Creating Partnerships with Government Agencies2013-08-28T17:13:50-04:00

Robert Metscher, CPP, CPO, CSS, PPS

Every business, just like any citizen, will eventually need the aid of a government service agency. Whether this is an emergency service call or one less urgent, the business and its security department must be viewed as being competent for professional interaction to occur with the responding personnel. Initial contact between a business and an emergency service agency should not be a call for assistance and regardless of how local response agencies are structured there are several opportunities to make contact and set the tone for professional interaction. Establishing credibility in advance will avoid wasted resources, reduce personality conflicts and expedite problem resolution, and requires time spent gaining an understanding to become comfortable together. Working partnerships with emergency services agencies prior to requesting assistance is the foundation to preventing misunderstandings, resentment and minimizing the interruption of business activities. The first and best opportunity to develop a strong working partnership with the local emergency services departments occurs when a new company location opens or a new security manager joins the company.

Do Your Homework

Other managers have time constraints too, so be respectful and seek to find any answers that are readily available prior to arranging meetings. Take the time to learn a little about the local governmental structure, population and social trends. Utilize available resources such as maps, newspapers and the World Wide Web or visit a local library for help. Many library workers are closet local historians able to direct information searches very effectively.

Consider the broadest questions that will impact on the agencies with which contact will be sought. Is the business located within a borough, township, county or city? Are rival attitudes well known between local and regional agencies? If the primary response agency is fairly small you will want to learn if there are mutual aid agreements with neighboring agencies. In other cases responding agencies may even be contracted through a regional agreement.

The World Wide Web is an excellent source of information with many libraries offering free access to the Web as well as assistance with information searches. There is no need to simply limit searches to local government and newspaper websites, instead look for websites that may be used by criminals to post information. During any searches pay particular attention to any links to other websites that may be available, these often help in identifying affiliations for organizations (both legitimate and otherwise). Share any websites that may be of interest to agency managers as well as offering an honest critique if that agency maintains a website.

Review several days of local newspapers to determine if a consistent theme exists with the headlines. "Blotter Reports" or similar lists of police reports over a few days are a useful descriptor of recent criminal activity. For instance, if your company is a rental car agency and there have been a series of auto-thefts off of lots then it may be wise to inquire at the meeting as to the local response for the problem.

Speak with other businesses in the vicinity to learn of particular problems and their severity. Ask their opinion of the emergency response provided in the area and determine if there is logical foundation to their concerns. If there are complaints about crime and the police response determine what they have done to assist police and protect themselves. In many areas or shopping centers there are merchant associations that can be very helpful with information. Occasionally these associations will schedule awareness meetings with local law enforcement and offering your assistance in developing training for these meetings can do wonders for strengthening the partnership and understanding between yourself and the responding agency.

Review your company policies on non-emergency cooperation. Does you company allow the use of its buildings after-hours for K-9 or hostage negotiation exercises? If so, what restrictions are placed on the actors? Could your building be a vantage point for surveillance, or does it have facilities that may be useful for emergency command post operations (kitchen, showers, etc.) should a major incident occur at a nearby location? Simply saying to a government manager that you will assist in whatever way you can fails to identify the resources that may be available. This person will not likely be aware of your company’s resources and this is significantly worth mentioning, as it may become an important part of future partnering activities.

Write a letter, preferably on company letterhead, establishing contact and requesting a meeting in the future. Include a rough outline of the intended agenda to set a business tone for the meeting. Identify any specific information that you would like to see at the meeting such as vandalism or assault rates for the last three years. Many times agency managers are not granted sufficient opportunity for preparation to questions asked by persons seeking to identify incompetence where none necessarily exists. This letter should allow preparation and further aid in setting a relaxed business tone to future meetings.

First Impressions

The goal of initial meetings with members of the responding agencies is to develop a working relationship with the agency leaders and name recognition with individuals within any functional departments. Efforts should be made to speak with a District/Precinct Commander, Chief of Police (Fire Chief, etc.) depending on the size of the agency, and allow this person or their representative to make introductions to functional departments. Unfortunately it is not yet a common experience for companies to approach local agencies for any other purpose than to request assistance. As a result, patience and professionalism will ultimately establish the credibility necessary for a working partnership.

Having sent a contact letter identifying when a follow-up telephone call will be made, keep the date and make the call. This may very well be the first step in establishing credibility, which is most crucial in developing and maintaining a professional contact. Keep the phone conversation short and avoid trying to conduct the planned discussion over the phone. Make arrangements for a personal meeting, answer any questions from the agency manager and identify any specific information you will seek at the meeting.

During the first meeting there will be a considerable amount of "feeling out" to determine the level of professionalism and experience of the company representative. Expect it and do not feel insulted, it is highly unlikely that your reputation has preceded you. It is not uncommon to encounter police and fire chiefs that have never been approached by a business representative or security manager before a call for service. Keep in mind that it is entirely possible that at this point the government representative may have a low opinion of your particular company or the security profession as a whole. The cause of this opinion is not terribly important and continued professional behavior will move the discussion past such an inconvenience. The objective is to establish professional rapport, do not allow an ego to get in the way of business. Being tactful and avoiding the urge to demonstrate prowess through "war stories" will go much further than an impromptu competition. Should the meeting begin to take this turn then it is time to end it by requesting an introduction to a Community Services or Crime Prevention Officer. Although this officer is not likely to be a senior manager, it is most probable that they are familiar with the various functional departments and are willing to assist with building a partnership. Ordinarily though this will not be an issue and a valuable connection can be made with an organizational leader. A strong organizational tie at this level creates a foundation for future support in the event that a problem develops with a line officer, and further allows for informal reporting of activities both good and bad. It stands to reason that most managers would prefer the casual statement of a concern and an opportunity to resolve the issue rather than responding to a formal complaint. Taking this one step further, the officer involved will gain the understanding that your company is ultimately interested in a cooperative effort. Being a professional means expecting the same level of conduct from peers, but does not require efforts to attack others performance record, serious misconduct aside. In addition exceptional performance by responding agency members goes unnoticed. Take the time to identify top performers to organizational leaders in conversation and writing when appropriate. Recognizing good performance lends weight to any type of complaint at all levels of an organization.

Initial meetings should identify the company’s expectations as well as those of the government agency. Explain training programs and standards of conduct for members of the company security department as well as general awareness programs. If all of the company security officers are Emergency Medical Technicians this could be of valuable knowledge to responding police officers or firefighters. Let this leader know the most common crimes that your company encounters and ask how these are handled within the department. Solicit the names of officers and supervisors in such functional departments as Crime Prevention, Investigations, Patrol and Technical Services for future reference as well as gaining support for similar meetings with departmental representatives. Use this meeting to learn how special investigations, such as arson or juvenile crime, are processed in that locality. It is not uncommon for there to be some competing activities between the Police and Fire Departments when arson is suspected or jurisdictional conflict during bomb threats. Knowing this in advance may help prevent problems any inadvertently bruised egos. This also opens the door for further liaison activities between these competing efforts by identifying in advance the need to take a leadership role to limit duplicated efforts. Demonstrate through well though-out questions and straightforward answers that your interests are with a successful protection and response plans. Professional interaction at this level of the organization will set a similar tone for communication at all levels.

What If Top Managers Are Uncooperative?

Arranging for personal meetings may be difficult for several reasons including the agency manager not be receptive the company, travel costs and the proximity of the security manager to the agency as well as egos and personality conflicts. Obstacles can be overcome to attain the goal of a working partnership, however a considerable amount of patience and professionalism may be necessary. Any time a member of a government agency is uncooperative with attempts to meet begin looking elsewhere within the agency for contacts. It is certainly possible that the last experience an individual had with your company was not a good one.

Should the senior official you are seeking make it clear that they will not meet with you or the dodging becomes blatant then you will need to begin making the functional department introductions on your own. Utilize opportunities and services to make contact with various individuals within the agency.

Inviting a Crime Prevention Officer to tour your facility is an excellent way to bring about contact with a member of a Police Department. During a walk-through and conduct a short meeting with prepared questions. Have these questions available in print should the officer not have answers immediately available, and encourage them to contact you with the information for the unanswered questions. Ask the Fire Marshal for a courtesy walk-through during which possible violations can be identified and any number of referrals can be obtained. Visit the agency offices and seek a tour of their facilities or arrange for a ride-along with patrol officers near the company’s facilities.

In other situations it may be best to politely confront managers that are unwilling to meet and ask them if there is a problem. Often just identifying that you are a new manager and are unaware of anything that may have transpired in the past can be the foundation for some fairly open and frank discussions. If someone does not want to meet then there is a reason and although the reason is not necessarily of importance, knowing the reason will aid in working past it. Here again is another situation where egos can cause conflict and undermine the process of developing professional dialogue. Whatever the reason is for making a meeting difficult it is unlikely to be personal, especially if there has not been any previous discussion.

When A Meeting Isn't Immediately Possible

Where the security manager has responsibilities for remote locations and travel is cost prohibitive for the purpose of this meeting other options should be considered. Sending a letter and making arrangements for a telephone discussion can work well also, so long as a personal introduction occurs at the first opportunity. The longer the time between the telephone contact and the personal introduction can also impact on future reception by the agency manager. A good rule of thumb is no more than a month between the conversation and meeting. Should travel be prohibitive for a considerable amount of time, then options such as e-mail and telephone conversations may be used to maintain a dialogue prior to visiting. This will still place you, the person responsible for maintaining liaison with local law enforcement, at the top of the contact list if an issue arises. It can be an odd experience to conduct cooperative investigations with a law enforcement agency and not meet the primary detective until the conclusion. Situations such as this are certainly not advisable but when necessary require a great deal of communication to establish credibility and trust that allows the successful resolution the investigation. The old adage to treat others as you wish to be treated is essential to these situations. "Playing phone-tag" is not acceptable or polite so every effort should be made to return messages promptly or establish regular times for contact. If the latter is done then it should be treated as a high priority meeting with notes and questions prepared. Possibly the most important nonverbal pieces of telephone communication are making calls on time, being where you have stated you would be and having pertinent information ready.

Functional Department Meetings

Name recognition and working relationships with functional departments allows rapid sharing of pertinent information on current problems and facilitates the opportunity for a higher standard of training and awareness for both the government agency and the company employees. Often the best time to meet with officers in functional departments is the 15-20 minutes prior to the start of their shifts or over a meal. It’s always nice to offer free lunch and a tour of the facility for these meetings but unless there is truly something of interest at the facility then it is just another obligation. Make it easy to attend and more difficult to avoid by setting the meeting at the officer’s station or another convenient location. When speaking with representatives from functional departments discuss how you may need their assistance and your experience with similar incidents.

Prepare your questions prior to the meeting and plan on no more than 10 minutes for yourself and the same for the officer. Exchanging business cards is not enough to convince anyone that an open line of communication exists, provide an off-hours contact number for yourself so that you can be contacted directly should there be a concern arise. Treating messages or pages from such a contact as a high priority for return is respectful and will warrant the same in response. This timely response encourages open and frequent communication.

Ties with members of functional departments can be strengthened by making invitations to in-house training events or nearby seminars that may be of interest. Inviting a detective to visit an in-house session on interviewing may result in a reciprocal offer, which creates the opportunity train alongside a number of officers. If no reciprocal offer is made, your staff still benefits from a different point of view during the training.

Security Open-House days are an excellent means to increase employee awareness, so why not expand the invitation to the police, fire and any other local departments with whom you work closely. In such an instance, employees will not only benefit from the heightened awareness of the company’s program but also from a better awareness of government programs.

Developing these relationships can also provide valuable intelligence as officers seek assistance in responding to problems at nearby businesses. In a retail setting in which the officer is aware that your location utilizes CCTV they may ask if there are images of an individual or if employees remember seeing a suspect. In return, efforts can be taken to prevent similar issues at your own location. If offices in the area are experiencing vehicle vandalism or theft a cooperative effort may bring a rapid resolution that otherwise might not have been possible without an established partnership.

Sharing The Wealth

Maintaining partnerships with local agencies is a useful tool to expedite the resolution of problems requiring outside assistance. Unfortunately the process of developing this partnership would itself be greatly expedited if incoming managers were introduced prior to the departure of their predecessors. Due to the common practice of not filling a position before it is actually open, personal introductions my not be possible but, there are other ways to share institutional knowledge with new managers. Every opportunity should be used to make personal introductions between new managers and agency representatives.

Although many contacts that are made can be useful in the next position, others develop into personal relationships which can hinder one’s willingness to share the information with a new manager. This may be particularly true if the departing manager was separated involuntarily from the company. Normally a professional courtesy should be extended to any incoming manager by providing as much information as possible about previous operations. This serves to soften any transitional times for both departmental employees as well as any professional contacts. However, introductions between individuals should be no more than just that, foregoing activities attempt to force interaction. All managers are not alike so it stands to reason that some agency contacts will fade, but once a tone of interaction has been established the persons maintaining the partnership can change without eliminating the communication.

While personal introductions may not be possible due to separation dates, it is possible to set the stage for the transition of the communication. Most easily accomplished by scheduling a meeting in advance with agency representatives and explaining to them that you will not be present (unless you can out of goodwill) due to the change of management. This allows the agency representative to contact the new manager and "remind" them of the meeting. At the very least a short and easily digested set of notes should be left for the incoming manager to assist with the transition. These notes should include names and phone numbers of those who have been of assistance from any agencies as well as referencing any documentation that may better explain the incident and the agency’s involvement.

Why Bother?

The business environment is changing and is likely to continue changing in the future, but one constant is the likelihood that a call for assistance will be made to an outside agency. Anticipating this need and preparing the lines of communication will inevitably reduce the necessary resources for resolving these incidents. Sharing open communications with new managers through some form of institutional memory avoids the need to "reinvent the wheel" and further establishes professional credibility.