Undersheriff Don Adams of Okaloosa County Talks About Police Officer Training

Michles & Booth Video Blog: Undersheriff Don Adams of Okaloosa County

Hi, and welcome to this week’s installment of our video blog. I’m Marcus Michles here at Michles Booth, and as you know, we do this every week but this week we’ve got a really special guest, Undersheriff Adams. Yes…from Okaloosa County. Okaloosa County. And I had to ask where is the term “undersheriff” come from. It’s a cool term, but I don’t hear it too often.

It goes all the way back to old England when the sheriff had an undersheriff, his number two guy or vice or however you want to describe that number two person that helped him take care the business of the sheriff. And the real duties include all the hard jobs that the sheriff didn’t want to do himself. Well, I…You can’t say that…yeah, I think get the light lifting, I guess.

I said it for you. Thank you. Thank you.

So, but you’ve got you got your hands in just about everything from policy to training, everything political to non-political…getting the job done… Absolutely…and getting the job done right. And it’s funny, because given my background, I’d never see myself here. When I was driving a green and white deputy sheriff car, I didn’t worry about how much insurance was or how much gasoline was or how do we put our tires on it or the liabilities associated with having somebody out driving one around and running code to incidents and having traffic crashes. I just wanted to go out there and do good work and…just wanted to lace the boots up and go… that’s it…and uh…so I have a unique perspective in that having driven a green and white around and come up as a working law enforcement officer. I’m pretty well-positioned, I think, to look after the citizens, and more importantly, the folks that service the citizens and make sure they’re properly trained and equipped.

Well, I’ve never been in law enforcement, have a tremendous amount of respect for it, but I understand one thing that’s always true, and that’s credibility. You’ve got to street credibility both with your deputies and the guys that you work with every day, and as you move into administration, you have to have paid your dues and understand what the challenges are on the street, but then and now you’ve got to interface with the lawyers and the politicians, and you’ve got to kind of cross over a little bit.

Yeah. It’s got to be a big challenge. It is. I bet it’s fun. It’s fun and it’s very rewarding. Well on behalf of the people that may be watching this, I’m going to tell you I’m a big fan of what you guys do. You guys do a great job. It’s a challenging environment, and you’re doing it every day with less and less resources.

Let’s talk a little bit about training because we were we had…we had the sheriff on last week, and he did a great job explaining some the challenges with the increase in crime, which is happening through an increase in demographics, while at the same time budgets are, you know, getting squeezed tighter and tighter. It’s got to present almost the perfect storm, in a way. We talked a little bit about on-body cameras, the body can helping to create a resolution to disputes about what did and didn’t happen. But I’d like you to talk to me a little bit about how are you train the modern police officer, who’s got to be technically skilled; he’s got to be socially skilled; he’s got to be demographically sensitive. He’s got to be intuitive. He’s got to be physically fit. He’s got to have all the skill sets. And he’s gotta do it for about thirty-five thousand dollars a year…yeah…which I’ve got to be honest with you is an insult. It’s an insult to…it’s really…as a community, we need to take a look at this problem and get some solutions, but how do you train these officers in the coming years and the increasing challenges and all this technology and all the standard, they’re going to be media stars now on top of everything else.

Absolutely. Well, I mean, it is a challenge and…and it starts with people don’t call a deputy to their house when they’re having a good day. They don’t say “hey, come on over to the Adams house. We’re having a great day today.” “We’re cooking out. Come over.” That’s not what happens. So, it’s very important that our folks are properly trained. You know, I was surprised when we fielded the body cameras. It was embraced by the rank-and-file. I mean they understand that it’s going to make them better. It’s going to give people a chance to see their perspective when things happen. In our training requirements, you know, the state mandates an awful lot of training. Unfortunate they don’t send dollars with the mandates, so you know, we have ancillary training requirements to deal with a crime against elderly, sex abuse on children, um…domestic violence. The list goes on and on and on, and perhaps the biggest challenge nowadays is keeping up with technology. I mean there’s so much technology out there that we can take advantage of. It’s all very expensive to implement and then you have to sustain it, so if you anybody pays for software licenses, you understand that year-to-year you’ve got to keep paying that bill. Part of what we’ve done in use technology to leverage our training opportunities is that we do a lot of video training now. Where it doesn’t require hands-on practical training, we…our officers can…if they have down time in their patrol cars, they can pull up their mobile computer terminal, their MCT, and handle a video training requirement that traditionally they would’ve had to go to a class room for.

You know, I was reading that I think it was Iowa last week became the first state to introduce a bill that mandated the use of these cameras. I don’t know how they’re going to pay for them with all their law enforcement agencies, but would law enforcement, for example, would Okaloosa County support a mandated, like a requirement, that these cameras be worn? I mean, it takes some of the discretion away from the officer. It takes some discretion away from the officer in terms of when and what to record, but I know there’s a trend that’s going to be, I think, progressing here where state’s and the legislatures are going to start mandating it assuming they can pay for it.

Is that a good idea? Well, I mean I don’t necessarily think it’s a good idea from the standpoint of all these mandates come down without dollars… right…and it’s incredibly challenging, and our biggest…my biggest job and the Sheriff’s biggest job day to day is prioritizing our funding and spending and how we spend money, and I think we’re in the best position to determine those priorities, certainly not someone in Tallahassee or Washington DC. We got way out in front of the body camera thing, because we think it’s the right thing to do. We think it’s important internally and externally, you know, to our organization that people understand we’re not afraid to have our officers’ actions record. Dollars being so tight and budgeting being so critical; it just seems to me it’s razor-sharp and is got to be so careful with dollars.

How do you…how do you approach the idea that what you really need, and I don’t have a feel for the challenges, but I got this perception, so I’ve got my opinion. How do you…how you budget for public relations? I mean you’ve just got to do something to improve the image that people are running around because of all the negative media, because all negative impressions, and it only takes one bad day for a cop to make a lot of enemies, right? That’s right.

Heaven forbid he’s having a bad day at the house, and it transfers over to work. He’s made ten enemies that are never going to forgive him on the street. How do you fight that in a modern world?

Well, we certainly don’t have a public relations or a marketing budget, but we have embraced social media. You know, we have a Facebook page, and it’s…if you just go to Facebook and search Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, you’ll be able to link to our Facebook page, and we…we try to get the…not just the crime story out there but the story of our officers and those up human interest stories that they get involved in, whether it be finding a lost kitten or recovering a dog that’s been abused, and surprisingly, those things are very, very popular. Animals…everybody loves animals, and we try to capitalize on those economical things that we can do to show our officers and deputies as human beings and things that they do day-to-day that people don’t understand, because it’s not all responding to fights.

You know, when you’ve got a lost child and somebody comes and helps you recover that child, or you’ve got out an elderly parent who has Alzheimer’s disease, and they wander away, that’s a good news story when that person comes homes. How do we get those stories out? I mean I know you guys are working on you Facebook page, but how do we sort of as the public, if we want to help, and I can tell you I’ve got a lot of friends who want to help. How do we help?

Well, a part of it’s creating that appetite for good news, and I know you and the Sheriff talked a little bit about, you know, the inclination is “if it bleeds, it leads” in the media so it’s…it’s hard to overcome that, but I think most people… I feel good when I read a good news story. I feel good when I hear about a kid that’s done something great for the community or a police officer or a deputy sheriff that does something that enhances the community, and it’s those positive things that truly enhance the community.

Maybe getting back to social media, what we need to be doing is being as vigilant in sharing the clips that are uplifting as we are about sharing those clips that show a traffic accident or something. And link to those sources, social media sources, that are positive, and you know, share those stories when you see them, when…if it makes you feel good. Share it with all your friends, whether it comes from the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s office or Michles & Booth’s Facebook page or wherever it comes from. Spread the good news.

So in terms of training, do you think that the cameras are going to require an added level of sophistication, language choice, is it…absolutely. Is it going to be a tool that keeps a guy honest and keeps him sort of in neutral? I think so, but there’s a challenge there. Anybody who’s ever been in harm’s way, your adrenaline and all that kicks in, and sometimes you speak with your inside voice rather than your outside voice, and it’s… there’s a learning curve associated with that, you know.

Yeah…making sure that you always understand that what you’re saying potentially is a public record and somebody is going to be able to hear that.Yeah. And it helps, I think, it helps our folks keep that professional footing under them all the time, knowing that they’re…

Well, we were talking about this before we came on. I was sharing my threshold question whenever somebody brings something to me, and they want to judge it harshly. I always…I always ask the threshold question “have you ever feared for your life”. Right. Because if you have, you understand that time, space, adrenaline, heartbeat, blood pressure, everything changes.

Absolutely. The decision matrix in that moment is not the decision matrix that you make under training circumstances. That’s right. For those, and I know you’ve experienced those moments, when people that have experienced those moments, judging a 30-second clip of video, it’s not a fair judgment on that environment. So, it’s just an added challenge, seems to me, on law enforcement…it is…that you’ve got to be prepared for.

Yeah, and you know, we’ve established policy. There’s legislation pending now that…and basically talks about body cams, and it says that, you know, every agency will establish policy if they’re using them and establish a training program, and we’re well ahead of all that. You know, we…we didn’t wait on Ferguson to make our body cam decision. We started a beta tester about two years ago, and it’s absolutely essential that our folks understand that their actions are being recorded, that the citizens understand that actions are being recorded. We weren’t two days out of the blocks with body cameras. We had a citizen come in and complain about the actions of our deputy, and once the video was reviewed, I walked in two days later and there’s flowers on my desk from this citizen apologizing and extending their apology to the deputies.

Can you envision a future where you feature successful encounters, almost a library of incidents where it’s like “look, this is, this is the way it’s supposed to work”. An officer responds, diffuses a situation, you know, violence is avoided. There’s a happy ending. You bring that up and actually on Christmas Day in Destin, two of our deputies…very early in the morning on Christmas Day…saved a man from a burning car, and he had been in a traffic crash, and his car was engulfed in flames. Flames had breached the passenger compartment of the car, and those video cams captured every second of that, and that was a great good news story. I mean 20/20, the Fox News morning show, it was featured all over the country, and yeah, there’s a lot more of that kind of thing that goes on in police work across the board than a shooting or use of force situation.

So, yeah, it’s a challenge to get it out there. I think part of it is a society to cultivate that appetite for good news and stuff that makes you feel good rather than the stuff that thinks…

You know, well, I don’t mean it’s so much from a cheerleading perspective, although I think there’s value there, I think it’s just from an educational perspective. I think we begin to think that the only time that law enforcement is involved, there’s some sort of really dramatic outcome. Yeah.   We just need to dilute that negative trend by establishing, you know, positive encounters. Absolutely. And showing that it’s just “listen, for the most part, were very successful”. Yep.

Well, the body cameras will certainly allow us to do that, because we capture virtually our policy is if there’s a citizens encounter and there’s any potential that there’s going to be a law enforcement action, our deputies are required to turn on that camera and make sure that they capture that interaction.

How do we increase the budget? I mean, how do we had a effluence the dollars necessary to get higher-quality folks interested in law enforcement, get you the technology you need, get you the training you need, I mean, how does the citizen like myself help, you know, raise awareness that the numbers just don’t work right now? You know, we can’t be forced to failure, and it’s, and it’s not in our DNA to fail. Unfortunately no matter what you take away, we’re going to find a way to do the very best we can with what we are given, and that problems unique to law enforcement. I think teachers face the same thing; the nursing profession, same thing, undervalued for what they contribute to society.

I’m a sports fan so, you know, I like it when somebody signs a five-star athlete to a contract and, we’ve got a winning team. As Brian is complaining today because the French franchise tag is only going to pay him $13 million dollars. I know. I know. That’s pretty tough. You woke up today feeling pretty bad for him about that. Yeah, I did. I felt real bad.

So, you know, it’s a challenge. That’s what we value was a society, you know. We’ve…somehow we’ve got to change that dynamic, that thought process that goes on, and it’s one family at a time. You know, it’s one Alzheimer’s patient to stop that walks away from home and is recovered safely by the police when…and, and, and the sheriff’s department…when people start understanding the value. Until it hits you personally, it’s…its… really doesn’t matter.

Well, know this for sure. There’s lots of us out here that are big fans of what you do. Don’t thank you guys enough, I’m sure. We’ll be just as quick to judge you when you make a mistake, I won’t lie to you. We’ll…I believe in personal responsibility. And we need to be held accountable.

But I do think that we need to combat this distorted view that we’re dealing with publicly, and we need to get busy as citizens. For those of you watching our videoblogs, great, great generosity with your time, Undersheriff Adams. I really do appreciate you coming by. We need to get you guys out here more often. The people that watch us, they’re paying attention to the law, and we need to talk a little bit about how laws impact what you do, both handcuff you and help you. Yep. We’d like you to come back.

Absolutely. Yeah. Absolutely. It’s important stuff that helps us get the word out, and we certainly want an educated public, and we want them to understand what our challenges are and certainly want to be able to talk about our successes. Good. We’re going to do that. Thanks.

For everybody watching, obviously, we’ve been joined by some really special guests the last couple weeks, but if you have comments or questions, give me a call. You can reach us at michlesbooth.com/blog You can just call me anytime. I’m Marcus Michles. The number’s in the book. I’m easy to find. Talk to you next week.


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