Aug 15, 2009

Interview with Carl Wicklund, Executive Director of APPA

Carl Wicklund is the Executive Director of the American Probation and Parole Association (APPA). We sat down for this interview on Tuesday, August 11, 2009, at the National Forum on Criminal Justice & Public Safety. Mr. Wicklund was part of an earlier panel I attended at the Forum on Corrections Information Sharing. I wanted to probe the issue of law enforcement collaboration with probation/parole.

What is the best way to encourage local police-parole/probation collaboration?

I think that one of the premises that [must] be understood and appreciated for any of these partnerships between law enforcement and probation/parole to work is the fact that both groups have as their primary goal public safety. Now, law enforcement tends to be focused more on short-term public safety, where probation/parole has a dual purpose of both short-term public safety and long-term public safety, which ultimately means changing the behavior of that person on probation or parole. Where I’ve seen it really work, they come together and develop a joint mission that doesn’t degrade the strength of their own individual missions. There is some acceptance and understanding of the roles that both groups have and they look for commonalities, and obviously the main commonality is public safety. How they go about that can be very different -- there can be some meshing of that, but they have to be careful not to mesh it to a degree where you start getting mission-bleed. One of my concerns is that, in a lot of places where partnerships between law enforcement and probation and parole have occurred, probation and parole start seeing that balance of monitoring and behavior change getting out of balance, and they start seeing themselves [more] as law enforcement. It’s an easy trap to fall into because the compliance aspect for probation and parole is much more concrete than behavior change, which is a more difficult challenge. People tend to go towards that which is easier to define. A good partnership keeps people focused on what their primary roles are in order to meet that partnership’s overall goal.

Are there examples of strategies that encourage a balance between monitoring and behavior change?

I’m fond to saying that there is not best practice, there are really best people who are committed, dedicated, and skilled at what they do and they don’t lose sight of their long-term goals. It is very personality-driven, but I think that [a] strategy that is so important to any effective partnership between different units of government or different units of the justice system is what I call "horizontal diffusion," as opposed to vertical diffusion. I think that a lot of partnerships occur from a top-down push, where you have top leadership saying, "we are going to do this" and they push it down. The people that are mid-management or line staff ask “what do we give up to do this? You are just giving us more to do [, but] you are not relieving us of anything.” Instead, we should be looking at who are the leaders at all levels of an organization and working with them at the same time, coming at it horizontally, embedding it in the practices. When things are pushed from the top down you get a passive-aggressive resistance from people at other levels of an organization because they haven’t been part of it.

Don’t you always have to start at the top to get buy-in and approval?

No, I don’t think you have to start at the top. I think you have to have the top involved. Again, I’m talking horizontal diffusion; I’m not talking vertical where it’s from the top to the bottom. If you look at what happened with Boston Nightlight, how did that start? That started with a probation officer and a police officer talking, and saying “we have to work together,” and they pushed it in their respective agencies. They were not CEO’s, but they were leaders [in] what they were doing. My point is that there are leaders at all levels of an organization, and I don’t think that we always do a very good job looking at who are the champions within those mid-management positions, who are the champions in the line staff, and getting them involved. Find out who are the people that can make this actually work at different levels of the organization. Engage them, empower them to take this and run with it. Maybe you only have a pilot attempt originally or a certain neighborhood [to start], but let them go with it and let it diffuse through the system that way, rather having someone push it down like a food press.

Are there models for this?

So much is dependent on the individual or individuals involved. I think there are models in a sense that there are some principles that you need to keep in mind: you have to have a joint respect for each other missions, you have to look for the commonality in those missions, you have to have the blessing of the cops, you have to look at the workload and take that workload and devise it in a way that allows the people that are actually on the streets doing this stuff to focus on it. Doesn’t mean that you eliminate all of the other stuff, but you have to give some relief that way. There are models in good management, you can look at innovation. Look at 3M. They have crazy meetings where they sit around and throw out these ridiculous ideas and some of the best things that ever occurred come out of it. There are models that way, but I think ultimately what it looks like becomes very personal. If you and I develop a partnership ultimately for that partnership to work we have to get along. If there is any distrust between you and I that partnership is not going to work. So maybe you and I start a partnership, but people in your organization and people in my organization have some distrust. Then it is incumbent on me to deal and diffuse some of that distrust in my organization and you to diffuse some of that distrust in your organization. We help people in our respected organizations understand and appreciate the role that the other organization plays and the strengths and shortcomings that they may have. We have this joint mission that is not a threat to our turf or your turf.

How should information-sharing between probation/parole and law enforcement work in the reentry context?

I think that especially in this day and age people want to get all the information they can and then they will determine what is useful to them and what is not. The reality of that is that they will get overwhelmed. Just think of your email: do you want all the emails you are getting? But are you willing to put stops in place deterring some? Ultimately, when you talk about sharing information between different agencies within the justice system you really have to sit down and develop a business case for what is needed. Qhat does law enforcement and corrections really need? Not what do they want, what is going to help you do your job better. What is the interesting information that they have? I think that you have to build that business case. The kind of information that law enforcement needs is going to be different than the kind of information that probation and parole needs.

I gave some examples where law enforcements certainly would need or should have conditions of supervision because there are some nuisances to conditions of supervisions that tell you a lot about that person under supervision. For example, if you have a sex offender driving in a car with two little girls in the back and you [police officer] pulls him over for speeding. You [have] whatever the statute is in that state. [However,] there is nothing in there that says he has a condition of supervision not to have any contact [with minors] -- you don’t have that information. That’s an important thing for law enforcement to have. Or, if someone is a gang member and one of their [probation/parole] conditions is that they will not be displaying gang symbols [or] wear gang colors, etc. A law enforcement officer sees them standing on a corner doing just that. That’s not only important for law enforcements to know, it’s also important for probation or parole officer to know that the person is violating their conditions. I also gave the example of catching people doing things right because probation and parole have that dual role of ensuring that people are following their conditions of supervision, but also changing behavior. So if you are on my caseload as a probationer and you have a condition that you will not be out at certain hours or that you will be employed during certain times and a cop sees you working your job, I’d like you know that too. Then I do not have to do all these collateral contacts, and a cop can come up to you and say, “Hey I see that you are supposed to be working here and you are doing it. That’s cool. Way to go!” You get that kind of reinforcement of behavior and that informal social control that is so important for people to have in order to change. The formal social controls are important, but they are not the ones that typically change behavior, it’s the informal ones. In some smaller jurisdictions, you have people on a GPS tracking system and probation gets an alert that a person is in a exclusion zone [in other words, an area where they are not supposed to be]. You have a partnership with law enforcement, law enforcement is already over there patrolling, they can go look. There are so many false alerts with GPS that it is driving probation officers crazy because they have to respond to everything. If a probation officer goes inside someone’s house and is having a meeting with them and happens to see a letter from somebody that is an acquaintance and checks with law enforcement only to find out that that person is being investigated for some sort of drug trafficking, its very helpful for a law enforcement to know that person has been in contact [with your client].

Are joint police-probation/parole patrols a good approach to community supervision?

I think they can be great. I used to ask our officers to do ride-a-longs at least once a month with law enforcement. It was as much for them to have an appreciation for what law enforcement’s challenges where, what they were up to, what they were seeing, etc., as it was for law enforcements to [understand] the probation officers [perspective]. I know that a lot of places are doing that much more regularly than once a month, they are actually going out and doing home visits. I think that is great if people can stay true to their individual agency missions and at the same time have that joint mission too.

Posted by: Christopher Watler, Task Force Coordinator