On a sunny morning, just across the bay from downtown San Diego, 39 law enforcement officers gathered to share their stories. All had one important thing in common: They represented a department with less than 50 sworn officers.
Small or rural police departments generally face different problems than their large urban counterparts. And although the overwhelming majority of the nation’s police departments are small or rural, too often they go about their work in relative isolation and with limited funding. To address this, the National Institute of Justice’s Rural Law Enforcement Technology Center (RULETC) convened representatives from small departments to share their concerns, ideas and solutions to problems affecting them.
“This is not just for rural and small but rural or small,” explains Scott Barker, RULETC’s deputy director. “40-person departments, whether in Nebraska or the suburbs of Chicago, are often very similar. Innovation is innovation, and we’re trying to get the word out here.”
The five-day conference included product demonstrations, technology overviews, guest speakers and—most significantly—peer presentations.
“To apply, officers send us a PowerPoint presentation that they will give to the group if selected,” says Barker. “The topics don’t need to be high-tech, just as long as they use technology in some way to handle the challenges of a small or rural department. This is how we evaluate our attendees. Other than that, they must be sworn officers and they must be in a position to take what they learn here and apply it to their own jurisdiction when they go home.”
In return, the NIJ pays for all attendee expenses for the week. Attendees came from all across the country, and their topics ranged from electronic ticketing to aviation technology to records-management databases and turf battles. Discussions following the presentations were lively and frank, often carrying on long after the sessions were over.
“In one day, I solved four big problems by being here,” Chief Darryl Breckenridge of the Fair Haven (N.J.) Police Department says.
“The first was a battery problem I’d been having with a hybrid vehicle we’ve put in service,” says Breckenridge. “It turns out the Aspen PD had the same problem, and they helped me to fix it. Then I was talking about a computer purchase that we were looking at, and it turned out that another department here had a $13,000 computer server that wasn’t being used, and they donated it to our department. I met someone else with a department exactly the same size as mine, and I told him about some staffing issues we had. He was able to share with me his staffing schedule, which we’ll look at implementing when I return. Then I learned that storing bulletproof vests in the trunk can destroy their integrity because of the intense heat—all in one day!”
The casual, grassroots nature of the conference is emblematic of RULETC Director Rod Maggard’s style. “Everybody here will learn something to take home with them. I love that,” he said. “And every day I learn something new from these guys.”
For more information, visit the RULETC Web site,