October 14, 2015
By: Lindsay Wickham, Class of 2015 Design Team Member
Government in Action. As the design team set a goal of making government visible (more so than just the political candidates you see on TV), we wanted to create a day that showcased many different layers and aspects of government—and how is interacts with our everyday lives. Beginning the day at the Syracuse Police Department, we were immediately placed into “government territory.” Design team members opened the day with a video showcasing all the ways that you interact with the government in your morning routine—from turning on the lights, running water and driving in a car (while hopefully not getting pulled over)—all while rocking out to the inspirational musical number “Footloose.” Definitely a fun, yet accessible start to the day which painted a picture to the class that government really is all around us.
Our first speakers included Major Francis Coots (NYS Troop D Commander) and Major David Krause (NYS Police Department) who presented—for the first time ever in public—the after-action results of the Dannemora Manhunt, covering the escape of the two prisoners from the Clinton Correctional Facility in June 2015. When the investigation began, there were several days of “utter chaos” as the command post was located in an ineffective, old facility in which cell coverage and WiFi didn’t even exist. The next steps included mobilizing all participants and law enforcement agencies into the investigation and Major Krause described his leadership style as a team effort—he met with investigators and leaders from every troop across New York State to brief the team and gather ideas for next steps as an inclusive approach with multiple agencies working together towards a common goal. After several weeks, the team got a solid lead and eventually tracked and killed escapee Richard Matt (the officer was well within his legal realm to fire, as the suspect was aiming a weapon at him) and the capture of David Sweat (apprehended less than a mile from the Canadian border). We learned that based on the sheer size of the investigation, government agencies from across three countries and two states came together to work on tracking the escaped prisoners—which eventually ended without anyone from the public or law enforcement agencies getting injuries. Reasons for the success of the mission included: community/media support; executive and agency top-down support of local, onsite unified command/operations; and patience. This was a seriously awesome presentation and the entire class was able to interact, ask questions and the speakers left us wishing we had more time to hear about this incredible team effort to apprehend dangerous criminals that has escaped into our community. Thank to you each and every law enforcement agency and individual involved for keeping us safe and to the media for keeping us up-to-date and informed about the events in real time.
The day’s next speaker was Syracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler, who welcomed us to their facility and talked with us about various challenges he faced as a high-ranking official in our local government. His preferred method of decision-making is by calling a team together and talking about all sides of the issue and collectively solving it. In a department facing a shrinking budget and depleting resources, Chief Fowler has had to make tough decisions and be creative in order to avoid laying off staff and officers. He believes in aiming resources at a problem (namely, intelligence and technical knowledge) and is constantly working to get people to the table who are committed to working together to build a safer community.
The next part of the day featured a panel of individuals from across the local government—from law enforcement to city officials: Tony Callisto is Senior Vice President and Chief Law Enforcement Officer at SU’s Department of Public Safety; Stephanie Pasquale, Deputy Commissioner of Neighborhood & Business Development for the City of Syracuse; and Daniel Wears, Onondaga County Commissioner of Emergency Management. Callisto spoke about the nature of consolidation and modernization of government, notably discussing the successes and failures on the local level. The 911 Center was noted as a successful form of consolidation—incoming calls and outgoing dispatches from many different government entities were now housed in one place. This streamlined the effectiveness of customer service and response time and is now an important part of our day-to-day lives. Some issues and challenges of consolidation include up-front costs, potential elimination of jobs, and contract time constraints. He noted that the keys to success include collaboration and most importantly, citizen involvement at the local level. Stephanie Pasquale spoke about her consolidated department that administers four federal block grants for City of Syracuse neighborhoods that total $4.7M and holds regular public presentations and reporting for accountability. The Greater Syracuse Land Bank works to support the removal, sale and/or upkeep of vacant houses in the City—which adds up to 4.7% of all properties within city limits. Daniel Wears spoke about his department’s responsibility to mitigate incidents and hazards within our community—from weather emergencies to utility failures, epidemics and riots—putting a plan in place to ensure public safety in the case of an incident. They work with over 100 public safety organizations and noted that communication is key when preparing and training with various community partners.
After our amazing guest speakers concluded, the group split into tour and went on tours of the Syracuse Police Department (SPD) and the Onondaga County Justice Center. At the SPD, we got a glance into the holding cells, interrogation rooms, cold case department, warrant division, and a glimpse at the COPS camera system that has recently been deployed in carious neighborhoods throughout the City of Syracuse. At the Justice Center, we walked through metal detectors into what seemed like a completely different world. We witnessed the intake of new inmates, visited different levels of the facility (mental health floor, low and high security, indoor rec yard) and briefly experienced what a day in the life of an inmate was. Personally, I gained an immense respect for the individuals working in the law enforcement and criminal justice system—a huge thank you to those individuals working to keep our society safe—both outside and in justice facilities.
Through a working lunch, we welcomed guest speaker Nicholas Pirro, former longtime Onondaga County Executive (and namesake of the Oncenter, fun fact!) spoke to us about his experiences in local government. His experience ranges from the lake cleanup project to the creation of the convention center. Pirro mentioned his personal keys to success in public service/government which align closely with skills of strong leaders/influencers, such as: determination, strong listening skills, communication, be the best person you can be, and understand that it’s “not just a job.” He also mentioned that having competition is healthy and we learned that he even used a guerrilla marketing technique during campaigning: he handed out potholders instead of a pamphlet, when knocking on doors and introducing himself to voters—very cool.
The last part of the day, our group went on an additional outing to visit the 911 Center and the OCC Mulroy Building for some experiential learning about government. At the 911 Center, we got the inside scoop and floor tour out the most successful example that our guest speakers referenced throughout the day. The biggest takeaway of that experience was seeing the “1st first responder” in action. As a citizen, we saw how your emergency is handled—from the personnel who go through extensive training to ask questions and determine next steps, to the dispatchers sending out the fire/police/EMS service providers who actually respond and help the individual in need. Again, an amazing experience to see this in action—so many people helping our community be safe and get the help and services that they need. The last stop of the day was the OCC Mulroy Building—and the design team’s elusive agenda item—for the “table top activity” that really helped the entire day come together and SHOW the group how government works—by throwing us into a crisis situation. Used by fire/police/EMS trainees in real-life, our class got to respond to a situational crisis. Class members were assigned a role—fire, EMS, police, business owner, media representative and an incident commander—and we were given the situation of two inmates escaping from the local justice center, along with a fire that was also reported in that building. The class members were able to apply what we learned about teamwork and communication to eventually “solve” the crisis at hand. It was chaos in the moment, but really cool to reflect on and be able to “see” the different government entities working together.
Government Day showed the class the importance of teamwork, collaboration, and that open communication is key… the day really was a chance to experience Government in Action firsthand!