Shawn Hill is a Lieutenant with the Santa Barbara Police Department in Central California. A police officer in Norfolk, VA, and now in Santa Barbara, CA for more than 20 years, he is now a doctoral candidate at UC Santa Barbara. He was selected as a practitioner-scholar for the U.S. Department of Justice - Law Enforcement Advancing Data and Science (LEADS) program, sponsored by the National Institute of Justice.
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Welcome to The Cop Doc Podcast. This podcast explores police leadership issues and innovative ideas. The CopDoc shares thoughts and ideas as he talks with leaders in policing communities, academia and other government agency. And now please join Dr. Steve Morreale and industry thought leaders as they share their insights and experience on The CopDoc Podcast.
Steve Morreale (00:35)
Hello again, everybody. Steve Morreale coming to you from Boston today. And we begin with another episode of The CopDoc Podcast. And we're talking to a colleague on the west coast, Shawn Hill, a lieutenant with the Santa Barbara Police Department. How are you?
Shawn Hill (00:49)
I'm doing fantastic. How are you?
Steve Morreale (00:51)
I'm fine, thank you. Very good to connect with you as we have been trying over the period of time. So Shawn, you're a lieutenant. As we were talking a little bit before, you're back on patrol as a watch commander in Santa Barbara. Not a bad place to be from, and you were working in the Chief's office before that. But what drew me to you and my attention is your involvement with the NIJ in a leads cohort that you belong to basically a police and practitioner cohort of people focusing on evidence-based policing and research. So let's go back before you tell us about that and tell me about your trajectory in policing. When did you start, what did you do? Where are you now?
Shawn Hill (01:30)
I started in the late 90s on the East Coast in Virginia when I was pretty young and then eventually went back to school full time. And then when I was done, came out to California to continue as a police practitioner. So I spent most of my career a little over 20 years kind of in traditional ways different assignments, detectives, narcotics, street crime units, SWAT teams, stuff like that. And ended up going back to school for my master's degree and studying criminal justice and really kind of got a little bit attached to looking at kind of crime theory and how these things were playing out in the community that I was actually working in and really gave me a different perspective on how to look at problem solving. And that's really where I started to get very interested in the idea of evidence based policing and using what the research tells us to try to solve problems at a community level.
Steve Morreale (02:13)
The whole idea of EVP evidence-based policing and I know you belong and I belong to the American Society of Evidence-Based Policing and there are evidence-based policing societies throughout the world. And we're a little bit behind, I would say, then what's going on in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, but we're trying to play some catchup. And when you talked about problem-solving and Herman Goldstein and all of those kinds of things, I'm sure you've been frustrated that we go on calls, repeated calls, and we put a Band-Aid on, but we never really fix it. It is a temporary fix and we never dig down to say why are we going back to this location? Why aren't we doing something more serious? And we can cut down on it and reduce the number of complaints that come from there. At what point in time did you catch that bug?
Shawn Hill (02:57)
I think it was when I went back to graduate school and I just kind of was able to take the time to start looking at kind of causation as opposed to police officers are really good at fixing problems at that moment. That's what they're kind of required to do by society. And they aren't often given very much time to spend looking at what happened before this problem because they're having to clear and go to the next call or write a report or go home after their shift to their family or something. So really starting to identify that there needs to be a little bit more of an emphasis on what led up to this problem that we're trying to solve, that we're putting a Band-Aid on and then realizing that, oh. Gosh. There's a lot of people trying to do this and trying to figure this out, but they're not necessarily connecting closely with practitioners, and they're not necessarily producing knowledge that's easily digestible for practitioners. So I found there was a bit of a gap in that translational piece. So I really became fascinated with how to translate what this research does into the hands of practitioners.
Shawn Hill (03:46)
So that's a little bit more digestible and easier to use, not only on a daily basis, but even on a long term problem solving basis.
Steve Morreale (03:53)
So I'd say that you might be an anomaly, an outlier, as I said before, because you and not an awful lot of our colleagues in policing take the time to go back for an advanced degree, and you're working on a doctorate. And so obviously the doctorate is going to continue to teach you how to research better, both qualitatively and quantitatively. But I want to go back to something you said about problem solving, and I think that's so important. And that is at first, I think police feel that we must solve all problems unilaterally. That's who got the call, where we deal with it alone. Instead of taking the time to figure out who should we be partnering with, who has a piece of this and whether it is building services, it's DPW, it is a shelter, it is an alcohol treatment program. How do we figure out how to police departments figure out how to build these partnerships?
Shawn Hill (04:45)
That's a great point. I mean, I think what happened historically was it wasn't just because officers I do believe they were trying to reach out and figure out how to solve these problems. The problem is the resistance part, right? Like, how do you solve this problem in the next 40 minutes? What kind of partnership can I bring in? Who's going to respond to me? Right now I'm on the scene and I think that's when oftentimes officers will get frustrated and have to figure out another way to solve a problem. Because a lot of the collaborations weren't built like in a system that were able to respond to that officer's needs or that community members needs at that moment. And I think what we're seeing happen now is a lot of these collaborations that are built to be more of a crisis response. So the best example right now is the co-response model, right?
Steve Morreale (05:25)
Shawn Hill (05:25)
A mental health practitioner working with police officers. I think that's a good example of everybody trying to recognizing that, wow, the way these systems were built apart from each other weren't working very well for collaboration. So we need to kind of redesign what these look like and what the nature of the relationship of the practitioner and the officer is, or that clinician and the officer is. So I would suggest, based on what I see and what I've experienced, that we will be building those collaborations more so with the intention of how to respond in a crisis. Not necessarily how do I write a report, send it off to this agency and hopefully they read it in a week and then three weeks later somebody gets assigned to help because the calls happened four times since then, since that happened. So I think building these collaborations now, the recognition that we actually need people to get out there on the scene with the officers even after 05:00, I know that's a big shock, but everybody goes home at 05:00. We have to build those systems in place so that those officers have what they need at that moment.
Shawn Hill (06:20)
I'm a firm believer that they will absolutely tap into those resources. If they're available, they can if they're available, they really in a large scale haven't been available. And there's been resistance to that. The idea of not necessarily my problem to fix after 05:00. But guess what? The officer always has to fix the problem no matter what hour it is.
Steve Morreale (06:38)
That's interesting. And what you're saying, I think becomes very important to think about leaders listening to the people who are in the field, looking at the data and then trying to understand where are the pinch points, where are the problem areas. And I know that you think about what you've been through, John. We're talking to Sean Hill from Santa Barbara Police Department. Lieutenant. And we're talking about problem solving and collaboration and partnerships. But since you have walked away and you were in the chief's office for a while doing research and development and planning, I'm sure now you're back in the field. Are you beginning to realize that there are still some partnerships lacking? You shook your head. Yes. I can see you. Yes. Let me interrupt you before you answer. My sense was always you put somebody on it, somebody's out injured. And so you go in and you see let's talk building checks. Okay? How many times have we done that? Who should we call when a break in is found? You call somebody and that thing is so outdated that somebody is mad at you for waking them up at 03:00 in the morning because I got fired or I haven't worked there for four years.
Steve Morreale (07:39)
You guys should figure it out. So there's this cyclical situation that we find in policing that we do something once and then we let it go and personnel leave and those relationships go with as the person's move on. What do you think about that? How do we fix those kinds of things?
Shawn Hill (07:52)
It takes a lot of attention to fix those. And I think I'm back in field operations now, which is always great to get back to and reconnect with men and women who work every day on the street and are in the weeds, so to speak. And you do realize that it takes a lot of attention and resources. And resources right now are difficult, right? We're dealing with what we are in the nation, with hiring and retention and we're evolving probably into a new era of policing. And I think one of the things that needs to be focused on is if this is what we want, if we want to solve problems like this, we need to invest in the resources to do so and not just rely on traditional methods that our police have been expected to do. Because I do think and there's people in the community that want these things to happen, we just need to build these systems that support that. Because just like I know that the officers out there have a passion to solve a problem and attend to the mental health needs of a person they're interacting with, there's also clinicians out there who want to work with those officers and they just don't have necessarily that pathway to do.
Shawn Hill (08:48)
So to build these systems, I think we have to constantly push ourselves to make these new partnerships because right now resources is a big, big issue.
Steve Morreale (08:55)
It's not just in policing, Sean, is it?
Shawn Hill (08:57)
No. Everybody I talk to in other professions, people I know, are dealing with a lot of same things. But right now we're still feeling some resistance of getting investment and buy in for these types of partnerships because every organization has its own objectives. I don't study organizational management, but I know everybody has to do their job. And sometimes there's a push and pull, right? Because people need to make sure they're reaching their objective. And it doesn't necessarily align with your objective, or at least it doesn't appear to on paper. But I think oftentimes there's more overlap. And we recognize are you thinking that.
Steve Morreale (09:24)
We and policing are doing a good job of marketing what we do and being honest about what we can accomplish and what we can't? Because it seems to me we say we'll fix it. We will fix it. We'll fix it and when we don't, or we can't because we don't have anybody to hand it off to because there's nobody there. 24/7 it's a Saturday, Sunday, we have to babysit until Monday or find some place to place that child where we've taken a parent out of a home and we have this child without custody. We become babysitters. But we've got to find outlets for that. That becomes very difficult because other agencies are overworked and understaffed and underfunded. Think about this, the defunding thing. When I hear this and you hear it yourself, I would say that you wanted to fund the police. I would say Social services has been to funded even more than the police have and that's why we're sort of the receivers for that leftover problem. That happens as you just said, after 05:00 and certainly on the weekends. What's your thoughts?
Shawn Hill (10:17)
I think historically to get back to the first part of your question, historically I don't think we have marketed ourselves in what we're able to accomplish or what we are accomplishing very well. I think we're in a position now, at least my opinion is that we're kind of being forced to and I think we're getting better at it. And I think that leads us to this idea of research and evidence because I think using the research and evidence is what is going to allow us to speak that truth, to really provide facts to what we're good at and what we're not good at. So I would say that historically we haven't been very good at marketing ourselves in what we can and have and cannot accomplish realistically, not in Hollywood movies. But I think research is that vessel that we need to use. That's why I'm a really strong advocate for developing as many research or practitioner partnerships as possible within local communities and departments. Because I think using that scientific information is what is going to allow us to kind of speak the truth about what we are doing well and have these departments and officers acknowledge for that good work and also identify what's not working.
Shawn Hill (11:15)
And even more so, maybe what we're doing is harmful. Right. Because we know that there's been many studies that identified really consistent police practices that are not great and that can cause harm. So yeah, for me I think we're having to get better. We've kind of been forced to get better at marketing ourselves and I think that really research and partnering with scientists are what's going to allow us to produce information and help us push it out.
Steve Morreale (11:36)
So you came from Virginia. Where were you on the police department in Norfolk, Virginia. Okay. There by all the Navy. And what brought you to California? Was it the weather?
Shawn Hill (11:44)
Year round? Outdoor recreation.
Steve Morreale (11:46)
That's good. That's a good one. So let's get into this new association you have with the NIJ's. Lead. And lead means law enforcement advancing data and science. And tell me about what you do, how you were selected, how many people are engaged, the people that you interact with and that you have met that have broadened your views and your practice.
Shawn Hill (12:08)
As I started to kind of go through my degrees and get more interested in research, I started to look just like everybody would. I guess you look for people who are doing similar things and it's not always easy to find, like locally. I don't necessarily have partners that work within the agency next door or whatever who are doing some of the similar stuff, at least that I'm aware of. So you start to reach out to other departments and other agencies or institutions and find people who are doing similar work that you want to work with and learn from. I came across NIJ Leads through one of the researchers who had worked with another leads scholar scholarship program, and I applied. You submit a formal application, there's a process and a selection criteria, and they select, I think it's ten people a year. And so I applied and was just really lucky and honored to be selected with this group of people who are really impressive and accomplished. And it was pretty instantaneous connection for me. If you're looking to work with people and you have motivations, this is a great platform to do it, because I was instantly connected with people all across the nation who had either similar interest or just wanted to expand their interest in research practitioner partnerships.
Shawn Hill (13:19)
So, I mean, there's email communication platform that we use, there's WhatsApp pipe platforms that we communicate with on a daily basis. And just to have when I'm working on a project and I have a question, I can literally just send a message out and get immediate responses from people who are way more knowledgeable than I am and doing work in the field, or have been for a while. So for me, it just expanded my reach, my resources. They're great people. I'm working with both academics and practitioners because the Lease program now supports both lead scholars and leads academics. So the idea is that you're bringing in researchers who are working in fields like criminal justice and police practitioners and kind of facilitating these projects together, or facilitating the relationships to kind of promote these projects and then the funding that goes along with it. There's some funding for travel and to get people together to do this work. So I've already connected with several different leads scholars and academics and have ongoing projects. So it's been fantastic. It's a huge honor. Sometimes I'm still surprised that they selected me. I'm going to take every bit of advantage of it as I can and learn from the people who are doing the work in the field.
Shawn Hill (14:20)
Steve Morreale (14:20)
So let me react to what you're saying. And what I wrote down is that you start as a leads scholar, a practitioner who is working on research as an apprentice in essence, no moving towards journeymen and then ultimately being a master and helping others. If you think about the trades, it's that same idea, and the police scholar relationship becomes important. But I'm sure you have experienced that so many times. There is resistance. We talk about resistance in policing, but there is resistance to let scholars in for a couple of reasons, and I have certainly made that transition. I would say you're a pracademic as I'm a pracademic down the road. Once you have your academic credential with your practical experience, you basically have your feet in both sides. On the academic side and in the practice side, you or previous lease officers or law enforcement officials have a much easier way of getting into police agencies. So that's something that you bring to the table and your colleagues bring to the table, that you can open doors to scholars. Because so much time is spent on writing, you know, this experience and creating the research, getting approval, collecting the data, analyzing the data, writing it up, and then pushing it out for dissemination in journals that most people don't understand and most people do not have access to.
Steve Morreale (15:35)
So how does this modify that in terms of making it understandable digestible for police agencies?
Shawn Hill (15:42)
You're hitting on a spot that's really close to my heart, and that's that translational criminology piece, right? And that is this idea that all this fantastic research is being produced, all this knowledge is being created. But necessarily our academic institutions aren't set up to reward our academics to produce this knowledge in a way that practitioners can absorb. And so, for example, I would suggest it's common for academics to be rewarded, so to speak, for publication in high impact, academic, peer reviewed journals, right? That's what they're going for. That's what their institutions recognize. But not so much for a policing blog that the practitioners are actually going to read and understand that there's no real I haven't seen an enormous incentive for producing work in publications like that. So the Leads program is a perfect example of how that can modify that approach. In other words, you have a practitioner working with an academic who can help translate some of this knowledge into something that might be more digestible to other practitioners. I'll give you a perfect example I just submitted, which I think will be published online next month. I just submitted on policing blog for the National Police Institute with one of the Leads academics.
Shawn Hill (16:50)
We just partnered together and kind of both contributed and what was produced. It's going to reach the practitioners. That's what the aim was. Not only does it address the science and the research, but it really is designed to speak to the practitioners in a way that they can absorb it and use it and run with it. That's a perfect example of how partnerships like this I can modify traditional, what I would even call intragroup barriers between academics and practitioners because that still exists. And I'll take it one step further because you talked about how difficult it is for researchers to break into police departments, so to speak. When I say breaking, I mean like, do research in police departments, have access to police officers. I'm still a sworn officer, and I'm also in a PhD program, so I'm doing research and I'm meeting with numerous departments to do experiments and different research projects. And even being a sworn police officer myself, it's still not that easy. Like, I know I have it easier than just a researcher who's not an officer, but it's still difficult walking in with that label as a PhD student or whatever.
Shawn Hill (17:50)
Aspiring academic wanting to do research in an apartment is still difficult. So the work that I do, we haven't really got into this yet, but I kind of redirected from Criminology and criminal justice to the field of communication, and specifically intergroup communication. It kind of addresses that idea of intergroup barriers between researchers and practitioners. I would suggest that probably researchers are seen by a lot of practitioners as someone who's going to come in and find the evidence that says you're bad. Right? Like exactly. So those are the same barriers that we deal with when we're talking about the police and the public, like this lack of trust. The work that I do academically is really focused on intergroup communication, and that applies not only most of my work is done between the police and the public. The police connecting with and having dialogue with historically or currently marginalized community groups. It all applies to academics and practitioners as well. And that is what you're speaking to, right? Really difficult for these researchers to get into police departments and do the research and vice versa. It's not necessarily easy for police departments to go to researchers and institutions and say, hey, I need this.
Shawn Hill (18:52)
Can you do this for me? It's an area that speaks to translational. Criminology is this idea that we need to kind of have these relationships and build these trust. And it doesn't just happen because there's an order that it'd be done. The practitioner who's a liaison and that researcher really have to build a little bit of trust with each other. And that happens. It starts off with an inner group association and hopefully becomes an interpersonal relationship over time. And until those barriers are broken down and that trust is created, we're still going to be meeting resistance.
Steve Morreale (19:20)
I'll take it back to the idea of a strategic plan for Santa Barbara. I think that's not a problem for major police departments. They understand strategic planning, what that means, what strategy. You talk to a nearby police department, even near you with 25 officers and strategic plan. That word strategic pushes them away, and you understand what strategic plan is. It's simply a roadmap to the future for one, three, five years. But there's a different language that I think you can help begin to bridge that. Let me make this analogy. When you're working with a co-response group, you've got a clinician in the car with a police officer. There may be a lack of trust at first with that police officer until that relationship is forged. And I think police officers are always thinking, I've got a clinical person sitting next to me. They're trying to figure out what I am, whether I have a mental illness, right? But when they get to the hospital or they talk to a psychiatrist, I'm talking about the correspondent or the clinician. They're talking their language. It makes it so much easier for that relationship. You talk about communication to understand each other, as opposed to the cop who simply wants to say, I've got this person.
Steve Morreale (20:27)
I'm trying to avoid putting them in jail and putting them through the system. Will you take them off my hands? That's sort of the way you would approach that. It would be completely different conversations a cold response clinician would have at the Er or at the psychiatric hospital. Am I right in your mind?
Shawn Hill (20:42)
Yeah, that sounds fair.
Steve Morreale (20:43)
It's about language. So if you're talking about communication, it seems to me that that's the root, Sean, that what you're saying is, I, as a police officer, who I'm also moving towards being a scholar, can speak that language, and I can also break it down when I'm walking into a new police department about what we need. And by the way, in a lot of ways, it really isn't what you need. It's what's the department need. And how can we help you? How can we access your data, and how can we give you some information that you can use when we're done, as opposed to three years later when it's finally published in a highbrow journal? Fair assessment?
Shawn Hill (21:16)
Yeah, I think so. Yeah, for sure.
Steve Morreale (21:17)
So talk about this communication that you're talking about and that you're talking about the breaking through into group barriers.
Shawn Hill (21:23)
I was drawn I'm just really lucky, blessed to have the exposure to certain people that have influenced kind of where I'm going in my academic work. I was drawn because of all my experience, to this idea of how we communicate with the public. I look back at my career and I realize at least anecdotally and I think the bloody church supports it, that the most of what we do is really communication. We resolve most issues through communication, not through use of force or arrest or whatever else. And so much of my training over my career, at least personally, hasn't really addressed communication in a robust way. And even more so as I look at it now, the training that is out there in communication isn't necessarily theoretically based in communication. In other words, I'm not seeing a lot of glasses on police communication where scholars from the field of communication are teaching it. And I think that's a little bit of a void that we need to work on because there are decades of really great research done in the field of communication, which is really integrated. Communication is essentially derived from social psychology and social identity theory and how people identify as either a part or like someone or another social category.
Shawn Hill (22:27)
That seemed to be a bit of a void to me. And I was exposed to an academic here locally at UCSB, Howie Giles, who has been studying integrated communication and has done work and created theories related to communication accommodation and how we accommodate or not accommodate people. And I just felt like that was the essence of strained relationships with police and the public. In other words, there are processes that happen when we see people either alike are different from us, either both consciously and unconsciously, and we react accordingly. If we see people who we identify or perceive to be like us, we accommodate them through communication not only consciously but unconsciously and vice versa. When we see people that are different from us, ie. sworn police officer versus community member, we often non-accommodate them. In other words, we don't speak to that person the same way and that's both conscious and unconscious. And when we are non-accommodating as police officers, not great things can happen and people can feel not great about it. So that's really what kind of drew me into studying integrated communication and kind of the trajectory of going into the communication program I am at UCSB is the ability to really focus on interview communication and communication accommodation and how that applies to the relationship between the police and the public and how we can take that and infuse it into police practices, really create these evidence driven programs and dialogue so that we can kind of get to the heart of these integrated relationships.
Steve Morreale (23:48)
So we're talking with Sean Haley. He's a lieutenant with the Santa Barbara Police Department, also a PhD candidate at UCSB University of California at Santa Barbara. A beautiful place if you've never been. And I want to talk with you about the importance of understanding history and culture. And we have evolved in our society, especially the United States, in a very diverse population. And do we really understand some of the people or the enclaves in Santa Barbara or New York or Chicago or La. As well as we should? I understand where you're going with that. What's your take on that? Should we do a better job? And I mean, we I'm sorry, I'm no longer in policing, but should policing do a better job of understanding history and culture?
Shawn Hill (24:30)
Yeah, I think certainly that's the starting point. Right. I think it's important to spend time and energy understanding where we're coming from, just like looking at policing errors, right. If I want to have an idea and help really develop where policing is going in profession, I certainly need to understand the errors that we've come from. I think. I would go in the direction of saying we need to connect with people to understand the people that we're working with. Because I get a little bit hesitant when I try to think about history and assume people have had some sort of experience, right? I can read history and read whatever the books say and talk to people. But really, if I'm working today on a certain neighborhood, what I really need to know, I feel like, is the person that I'm working with and talking to and how they feel and what their history is. And for me, that's about direct contact. That's about speaking and listening to the hearts and the minds of the people that are in front of me, not necessarily trying to categorize them as what I perceive their history to be. Because that's where we get into a little bit of trouble.
Shawn Hill (25:25)
When we talk about interview communication and stereotypes, we oftentimes try to put our own ideas about what the person has experienced. Labeling, that's a little bit of a dangerous area. So what I focus on and the way the lens I operate through is I want to know the person I'm talking to. I want them to tell me their story and vice versa. I want to tell them my story because I'm labeled and stereotyped as well as a police officer. And people don't necessarily know my history and it's often, most often probably not what they think it is. So for me, understanding history is important to have an idea of history, but most importantly is learning about the person in front of us and what their story is and how they see themselves and what their place in history is and what their experience is. Because as we know, you can look at someone and assume what their history is, but that doesn't mean that's what their actual history is.
Steve Morreale (26:14)
I get in trouble often because I'm not afraid to have a conversation with people and say where are you from? And some people say, you can't say that. No, I really want to know where are you from? Because that begins to make me understand what little I may know about their culture, their country, how they perceive their police. And they may be bringing that bias to us, but I think that becomes important because we're always searching for some common ground, aren't we? I will leave you with this that it seems to me what you're talking about without question, and I presume that you're having conversations with the people who work for you or with you about how to approach these things and that policing is all and we started this conversation and we'll probably end it. It's all about relationships, isn't it?
Shawn Hill (26:53)
Yeah, very true. Absolutely. I mean, I think that's where I spend most of my time is trying to figure out how to get people to identify as group and social categories, to develop those interpersonal relationships and allowing a person to tell their story and humanize each other and find cross group memberships. I think that's how I see it most productive is because once people spend time together, you realize that, gosh, okay, yeah, there's some differences here. I might not be a police officer, or I might have grown up somewhere different, but we have so many things in common as well. And I think identifying those cross group memberships really allows us to humanize each other and develop that empathy for each other. And then once that's done, it impacts how you interact with people in the future, you might keep in mind, oh, you know what? I remember I assumed this about a person. I probably shouldn't assume about this person that I'm talking to now. I think it bleeds over. The research also tells us that not only are the people like in the direct contact, in other words, you and I talking, not only does that conversation impact how we see each other, there's an indirect impact as well.
Shawn Hill (27:52)
So I will go back and talk to other people about my conversation with you, and that will impact how they feel about you and vice versa. And that happens with inner groups as well. So there's a large amount of research that really tells us that that indirect inner group contact, vicarious contact, imagined contact, all of that has an impact on how we feel about other people.
Steve Morreale (28:09)
A couple of things that I wanted to COVID and I want you to talk a little bit about experiment and what that means, because that's a scary word. What does an experiment at the policing level look like? How does that happen? But more importantly, going back to Leeds, some of the things that you have attended, some of the experiences you've had sitting with, likeminded, people, that has awakened you, that has created sort of an excitement and a belief in what you're doing. So that's what I want you to think about it. There's a couple of even assumptions that I may have made in my conversation, which is very interesting. So I'm talking to you as a communication person, and there are differences in your perspective for sure. And mine going back to Leeds since you started, how receptive they were to you and how you have grown and how it has pushed you beyond Santa Barbara. And I think the important thing is, what does this have to do with Santa Barbara? How does this help the Santa Barbara Police Department that you're off, like you said, Austin, or wherever the heck you are? So you're listening to The CopDoc Podcast and we're talking to Shawn Hill.
Steve Morreale (29:04)
He's a lieutenant and a watch commander at the Santa Barbara Police Department, but also affiliated with NIJ. And one of the things I didn't say is, what is NIJ? National Institute of justice, and that is a subgroup or a component of the US. Department of justice. He is a leads scholar which means that he is engaged, in essence, a scholarship, much like a Fulbright scholarship, and he's focusing on police related research with other, likeminded, people. Let's go back to that for a minute, Shawn, since you began, when they gave you the nod, you've been traveling, you've been going to enclaves and bringing people. Tell us about that. Where do they bring you? What do you do when you're there? How did it awaken you? How did it excite you? And how does it have an impact on what you're doing at your police department?
Shawn Hill (29:46)
Let me start with kind of the scholarship and travels a bit. One of the things that the scholarship does, it gets me to different conferences across the US. That are focused on evidence-based policing practices, whether it be George Mason's outfit with the aluminum. Absolutely. These researchers and academics who are just leaders in the field and really tackling, it's fantastic. It's an experience I wouldn't have here in Santa Barbara. We're not having those types of conferences. Santa Barbara Police Department is a pretty small agency considering. And oftentimes I'll have to go out to other areas and where other universities are that are focused on this to really have access to people and have these conversations. Not only watch a zoom or something like that, but to actually just stop and meet somebody in the hallway and have that conversation with them. And that leads to relationships and research projects. So that's a perfect example. You were mentioning, like, how does that work and how does that evolve? How do I get inspired by other people? I'll just give you an example. One of the recent conferences that I went to, I had the pleasure and honor of having a conversation with Chief Sean Barnes from Madison.
Steve Morreale (30:47)
I'm going to be talking to him soon.
Shawn Hill (30:48)
Yeah, he's a lead scholar. I had the opportunity to be a part of a cohort with him for the Bureau of Justice Assistance Executive Sessions on Police Leadership. So connecting with him from kind of a lead scholar aspect and just seeing the work that he's doing with race relations as a chief out of Madison, it just kind of broadens my perspective. It allows me to see what's happening and what's working in other agencies. And it kind of touches on the issue of how do I, as a Santa Barbara police lieutenant as I'm going out to these things, what happens at the department? How do I bring this back to the department, even? And so I'm able to connect with people across the nation who are doing really fantastic work and research in their own right. And as you know, policing has no shame. If somebody else is doing something really great, we're happy to take it and do it ourselves. And I think that just makes sense, especially when we're talking about really well tested programs or initiatives. So connecting with someone like Chief Barnes conference and being able to sit outside and talk to them for 30 minutes in between educational programs is really valuable because then I'm able to kind of relate that to what's going on in Santa Barbara?
Shawn Hill (31:48)
And how can I kind of transform that into something in Santa Barbara or go back and talk to other police leadership or command staff about what's happening with really kind of that access to the person, not just reading a summary of it and then even follow up, for example. I'll go back and talk to my department about it, and there will be questions that I didn't even think of, and I'm able to reach right back out because we have this relationship through this cohort and ask questions and just get people with phenomenal experience like himself or somebody like Dr. Lum. It's really difficult to get that sort of access. And things like the NIJ LEADS Scholarship Program really allow and facilitate those types of conversations that are really, really important and crucial.
Steve Morreale (32:24)
And once you have that, you can never take that away. Once you have that point of contact in that face-to-face relationship, once again, it's about relationships that you would never be able to have access to before. And it sounds to me like you're excited that you've got the front row seat and that you're a player and that you're maybe, and I don't mean to say this in a negative way, I use a sports metaphor you're probably in the minor leagues. You're AAA right now, and you're moving into the majors as you move through this program, right? Because sometimes you're a second seater on a piece of research, and the next thing you know, you're bringing somebody along and now you're the first seater. It's the same sort of thing. Do you feel that way, Sean?
Shawn Hill (32:58)
Oh, absolutely. I'm so excited to be in the seat. I could stay in the AAA or whatever they are the whole time. I'm fine with that. The people that I'm being mentored by and have access to and are kind enough to really extend their knowledge to me, people like Ed McGuire and how we dialed and all these mentors that I have that are just, to me, kind of this next level, leading the research, leading the field. It's fantastic, and I'm just really appreciative of it.
Steve Morreale (33:22)
So you've said something as we wind down, you've said something about experiment, and that's a scary thing. I teach intro to research. I start that in a couple of weeks. And that just mystifies people. Experiment? What does that mean? And we know what an experiment is. When we were dealing with COVID and what's going to work for COVID, we try it on mice. That kind of went trying experiments on mice in policing. But when you use the word experiment and as you sit down with other colleagues to say, I've got an idea, well, so do I. How does that expand? How does that take shape?
Shawn Hill (33:52)
I guess to ask your question, I would start with I usually like to look at it from the lens of, well, what do we know about this and how do we know it? Because that to me, drives the conversation to, well, how do we learn more? Or how do we learn what we want to know? And that's kind of where the experiment comes in. But using the word experiment as you've kind of touched on is a little bit of a trigger word in law enforcement. Oftentimes I will accommodate. As I talked about, mutual accommodation is one of the things I study. I'll accommodate who I'm talking to. So if I'm in a police department, I'm probably not going to use the word experiment too much. I might use the word evaluation like some sort of scientific evaluation, because those words sometimes matter until I have time to really explain what that means. Why is it an experiment? And just asked this morning on a phone conversation about the randomized control trial, like, what does the experiment look like? And then you break it down. It's not that complicated. It's not easy to do, it's not easy to set up.
Shawn Hill (34:40)
But you're really just talking about, for example, a randomized controlled trial. You have a group that's exposed to something in a group. That's not kind of the idea. And how do you do that in a police department? That's not always easy because although the concept is simple, you have people in shift work, for example. So what if the people who are exposed then overlap with the people who aren't exposed and they talk about it? All these things, these practical implications have to be taken into account. But generally speaking, I'm talking about these things with my peers and colleagues and police departments. I just talk about, like, why do we do what we do? Is this particular thing we're doing? Let's talk about this and brainstorm it and do we know why we're doing it, or is it just always been done that way? And then do we want to do it different? And if so, how do we approach it? What has been done? Has anybody evaluated another way to do it? And then that kind of opens the door to, oh, well, how was it evaluated? What kind of study was it? What kind of experiment was it?
Shawn Hill (35:29)
And what were the outcomes? And start kind of looking at the literature a little bit. So I guess I would approach it to answer your question, is start with what are we trying to learn about and how do we know what we're doing works? And that kind of opens the door for me.
Steve Morreale (35:40)
Okay, so I know that somebody has called me from your police department and talked about homeless and how do other people deal with homelessness? Is there a homeless problem in Santa Barbara?
Shawn Hill (35:51)
There are definitely homeless people in Santa Barbara, and it definitely, I would say, is a problem. I think that's a fair assessment. We have struggles trying to resolve the homeless issue in Santa Barbara. I feel like we as Santa Barbara community, not just the police department.
Steve Morreale (36:05)
That's good to know. Yeah. Because you can't solve it by yourself unless you have a place to put them if they need mental health assistance, if they have alcohol problems. There are so many things that underlying conditions that you have to address in order to potentially fix it. Where do we find them a job? Where do we find them homes? And just what we just did there, that's the kind of conversation that you have to dig into it. You have to peel back the onion. What are the issues? How many people? What can we do? Who can we work with? Who's got resources? I see you. I have the benefit of seeing you on video. I see you shaking your head, Sean. Why a doctoral program at this stage in your life?
Shawn Hill (36:40)
When I figure that out, I'll let you know.
Steve Morreale (36:43)
Honestly, it's not an easy thing, but it's a commendable thing. I understand.
Shawn Hill (36:46)
Well, thanks. I started to really be interested when I started helping develop this intergroup intervention model. I was reading all the literature. I was kind of studying it myself anyway. And one of the components that I constantly was seeking was like, okay, I need to understand the methodology. How do I really make sure that this is evaluated properly? And those are things that PhD programs are really good at. They're really good at making sure you understand methodology and how to set up an experiment and how to evaluate it and make it legitimate scientific experiments.
Steve Morreale (37:17)
Yeah. One of the research methods that I practice in that particular domain.
Shawn Hill (37:20)
And I think that I felt like I was starting to do all that anyway, and I just wanted to make myself better. And I love to be a student. I love to learn. I'm pretty sure that's going to be happening my entire life. UCSB is a phenomenal university, and there are some people who are working very specifically, like, for example, with integrated communication and policing. And it just seemed like it was the right place for me and where my passion lies probably for the second part of my career.
Steve Morreale (37:44)
Do they see your uniqueness and your value with your experience and your drive to learn? I mean, certain faculty over there.
Shawn Hill (37:53)
Yeah, I feel valued by all the faculty I've interacted with. But I think I would answer that by talking about my cohort, to be honest with you, because that's who I spent most time with. I feel like everybody in my cohort has been the most welcoming and affirming group of people that I've worked with in a cohort. And I think that's really promising and makes me really most of the people my cohort are younger than I am, but it makes me really comfortable about the future, about who's going to be doing the research and who's going to be producing this knowledge in the future.
Steve Morreale (38:22)
Are you one of the only law enforcement practitioners?
Shawn Hill (38:25)
I am the only law enforcement.
Steve Morreale (38:26)
Isn't it amazing when you go in there and they don't know you, but once they get to know you, it's exactly what we've been talking about, the relationships and the bonds. You're helping me understand. This is a question I had I didn't know. You make me feel completely different about policing. I'm sure you've had those kinds of conversations on breaks.
Shawn Hill (38:42)
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I've had opportunities to do some presentations with the UCSB community, with some other professors about the work that I'm doing and policing. And yes, I'm the only police officer in my program. But honestly, this cohort didn't treat me any different. This small community just said, oh, cool, okay, you're a police officer. That sounds cool. Tell me about the experiments you're going to be doing and how can I be involved. But I don't necessarily look at it as me being unique because everybody in that cohort and everybody I've interacted with this unique and important in every way. And I felt like I've never been treated different. I've said before when asked about how is it, what's my experience there being a professional and working with the other researchers who are sometimes just out of university studies? And I kind of feel like if I could pick one group to run the world right now, it might be the cohort, because they're just unbelievably accommodating and considerate and empathetic, and they just a positive group of people. So I feel like I've been valued as a person, not necessarily just as a cop, but just as a person.
Shawn Hill (39:38)
And I think that's probably the most important thing for me.
Steve Morreale (39:40)
Well, the lifelong learner that you seem to be and the curiosity that you have is what I think in a lot of ways might carry you in asking questions and trying to find some answers to questions, which is what research is all about in a lot of ways. As you continue and as we wind down, what recommendation would you have and at what point in time would you recommend? I know I ask a lot of compound questions. What recommendations would you make to people who are in the field, in the United States, especially about the Leads program?
Shawn Hill (40:09)
I would say, first and foremost, you mean practitioners. If you're interested, yes. Identify what each person usually has their own interests. Mine happens to be communication and communication, but kind of really like, solidify what your interest is and then bring that to the group. I feel like that's probably what's most beneficial is somebody who has an idea of what they want to do. They really want to focus on and refine and work on throughout their experience and bring that to the table and don't be deterred. If a very competitive group. I mean, the people that apply for the scholarship are unbelievable. And I imagine if they could let 500 people in a year, they probably would only have that many talented people out there trying to do this work. So I would say identify what you're really interested and then come to the table with what you want to do. For me, that was intergroup interventions between the police and the public. But it can be a variety of different things. There's really fantastic work being done by people in this program.
Steve Morreale (41:00)
Great. Last question for you. What's on your bucket list? You've got 20 plus years in law enforcement. You're going after a doctorate. Ultimately you will retire at some point. What's on your bucket list? What do you want to accomplish? What do you want to do?
Shawn Hill (41:11)
I think broadly I want to or maybe even specifically, I really want to contribute to the knowledge creation of inner group interventions and what role they can play between the police and the public right now. I think the last couple of years have really put an emphasis on strained relationships between the police and the community, certain community groups. And I feel like inner group interventions have a significant role in breaking down these ideas of social categorization and really moving into interpersonal relationships. And I think that's where I want to focus my time. I think that's where my passion is. I think that's where I can do the most good and learning with and working with other people in the field who are focusing on that and just making a contribution to those relationships. Because I believe very strongly in our profession. I believe in the men and women who are out there doing the work every day. And everything we can do to make them more successful, I think is really important. And for me, contributing to this body of work is what I want to do. So I would say that's on my.
Steve Morreale (42:01)
List, with the rise and focus on evidence based policing, which I think is a thing of the future, it's in the current. We're getting stronger and stronger with it. I think you're on the road to helping that happen. The last bit, what would you say to young people who are on the fence about policing?
Shawn Hill (42:14)
For me, I guess I would suggest to get to know some officers, to get to know them as human beings and not just watch social media and YouTube videos, because that's a very the most viewed for example, videos of police interactions are not the positive ones. They're not often captured and they don't trend. So a lot of young people are being exposed to some incidents that don't look good. Whether they are not, you know, it's hard to say, but they don't look good. So I would say get to know your local police officer, because police departments have different cultures and they have different communities they serve and the communities demand different things in their departments. So as opposed to watching a video from an officer interaction four states away, go to your local department and find a way to interact with the local police officer, because I think that makes a big difference. Most of the difficult issues and conversations I've had with my local community members actually don't have much to do with our local officers. And I constantly find myself saying, but have you talked to our officers? What is your experience with our officers?
Steve Morreale (43:10)
Well, they're generalizing and stereotyping. Right. The stereotypes.
Shawn Hill (43:13)
Yeah. So I would say, go to your local department and find a way to interact with a local officer.
Steve Morreale (43:17)
Specifically, what I'm asking is, as a lieutenant with the Santa Barbara Police Department, do you encourage people to consider policing as oh, absolutely.
Shawn Hill (43:24)
Yeah. To use an old word is a very noble career. It's an exciting career. It's a challenging career, and I think there's a lot of people that want those characteristics in their life and in their profession.
Steve Morreale (43:35)
Well, there it is. There's another episode of the Cop Talk podcast in the can. We've been talking with Sean Hill at the Santa Barbara Police Department. He's a lieutenant and a PhD candidate at UCSB. So thank you very much for your time out on the West Coast. What time is it now?
Shawn Hill (43:50)
Steve Morreale (43:51)
Okay. 113 here on the East Coast. John, thank you. I wish the best of luck in your program, but also in your experiments and your research, and I think you will be a very important and innovative piece in policing in the future in America. So thank you so much for your time, and I wish you the best of luck.
Shawn Hill (44:10)
Thank you very much. Appreciate your time.
Steve Morreale (44:11)
Hey, everybody, a few things before you leave. First, thanks for listening. I'm so gratified to see the downloads rising in the last few months, not only from the US. But from across the globe. It's surprising and humbling to find students, colleagues, and practitioners listening. They have a growing number of listeners in Canada, Ireland, England, northern Ireland, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Germany and Colombia. We appreciate your time and energy and welcome feedback. Please feel free to reach out to me by email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for listening to The CopDoc Podcast with Dr. Steve Morreale. Steve is a retired law enforcement practitioner and manager turned academic and scholar from Worcester State University. Please tune in to The CopDoc Podcast for regular episodes of interviews with thought leaders in Policing you.