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A Chat with a Chief: Protecting a Large Business Campus with a Small Agency

Do you ever wonder what fellow leaders in public safety consider when it comes to technology investments? We sat down with Chief John Wolter of the Texas Medical Center Police Department in Houston, Texas to learn more about how his agency protects the 8th-largest business district in the world with a small force. Here’s what he had to say about how his agency’s operations have been transformed by Axon Body 3 cameras and Respond for Devices live streaming; his enthusiasm for technology; and what he’s looking forward to in the future. [Interview edited and condensed for clarity.]

Axon: You are very forward-thinking when it comes to technology. How did you become interested in technology, and how do you get information on technology trends?

Chief Wolter: I have a PhD in business and I love research and seeing everything in black and white. I attend vendor conferences such as IACP in Chicago to learn about different solutions, but I also find it beneficial to get a lot of data online and call solutions providers to learn more about their offerings, and how everything connects. I do a ton of research. Technology is the future - some people may look at it as a negative, but you can use it to learn more about what’s going on at your agency and correct issues early on.

Axon: On the note of facing potential issues head-on, what are some department-wide changes that you’ve seen since implementing Axon Body 3 cameras and Respond for Devices to use mapping and live streaming for the devices out in the field? What can you do now that you couldn’t before?

Chief Wolter: The first thing that the body cameras have helped us with is internal investigations. We used to have no validation as to what really happened during a given incident, so having camera footage to quickly resolve these investigations and dispel any false claims is a big plus for the department, the complainant, society, just in general. I think that’s one of the biggest things for us on the camera side.

The other thing that has improved is communication - both with our officers and our community. We have a good culture here at our agency, but you always have that bad apple out there. That bad apple can, and often does, infect other apples. Leadership needs to address potential issues like that immediately. With Axon, I can watch the live stream and give feedback to officers in real-time to avoid an issue in the first place. If there’s an issue with the way an officer reacted, we can get their perspective, and reaffirm our agency’s principles: we need to be neutral and impartial; we need to show patience. Being able to address that fast because you saw it in real time and not wait makes a difference. We’ve seen a cultural shift at our agency that comes from being able to quickly and transparently provide feedback and insight to our officers and our community.

So those are the two areas where we’ve seen the biggest changes - increased professionalism and communication with the public.

Axon: How are Respond for Devices’ live streaming capabilities changing the job of your officers and dispatchers?

Chief Wolter: For the longest time - forever, actually - dispatchers have had to rely on officers being their eyes on the scene, and that creates a disconnect. Hearing what’s happening is not as valuable as seeing it. With live streaming, dispatchers and supervisors can see what’s happening, and having the complete story helps everybody. It greatly benefits officer safety to have everybody, including dispatchers, get that real-time situational awareness. Officers know that they don’t have to go to the radio; the dispatchers, who just want to know if everything is under control or not, can see what’s happening in the moment with the live stream. With radio, there’s those seconds or minutes that go by with no communication or insight into the situation — and that time can really make a difference. Dispatchers can use Axon live streaming capabilities to grow their understanding of the perspective of the officer; they develop stronger relationships with the officers. More eyes on a live situation is always advantageous and I think all agencies should jump on that opportunity.

Axon: What would you tell an agency that is considering Respond for Devices about how their operations will change once they implement it?

Chief Wolter: I would tell them to do it - it can only help. It’s highly beneficial for small and large departments. If I had three officers and three cars, I’d take two officers and live streaming with Axon. Live streaming is a progressive step into the future of policing; it’s a way to respond to the public demand to have more transparency. Transforming and upholding the culture of the department to keep people safe is the principal focus for any police agency, and Respond helps you do that.

Axon: What excites you the most about what Axon is working on?

Chief Wolter: From the drones to the dash cameras to ALPR to CAD, everything Axon is working on for full and complete integration makes it so much easier for organizations to be safer and more efficient. Going to a one-stop shop with Axon just makes sense, and no one is more innovative than Axon. I’m excited to stay in the know about what Axon is developing, and to be able to go to one provider for everything our agency needs.