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Why’s our stuff always broke?
By Marvin Preston, LT, NH DOC
Published: 03/01/2010

Breaking I’m currently teaching a class that is gives the students the opportunity to bring up problems with suggested fixes to our administration. There are issues that pop up randomly from class to class, but one that has been in every one. Broken and missing equipment has appeared on the final list of top 5 issues in the department. In the class, I don’t want to argue too many points because it might make officers in the class hesitant to bring up other topics. But I’ve got to tell you, I have to bite my lip on that one.

In my Corrections experience, I’ve witnessed abuses of many things. Sick time, policies and procedures, supervisors, employee’s all come to mind, but equipment stands out. Why is it that in correctional facilities employees identifies broken equipment and missing equipment as one of the top problematic issues for a department, yet are the main abusers of this equipment? How many of us have witnessed total disregard for equipment by fellow employees on the job? From radio’s being used as hammers, to perimeter vehicles being driven out in the back 40 like Baja racers. But then when the same officer that abuses the radio get’s one that isn’t in store bought shape, they’ll bash the administration for not caring enough for them to buy “good stuff”.

I was involved with the Northeast Technology and Product Assessment Committee (NTPAC) for a number of years. It was a NIJ sponsored group that allowed vendors to present new products to members of a number of County, State, and Federal Corrections facilities in a controlled forum. The vendors would have 30 minute to demonstrate their product to the group by either a practical demonstration or Power Point presentation. They would then answer questions by the group. We would have the vendor leave the room and discuss amongst us anything we knew about the vendor, the product or the technology. We would view 5-10 products during the day and there would be a 2 hour table display set up where we could do some hands on viewing along with some individual question and answer period. During our time we would discuss the product and technology, you would always hear the comment “is it CO proof?” CO proof is a term I used to hear in the Marine Corps in the context “is it Marine Proof?” One of our group members was a Captain from Pennsylvania. He once shared a funny quip.

“You can put a Corrections Officer in a dark room with a bowling ball, a glass of milk, and a peanut butter sandwich. Close the door for half an hour. When you come back, the sandwich will be gone, the glass now half full of milk, the bowling bowl broken in half and the CO will have no idea how any of it happened!”

We have to work together to stop this from happening. Our staff deserves equipment that works. Their lives might depend on it. But how can we make a difference? How about a team effort to hold people accountable? Maybe create some pride in what they carry or use? Let’s discuss some small suggestions that may have large impacts:
  1. Individual Issue- Some departments issue items that others share. Radios fall in this area. I know a fellow Lt from a county facility in Massachusetts that issues radios to their officers upon graduation of the Corrections Academy. They’ve found that the officers take care of these radios much better because they are theirs. They end up buying more radios than my department per officer, but they rarely have to replace broken or abused ones. Something that we do on a much too regular basis.
  2. Equipment Inventories- Ensure these are being done where staff members relieve each other. Include documentation (inventory sheets) where the relieving staff member is assuming accountability of all equipment and its condition upon relief. Make supervisors conduct on-shift checks and hold staff members accountable.
  3. Find your “Cpl Clinger” and keep him happy- Every unit has an officer who can find, fix, and repair your “stuff” like Cpl Clinger on the TV series Mash. At our facility, we have a CO who’s kept our vehicle fleet rolling and looking good. He’s been allowed to work in his chosen position and left alone to do his exceptional work. He pays back to the department 10 fold for what it costs us to have him there.
  4. Be a Supervisor- Supervise by walking around. Look at the condition of the equipment and take notes. Be receptive to the officer’s comments and concerns about what they have. They’ll appreciate your concern and acknowledge your actions.

With dwindling budgets we’re going to have to do more with less. Whatever we do proactively will help us down the pike. Be Safe!

Lt. Marvin Preston works at the New Hampshire Department of Corrections. He has been in corrections for more than 17 years, and also is a retired Marine.

Other articles by Preston:


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