Just like any normal day, you leave your home with the intention of putting forth an honest day’s effort for an honest day’s pay. You learn that several community members have recently complained about one house that has not cut their grass since the quarantine began back in March. As the world slowly begins to reemerge from their homes, this location has become an eyesore for the community.
You proceed to the house with the intention of engaging with the homeowner about the property condition, providing some insight on the established requirements for maintenance, and establishing a mutually agreeable time frame to address the issue; nothing more, nothing less.
While this relatively innocent scenario plays out every day for thousands of regulatory code officials across the nation, too often it ends in tragedy.
With the most recent news of the shooting of a code enforcement officer in Augusta Georgia, it is important to remember that there is a risk that regulatory officials take each day to protect the “quality of life” in a community whether you work in West Valley City Utah or Aurora, Colorado.
Traditionally, code enforcement and other regulatory officials help protect the safety and health of citizens by ensuring that the buildings and land in a municipality are in accordance with housing and zoning ordinances. In addition to inspection and investigation of properties and buildings, code enforcement officers determine the nature of environmental or health hazards, nuisance violations and unsafe building conditions. Very necessary work, generally without the benefit of many of the protections and perks that come along with other enforcement-related jobs.
Code enforcement officers in the country have had their lives threatened, their vehicles damaged, and have been scared off by property owners for years. It is believed that 65% had been assaulted or threatened, and of those about 29% were threatened with a deadly weapon.
Therefore, officer safety should not only be a topic of discussion each day with your team, but it should be the number one priority for every code officer as they respond to complaints in their community. The current state of the nation has caused a wave of anti-police sentiment which code officers have unfortunately inherited, but each official should practice situational awareness and have safety strategies in place.
Creating a culture of safety requires consistent and thorough training. Educate your team and reinforce sound safety procedures with periodic safety training. Before you pick the perfect safety training course, do some research to determine which training courses, if any, are recommended by the code enforcement community. Management training courses are not as important as safety training courses if your goal is to arrive home safe each day.
5 Recommendations for Officer Field Safety
1. Engage in training that assists with being better prepared in every verbal encounter. Learn how to listen and speak more effectively, engage people through empathy and avoid the most common conversational pitfalls.
2. Increasing your situational awareness can give you an opportunity to escape or mitigate the danger presented by people or scenarios that could cause harm to you or those around you. Having increased situational awareness does not mean looking for trouble; in fact, the most effective way to win a fight is to avoid it all together.
3. Effectively use any Personal Protective Equipment (not just masks and gloves) to protect from the risk of injury by creating a barrier against workplace hazards. PPE should be provided, used, and maintained when it has been determined that it will lessen the likelihood of any injury and/or illness.
4. Vehicles used to conduct official business are to be operated in a safe manner consistent with local, State and Federal laws. The use of GOVs (Government-owned motor vehicles) is limited to official government business.
5. Generally, enforcement officers should have on clothing to clearly identify which department they represent. A uniform means a set of standard clothing worn by members of an organization while participating in that organization’s activity. For safety reasons, it is important to have identifying labels on your work apparel.
About the author: Marcus Kellum, MMPA CCEA
Marcus Kellum has trained thousands of code enforcement officials and inspectors across the nation. He spent nearly three decades in public service working with various cities and counties in Georgia, Colorado and the City of New York. He has held positions as code division manager, chief of enforcement, and department director. Marcus is a Certified Code Enforcement Administrator and holds a BS in criminal justice administration, and a master’s degree in management and public administration.