Wednesday, October 28, 2009 the Future?

San Jose - When I first started into public safety communications, I wanted to learn and see as much as I could. Being in my 20's and on a budget, I went to my first two trade conventions largely on my own dime. I took the Greyhound to Milwaukee in 1986 and drove myself and a colleague to Baltimore in '87, staying in less expensive hotels on the fringes of the downtown, and taking public transit to the convention areas.

After finishing Aircraft Dispatcher school, I found an opportunity to do kind of the same thing, while getting the latest information on an industry that has long been of interest to me, and made up a good portion of the best part of my career.

The Air Medical Transport Conference, here through this evening, is the annual gathering of the Association of Air Medical Services. Back in the 80's, the organization was known as ASHBEAMS (American Society of Hospital-Based Emergency Air Medical Services), and changed their name to AAMS in the early 90's. It's certainly more reflective of the international scope of the profession, as well as the varied ways that these services are delivered around the world.

I wanted to see how the industry has changed, how it compares to other segments of EMS that I've been more familiar with from recent work experience, and what challenges exist from a financial, regulatory, and operational perspective. This is of particular interest, given some significant changes in business models, service delivery modalities, and the attention of government to the manner that the industry operates in the wake of one of the worst years for accidents and fatalities in recent memory.

I had a pretty good time here; it was about par with most conference trips I've taken since that loss leader tour over 20 years ago. I'll have much more about what I saw and found out over the next few days.

In the meantime, I'm glad that I'm not flying back to Denver tonight. I would likely not be getting there. It looks like when I do return early next week, the snow flying tonight will be melting like crazy, as temperatures are forecast to be in the 60's.

Have a good rest of the week.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

An End to a Beginning

Last Friday I completed the Aircraft Dispatcher course at Jeppesen Academy. I decided to stay and take a two-day International Flight Planning course on Monday and Tuesday. Some of my classmates (pictured at right) stayed as well. They are from, among other places, Luxembourg, Australia, and Singapore. Other classmates have returned home to places like Missouri, Ohio, Montana, Germany, and Nigeria.

Due to scheduling issues, my FAA oral and practical exam was moved from last weekend to yesterday. Despite having to slug my way through the manual flight plan from hell, things went very well, and I now have my FAA Aircraft Dispatcher license. I drove back to Grand Junction last night.

There's lots to get caught up with, and I'm going to have a very busy few days before getting on the road again next week. School was an interesting and fairly intense experience, considering the body of knowledge and the need to be able to combine all of the study areas into the ability to exercise what is known as Operational Control in some segments of the aviation industry.

There are some segments of the industry in which I have an ongoing interest and considerable experience, and I'm going to try to pursue those avenues as much as possible. The location of those opportunities will probably play a big role in where I go, but for now I'm interested in getting into an aviation-related business somewhere close.

It's the beginning of another interesting road. The journey is what makes it worthwhile.

Have a great evening.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

G.J. Confidential

Glenn Coyne probably picked the first motel sign he saw, eastbound on I-70 coming out of the foothills, entering the western fringe of Metro Denver along its longest surface street, and ironically just a block or two from the city limits of Lakewood, where the interim Chief that fired him normally plies his trade.

That's about as far as I'll go into speculating about the sad end to the life of a husband, father, police officer. The loud headlines and reporting told everything else that will sell newspapers and boost the almighty ratings book, but told precious little about what was going on with this man, and what his real story might have been.

I knew this man, not well enough to say anything profound about his final days or his motives. I certainly did read enough about his missteps, alleged and otherwise, under the byline of the Daily Sentinel's new crime dog, Paul Shockley. He has certainly taken the bull by the horns in reporting on numerous stories of late involving crime, prosecutors, and the court system.

In recent weeks, Mr. Shockley explored the alleged criminal activity of Mr. Coyne and former officer Courtney Crooks with a fervor and diligence that calls up something between a James Ellroy potboiler and the latest exploits of Nancy Grace. I was riveted, I tell you, by the sordid account of then-Deputy Coyne of the Santa Rosa County (FL) Sheriff's Department crashing his patrol car. Wow....

I believe that the jury is still out on whether this latest reporting will contribute to substantive improvements in our community's impression of law enforcement. In the meantime, I'm visualizing Mr. Shockley hunched over an old Underwood portable, clacking away like Danny DeVito, "on the Q.T, and very hush-hush".

To his credit, Mr. Shockley has also taken an approach to crime reporting that I haven't seen in a long while. When a member of the media mentions the "recommended bond schedule" that judges follow when deciding how much bail to assign a defendant for release from jail pending trial, it's a unique occurrence. Considering the largely unreported number of outstanding warrants in our court system, this line of reporting could definitely be some interesting reading, especially when judicial retention elections are on the horizon. Keep it up.

As the other paper in town opined recently, in GJPD we still trust. Having been part of that department for a lot of years, and having spent my share of that time in management's doghouse, I can appreciate the extraordinary amount of diligence and effort that goes into assuring that whoever represents the department as an employee is capable of that role from all manner of perspectives and requirements. Due diligence in these areas makes a lot of sense, and Chief Camper's request for an outside audit can certainly help sharpen those processes, and/or bring some of the realities of trying to find qualified people into sharp perspective.

Here's to success in those future efforts, along with a wish for measured, careful, diligent reporting of crime and punishment in the local media.

I take my FAA oral and practical examination this weekend, and if successful I will walk away a licensed Aircraft Dispatcher. Then the real fun will start.

Have a good week ahead.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Happy Campers...Well, Maybe Not

Everybody wants to change the world.
Nobody wants to change themselves.

Denver - I said I was going to spend this past weekend prepping for the Final Exam and FAA written exam at the end of this week, and I have started, but I'm probably not where I should be. Nevertheless, I did get laundry and grocery shopping done, as well as begin resolving an issue regarding lots of items stored over here. So I wasn't technically being unproductive. I'm building my flash card index (thanks, Leslie) for this week's finals while studying regulations for the first of four tests this week. Anyway, here's what caught my eye over the last week or so:

You kind of have to feel for Grand Junction interim Police Chief John Camper. Less than a month into his tenure, he has to deal with the public fallout of having two officers accused of criminal activity, as well as have a spat with the Daily Sentinel over the release of information concerning one of these officers. The Sentinel's latest editorial contained a little more of a conciliatory tone, but nonetheless puts the weight of the public eye into a significant mandate for credibility and trust. This tempest has made its way from the GJPD's teapot over to the Sheriff's Office, as one of the accused officers started his local policing career there.

I'm not going to delve into the particulars of the individuals accused, and subsequently separated from the department. The mainstream media will handle all of that very well. My concern lies with the remainder of the employees of
the GJPD, and how the culture of that organization functions as a mechanism of support for those trying to ply the trade in the wake of another wave of negative publicity.

Ralph D'Andrea had a thoughtful post yesterday on the nature of the investigation. He brought up the idea of a civilian review board, and increased transparency when it comes to these types of investigations. It's worth a read.

From my perspective, I think that you have to have the ability to laugh at yourself to survive some of the stressors of the job. One factor that affects communications people is maintaining readiness when all the work is caught up, and you're just manning the phones and radios waiting for the next call.

Early on in my tenure at GJRCC, I once compared a dispatcher's cross-stitch project to a black velvet Elvis painting. The following shift, the inside of my locker was plastered with magazine photos of "The King". I kept those up until the day I left for good, in part to laugh at myself, and in part to remind myself of the need to express myself judiciously and carefully.
It worked...sometimes.

Here are some pictures of the Fruita Police Department's entry in the Bed Races at last month's Fruita Fall Festival. Pig noses, pink pajama bottoms, and an exquisitely decorated chariot with the team's name on the side.

To quote the Fruita officer's Facebook page where these pictures came from, "I think we cover almost all the cliches we could think of". And yes, that appears to be a donut on the end of a fishing line.

This is what I mean by being able to let loose a little bit and laugh at yourself. Public Safety is a serious business, but the human factors need to be addressed as well, perhaps over and above tangible items like compensation and benefits.

I can certainly see not only the public relations benefits of these types of activities, but also the positive effects on those doing the job, perhaps to keep them from taking themselves too seriously. Well done.

In the community relations arena, one particular incident was brought to my attention last week. I'm mentioning it with a little more depth because it received ZERO coverage in the Grand Junction mass media.

In previous posts I've mentioned the activities of Housing First! No More Deaths!, a homeless advocacy group that had its genesis over this past summer. Apparently the group continues to meet on Tuesdays in Whitman Park. According to a post on Facebook and several independent media websites:

"An organizer of the Housing First! No More Deaths! campaign was arrested 09/29/09 during the group's weekly meeting, in an act of politically targeted police abuse of power. Housing First! No More Deaths! is committed to empowering people to actively and collectively work to address root causes of houselessness and create grassroots solutions.

The arrest of Jacob Richards was an obvious act of retribution for his political activities. On 9/28/09, Richards assisted local houseless community members who were being harassed in a public park by two officers from the Grand Junction Police Department. The same two officers returned on 9/29/09 during the publicly advertised campaign meeting, asked Richards to identify himself, and arrested him on an unrelated petty matter."

Mr. Richards' supporters conducted a call-in campaign on October 1, targeting GJPD officials, Mayor Bruce Hill, and District Attorney Pete Hautzinger. Mr. Richards was released the following day. In a comment on, Mr. Richards admitted that he did have a warrant for his arrest, and also stated that "the way it was handled speaks to political retribution and/or intimidation".

Sounds to me that the police did their job, albeit with a sense of timing and decorum that can best be described as questionable. As I said back in July, this group is probably not going to go away, and it is their stated intent to educate the homeless population as to their rights as citizens, and work proactively toward providing shelter and other services for those that may not otherwise have access to them.

This will likely continue to grate at those who seek to gentrify the south downtown area, and put the homeless out of sight. I've walked the 16th Street Mall in Denver in the late evening, and if they can't put them out of sight there, what chance does Grand Junction think they have?

Regardless of what your opinion is of this segment of our population, it's getting cold and lives are at stake. As CNN and other news outlets across the country are reporting almost daily, this is a nationwide trend, and not limited to large metro areas. The next iteration of this trend is starting to impact those cities; hopefully this is something that the Grand Valley can avoid in the future.

Both sides in this need to continue what I thought was a reasonable attempt at dialogue. If the above account is accurate as to the facts, then Mr. Richards should pay his fines, and the GJPD should exercise their statutory authority with a little more of an ear toward diplomacy.
Now run along and play nice...


Perhaps one reason that this blip on the radar of homeless advocacy was ignored by the GJ media is that one of its better recent practitioners has moved on to something completely different. Kate Renner, formerly of KREX, is in Uganda as a volunteer under the auspices of an organization called Light Gives Heat. Kate did some really good work covering homeless issues during her time in GJ, and is serving as a videographer in Uganda to document the group's work and some of the challenges of life there.

Light Gives Heat's mission statement is "Empowering Africans through the encouragement of economic stability and creative endeavors. Motivating people in the West to 'be the change they want to see in the world'". Those in GJ may remember the group selling necklaces made in Uganda at a few Farmer's Markets this past summer.

The quote at the top of this page came from their website, and it's given me pause as I embark on an unknown path after school is finished. Leslie would like this.

Kate is documenting her experience in a blog, which can be read here. I'll feature it in the Favorite Blogs sidebar as well. I'm thinking that regardless of the trappings of a career path, this experience will likely be more rewarding for Kate than being a weather girl in Albuquerque.
Best wishes and godspeed in your travels, Kate.

In a follow-up to an earlier post, last week the Colorado Court of Appeals reversed a lower court decision, and ruled that the murals on the side of the Headed West 'smoking accessories shop' in Englewood were works of art, and thus exempt from that city's sign code. The court went further to rule that the restrictions attached to the sign code constituted a prior restraint on the exercise of free speech, and ordered the lower court to rule as such.

It's yet unclear if the City of Englewood will appeal. More information is available via the ACLU of Colorado's website. An editorial in today's Denver Post embellished the point even further. Congratulations to the appellants on their hopefully permanent victory.

Now off to the books, for what will hopefully culminate as a crazy, but successful, week of study and preparation. It's still not over yet, though. More about that later. Until then, take care and stay warm.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

'Capitalism' at the Tech Center

Living in and around the Denver Tech Center, even temporarily, is an interesting experience. On a Saturday night, it's a little weird.

For those unfamiliar, the Tech Center is a large complex of office buildings, southeast of downtown Denver along the Interstate 25 corridor. It houses among other things numerous media companies that call the Denver area home, and benefit from its location along the 105 Degree Meridian, which optimizes satellite transmission to many parts of the world.

The streets that traverse the Tech Center are largely unlit at night, owing perhaps to its mostly weekday, 9-to-5 population. Combined with the darkness of the streets and the surrounding buildings, driving through it is an eerie, dark experience for an area with so many people and activity around it. This is even true when there are significant numbers within the complex, enjoying a show at Fiddler's Green Amphitheater as was the case last night.

From South Quebec Street, the directional signs to the Village Shops at the Landmark are unlit and difficult to see; once in this large high-end residential and retail area, the subdued nature of it was still evident. Like Fiddler's Green, the complex feels out of place in the sterile environment of the glass box office towers, kind of like wildflowers sprouting between the cracks in a shopping mall parking lot. Among plenty of parked cars, mostly-shuttered retail shops and a few scattered bars and restaurants between two large high-rise condominium buildings, the only discernible noise was the constant drone of traffic on I-25.

I was there to see a movie at the Landmark Theatres complex there, specifically Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story. This was a unique experience for me, beginning with the theatre itself; the movie cost $12, but all the popcorn and soft drinks you want are included. There is also a full bar that serves some unique appetizers if you are so inclined. I was reminded of the line in Pulp Fiction where John Travolta's character says that you can go to a movie in Amsterdam and buy a beer, "and I don't mean a cup, I mean a glass of beer".

For long-time readers here it should come as no surprise that I am a fan of Mr. Moore and his work. This latest film is more personal than his most recent movies, as he used many references to his own childhood in the Flint, Michigan area, and included his own father and several catholic priests of his acquaintance.

Some of his antics were overly simple and predictable, but in the end rather effective in delivering a message. He fires salvos at Democrats and Republicans alike, and speaks with the American equivalent of Tony Benn, the former British M.P. who made such a splash in Sicko.
And don't get me started on dead peasants...

The parts that I enjoyed the most were those that lent historical perspective to what has happened in recent months. Specifically, the Flint Sit-Down Strike, and the use of archival, previously unseen newsreel footage of President Franklin D. Roosevelt calling for a "Second Bill of Rights" after the end of World War II, which he did not live to see. My favorite part of the movie was a too-short homage to Dr. Jonas Salk. I'm wondering what Big Pharma was thinking back then...

If you have a vested interest in the financial forces that influence our government (and if you lost money as a result of the near-crash and bailout, you do), I would strongly recommend taking a couple of hours to see this. Many of you will no doubt disagree with some of Mr. Moore's conclusions and assertions, but he does put on a good show, and regardless of how you personally feel about Mr. Moore or his politics, you will come away with a better appreciation of the nature of the beast.

As with most of Mr. Moore's latest work, the enlightenment extends through the credits, so if you do go, stick around for them. His choice of music to run behind those credits is very interesting.

Time for bed.