What We Learned from the Spring 2019 ASCIA Conference

Tonya Clement, general manager at Cardinal Peak Technologies, had the pleasure of attending this year’s spring conference for the Association of State Criminal Investigative Agencies (ASCIA) held in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Cardinal Peak is a proud sponsor of ASCIA, an organization launched here in Colorado by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation back in 1979. The informal first meeting brought together agencies from 11 states to discuss the landscape of law enforcement and to determine best practices. Forty years later, membership has grown to include agencies from 48 states and has expanded to two national annual conferences where law enforcement professionals share ideas and new approaches on topics such as improving public safety; communication between member agencies; addressing issues on local, regional, and national levels; and other new policies and procedures that could benefit all.

“Prior to attending the conference,” Tonya says, “I felt I had a good grasp of the biggest threats facing our country today. But what I didn’t have was sufficient respect for and understanding of the impact those threats are having on our local law enforcement communities.” Tonya described riding a rollercoaster of emotions throughout the conference, volleying between pride in the men and women serving us and being overcome by fear over how those very same people would get through the next week with such limited resources and proper funding.

She says that perhaps the biggest and most disturbing takeaway from this conference was how improbable it is that the school shooting epidemic will subside anytime soon. In fact, law enforcement communities from around the country believe the worst is yet to come. As modern schools grow more to resemble mini college campuses with multiple buildings spread out across the property, it can take four to five minutes to even get close to a school shooter—an eternity when the perpetrator can take lives in mere seconds. As if to underscore this stark reality, the day of this panel two students opened fire on their classmates at a Denver charter school, killing one and injuring eight others before authorities arrived on scene.

And it’s not just the changing architecture of schools that makes curbing this kind of crime a challenge. While civilians are counting on law enforcement to stop these tragedies, this expectation must be tempered by the reality of hiring and retention problems these agencies face. Many law enforcement organizations report having only a fraction of the staff they feel is necessary to serve their communities effectively, beleaguered by lack of funding and/or willing applicants.

Though it is unclear how or when this epidemic will end, every person at this conference believes a parent should be able to send their child to school without worrying about whether they will come home. To that end, attendees discussed many policies and practices that, if implemented, could help law enforcement prevent these tragedies from happening, including expansion of the guardian program, implementing anonymous tip tools, monitoring social media posts, adding threat assessment teams inside schools, adopting Red Flag reporting, and more live incident training. Leaders from individual state agencies also discussed how they’ve taken lessons learned from previous tragedies to help prevent future ones.

As if school shootings were not enough, officers are simultaneously plagued by other important and challenging issues such as attacks on places of worship, the opioid crisis, and cyber fraud, as well as attacks on fellow officers. Tonya reveals that as they were heading into the conference the following morning, attendees learned of yet another attack not far away in Biloxi. Robert McKeithen, an officer with the Biloxi Police Department for 24 years, was shot and killed outside of his station. He’d planned to retire later this year.

While the issues faced by law enforcement are grave, there are ways we can help. Civilians can start by reporting suspicious activity. Officers can’t be everywhere all the time, so it’s important that communities do what they can to direct resources where they may be needed most. Also, be aware of your kids’ social media activity. Many school shooters announced the crime before they committed it, so take threatening posts seriously. Encourage your kids to use apps to anonymously report suspicious behavior by peers (where available), and family members can make use of the Red Flag Law, which allows them to petition the state to temporarily remove firearms from a person who may present a danger to themselves or others.

Finally, Tonya encourages companies that work in tandem with law enforcement, like Cardinal Peak, to continue to sponsor conferences like ASCIA, as the more opportunities that law enforcement has to put their heads together or train, the safer our communities will be as a whole. Says Tonya, “It is almost too much for the heart to handle, but I believe it’s the obligation of those of us who work with law enforcement to continue advocating for the community.”