Thursday, December 31, 2020

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December 31, 2020 at 02:53PM

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December 31, 2020 at 07:46PM

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Tuesday, December 29, 2020

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December 29, 2020 at 09:05AM

Monday, December 28, 2020

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Sunday, December 27, 2020

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Saturday, December 26, 2020

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Friday, December 25, 2020

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Thursday, December 17, 2020

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Wednesday, December 16, 2020

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Sunday, December 13, 2020

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Saturday, December 12, 2020

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Friday, December 11, 2020

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Wednesday, December 09, 2020

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Wednesday, December 02, 2020

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Saturday, November 28, 2020

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Tuesday, November 24, 2020

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Monday, November 23, 2020

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Saturday, November 21, 2020

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Tuesday, November 17, 2020

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Saturday, November 07, 2020

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Thursday, November 05, 2020

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Tuesday, November 03, 2020

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Monday, November 02, 2020

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Friday, October 30, 2020

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October 19, 2020 at 09:00AM

The New Louisville Fan Convention (That I'm Never Going to Run)

As we near the end of Plague Year One, a number of restless folks in the Louisville fandom community are making tentative plans to stage a fan convention to take the place of the late, lamented ConGlomeration. As such, my #concomlife posts have started to get some eyes again, and a few folks have asked my thoughts on reviving fan events in the Derby City.

So here it is: The Louisville Fan Convention I would start, but literally never will. (Don't ask; the answer is forever, "no.")

There were three areas of ConGlomeration that drove nearly all our attendance (we know because we surveyed our members about it): The general fandom family reunion experience; the Dealer's Room & Art Show; and the game room. If I were starting a new fan convention in Louisville, I'd focus on those three things, plus one more aspect we know is popular but never could get to be a huge part of our own event: cosplay.

Literally everything else about ConGlomeration I'd drop. And, more broadly, I'd only include things in the new fan convention that met this standard: what can fans only do in person, rather than online?

No Guests; Few Programs

This, frankly, means an end to almost all of the programming that happened at ConGlomeration. It also likely means no Guests of Honor (one of our major expenses). Most program panels are basically live-action podcasts, often with Guests sitting in. By that, I mean I'm not seeing or hearing anything from anyone I couldn't get as well or better online, other than the mild thrill of being in the room and maybe getting an autograph (which I could also buy off eBay, or track down at a major media con, if I really wanted that). Small fan conventions can't win on the "meet a nerd celebrity" front, so I wouldn't even try to play that very expensive game. 

This also isn't the 1970s or '80s when Starlog magazine was the only place to hear from geek media figures. They all have social media now, so I don't have spend three days at an airport hotel to find out what my favorite genre author or geeky TV star is really like.

I also don't need a writer's workshop; you can get that advice and join writers groups online. I don't need advice on gaming; there are how-to-play tutorials and game reviews all over YouTube. I don't even need art demos, because those are everywhere on the web. I certainly don't need movie watch-parties; thanks to online streaming, there is no obscure movie or show that I can't track down from the comfort of a web browser and then discuss online.

If I'm doing any programming at all, it would be extremely limited to very hands-on workshops, with very small groups of people, where participants could physically learn techniques for art or cosplay. I can't learn how to handle a glue gun or an airbrush just from videos; I need to hold one in my hands. But those programs would have material costs that would need to be worked out, so they need to be staged only for the most in-demand activities.

And if I'm only doing hands-on workshops, I don't need to shell out to import name guests, which was one of ConGlomeration's biggest expenses. Guests of Honor sometimes helped us draw in new members when we advertised them, but those ads performed only marginally better than just "Spend Three Days Gaming" or "Enjoy a Cosplay Weekend" ads, and only when we had a pretty well known guest like Tim Zahn or J.G. Hertzler. (Now, those guests usually paid off in the long run by showing our members a really good time, which made members want to come back, but that's an expensive investment I can replace with just executing a good convention.)

Finally, if I were to decide to stage any programs, I would have inverted the usual program process. Traditionally, people who want to run programs submit ideas, and then the Program Director chooses which ones they like and works out a schedule. That gets really challenging, especially if few of the submitted ideas are good, all the submitters want to have their panels at the same time (and won't budge), and/or the panelists want their memberships comped or to be paid extra for running a program.

Instead, I would have created the list of programs I wanted to happen, and put out a call for volunteers to stage the programs I want. For example: I want three hands-on workshops for painting gaming miniatures, at three skill levels. I'll take submissions from potential panel-runners on who could do that at the specific times I dictate in my schedule. The instructor(s) I choose from the auditions get the gig, and I'll pay them for their time (say, $10 an hour).

I'll have a budget for how many hours of programs I can afford, and I'm up front about expectations, time, and remuneration. My life gets a lot simpler when I'm taking bids on a schedule I want, rather than hoping someone creates panels for me from thin air. I start with a schedule I know I can market and, if no one bids on the panels I want, they just don't happen. That's a better, more manageable panel lineup with less work and stress.

All the Genre Art You Can Handle

Louisville's next fan convention should look a bit like St. James Court Art Fair for nerds. We had a pretty great art show. Artists who exhibited there also tended to make pretty good money, even without attending. They just shipped their goods in, we sold them (in exchange for about 10% of the take), and whatever didn't sell we shipped back. It worked so well that artists would exhibit with us year after year, always making money on art that was by no means cheap, but still sold. 

Louisville's next convention should triple down on that, because no online experience can compare to holding Tolkien-inspired pottery in your hands or seeing hand-painted fantasy art in person. It's beautiful to look at and it makes you want to buy it all and put it in your house.

ConGlomeration also ran a very well respected charity auction via our Art Show, and handed out some well-juried art awards that were treasured on the genre circuit. Those are successful traditions well worth resurrecting -- only bigger.

A Live-Action Etsy Store

The ConGlomeration Dealer Room was fairly successful and very popular, partially for the same reasons the Art Show did well: people want to see the goods in person, especially when those goods are bespoke and hand-made. Where ConGlomeration could have done better is in trying to court exactly the kind of vendors who thrive in that environment. Put another way: more custom costumes; fewer nerdy t-shirts. 

The merch vendors at major media conventions are all national players selling the same Captain America sweatshirts and replica Star Trek combadges in every city (that you can also buy cheaper online). ConGlomeration was where you could find $20 crocheted dragon plushies and $400 custom leather cloaks, verify their quality and, if you didn't like any of the goods the vendor had on site, you could commission them for a custom item right then and there, haggling on price and delivery time in person. 

Louisville's next fan convention should court exactly these kinds of vendors, and work to curate a Dealer Room that exhibits items you can't find at big cons or on eBay. (If I want an out-of-print game supplement, I can find it online. The only reason people bought gaming gear in our Dealer Room was because the dealer was slashing prices to clear inventory, and because some people simply can't ever resist new gaming dice.)

This makes the Dealer Room an extension of the Art Show and the cosplay emphasis discussed above, with hand-made costumes and collectibles being the majority of what is sold, and vendors understanding that they'll make as much in custom commission orders as they will selling already-made goods.

In-Person Gaming Perfected

ConGlomeration's Game Room was wildly popular because all games were free to play and it never closed, staying open all 50 hours of the convention. Those traits should be maintained at the next fan convention. Where the Game Room could be improved will sound familiar if you read the programming section above: It's time to dictate schedules.

At ConGlomeration, we asked for volunteer game masters to run whatever games they wanted, which often meant we had some unbalanced lineups of games that didn't always offer the RPGs and board games our members were most interested in and curious about. The next convention should reverse that: Dictate a schedule you want, placing popular or new games in key spots with multiple sessions, then taking bids on who will run those games.

For example, if I know that D&D 5E is the most in-demand game, I'd make sure I had 6-8 sessions of that game, for various skill levels of player, all throughout the convention. And I'd let GMs submit game synopses for my requested spots, and whomever I chose would again be paid for their time (say, $25 for a four-hour session). If I'm paying, I can be picky. And if I post my requested schedule several months in advance, it gives GMs time to learn the RPGs and board games I want run, so they can understand the systems well and be prepared to teach them to new gamers.

Now, we ran over 150 hours of games at ConGlomeration, not counting pickup games that happened ad hoc. That's really expensive to pay for. That's where sponsorships and a tie-back to the Dealer Room come in. Game dealers and stores can sponsor these sessions, and even supply the GMs, in exchange for the right to promote their own stores and booths in the dealer room. "You like the new Ravenloft reboot for D&D 5E you just played? We have five copies in the Dealer Room across the hall." 

(Hotels and convention centers charge significantly more for vendor tables than exhibition/banquet tables, which is why we couldn't allow dealing in our Game Room. But promotion is perfectly acceptable, up to and including handing out coupons and vouchers in the game room that are valid in the Dealer hall.) 

Multiply the Masquerade

The ConGlomeration Cosplay Masquerade was the single most popular event we put on, with about a third of our attendees participating or viewing it every year. But, outside of those few hours, we had very little cosplay happening, and it was really hard to get more than a dozen or so contestants. 

Louisville's next fan convention needs to make cosplay an all-day, everyday part of its activities. Yes, there should be a big costume contest on Saturday night, followed by a big costume party. And that contest should have some serious cash awards. But there should be selfie stations all over the convention space, to encourage hall costumes. There should be hall costume awards, so shy cosplayers who don't want to get up on stage can still feel comfortable and participate. There should be planned photo meetups, so Marvel cosplayers and Dr. Who cosplayers and anime cosplayers can all have their designated, advance-marketed meetups (that will encourage those costumes and cosplayers to show out).

Above all, cosplay should be the rule, not the exception, all through the convention. You don't create costumes for them not to be seen, and giving cosplayers a place to show off their work and hang with likeminded nerds is exactly why conventions exist.

Double Down on the Family Reunion

The most expensive part of ConGlomeration wasn't the guests. It wasn't our marketing spend. It was being a family reunion. That required us to be in a hotel, so folks could stay multiple days and really see lots of people for an extended time in a shared space. It also required us to offer a very well supplied, always-open hospitality suite, so folks could break bread and hang out in a relaxing space without having to be in a specific activity. Those constraints made our event very expensive to run, but the atmosphere they created was the number one reason people loved us and came back year after year.

Those were also experiences you can't get online. 

While scaling down to a one-day event in a non-hotel space with no hospitality suite would make a new convention infinitely more manageable and affordable, it also eliminates the very thing that kept ConGlomeration alive -- despite all our other mistakes -- for 20 years.

This will be the hardest thing for the next fan convention to replicate, but I'd argue it's the most essential. This is the one aspect of fandom that big media cons can never match. And if you're going to bother to create a fan convention that isn't a merch-and-autograph mill, this is the only reason to do it.

This part got too hard for all of us, so we stopped. If someone wants to take up the Louisville fandom mantle, I strongly advise you commit yourself to this hard, rewarding work. It's the only thing that will sustain you.

That's my advice, for what it's worth. Thanks for reading, and I'll see you next time in the #concomlife.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

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Sunday, October 25, 2020

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Friday, October 09, 2020

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Thursday, October 08, 2020

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Wednesday, October 07, 2020

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Tuesday, October 06, 2020

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Monday, October 05, 2020

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Wednesday, September 30, 2020

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Tuesday, September 29, 2020

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Monday, September 28, 2020

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Sunday, September 27, 2020

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Wednesday, September 23, 2020

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Monday, September 21, 2020

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Saturday, September 19, 2020

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Friday, September 18, 2020

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Thursday, September 17, 2020

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Tuesday, September 15, 2020

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Friday, September 11, 2020

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Monday, September 07, 2020

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Saturday, September 05, 2020

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Friday, September 04, 2020

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Tuesday, September 01, 2020

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Monday, August 31, 2020

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Sunday, August 30, 2020

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Saturday, August 29, 2020

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Wednesday, August 26, 2020

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Sunday, August 23, 2020

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Saturday, August 22, 2020

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Wednesday, August 19, 2020

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Tuesday, August 18, 2020

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Saturday, August 08, 2020

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Friday, August 07, 2020

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Wednesday, August 05, 2020

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Saturday, August 01, 2020

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Friday, July 31, 2020

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Thursday, July 30, 2020

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Wednesday, July 29, 2020

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Tuesday, July 28, 2020

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Tuesday, July 21, 2020

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Monday, July 20, 2020

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Saturday, July 18, 2020

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Wednesday, July 15, 2020

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Tuesday, July 14, 2020

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Sunday, July 12, 2020

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July 12, 2020 at 09:41AM

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July 11, 2020 at 11:28PM

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July 11, 2020 at 09:11PM

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Twisdom from covidperspectiv, July 11, 2020 at 05:57AM


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July 11, 2020 at 05:57AM

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

What Star Trek Can Teach Us About Police Reform

There is a groundswell of public outcry to "defund the police," which is (to my perception) a provocatively worded demand to reform the police and divert many police duties to other, or even new, public safety agencies. Break up the police into several, smaller specialty services, rather than expecting any one police officer to be good at everything asked of a modern police department.

You know, like Star Trek.

As much as every Star Trek character is a polymath soldier/scientist/diplomat/engineer, Star Trek actually breaks up its borderline superheroes into specialty divisions, each wearing different technicolor uniforms to handily tell them apart. Scientists, engineers, soldiers, and commanders all specialize in their areas of expertise, so no one officer is asked to be all things to all peoples on all planets. Even Captain Kirk usually left the engineering to Scotty, and science-genius Spock most often left the medical work to Dr. McCoy. The same logic should apply to a city's public safety apparatus, which includes the police.

Specialization leads to effectiveness and efficiency. So, why do we expect the same police officer to be as good at managing traffic violations, domestic disturbances, bank robberies, and public drunkards? Those incidents require vastly different skills, resources and tools. They should be handled by different professionals.

This is not a new idea. Until the late 1960s, police departments also handled the duties that emergency medical services tackle today. And they weren't great at it. Pittsburgh's Freedom House Ambulance Service (motivated by the same issues of police racial discrimination and apathy as the current "Defund the Police" movement) pioneered the practice of trained emergency paramedic response, which became a model that the Lyndon Johnson administration helped spread nationwide.

Divesting emergency medical services from police departments has saved countless lives while also helping narrow the focus of modern police departments. Specialization was a net good. So let's expand on that.

So, how do we break up the modern police into their own Trek-style technicolor specialty divisions?

Let's look at what "away missions" that the police commonly undertake. The best indicators are police calls for service (CFS), which are largely 911 calls but can also include flagging down patrol officers in person. These are the "distress signals" the public sends out to request police "beam down" and offer aid. National data on aggregate calls for service is a little hard to come by, but this 2009 analysis of the Albuquerque Police Department CFS data gives a nice local breakdown.

From January of 2008 to April of 2009, this was the general distribution of APD calls for service:

 CALL TYPE  # of CALLS  % of CALLS 
 Traffic 256,398 36.6
 Suspicious Person(s)  90,040 12.8
 Unknown/Other 88,961 12.7
 Public Disorder 88,676 12.6
 Property Crime 59,920 8.5
 Automated Alarm 35,508 5.1
 Violence 35,460 5.1
 Auto Theft 12,953 1.8
 Hang-up Call 10,017 1.4
 Medical Emergency 6,241 0.9
 Mental Patient 5,267 0.8
 Missing Person 5,382 0.8
 Drugs / Narcotics 2,110 0.3
 Other Emergency 1,431 0.2
 Animal Emergency 1,336 0.2
 Sex Offenses 1,391 0.2
(NOTES: Unknown/Other, I believe, refers to calls where general police assistance is requested but the caller won't specify exactly what the police are needed for. Robbery would fall under Violence. Burglary would fall under Property Crime.)

A few items stand out, but first, let's recall how valuable it was to divest police of EMS duties. Medical emergencies are the cause of less than 1% of 911 calls, but they clearly warrant a non-police specialty agency to handle. Certainly some of these other, more common calls warrant specialist responses, too.

Similar findings were generated by this 2013 study of Prince George's County, MD.

"Overall, the top five most frequently used [911 Chief Complaint codes] were Protocol 113 (Disturbance/Nuisance): 22.6%; Protocol 131 (Traffic/Transportation Incident [Crash]): 12.7%; Protocol 130 (Theft [Larceny]): 12.5%; Protocol 114 (Domestic Disturbance/Violence): 7.2%, and Protocol 129 (Suspicious/ Wanted [Person, Circumstances, Vehicle]): 7.0%."

Right off the top, we can see that traffic enforcement takes up an inordinate amount of police calls for service. It seems rather ludicrous to send an armed security officer to write up fender-benders, hand out speeding tickets, rescue stranded motorists, or cite cars with broken tail lights or expired tags. An unarmed traffic safety agency, separate from the police, seems like an obvious innovation, just based on this data.

But what about all the ancillary crime "discovered" during routine traffic stops -- the smell of marijuana, weapons in plain sight, suspicious activity on the part of a driver? Well, a traffic safety officer can just as easily report these discoveries to police. But many of these "discoveries" were made during pretextual stops; cases where police already suspected the driver or passengers of wrongdoing and used a traffic stop as an excuse to search the person and property of the vehicle occupants. 

These pretextual stops have been shown to erode trust in police and often lead to rampant abuses of power (and, too often, the paranoid execution of suspects in their own cars, as in the case of Philando Castile). Separating police from traffic enforcement will also separate them from the temptation to abuse pretextual stops.

Also, we could probably get a lot more people to sign up as traffic safety officers knowing they won't be asked to do any armed response work, and a lot more people will be eager to flag down a traffic safety officer for help with a flat tire if there's no chance a misunderstanding with that officer will lead to the motorist getting shot.

Beyond traffic enforcement, where else could specialization and divestment benefit the public and the police? Disturbance/Nuisances, Suspicious Persons, Public Disorder and Domestic Disturbances all represent a significant percentage of calls for service. Most often, someone loitering, being loud, arguing openly, or appearing inebriated (or simply being non-white in a predominantly white area) is not cause for sending in an armed officer. A social worker or mediator would be far more appropriate in many cases.

That said, domestic disturbances are often violent and unpredictable, as are public drunks and mentally ill vagrants. Sometimes a person skulking around is actually a public danger. While unarmed social workers may do more good -- and absolutely will shoot fewer suspects -- it is not entirely wise to send in completely defenseless mediators to every non-violent report of suspicious or concerning activity.

Again, we can learn from Star Trek.

When Starfleet sends some combination of experts on any mission, the diplomats, scientists, doctors, and counselors outrank (and often outnumber) the security officers -- but the redshirts nonetheless come along for the ride. Violence is the last resort, not the first, and persons trained and specialized in the use of force answer to people who lead with compassion, curiosity, and science. That's a great idea on it's face; doubly so for police departments clearly struggling with their use of force.

So, we create a social intervention agency and send them in when the public nuisance has no obvious risk of violence. When there is a reasonable possibility of violence, we send a conventional police officer in to assist the mediator, but the mediator is in command. The redshirts report to Captain Kirk, not the other way around.

So, here's how I would break out a modern public safety agency, using Star Trek as a guide to reform and divest from the police.
  • Red Shirts: Fire & Rescue, doing all the same jobs fire departments do today
  • Gold Shirts: Emergency Medical Services, performing exactly as paramedics do today
  • Blue Shirts: Security, performing the armed response and crowd control duties of conventional police; the thin blue line becomes a bright blue shield
  • Gray Shirts: Traffic Patrol, handing out traffic citations, writing up non-fatal vehicle accidents, assisting stranded motorists, and other essential patrol duties that don't require an armed response
  • Green Shirts: Emergency Social Services, serving as mediators, counselors and on-site case managers when an armed police response is not warranted
  • White Shirts, Investigation and Code Enforcement, bringing together the police detectives, arson investigators, and the forensic and code-enforcement staff of other public agencies (like the Health Department, Revenue Commission, and Building Department) to investigate past crimes and identify perpetrators
Each division is identifiable by their uniform colors, so the public knows who and what they are dealing with at all times. It is also made abundantly clear that only Security blue-shirts are armed and that, if an active violent crime is not in progress, whichever of the other divisions is present on a Public Safety call is in charge.

All six divisions are headed by a Chief -- a Security Chief, a Fire Chief, a Chief of Emergency Medical Services, a Traffic Patrol Chief, a Chief of Emergency Social Services, a Chief Investigator -- that report to a Commissioner of Public Safety.

That Commissioner should report to a civilian Commission, which is an independent oversight board that can investigate the conduct of any officer of any division. Accountability is as important as specialization. No good Starfleet captain was ever afraid to answer for the conduct of his or her crew.

Tricorders -- which is to say, body cameras and dash cams -- will be needed to log every mission. That's for the safety of both the public and the officers. Funding will need to be rethought. Staffing will need to be reallocated. The word "police" may no longer be a common phrase, but blue-clad armed peace officers will still be a necessary component of these new public safety agencies. They just won't be the only option, and they won't be the first option in most cases, either.

As Spock would say, it's only logical.

Monday, July 06, 2020

Twisdom from JuddLegum, July 04, 2020 at 11:39AM


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July 04, 2020 at 11:39AM

Sunday, July 05, 2020

Twisdom from WFKARS, July 05, 2020 at 01:39PM


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July 05, 2020 at 01:39PM

Twisdom from cdgehring, July 05, 2020 at 02:44PM


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July 05, 2020 at 02:44PM

Saturday, July 04, 2020

Twisdom from Nash076, July 04, 2020 at 02:40AM


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July 04, 2020 at 02:40AM

Twisdom from jbenmenachem, July 03, 2020 at 02:14PM


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July 03, 2020 at 02:14PM

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Twisdom from KenTremendous, July 01, 2020 at 03:38PM


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July 01, 2020 at 03:38PM

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Twisdom from nicolesjchung, June 27, 2020 at 09:02PM


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June 27, 2020 at 09:02PM

Twisdom from magpiekilljoy, June 27, 2020 at 04:22PM


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June 27, 2020 at 04:22PM