Jennifer Morrison is the Commissioner of Public Safety in Vermont. Prior to joining DPS in October 2020 as executive director of policy development and later deputy commissioner, Morrison spent three decades in Vermont’s law enforcement community.
She joined the Burlington Police Department as an officer in 1990 and advanced through the ranks, ultimately becoming deputy chief. In 2013, she accepted the position of chief of the Colchester Police Department, a role she held for the next five years before retiring.
In retirement, she worked as a consultant and instructor before returning to the Burlington Police Department in January 2020 as interim police chief for six months during a tumultuous time in the BPD.
Jen lives on an island on Lake Champlain and has been a trainer for the IACP on Leadership. Ina wide-ranging interview, we talked about leading and the focus of policing in the 21st century. We spoke of authenticity in leadership, the power of listening, coaching, and using questions. We also spoke about the co-production of public safety.
Jennifer is a fellow podcaster, serving as the co-host of The Hero Maker Podcast, focused on those who work in public safety, striving to make a difference.
Contact us: email@example.com
If you'd like to arrange for facilitated training, or consulting, or talk about steps you might take to improve your leadership and help in your quest for promotion, contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org
[00:00:03.690] - Intro
Welcome to The CopDoc 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 agencies. And now please join Dr. Steve Morreale and industry thought leaders as they share their insights and experience on The CopDoc Podcast.
[00:00:33.690] - Steve Morreale
Well, hello again, everybody. Steve Morreale coming to you from Boston. And this is The CopDoc Podcast. Another episode is beginning, and I'm talking to somebody I met many, many years ago, Jennifer Morrison. She is now the Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety in Vermont. A former police officer, police chief will talk about that, but she comes to us on an island in Lake Champlain. Talk about that. Jen, hello.
[00:00:54.210] - Jennifer Morrison
Hey, Steve. It's great to see you again. Yes, I am coming at you from my house, which is on one of the five Lake Champlain islands, literally is an island in the middle of Lake Champlain. It divides the broad lake from the inland sea, and it's just a beautiful piece of the world.
[00:01:11.140] - Steve Morreale
It must be nice to get away at times.
[00:01:13.350] - Jennifer Morrison
It's a little bit like every day is a little bit vacationing. And back when my husband was working really goofy hours and shifts, he was an emergency physician, and I was working shift work still. We had a saying that whatever troubles you were bringing home from work, you would leave at the causeway. There's a long causeway between the mainland and where you get on the first island, South Hero. And if you couldn't leave your troubles there, you had to leave whatever was bugging you from work at the drawbridge, which is how you get onto North Hero Island, where we live. And you could pick it up the next day on your way back to work at the drawbridge. But you can't drag that stuff home.
[00:01:48.480] - Steve Morreale
What a way to live if life was so simple, right? It's not always that easy, as you know. And I have my difficulties trying to keep things, you know, but listen, so you've been at policing for so many years. 2003, we met at Roger Williams at a training. I found such promise in you, and maybe I underestimated, but I thought you were a special person in the role of law enforcement. So, you're from Burlington, Vermont, originally a police officer, a deputy chief, and then you went to Colchester. But talk about that. Talk about the years and what you did and how you ended up boomerang back into the state.
[00:02:24.560] - Jennifer Morrison
Right on. So, I began my career fresh out of college at the Burlington, Vermont Police Department. I intended to be a police officer for two or three years to gain what my colleagues at the Secret Service called street smarts. To preface that, in my senior year at George Washington University, I had the honor of doing an internship at the United States Secret Service Washington field office. And I met many wonderful people, all who were tremendous mentors and friends, and they all said the same thing, which was, once you become a Fed, you don't get the opportunity to get out there and learn about people and the streets and that basic patrol level stuff. So, they all recommended that I go get some street smarts, which I thought made pretty good sense. So, I wound up at the Burlington Police Department, and I began my career in the patrol division, as everybody does. And my first career at the Burlington Police Department spanned just shy of 23 years. I experienced all of the different divisions. I was an accreditation manager. I was a patrol sergeant. I was in charge of the countywide sex crimes and child abuse unit.
[00:03:24.760] - Jennifer Morrison
I was a lieutenant, the executive officer, and the deputy chief. And then I was eligible for retirement, and I was offered the job as the police chief in the town to the north of Burlington, called Colchester, Vermont, an absolutely beautiful lakefront community. And so, I went off and became the chief of police in Colchester for five years. And then I thought I was retired. I was doing some consulting and continuing to teach LPO for IACP, and then just kind of sort of picking and choosing which gigs I wanted to do. And life got really funny after I retired. My husband became gravely ill not long after I retired. It was sort of a sad irony, and he was sick to the point where he could no longer work. And that began a years long journey that we're still on. We will always be on it, but the acute part of it is over. He had lymphoma and leukemia, very rare leukemia. He ended up having a successful stem cell transplant, but not without its side effects, tremendous side effects that he will have for the rest of his life.
[00:04:22.260] - Steve Morreale
But you still have them.
[00:04:23.480] - Jennifer Morrison
But I still have him.
[00:04:24.370] - Steve Morreale
And he's alive, especially in him. He being an emergency room physician. I remember us talking about that. That's a shame, but it's a blessing, I suppose, in one way that medicine can do wonders.
[00:04:34.650] - Jennifer Morrison
Miracle. And the fact that some total stranger went through a grueling process of donating stem cells so that somebody else would have a shot at living, to me, is so unbelievable and joyful and such grace that that person would go through. It's a painful process to have your stem cells harvested. So, we do have a donor down in the Carolina's who we've not met, but we've communicated a couple of times with. And you want to meet someday? I wouldn't mind, but I think he might have found it all overwhelming.
[00:05:04.210] - Steve Morreale
I understand what you did. What the hell did I do? That's okay.
[00:05:08.600] - Jennifer Morrison
So, then it was interesting on the day that we found out we were at Dana Farber, and the day that the doctor said, if you stay in Remission for six months, you will be eligible for this stem cell transplant, and we have a ten out of ten-donor lined up. So, we're going to see you every month, but we're going to do the transplant in June, assuming you stay. Well, that very hour, the mayor of the city of Burlington called and asked if I could come back to the city of Burlington Police as the interim chief of police, which he said he thought I left. Yeah. No, he said, I think I needed to chief for about six months. And I said, that's funny. I have about six months before I have to move to Boston for my husband's health care. It just lined up perfectly. So I went back to Burlington PD, which of course was my first love in policing, and was very happy to step in in a time of need for the organization. But little did I know that COVID was right around the corner, like two months later, and right after that, the murder of George Floyd and what we will call the summer of unrest.
[00:06:07.420] - Jennifer Morrison
So, it was a really tumultuous six months back at the helm at Bpd, and I'm thrilled I had that opportunity. It was very difficult to step away, but I did have to step away in mid-June when we moved to Boston for Wayne stem cell transplant, for good reason.
[00:06:20.640] - Steve Morreale
Well, and that would seem to me that you went to Boston at a time with COVID It was a really.
[00:06:25.370] - Jennifer Morrison
Tough time, fortunately, because he was unable to take care of all of the necessities of daily living, I was allowed to be with him almost all the time, but it was interesting for us because he would have had to live like boy in the bubble anyway. And the fact that the whole world was living that way during COVID actually made recovery from the stem cell transplant feel less abnormal. So, it was strangely good timing, I guess, for that. But returned to Burlington PD and within a couple of weeks, the state reached out and asked if I could come to work for them. So here I am. Two years ago, a little over two years ago, I went to the state of Vermont initially to write no, initially as the executive director of policy development, specifically to interface with the legislature. We knew that use of force and various other police reform measures were going to be on the table. And so, I was specifically asked to help work with the legislature and then take the resulting legislation, turn it into a statewide policy, organize and set up the training to train all police officers in the state on the new policy.
[00:07:28.290] - Jennifer Morrison
So that was my initial role. And then about ten months later, I became the deputy commissioner, and about eight months later I became the commissioner.
[00:07:35.180] - Steve Morreale
Well, that's a big job. And what I think for people who listen from outside of the country or outside of New England talk about let's go back to Burlington for a minute. You would think the size of it, that's where the capital would be. And we know it's not. It's in Montpelier, which is a beautiful bucolic town. But you're in Waterbury, is that right?
[00:07:51.800] - Jennifer Morrison
Yeah. The Headquarters for Public Safety and some other state entities like the Agency of Human Services, which is massive, are in Waterbury, Vermont. It's about a 15-minute ride down route Two to get to Montpelier, which is a gorgeous community, and many other state agencies and departments are headquartered there.
[00:08:09.340] - Steve Morreale
So, let's talk about Burlington. So, it's on Lake Champlain. Beautiful. You have University of Vermont there and the medical center. And talk about the size of that. It seems to me that New England being quite liberal in many cases, and certainly the school changes the perspective, and it changes a community because it takes it over to a degree for good reason. But talk about that and how you morph, you had gone to Washington for school, so you know what that's like. Talk about that. How big is the community, how busy is the community? I know it's a summer community and sometimes winter community because of snow and skiing but talk about that.
[00:08:45.750] - Jennifer Morrison
Yeah. So, the city of Burlington, I had never stepped foot in the city of Burlington until I applied to be a police officer there. And it did not take long for me to fall in love with the Burlington community and the surrounding area. It strikes me that Burlington is just big enough of a city to have all the amenities, some wonderful theater, wonderful restaurants, a gorgeous lakefront, a vibrant downtown. And of course, we have we are the home. Burlington is the home to the University of Vermont, but also to Champlain College. There's other colleges and nearby St. Michael's College as well.
[00:09:18.000] - Steve Morreale
Colchester, where you were right.
[00:09:19.730] - Jennifer Morrison
Yeah, it's right in Colchester, exactly. And we're within about just under a two-hour drive from Montreal, a major metropolitan city, and about 3 hours, maybe a little more than 3 hours from Boston in the Burlington area. So, Burlington is just the right size. The census without students by day is about 45,000. There's considerably more when you add in the students. And the daytime population of the city of Burlington is closer to about 150,000. And again, we're home to the UVM Medical Center above Alan Trauma Center, all the courts and business area on the Church Street marketplace and surrounding area. Our south end has grown quite a bit in the last 20 years. So, the daytime population is very different from what the still of the night population is. And likewise, the community is somewhat seasonal, driven by whether or not the students are here. Whether or not during the school break is very different than in the peak of the middle of a semester. And the different seasons are all different here. There is something for everyone. If you're an outdoor enthusiast here in the Burlington area, there really is something for everyone. So, it's a gorgeous community, it's a very engaged community, it's a very educated community.
[00:10:24.950] - Steve Morreale
And again, because it's a city, all kinds of different policing issues, I suppose, from homelessness to drug use and drug abuse and crimes against people and stuff. And by the way, we're talking to Jennifer Morrison. She is now the Commissioner for the Department of Public Safety up in Vermont. One of the things I was thinking about the seasons is Leaf Peak, where you are right now, must be just spectacular during fall.
[00:10:45.890] - Jennifer Morrison
You know what, I think Vermont is beautiful in all four seasons. Maybe not November and March, what I call the brown seasons and the mud season in March, but the leaf peeping is just unbelievable. And of course, it brings in tons of tourists, which is important for our revenues. And even if it does make getting to work or to the grocery store take a lot longer. But it's no different than in Florida when the snowbirds come or anything like that. It's what drives your economic engine and what you're known for.
[00:11:11.700] - Steve Morreale
We roll with it, people, right? So, what is your why, Jen? Why are you still playing in the sandbox?
[00:11:19.750] - Jennifer Morrison
Well, I think my why changes. I don't have one overarching why. I'm young. I still have a lot of gas left in the tank on this particular go around. When the then Commissioner of Public Safety said, I need someone to do X, and it was so clearly up my alley, it was right in my wheelhouse. And he and I were cops together in Burlington for our whole career. We're good friends. I knew working together was going to be a great fit. So, when Mike Shirling said, I need you to do this. Are you available? Are you willing? It was really hard to say no. And when the governor of the state of Vermont, particularly Phil Scott, who is one of the most decent, down to earth, just a really good dude, when he says, I want you to be part of my team as the deputy commissioner and then subsequently, as a commissioner, you can't say no when you know you have something to offer, when you know you can contribute. And PS, what an honor to be part of the cabinet that he has built. It is a bunch of rock stars, and I am learning from my colleagues every day.
[00:12:13.530] - Jennifer Morrison
I'm learning so much. And so, there's a lot of whys, but mostly it's because I know I have something to offer. I bring a certain perspective and I think I can help. And when people ask me for help and I think I can do it, it's not in my lexicon to say no.
[00:12:27.580] - Steve Morreale
So, you are the first female, the first woman to serve in the role as commissioner. And I think knowing you, you come to the job with a different approach. In many cases, and I presume that in order for you to survive, you're a great listener. Is that a fair statement?
[00:12:43.270] - Jennifer Morrison
I try to be. I certainly think I am better at it sometimes and not as good at it at other times. I think if you ask my husband.
[00:12:51.730] - Steve Morreale
At the same time, that's personal rather than professional. I'd be guilty of the same thing; I can assure you.
[00:12:58.170] - Jennifer Morrison
I think that being approachable and relatable helps me to build relationships. And at the end of the day, every good project, every good outcome I've ever had has been because of the underlying relationships involved in that initiative. So, I do. Listen. I try to understand when somebody's throwing heat at me or at an issue, I try to understand why there's a fear or anger or whatever is creating that. So, I do try to listen. I try to reflect back what I've heard to not make assumptions about what somebody is trying to communicate to me. And mostly I think it's just I have a high degree of empathy. I really do. I care about people. I care about humanity. And it's not always a popular way of being as a police leader, but I love people, so I want to take care of people, and I don't mind letting them know that I care about them and care about the problem they're trying to solve.
[00:13:46.610] - Steve Morreale
So, it also seems to me that you have to have some respect and are entrust. And that I think that goes without saying. But one of the things that I find can work often, especially when you're in a meeting and you're trying to figure out what the problem is, what the potential solutions are before you make a decision that many lead by asking questions, is that something you do in a meeting? To try to understand perspectives, understand the depth of the issue, understand what you can do and what you can't do? Would you say that you lead through questions?
[00:14:15.670] - Jennifer Morrison
I certainly do right now, in the role I'm in now, because I don't know the answers. I just have to say I'm learning every day, and the breadth of what we cover in public safety is astonishing. I'm still learning about things that are in our wheelhouse that I'm like. Really? I mean, inspecting elevators, licensing tradespeople, and other things that are very interesting and not what people think of when they think public safety. So yes, I absolutely use questioning, but questioning in a genuine way, like, I'm truly learning. It's a curiosity every day. Yeah. And I do ask questions. Even when the answer is clear to me or I know the answer, I frequently will be like, well, why do we do it that way? Just to try and make sure that we're not falling into the age-old trap of we're doing it this way because we've always done it this way, so always kind of trying to keep things fresh. Yes, and questioning is a big part of that. One of the other techniques that I found very successful, particularly when you are with a group of people who you are very similar to, whether that's because you're all cops in that meeting or you're all cops with 30.
[00:15:15.480] - Jennifer Morrison
Years on the job or you're all command level it's not a diverse when you're in a homogeneous group and if I am the one convening the meeting I very frequently will appoint a devil's advocate for the meeting and it is that person's job to tell me why everything that we're sort of group thinking about is not right or where the vulnerabilities are, where the critics will pick it apart. And that's the person's job is to give us to ensure that groupthink is not sweeping us down a course that we later go oh, that wasn't great. So, I really like intentionally appointing a devil's advocate to ensure that other perspectives are included. And as I get further along in my career, I frequently will take that a step further and take potential decision or a potential direction on a project and go seek out someone who I know is going to have a very different viewpoint. It's not someone who comes from the same discipline as I or same age group or whatever is the diversity I'm trying to infuse. I will go foreshadow and ask for feedback from people who I know are going to bring a very different perspective and it's time consuming.
[00:16:17.900] - Jennifer Morrison
Not all decisions in my work life can be made with that type of deliberateness and intentionality. But whenever I can, that's my preferred way of arriving at important decisions.
[00:16:27.600] - Steve Morreale
Let me ask a question. Many years ago, I did some research, and I spent an awful lot of time talking to major city chiefs about decision making. And one of the questions that I asked was do you have a template for making decisions? And what that means maybe is and I'll never forget having a major city chief sitting next to me and he got a shitty and grin on his face and I looked up because I was taking notes after I asked the question do you have a template? And what he was doing was pointing his finger, his index finger at his head and I said to him, well what the hell good is it in your head? Do you have it on paper? No. So the question Jen, is simply do you have a template? Do you have a process by which you attack any decision of consequence that doesn't have to be done immediately? Is there a process, are there steps that you take? It sounds like you just described one of them. Looking for an alternative perspective?
[00:17:14.080] - Jennifer Morrison
Yeah, definitely looking for alternative perspective. And not just the alternative perspective, but trying to take as you mentioned, I have a lot of experience which is a kind way of saying that I'm getting old, and I've been around a long time but trying to anticipate the unintended consequences. I think what I see a lot is people who are really passionate, and I'm right up there with them. I can bring a lot of emotion when I'm passionate about something. But emotion and feelings frequently cloud fat, and it definitely prevents leaders or decision makers from seeing two steps or ten steps or 100 steps down the path. It's the unintended consequences of well-intentioned people that frequently find us in difficult positions. So, I do try to get a diversity of input. I definitely try to anticipate unintended consequences of any big decision. And I also try to look at the perspective from if I'm reflecting on these ten years from now, what is history going to say about this decision and its impact on the people of Vermont or its impact on this community? Whatever the Stakeholder Group is that this might impact, I want to not make decisions in haste.
[00:18:25.250] - Jennifer Morrison
When you do have the luxury of time so that you can do the right thing for all the right reasons and not just make a snap decision and move on to the next, you know, from your career, you want crisis management, you want snap decisions. Cops are great at that. But just like, address it, move on to the next thing because there are fires everywhere to be put out on the big ones. When we have the luxury of time, I think it's really important too. It's like picking up an object and trying to look at it from all sides. Or as I've shared with many people in my leadership discussions, there's a play happening in the courtyard, and we are all looking at it from a different balcony, from a different side, from a different height. And we have got to put ourselves onto those other balconies, not just the one that you're watching the play from. You've got to imagine or go and get on somebody else's balcony and look at it from 30,000ft higher, from the south, the east, the west, and just look at the problem from all angles before you commit yourself to a path and be willing to fine tune.
[00:19:19.420] - Jennifer Morrison
Because that's another thing I really do not enjoy about some leaders, is they make a decision and then they're married to it.
[00:19:25.490] - Steve Morreale
I love hearing that. I love hearing that. I actually just wrote down the rigidity of old timers that we've worked with, and sometimes not old timers. It's people in positions now who mirror the behavior of the bosses they had, and they become rigid. And I'm so glad to hear that because I just wrote this down. Once a policy is written, must you be wedded to that? When along the way you say, oh, my goodness, we didn't consider that. We have to rewrite it. I think a body worn cams, for example, when we first write them, those policies are going to be written one way, but they're going to morph because, oops, we forgot this. Go ahead, Jen.
[00:20:01.700] - Jennifer Morrison
Yeah. Or the technology changed, and you could not have anticipated it when the policy was written. So, when I think about policies that govern a public safety entity, no, policies are not cast in stone. It's not the same as code of conduct and rules. Right. There are different levels of written directives in any agency, but policy has to be constantly revisited and updated. And decisions, whether they result in a policy or not, decisions need to be revisited. Because if you get down the road and realize that there's an unintended consequence or there's more a backlash that you could not have foreseen coming, or it just is wrong, I think it shows tremendous humility to be able to say, okay, that's not where we need to go. We need to back down the path a little bit, get ourselves together and pick a new road forward. It gets harder when decisions are made legislatively and that means going back to the legislature to walk something back or fine tune it. But there's so many different levels of written directive that impact the work we do in public safety. I think it's really important for leaders to just be real, be human.
[00:21:03.460] - Jennifer Morrison
We don't always get it right on the first try. So, if we have to own it, fix it, move on. That's kind of my mantra about even if it's not a mistake, if it's just a whoa, this is not going.
[00:21:13.420] - Steve Morreale
To oversight perhaps, right? That's cause when you were talking about looking at it from the ball, I used the metaphor of a 360 perspective. When a policy is written or an action is taken, well, what's the perspective of the family, what's the perspective of the town, what's the perspective of the courts, what's the perspective of the legislature or whatever? It might be really important, but you talk about policy since you were in that role for a while. It seems to me that one thing that could make it easier and accreditation did a little of that is to build in a cyclical review period almost like this must be reviewed every two or three years. Must. Must.
[00:21:48.500] - Jennifer Morrison
[00:21:48.770] - Steve Morreale
And that way you take a look at what has changed.
[00:21:51.150] - Jennifer Morrison
Agree. And I think that there are many agencies that do that well that have every two years for certain policies because they're more critical every three or five years, depending on the nature of a policy. And there are agencies that do that very well. There are also agencies that do not have any administrative support. And that's the reality. We have two, three, four person police agencies in Vermont, in tiny communities. And when you are the chief of police, you are all of those roles. So, if you are out answering calls for service, you're presenting a budget to the select board, you're getting the cruisers over to a mechanic to get fixed and get the snow tires on. You are doing it all. And unfortunately, the administrivia goes to the bottom of the pile. I mean, come on, Steve. It's not sexy at all. That's not why any of us got on the job. Right?
[00:22:35.730] - Outro
[00:22:36.610] - Jennifer Morrison
So, you know, the administrivia goes to the bottom of the heap. And sadly, there are police agencies that I believe have not looked at their most critical high liability policies in ten or more years. And that's a shame.
[00:22:48.850] - Steve Morreale
So, we talk about standards, and Vermont has standards. Some of the problems, I think, that happen in this country is the standards are not standardized. So, we have police agencies, states that have training that's different. And the period of time for training that seems in my mind to be I'm not looking for federal oversight by any means, but I think there has to be a common set of standards and maybe accreditation at the state or the federal level is helpful in that way. What are you working on now in your job? I'm reading what the arm of Public Safety has. You have Vermont Emergency Management, the Crime Information System, the Forensic Lab, fire safety, obviously the state police, and other things that keep people safe, as you said, registration of different licensors and such. So, what's keeping you busy?
[00:23:35.130] - Jennifer Morrison
Oh, there's so much keeping us busy. I mean, over in the Vermont Forensic lab, they are an accredited body, but of course, that's an ongoing process where it's not like, okay, check that box, move on. Constantly maintaining their accredited status. In fire safety, there are many things that are keeping us busy. Some of them relate to legislation that was passed. For instance, we are working on putting together a unit of people who would respond to complaints that are filed about rental housing properties in communities where there is no code enforcement. For instance, the city of Burlington has a very robust code enforcement program. We would not be responding to those. But as I mentioned before, there's a tremendous amount of the state that's very rural, and their local government does not have a health officer or a code enforcement officer. So, in those circumstances, people, tenants and consumers would be able to file complaints. And it would be the responsibility of this new unit that we're putting together in fire safety to investigate those compliance issues and life safety issues really is what it boils down to. But frequently things like that come our way, and they don't have a funding source attached to them.
[00:24:40.220] - Jennifer Morrison
So, stitching together a budget that can meet the legislative mandates and meet the life safety needs of Vermonters is always a top priority. We just finished wrapping up the major winter storm, and our state emergency operation center was running all through the holiday weekend. And that, of course, requires engagement by almost all aspects of the Department of Public Safety. So, there is always something that is top of mind here at. Public safety. And I mean, the Vermont State Police are a huge piece of our organization and there is no lack of excitement happening out there in the world of violent crime or crashes or whatever you want to focus on. And of course, we are just wrapping up some of the work that was given to us by the last legislative session. And in Vermont our legislature convenes in January and generally dismisses at the end of May. Generally. Sometimes there are extended or special sessions. But as you know, around the country there were a lot of efforts at police reform in the last round of legislative thinking. So, we had a lot of committees that we were responsible for, reports that we were responsible for.
[00:25:39.920] - Jennifer Morrison
And that work is either wrapping up or will go on for another year. And we are, of course, preparing for the upcoming legislative session that starts next week.
[00:25:47.760] - Steve Morreale
So, what's going on with reform in the state?
[00:25:50.580] - Jennifer Morrison
That's a great question. Depending on, again which balcony you're on, you are going to have a very different answer. I think there is a tremendous appetite for accountability and transparency in policing and I completely support that. There have been over the last 30 years a tremendous number of, let's say, markers of progress in that regard in the state of Vermont. I would say that that rate of change has accelerated dramatically in the last five years. But yet still there are continued efforts to add more layers of what some would say are important police reform measures, such as taking away qualified immunity, the doctrine of qualified immunity only from police officers, law enforcement officers, but not from other members who currently enjoy that protection. There are certainly let me interrupt for a moment, please.
[00:26:38.100] - Steve Morreale
Well, the reason I ask, and I don't want to put you in a predicament, but the job you have has some political expectations, I suppose, and you come at it from a practical person, somebody with experience. So how do you approach that when you or somebody from your office is potentially testifying or working behind the scenes with staff to try to say, well, let me explain this side. It puts you in a very difficult position, but you represent those people in green and blue and brown.
[00:27:07.500] - Jennifer Morrison
That's true. I am in an interesting position because as a member of the Governor's cabinet, I have a script that I follow and if the governor feels x about a certain piece of legislation, then that is what we will be representing. The beauty of my work with Governor Scott is that he and I are very likeminded, like there is no daylight between how he feels. At least so far in the last two years, there's been no daylight between us. So, it doesn't feel like it's a hard job. I don't have to represent something that my heart isn't in. He's very practical. I'm very practical. He wants what's best for Vermonters. I want what's best for Vermonters. So, it is a political position and I have to be mindful of pretty much anything I say, even to you today. Would the governor agree? Would any of this splash poorly on the governor? So, I do have to be mindful of that. But we're a small state. Yes, we are a medium sized city in the US. The entire state. And if we can't get this right on the coproduction of public safety, I don't know who can.
[00:28:05.900] - Jennifer Morrison
And what I said earlier about the heat and the feelings and the emotion behind stuff, there was an awful high temperature in the last legislative biennium, and our sessions are divided into two-year terms. And the last biennium, there was a lot of heat. And I think one of the things that we lost is one of the things that Vermont does best where impacted stakeholders, people with a viewpoint, come together and we talk about coproducing public safety. We get together and we figure out root cause analysis and we apply common sense perspectives and solutions. That's not where things were the last biennium. And I am really hopeful that in this upcoming session that we can bring back the concept of civil discourse and talking about facts, not about feelings, and not making testimony and attacks against the people. I mean, there were people offering testimony in committees that were making ad hominem attacks against other people who were testifying as opposed to sticking to the facts and representing positions. So, I'm really hopeful that we can get back to the land of civil discourse and really look at all these issues from all the different balconies, all the different 360 degrees, and then come out with what's best for Vermont.
[00:29:13.540] - Steve Morreale
You just use the term. We're talking to Jen Morrison. She is now former police chief but now the Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety in Vermont. Tell me what you mean by coproducing public safety. That's an unusual term and I like it.
[00:29:26.710] - Outro
Talk about that.
[00:29:27.420] - Jennifer Morrison
Well, I came of age in policing when the concept of community-oriented policing was in its heyday and the federal government was throwing money at expanding. You remember that?
[00:29:37.820] - Steve Morreale
[00:29:38.800] - Jennifer Morrison
Yeah, you know exactly what it is. But while all of it is not necessarily stuff that needs to hang on in our legacy of policing, the concept of acknowledging that the police cannot keep the community safe by themselves, we cannot enforce our way out of this violent crime trend. We cannot enforce our way out of substance abuse and substance use disorder. There has to be many, many stakeholders in the Penumbra who work with the police to coproduce public safety in a community. And what that looks like in Burlington, Vermont is going to be extremely different from how it looks in North Hiro, Vermont, or Montpelier, Vermont. Every community has to identify their top issues and what the existing resources are, where the gaps are and how we're going to come together. I mean, I really see it as a coproduction of public safety, because if we take this one step further, there's a lot of these proposed legislative fixes that are a direct result of the fact that there is nobody else to call except the police when something goes wrong. Whether it's with a violent person in a homeless encampment, somebody experiencing mental impairment, somebody who's impaired by substances or has co-occurring disorders happening.
[00:30:49.600] - Jennifer Morrison
We've built a system yeah.
[00:30:51.520] - Steve Morreale
[00:30:52.430] - Jennifer Morrison
We've built a system where there's no one else to call.
[00:30:54.360] - Steve Morreale
Well, you know, that's very interesting. Jen Marson, and she is the Commissioner of Public Safety in Vermont, the state of Vermont, and just reminded me that she is a podcaster herself. She has the Hero maker podcast. Talk about that for a moment before we move on.
[00:31:08.010] - Jennifer Morrison
Oh, the Hero Maker Podcast to honor the lives of our friends who were murdered in college. Rachel Raver and Warren Fulton III were murdered while we were undergrads at George Washington University. And Rachel was a member of the soccer team. And this happened while I was the captain of the GWU soccer team, and her boyfriend Warren was on the baseball team. So anyway, their stories had never been told, and Andrea, who is a film producer out in La. A couple of years ago, decided she really wanted to tell their story. And so, we are, and we are honoring their lives and their story, but we are also identifying the hidden heroes. That's why we call it the hero maker podcast. We're trying to flush out the hidden heroes that are part of every case, and we are also exploring best practices and nuggets of wisdom for this generation and future generations of police leaders. So, it's a pretty interesting journey so far. Our most recent episode that just dropped last Tuesday was with Bill Bratton, which was a lot of fun. And this Tuesday, we have my very dear friend Ronald Ronnell Higgins, who was the chief of police in Yale and is now a big wig at Yale University.
[00:32:15.440] - Jennifer Morrison
He and I were NA brothers and sisters.
[00:32:17.550] - Steve Morreale
Oh, I didn't know that. That's great. You know, Jennifer, that's interesting. And one of the things that I speak to so many people from all over, and the National Academy is something that comes up. And obviously, I went to Quantico with DEA and did some training there at the National Academy myself as a trainer. But can you reflect back on the NA for a minute and what that meant to you?
[00:32:37.060] - Jennifer Morrison
Oh, I can very fondly. Attending the National Academy was absolutely one of the highlights of my career. I met some extraordinary and earnest police leaders who were there to improve themselves, to try to take something back to their communities. And what I left there with was this incredible network of relationships. I mentioned it earlier, but honestly, everything comes back to relationships. At the end of the day, in this business, you could be looking for a best practice or a policy on almost any topic you could imagine in policing. And you put it out to your network from the NA, and you'd get responses from other countries, other parts of the US. And you'd just be able to sift through and be like, yes, that fits my community. Like, you didn't have to reinvent the wheel in most cases. And when you needed to lean on a resource to solve a case, if you had a case that was multi-jurisdictional, you could almost always find someone through your network of brothers and sisters in the National Academy. But, yeah, that was in 2006, and I have such fond memories of that as being a highlight of my professional career, but also in my personal life to develop those deep friendship from the National Academy, many of which still continue today.
[00:33:42.740] - Steve Morreale
That's neat. And so, as the commissioner of Public Safety, in your experience as a chief in two places, that's got to be pretty helpful to you, because you have that perspective that so many don't talk.
[00:33:54.570] - Jennifer Morrison
About, that I think your perspective is really just a sum of your exposure and your incident and the degree of your open mindedness. I consider myself very open minded. And when you meet people who are policing in war torn countries, who are telling you that the week before they showed up, their police headquarters were bombed, and the guy in the next office died, when you're meeting people, from very, very rural lanes of Montana or Wyoming. You realize that despite the fact there's such dissimilarity in the communities in which we're policing, there is so much similarity in what calls us all to this job. And it is because we care about that community and because we want to make it better. And so, I really think your perspective is being a sponge. How much are you willing to take in, and how much are you willing to learn from other people so that you can then put that into the mix and deliver the best possible outcomes in your own community?
[00:34:49.870] - Steve Morreale
One of the things that I have begun to say often is leading all on you, but it's not about you, it's about other people. So, in your period of time, talk about how you saw your role as a coach, as a mentor, to develop others for potential leadership in an organization.
[00:35:07.030] - Jennifer Morrison
Well, I come by that naturally. I've been coaching since I was a teenager. I mean, I've been coaching softball, basketball, soccer since I was a teen. So, the coaching piece of it, Steve, when I think about leadership and what authentic leadership looks like, I think about three main things your credibility, your coaching, and your communication. Your ability to coach and mentor and realize that not everybody is going to have the same strengths, the same strong suits. We don't all have to be cut from mold A, because you want to build a team that's deep and that you have a bench and that you've got interoperability. So, coaching and mentoring is a huge piece of how I see that three-legged stool. When I think about it's, not even a stool, it's a tripod. I think about the three legs of a tripod coaching, credibility, and communication. And then on top of that tripod is a telescope that lets the leader see further into the future and further down the road and guide the organization in the preferred future. Right? And so, if any one of those three legs your credibility, your ability to coach, your ability to communicate clearly across all kinds of diversities and mediums, then if any of those get cut short, then the leader's vision gets wobbly, and you can't lead your people to where you want to go.
[00:36:18.040] - Jennifer Morrison
So, I think when I think about leadership, I think about it being an honest, authentic, and adaptable expression of who you are as a person. It's not some prescriptive role you play when you come to the office. You don't follow ten steps today because I want to be a leader. Today. You're either an authentic leader or you're a I guess for lack of a better word, a situational leader who can come in and lead tasks or lead a team, but you are not. But an authentic leader is a leader in every realm of their life. That is just an extension of who they are.
[00:36:47.430] - Steve Morreale
Take me into a meeting that you run in a new place where you are the leader, whether it was when you came back to Burlington, or you went to Colchester or you arrived at the helm of the Department of Public Safety. What do those meetings sound like? How do you make it clear that you don't have all of the answers? Assuming that's the case and that you want to hear from everyone, how do you set the table?
[00:37:10.530] - Jennifer Morrison
Well, I almost always when I'm in a new place, I set the table by being vulnerable myself. I will share something about myself or about my day. I don't dive right into whatever the topic du jour is. Usually, I'm there early and having a little bit of small talk with folks to get a pulse, check on where people are and what the vibe in the room is. So, I really think it comes back to being real, being human, and not putting yourself above the other people in the room, recognizing that we're all there with a common goal and that we all just are looking at something from a different balcony. And my job is to make sure that we hear from all of those perspectives. And I frequently will just do a roundtable. Even if somebody has not offered something, I will basically do a roll call, unless it's too big a group to facilitate that, because I know there's some people who don't feel they should speak up or who don't want to. They're nervous to speak up. But those are exactly the people I want to hear from. I don't want to hear from the squeaky wheel every time I want to hear from everybody.
[00:38:10.600] - Steve Morreale
That's interesting. I actually run my classes that way, you may recall. I'm not looking for you to raise your hand because you want to show me that you're smart and then you want to engage. I've seen teachers that do that just call in the person that raises their hand, and that's the only one. You have a conversation between two or three of you and the other 30 that have nothing to well, you don't want to hear from me, you're not calling on me. I don't care. I like that very much in terms of allowing others to almost expecting feedback from everybody in the room. I try to do that in all of my meetings. At this point in time, I make the rounds. How about you?
[00:38:43.510] - Jennifer Morrison
Yeah, we don't have the luxury of time anymore. So, if you're in a meeting, you're there because you have something to contribute, right? We don't just invite 50 people to a meeting. We invite people that we think are relevant stakeholders to this situation, whatever the situation is. So, I want people to give me their perspective. Also. I think a lot of this, Steve, and you're very good at this, I've seen you in action. This comes down to being able to read body language and reading people's nonverbal cues, and you can tell when somebody has something to say but doesn't necessarily feel comfortable giving voice to it. And if you can't pull it out of them in the meeting, you absolutely have to circle back to them in a different way and pull it out because it's there. You can see when there's somebody who wants to chime in but just can't do it.
[00:39:29.510] - Steve Morreale
So, Jennifer, you are so engaged, and you've been engaged in so many situations in cities and towns. And now at the state level, policing is about collaboration. You can't do it alone, and I know you said that, so I love the term collaboration, coordination and cooperation. And there's a problem out there, as you well know, that you experienced yourself, and that is on weekends, certain state agencies are not there. There's no overtime, there's no staffing. And so, the police, as you said in the beginning, are the ones that get called on for mental health, for domestic abuse, for alcoholism, and for drug issues. And how do we put some more money into those social service agencies so that it can be more coordinated than it is now?
[00:40:11.780] - Jennifer Morrison
So, we're facing that exact struggle in Vermont where we want to deliver broader social services, and I'll get into that in a minute, but we don't want to drive up our already high property tax rate. And so, this is a real balance. I want to be very clear that I am very sensitive to the cost of doing business. But what we say we want is that we don't want cops to use force against people experiencing mental impairment. We don't want cops to do X and Y, but we're not building the resources for all these unmet social service needs. We are not building sufficient resources for people experiencing homelessness who also have cooccurring mental health or substance abuse or alcohol problems. We are not providing other response mechanisms. And so, what we get are the cops going, we are the tip of the spear, they're on 24 7365 and we ask police officers to be the jack of all trades and it's a never-ending expansion of what that means. More things that the cops are supposed to be good at handling. And they do an amazing job 99.9% of the time. They really do because cops know how to talk to people, and they are generally very caring people.
[00:41:20.920] - Jennifer Morrison
But we aren't putting our money where our mouth is. What we are saying is we don't want the cops to do X, but what we're not doing is building Y so that the cops don't have to do X anymore. It's a real dichotomy between what I think everyone acknowledges would be a better reality, but how we get there and put resources in place that can shrink the footprint of things that the police are responsible for. We're not there yet. And I don't see a bright light path to get there because it costs money that communities don't have.
[00:41:53.060] - Steve Morreale
So correspondence is a generally well received approach where you have where you have lease and clinicians responding potential calls that are mental health related. But there's a cost of doing that and so many towns are small. Well, you must see some value in that. Is that a fair assessment?
[00:42:08.880] - Jennifer Morrison
Oh yeah, absolutely. In fact, we have an embedded worker at each of our field stations for the Vermont State Police. Many police agencies have a great relationship with local mental health providers and the reality is that you just heard me say it we have a mental health worker for each of our field stations, which means that's 40 hours a week of coverage, it's not enough. And in smaller communities they don't have any resource to fall back on after regular business hours. So, I see tremendous value with embedded workers. I see tremendous value in cross training and actually riding in the same car as social services, whether that's mental health or substance abuse disorder or other different types of specialty. I just don't think we have a pool big enough to draw from right now without fundamentally restructuring how we provide some of these services or how we fund them.
[00:42:58.400] - Steve Morreale
So, as we wind down, we are talking with Jennifer Morrison, and she is the Commissioner of Public Safety for Vermont. How do you feel, Jen, about more professional staff, civilianization of professional staff at the state police or at a larger department like Burlington, whether that be a crime analyst or whatever it might be. What's your take on that? What's the value?
[00:43:19.440] - Jennifer Morrison
Tremendous value. I mean, I think we need to particularly given the hiring landscape we're up against right now, I mean, there's not a police agency in the nation that isn't struggling with recruiting and retention. So, I think it makes tremendous sense to civilianize positions that should be civilianized. For instance, some of our cold case investigators are civilians. They're not obviously going to be the ones going out and putting the handcuffs on people, but they can do a lot of work that doesn't require a badge and a gun. Analysts, as you said, director of Mental Health programs. There's all kinds of roles that have become civilianized over the years. I mean, back in the day, our equipment supply manager, the person handling all the ordering and handing out of uniforms and stuff, was a cop. You don't see that anymore. Same thing with recruitment and hiring frequently that's now a hybrid between sworn and civilian staff because it doesn't necessarily require that everybody in that unit be a police officer. So, there is tremendous value in taking a look at your organization and figuring out where responsibilities can either be hybridized or civilianized. And I think we have to because we just can't hire enough people right now who want to be police officers doing it as a Vermont State Police and Burlington has been doing it for decades.
[00:44:31.630] - Steve Morreale
So, let's talk about that for a moment because obviously you were talking about clinicians. What are some of the other areas just for point of view where you're considering?
[00:44:40.510] - Jennifer Morrison
As our resources shrink, we have to use them more precisely. We have to be really precise in the people, the places and the behaviors that we are trying to impact. Right? So having larger teams of capturing data streams and expanding the number of data streams that we pull from but being able to take that data and turn it into recommendations of how we interrupt people, places and behaviors, that is really important. So, the intelligence and data analysis side of things and predictive policing side of things does not need to be a police officer in most cases. Some of our investigative functions, perhaps some of those like background investigations, which are a necessary evil for hiring people into our industry, right? But it doesn't all need to be done by people who could be sticking to criminal investigations. As I mentioned earlier, supply clerks and administrative tasks that previously in a bygone era were across the old corporal because that was their last station before retirement. That doesn't happen anymore. I mean, those jobs have been civilianized. So, I think we're going to continue to have to get creative in what we civilianized because there just aren't enough people eager to jump into the sworn ranks right now.
[00:45:46.430] - Steve Morreale
That's great. Well, you've got the last word. How hopeful are you in the position where you are now the Commissioner of Public Safety, that we can make some headway into improving, recovering the trust of police and spreading the workout?
[00:46:01.710] - Jennifer Morrison
I am incredibly optimistic about that. I think Vermonters are common sense folk who understand that while not every incident that the police respond to is going to have a perfect outcome and that there are certainly some bad apples in the mix, that the vast majority of police officers are truly good and decent people trying to help their communities. And I think that Vermonters understand that when we find a problem, the first ones to want to jump in and fix it are the police and the police leaders. I mean, Steve, nobody hates a dirty cop more than the good cops, and nobody will work harder to root out a bad cop than the good cops. So, I think that in Vermont that it's highly probable that we will at least swing the pendulum back towards bringing stakeholders around the table and being able to have respectful and meaningful conversations that are not so hot. The temperature is not so high that people can't hear that all they're doing is putting feelings and emotions out there and not trying to get down to a root cause analysis that is based in fact. So, I'm very optimistic for the future.
[00:47:09.550] - Jennifer Morrison
I think if anyone can do it, Vermont can do it.
[00:47:12.250] - Steve Morreale
So, what's on your bucket list personally? What happens? You've done? You want to do oh, bucket list?
[00:47:17.150] - Jennifer Morrison
I don't have a bucket list.
[00:47:18.330] - Steve Morreale
Well, you better get one.
[00:47:20.010] - Jennifer Morrison
[00:47:20.910] - Steve Morreale
You want to travel somewhere; you want to see something different?
[00:47:23.920] - Jennifer Morrison
Well, when I retired from Colchester and we thought that this was the big retirement, the husband and I took a wonderful trip to Italy, and we did Rome and points north and it was just amazing. And we've always said that when he gets well enough, we want to do other the south end of Italy, we're.
[00:47:41.660] - Steve Morreale
Planning on the Amalfi coast pretty soon, so yes, I know that.
[00:47:45.220] - Jennifer Morrison
Yeah, that type of thing. I mean, so if eating a ridiculous amount of pasta and drinking some decent wine on a beautiful venue in Italy is part of my bucket list, I guess that's it.
[00:47:54.790] - Steve Morreale
That's damn good bucket list, I've got to say. I've got to say. So, thank you. Well, that's it. Thank you so much for being with us today, Jennifer.
[00:48:01.990] - Jennifer Morrison
Thank you, Steve.
[00:48:02.790] - Steve Morreale
Appreciate I'm so glad we could catch up, and I wish you the best of luck in 2023 for you, for your work, for your husband, and for North Hero on the island. So that's another episode in the can. Thank you very much for listening. This is Steve Morreale coming to you with Jen Morrison in Vermont and stay tuned for future episodes. Thanks for listening.
[00:48:22.680] - Outro
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. We 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 the email@example.com That's firstname.lastname@example.org check out our website at CopDoc Podcast.com. Please take the time to share a podcast with your friend if you find value in the discussions. We've had so many amazing guests and more to come who have shared their wisdom, their thoughts, their viewpoints and their innovative ideas. Most importantly, a huge thank you to those of you who show up for work in policing every day. Not knowing the kinds of calls that you'll be sent on or the kinds of situations you'll find yourself in, you risk your lives for people, many of whom you don't know, and for that, we owe you a debt of gratitude.
[00:49:22.990] - Outro
A big thanks. Hope you stay safe, healthy, and look forward to hearing from you and hope you'll continue to listen to upcoming episodes of the Cup Doc podcast.
[00:49:33.090] - Intro
Thanks for listening to the podcast with Dr. Steve MORREALE. Steve is a retired law enforcement practitioner and manager turned academic and scholar from Worcester State University. Please tune into the Cocktail podcast for regular episodes of interviews with thought leaders in policing.