an excuse but rather, an excellent reason for the partnership to take place, as the integrators are well equipped to assist the department.

“The small, suburban departments a lot of times say they don’t have the money, they don’t have the expertise, or they’re understaffed,” Weitzel said. “Well, this is where the [integrators] can help you. In most of the cases, they’re not understaffed. In some cases, they’re willing to do the leg work up from with you for no extra cost, or it’s part of the entire package they submit to the school district.”

Clear Intentions

He said the best way for departments to approach this partnership is by being clear with their intentions, and by leveling the playing ground between the integrator by making it clear that they won’t patronize them if the integrator will do the same.

“I think that the best way to go about it is to approach them collaboratively and say ‘I don’t really want you to be a integrator. I want you to partner with me—I want you to partner for school security, so we’re both on the same level," Weitzel said. "I’m not talking down to you, you’re not talking down to me, we’re actual partners.’”

Weitzel shared his belief that ego is likely preventing this partnership from happening. He said sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in your level of authority and forget the reason for the position. It's much more beneficial to work together to make a plan for the community, rather than each organization thinking they’re more important, Weitzal said.

The first step in combating these egos is taking a step down, Weitzel said, and realizing the departments are equals who have different strengths and are not competing but completing. Once these departments and integrators have built a successful partnership, hey can be an example for others to show them how beneficial it is to work together. Once the program is built out, it can be demonstrated to other municipalities and cities, showing them how it worked for them, and it can work for others too, Weitzal added.

“I don’t care who gets the credit,” Weitzel said. “My only goal is to serve my residents and especially these young children that go to our schools. The parents have no interest in who made it secure, they just want the facility to be secure and the police response to be right.”

Training the Integrator

Weitzel said another way the partnership could be formed from day one is by opening up resource trainings to security integrators. The trainings can go as long as three months, which would really give police officers and integrators the chance to bond on a deeper level early on and understand the other's approach to security.

Weitzel said that, as always, the public should be the first priority, and in this case, these partnerships would be immediately beneficial to the public. That's why the change needs to happen now, he said.

“You have to put the public first, and in this case, you have to put the school students first,” Weitzel said. “Let’s partner, and let’s just do this together for our schools and our children that go to those schools.”

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2019 issue of Campus Security Today.


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