Over last weekend I spent most of my time on two ride-alongs, one with the Chapel Hill Fire Department and the other with the Chapel Hill Police Department. Below are just some of the thoughts I had during these experiences.
Paperwork and Free time: Police and Fire departments aren’t the action filled professions that people often think they are. Firefighters experience a lot of downtime in their day to day shifts. Which is a good thing because that means less fires and injuries. And firefighters do a good job of filling their time with exercise, training, and record keeping, but there is still A LOT OF DOWNTIME during the day. And a fire station is essentially a small college dormitory, consequently creating the feel of a college dormitory dynamic between the firefighters.
For police you know that paperwork is part of the job, but you don’t really realize how much paperwork is part of the job until you experience it. I would say that 60% of my ride-along was experiencing paperwork being done. For every stop or citizen interaction that was made, the duration of that interaction probably meant at least an equal amount of time of paperwork being done.
Power of the Street Level Bureaucrat: In class we talked a lot about the amount of discretion that street level bureaucrats have in their jobs and how it effects a citizen’s perspective on their government. I don’t want to go into too much detail about my experiences on this topic, but the amount of discretion that street level bureaucrats have is immense and at times made me feel uncomfortable to experience. But at the same time this topic isn’t black and white where less discretion leads to better outcomes for citizens. I just thought it was worth mentioning that we give our police a lot of responsibility, power, and discretion to carry out our laws and keep us safe.
Same Administration, Different Worlds: This is a memo to anyone interested in becoming a municipal manager one day. Police and Fire department cultures are different than what you will manage with other departments. They have their own set of shared assumptions that come with the nature of their jobs. Your influence over a cultural change with police and fire could be very difficult if near impossible given how different their jobs are from other municipal departments.