What’s the mission in public safety? “Preservation of life—not just length of life, but quality of life,” was Gordon Graham’s answer at Lexipol’s fourth annual Connect User Group Conference, held on September 6, 2023. The theme, “Empowering Safer Communities,” placed the question of mission and purpose front and center. From the opening keynote with actor and volunteer fire captain Robert Burke, who addressed the question, “What Is Our Why?” to Graham’s closing keynote, the Connect 2023 conference focused on strengthening first responders to strengthen their agencies and their communities in turn.
The conference included 18 brand new sessions covering the hottest topics in public safety, from wellness to recruitment and retention to leadership and culture to community engagement. The day was packed full of lessons learned over decades-long careers, practical takeaways for today’s first responders, and actionable steps to create a positive agency culture that results in better operations and safer communities.
Missed the Connect 2023 conference? Don’t worry—all sessions are available on-demand at lexipolconnect.com through October 6.
[Wellness] Is Coming from Inside the House
“Responders who are well will respond well,” Dr. Jaime Brower shared in a Connect 2023 session. The role of the agency is central in today’s discussion of wellness in public safety: What programs does your agency have in place to support wellness? How do leaders create a culture that supports wellness? Wellness, or lack thereof, starts within the agency itself. From the way you provide support to your personnel following a critical incident to the wellness resources you provide to the policies guiding your wellness program, it starts at the agency level. And while the cultural stigma around seeking help and prioritizing wellness is being chipped away at, there is more agencies can and should be doing.
One of the biggest trends we’re seeing today, covered at Connect 2023, is the increasing importance of peer support teams. And it’s not about simply having a peer support team, but having a thoughtfully established and well-trained one. This includes developing an effective policy framework, outlining how peer support members are chosen and establishing guidelines around confidentiality. It also includes how peer support members are trained, both initially and continuously. Peer support is one of the most effective wellness tools an agency can have to support the well-being of their personnel.
But that’s not the only hot topic in the wellness world. First responders must be mentally healthy, and wellness initiatives have largely been about “smashing the stigma” for a long time. But we can’t neglect the importance of our physical health and how it interacts with our mental and emotional health. Holistic wellness was featured heavily at Connect 2023 as well, with a session dedicated to helping first responders improve physical fitness, and conversations surrounding proper sleep hygiene and nutrition.
Your why influences your relationship with your community, your agency’s culture and your own wellness.
Culture from the Top-Down
“Building a leadership culture is significant for organizational change,” says Assistant Chief (Ret.) Jonni Reddick in a session on law enforcement recruitment. Just as with the challenge of wellness, many of the other challenges facing public safety today—like recruitment and retention—can be addressed by setting culture through effective leadership. What is “culture”? Culture is marked by the way the people in your agency treat one another—whether leaders and subordinates or peers—and how they interact with members of the community. Respect, integrity and accountability are the foundation of effective public safety culture. While specifics are different at every agency, what matters is that leaders understand their people and know what they’re looking for in their agency. This is obviously helpful when it comes to recruitment and retention: You can get people in the door and keep them at your agency for the long haul.
So, what do we actually mean by setting the tone for culture at the top? One key way leaders impact culture is through programs and standards—whether looking at programs such as flexible childcare or maternity/paternity leave to support parents, wellness resources, or anything else that meets the needs of your people. These programs can be simple, as long as they demonstrate the priorities of the agency and that you care for your people.
Ultimately, creating a culture of success and building a team-centered culture starts with leaders: Set the example for your personnel with your communication, your attitude, your interactions with colleagues and your interactions with the community.
The Meaning of the Job
What we do in public safety matters. When you took the oath, when you became a police officer or firefighter or EMT or correctional officer, you made a commitment to your profession and your community. You knew your “why” then, but do you remember it now? “A lot of the time, we don’t why we do this, but we know we have to do it,” Robert Burke said in his Connect 2023 opening keynote. When you understand and remember your why, you are better able to serve your communities, your colleagues and yourself. Your why influences your relationship with your community, your agency’s culture and your own wellness.
This year’s Connect conference looked to remind us why we do the job and to let that “why” drive us to better serve our communities, safely and professionally. If you missed Connect 2023 or want to catch up, watch the sessions on-demand until October 6.