Who’s Your HR Subject Matter Expert? (Hint: It’s Not You)

by | April 13, 2022

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series. Click here for the previous article.

Gordon Graham here—thanks for taking the time to read my ramblings regarding the world of risk management operations. Hey, speaking of “world,” it is once again time to visit the Wayback Machine. “Golly gee, Mr. Peabody—are we here?” The start of this piece takes us back 84 years…

…. to the evening of Oct. 30, 1938. Radio listeners across the U.S. heard a startling report of mysterious creatures and terrifying war machines moving toward New York City. But the hair-raising broadcast was not a real news bulletin—it was Orson Welles’ adaptation of the H. G. Wells classic The War of the Worlds.

For those of you not familiar with the story of that great scare, it is fun to read about, but a lot of people who listened to that broadcast thought there was some invasion afoot, and it caused a lot of problems for a lot of people.

With this in mind, I will move into my own world of fantasy. I touched on this scenario briefly a long while back, but let’s dive in with a lot more detail. And please remember, this is not real, do not panic, do not call 9-1-1. This is purely “make believe to make a point.”

You are the chief of police and right now in your city you have a major event in progress. In a mixed commercial area, you have a preschool with 40 children present. There is a small hospital on the left side of the preschool and an elder care center on the right side.

A group of terrorists has seized the school (if you have not read Terror at Beslan by John Giduck, please do so) and they have already killed all the adult males and large male teens. They are using the school’s technology against the surrounding cops—cameras and remotely locked doors and gates are now benefiting the terrorists. They have issued demands to have some of their brother and sister terrorists released from prisons in Israel, France and England. They have wired up each of the children with explosive neck collars and are threatening to kill (with a live TV feed) one child per hour until their demands are met. Additionally, the on-scene SWAT cops have determined the terrorists have also wired the elder care center and the hospital with high-powered explosives.

You do not fully understand the idiosyncrasies and risks involved in public safety employment law—so don’t pretend you do.

The estimate is there are about 30 terrorists involved in this major event—and you are the incident commander. You have air support in the form of two police helicopters (local police because the State Police reported there was a cloud over there someplace, which prevented them from flying today) and they are providing you with a live feed of the situation. In your command post you have the fire department. The mayor of your town is present (it is an election year) and someone from the FBI who wants to take charge is on scene and someone from the Secret Service, who is trying to chat with an attractive female news reporter (as close to reality as this is, remember I am making all of this up). The Salvation Army has now appeared with food and other aid items.

As the incident commander, you are very troubled about what to do and how to do it. Your SWAT commander says they have a clear shot on number of the terrorists, but she also tells you the terrorists might have “dead man” switches that will cause the bombs and neck collars to detonate if they are killed.

In the midst of all of this, one of your aides comes up and says, “Chief, I know you are busy, but the director of Human Resources from the city is on the outside perimeter and she has some advice for you on how to handle this situation.”

WHAT!!!! HR wants to give me advice on how to handle a tactical situation? Who the &$#@ does she think she is—some paper pusher from HR trying to give me—the Chief of Police—some advice on how to handle this major tactical situation!

As exciting as this is, dear reader, let’s get back to reality. Assuming you are the incident commander in the above hypothetical scenario, the anger and angst you feel right now is exactly what goes through the minds of every Society for Human Resource Management-certified risk manager in the U.S. when someone in police work THINKS they understand HR issues. While they may not know anything about tactical situations, they know the world of Human Resources and they are the SMEs in the world of HR.

Going back to my last article, if I were the chief of police, or the fire chief or the jail commander, I would not allow any supervisor, manager or executive to make any employment law decision without first consulting with competent HR personnel. You do not fully understand the idiosyncrasies and risks involved in public safety employment law—so don’t pretend you do.

There is another reason I want you to slow down and get their advice. If it all goes sideways and ends up costing the city a ton of money, you can always say, “Well, I asked HR and that was their advice.”

Now I am presupposing you have competent and fully trained HR personnel available to you, someone you can call to get advice. If you do not have them on staff, please do some checking right now with your city insurance carrier; my guess is they have someone on their team you can talk to prior to doing something really stupid that will cause you problems.

Well, that wraps it up for Family Seven of the 10 Families of Risk—which means in our next writing we will address some thoughts on the fastest growing family of risks we face—technology risks.

Timely Takeaway—Do some checking right now regarding who you could call in HR when you have a question regarding employment law risks in public safety. If you can’t identify anyone, get with your insurance carrier to learn about their experts available to you as a policy holder.

GORDON GRAHAM is a 33-year veteran of law enforcement and the co-founder of Lexipol, where he serves on the current board of directors. Graham is a risk management expert and a practicing attorney who has presented a commonsense risk management approach to hundreds of thousands of public safety professionals around the world. Graham holds a master’s degree in Safety and Systems Management from University of Southern California and a Juris Doctorate from Western State University.

More Posts
Share this post:

The Briefing – Your source for the latest blog articles, leadership resources and more