After 26 years as Public Safety Chief, Mike Butler served his last day today.
Butler agreed to sit down with Longmont Leader's Macie May to talk about his thoughts on his career in Longmont.
How long have you been in law enforcement? And then why did you choose that as your profession?
I've been in local policing for 42 years. I actually worked for the FBI for five years prior to that. I chose to go into local policing because I really wanted to figure out how I can make differences in people's lives. With the FBI, you serve the United States of America, which is not a bad client. But on the other hand, it was most of it was relatively impersonal. I wanted to be connected to people. And so I chose local policing over federal.
Was there a big transition when you started leading up like both the police and the fire is our public safety.
There the transition kind of evolved. When I was asked to take over fire, we had some work that we needed to do. And so that took time to develop, to develop leadership. When I first started with fire I went around to every fire station four different times. I spoke to all the firefighters in the staff within fire services.
I had a series of questions that I was asking, trying to find out patterns of information, themes, things that they believe needed to be better than it was, what was working well, what were the strengths, what were things we could do better. And so I basically operated off that information to begin the process of moving forward with fire services.
A couple years later, I brought together a team of deputy chiefs that I was going to select. We talked about how fire, police, support services and communication should be organized. And so we put together a fairly sophisticated organizational chart that combined a lot of police and fire services, all of the support and administrative services that were initially on two tracks; one police one fire, were all combined.
It was an evolutionary process from finding out what needed to happen to then bringing about some of those things that we needed to see happen. Then organize around that, I always believed that form follows function. And at first you need to find out what it is you're doing, how you're doing it, what services you're delivering, what that looks like within the architecture of the organization that follows what that looks like.
So based on what happened in the initial three or four years, we developed a new organizational structure to reflect on what was happening and that we thought would best be suited to bring the essence of public safety to life.
What was your biggest challenge, I guess, in combining those and for you to acclimate? Because you've primarily been police.
I was raised in police. I spent a lot of time learning fire. And not only did I go out into the stations, I went on a tremendous number of calls for service. And I learned what I thought I needed to learn to really figure out how to manage and lead.
Part of that process was really my own growth around knowledge around fire service. Not only did I learn Longmont fire, I went to a national conference, I was invited by the union, when it was in New York City within my first year, and then I talked to a lot of Fire Chiefs around the country. And I wrote articles, talked to a number of magazine editors around what they wrote, etc, etc. so that I could really acclimate myself not only to how Longmont was was providing fire services in our community, but what the fire service was like at a national level and also in a state level. I got to know a lot of the state chiefs as well, so a lot of it was my own education, knowledge, development around all that.
What was public safety like when you started so what 26 years ago? What was it like then we're gonna just we're just gonna transition to like what it was like then, how has it changed and what do you want to do?
Those are all books. But police is what I entered into. And when I got to Longmont it was very reactive in its orientation. Policing was very just reactive calls for service.
There wasn't a lot of personalization of who we were within the community. There were a few partnerships between police and organizations, institutions, entities within the community, but not anywhere near enough.
We were kind of this faceless entity within the community and we kind of lived behind this fortress, this new safety Justice Center. But the other part of that was that there are people who really wanted to make big differences in our community. And so and they had a real public service mindset.
So we began to shift the nature of the conversations, we began to look at hiring profiles, who we hired in policing, how they were trained, how they were supervised, we looked at leadership principles. We looked at the architecture of the police department, we looked at Performance Management Systems. And so basically, we looked at every single process, management system and designed it around the vision and motto and mission that we have.
Within a within a year, we began what we called a long range strategic planning process. And it took us 18 months to complete that process. And it included 1,000 people, the vast, vast majority of those were from our community, all walks, you name it, any aspect of our community, we had representation involved engaged in conversations in terms of what they wanted to see how they wanted to see it done.
We developed at least 200 different strategies in terms of how to get to where we're at to where we want it to be. And that was the initial strategic planning process.
There were several renditions later of that process over the years. That again, included many, many people from our community, our staff, and we just continued this dynamic process of keeping in touch with our community or listening to our community and then determining what it was they wanted to see in a police department.
We, of course, added our own expertise in terms of hoe we thought we could best serve our community. We combined all of that and kept on updating this plan that we implemented over 20-some years there was a constant implementation, believing without question, that we could create our own future That we didn't have to be subject to crisis or we're going to have a crisis now we have to change, not subject of fate or predestination or outlier kinds of circumstances, if you will.
So we really developed relationships and partnerships that led to literally dozens, if not hundreds, of different partnerships in our community, it led to a different kind of person that we are hiring to be police officers, it led to a more robust training model, in terms of what we needed to train on and how we need to train.
The context of everything with this was our motto, which was policing in partnership with the people. And so once we developed that model, mission vision, everything began to kind of operate from that perspective. Everything we did was connected to policing in partnership with the people.
That was a lot of what happened during the middle years and it's what kind of prompted shifts and conversations, shifts in who we were, what we did and how we did it. Constantly working through all of that and staying intimately in touch with our community.
Our media was involved with this. You know, when I got here Longmont Police Department was at war with the local media, I mean, at war. There was no conversations and the comments coming out of staff was 'no comment' on just about every question the media was asking.
I'm not saying that that was all police department's fault. I think the media played a role in terms of kind of pitting themselves against a police department at that point. But initially, when Ed and Dean Lehman were here, I invited Ed and Dean to a luncheon that included some of our staff and his staff and basically invited everybody in the room to rethink our future and to think of how we could both, without giving up the integrity of our roles within the community; the media's role of staying objective and staying impartial and ensuring that government was a good steward of everything we did, and not giving up our role in terms of trying to count out immunity or anything like that. We were able to work out a way of doing business that, I think Ed, were he still around, would say served our community well.
And so the war ended. And we formed a partnership with Ed and Dean and others from the Times-Call. We're very much engaged and involved in the strategic planning process. They didn't hold back their thoughts about what needed to happen or why it needed to happen.
You've spoken about what it was like, how you've transitioned that and fix that. What do you hope to see in the future?
The future has a lot to do with not only how police services moves forward and what it does. I think Longmont is somewhat ahead of the curve in terms of policing, what it does and how it does it. The big shift, I think, has to occur with government at large and with community.
This a very important point that I forgot to mention, is that the community was highly dependent, because police chiefs, and I think you heard me say this the other day, police chiefs, before, would say if you need us call us for anything. Well, basically people took police chiefs up on that to the point where a large percentage of the calls and things that we did didn't have any kind of crime attached to it, neighborhood issues, family issues, although some issues there that we have to go to. But we're getting a call like 'someone has their sprinkler system on and it's watering my lawn and I don't want that to happen. Let's call 911' was not an unusual call.
A big part of our planning process we talked about how we could get our community to take on more responsibility around public safety. The people in a strategic planning process were all in favor of it and that made sense. We really did our best to try to minimize what we refer to as an unhealthy dependency. Partnerships don't have unhealthy dependencies.
One of the attributes of partnership is not an unhealthy dependency; the attributes of partnership are things like honesty, joint accountability, the right to say "no." If we were on a board and we were partners, each of us would have the right to say, 'Hey I don't want to do that.'
That's a hard relationship for a government entity like police to form with a community, given what the past looked like. When you start saying no to somebody that has an unhealthy dependency on you, that's not easy. And so we worked on that and worked on that and worked on that.
I can't tell you how many times we have gone into communities, neighborhoods, apartment complexes, business districts and they had somewhat of a social crime issue going on. And our role was to start the process and get things done to a point. But our goal was to hand it off to that neighborhood, that business district and really get them to sustain the solution so that we wouldn't have to constantly go back. We've done that over and over and over again.
What I just talked about is exactly the way you begin to build interdependence, not an unhealthy dependency. So we did a lot of that.
Now, here we are today in 2020. And the police for years responded to issues like addiction or issues that involve addiction issues that involve mental health. Often, we would get called to those because no one else wanted to go, whether they were mental health or addiction treatment, they would call us.
People's therapist would call us and say, 'this person is not safe and I can't deal with it' they call the police and ask 'Can you go?'
So this talk about how we can turn things over to social services is total hogwash. They're not going to go to those calls, because there is an element of danger going on. And they're the ones who would call us or family members would call us, not the therapist, not the treatment provider, because of either the current violence or the potential for there to be violence.
So, having said that, we would go to these calls that involve people struggling with their mental health or people struggling with addiction or something along those lines. All we did was we react. We'd go back to these calls over and over and over again.
Well, a few years ago, as you know, we figured some things out. And we decided we wanted to be more proactive. And we wanted to do something that we thought could be more effective. But the element of danger, the issue of safety, the potential for violence didn't go away on these calls. We just decided to respond to them differently. That difference was sending a clinician or case manager, someone who had training in treatment, mental health treatment, a paramedic and a police officer, or someone who is trained in addiction counseling. We began to develop relationships with these folks. The police officer would go to ensure that the element of danger could be dealt with by the clinician and case manager counselors would lead the way.
So those issues are still there for us.
I think what has to happen in the future is, this isn't going to show up well on the recording. But if you took all of the mental health service providers, all the addictions, treatment service providers in this city or around the city, and you took all public safety and you took anyone else that is a professional within this kind of system, it would be and I'm putting my arms and hands up here about two feet apart, this big, but the problem in the community is as big as this room and so the only way that gap is going to get filled is with people from the community.
And I don't know if you remember me talking about it, or if you heard or listened to, or even if you went to Dr. Bruce Perry. Dr. Perry was very adamant about what needs to happen with a lot of these folks. He said what they need is to be in the midst of healthy support systems. Forty-five minutes of treatment a week is not the right model to help these folks. And that's where a lot of treatment providers are coming from now, they just say come and see me next Tuesday at 2pm in the afternoon, and we'll talk for 45 minutes to 50 minutes, and then we'll do it again the following week.
Well people have to live 168 hours a week. And that's one hour out of that week. What happens in the other 167 is where the community can really begin to become part of it. And that's the initial part of the Belonging Revolution with Dan Benavidez and I did. That's what I think what the police and fire need to continue to do, to continue to kind of raise the social capital and make invitations.
But there's that whole thing of this community becoming more engaged. And to give you an idea of what this could look like, if you could say, okay, someone's struggling with an addiction, or mental health. Why couldn't five to seven people in this community say, 'Hey, we're going to help that person help themselves' so to speak with professional service providers. But become part of their social network, help them find a job, help them find housing, help them with treatment, making sure they have transportation or whatever their family issues might be.
What if we could find five to seven people in this community that could surround that one person? What if we could find a church congregation to take on one person? We have 75 to 80 churches is key. What if we could take employees from our largest businesses in this community and say, can you help one person?
And so when we began this process of saying, help one person, help one person, help one person. We didn't put the responsibility on just one person, like a clinician or medical service provider, but we had people from the community who could help. I will tell you, there's gonna be a lot of pushback, and there is a lot of pushback from the service providers. I think they're actually threatened.
But I also think we need to think in terms of abundancy. There is an abundance of the phrase of social capitol. But it's gifts. It's people wanting to help people come from their hearts, and say, helping someone from the heart. There's some intellectual aspects to it but it's coming from here, I'm putting my hands on my heart, because that's where it's coming from.
There's a lot of heart people in this community. I've lived in this county for 42 years, lots of friends, lots of acquaintances and I could guarantee anybody, that there are thousands of people in this community, who have the heart to want to help. They may need a little training, a little orientation. Here's how you have to handle these kinds of things.
We have to organize that way. We have to organize in a way where we can start surfacing and activating social capital in this community in a big way. You want to minimize sizes of police departments? You want to really figure out how to fill the gap between this two foot thing that I talked about and the size of this room?
We're gonna have to organize to do that. Government, I think, is the best way to organize that too, by the way. And so government could surface activate and coordinate social capital. I think it's bigger than police because a big role for police that drains public safety resources are issues related to substance abuse, issues related to mental health, issues related to homelessness, issues related to economically disadvantaged or socially marginalize people.
As long as we continue down this path of, well, we just need more service providers, we're never going to be able to fill that gap.
And commentive to that is the fact that our communities all over this country are not as competent and not as skilled, not as understanding, not as aware of what they can do to actually help. They're so used to hearing, call me if you need anything, what police chiefs used to do, what fire chiefs have done, what other service providers, they're guilty of the same thing, call us if you need us.
What can we do to train and bring the life, the goodness, the social capital in this community, so that we can get to a point where one person now has 5, 7, 8, 9 people that they can call on?
That can happen. We are not far away from pulling that off in any community in America. I don't care what size community. People say 'well if you can do it in Longmnt can you do it in New York City?' Hell yeah, you can do it in New York City. You can do it anywhere. There's an economy of scale.
How is the job changed you as a person?
When you're constantly exposed, to the demands of humanity, to man, so to speak, that's a wear and tear on one's soul and psyche. I'm the first to admit that maybe not the first time somewhere near the front of the line, it's been hard. It's been really difficult to always keep my sense of centeredness, equilibrium and serenity. That's the kind of person I am, that's where I want to be in my life.
You're constantly barraged by everything that goes on in public safety and this relationship with the community and what's happening in the community. That's been a wear and tear. And so when people ask me, what are you going to be doing when you leave? Part of what I'm going to be doing is healing. I want to come back to a point where I know that there's something in me that wants to get out that's more loving or caring. That there's a sense of ease. You've got to have your A-game 24/7 in this job. That's hard to do. And I've done it for 26 plus years.
The other part of this though, is that you can't do this stuff without growing as person, growing emotionally, growing intellectually, constantly challenged to deal with circumstances that you have never dealt with before. How are you gonna work with those? How are you going to move beyond that emotionally, spiritually?
I think the pain in our lives, the rough patches in our lives, the part where we don't feel good about ourselves, are to ask how do I move beyond this? What I never wanted to become, and never did, was a victim of other people's circumstances or the circumstances.
But on the other hand, it was caused me to grow up. When I started this job I was 41 and a full grown man and experienced a lot of my life, had five children. And 26 years later I know a lot more. I respond differently to things than I used to in the past. There's a lot of things that I sense that I can almost do in my sleep, so to speak, that is much easier to do, been there,done that. A lot of the things that used to initially impact me stopped impacting me with the intensity that they should have. Not that you're not impacted, because you see things like child molestation or homicides, or, again man's inhumanity to man. If you feel, those things are going to hurt.
And so, there was also a unique kind of pit in your stomach, kind of feeling that came from seeing your staff or your people suffer and struggle because of what they were encountering and what they had to go through. That was just as deep as anything because knowing these folks as well as I did, and knowing how good their hearts were and what their motives were and what their intentions were, and to see them hurting, to the level that they did was very painful.
What is the most valuable thing you've learned from the public safety team itself? What is the most valuable thing you've learned from the Longmont community?
For my staff, I learned that there are just a lot of goodness and I was inspired often by things that people in fire and police did in terms of going the extra mile or second mile for people. Sometimes I was just amazed. The sense of pride, or whatever you want to call it, that sense of just being glad I was associated with these people. And I'm glad that I was part of their lives and that I was really truly honored to work with people who would do things that, they didn't even know I did some of that going through the ranks, looking at these people, and seeing that they're willing to risk their lives to help other people, people they don't know. People they never met in their lives and for them, it was automatic. This is why I signed up. This is the role I play. Oftentimes in conversations and trainings and everything, you would hear a police officer say that the lives of people in our community are first before all of us.
I mean, imagine working in that kind of environment where that's what you're constantly hearing. And, they mean it. And that's what's true around the country too, by the way. That's not what the media says. The vast majority of police officers would tell us that the lives of people in this community come before mine. I don't care if I know them or not and I'm willing to risk my life even though I may have a wife and family and friends.
They were willing to do that. There is a sacredness that is beyond words that for me, was a constant reinforcement of goodness and greatness of the people of public safety.
I don't know what that means in terms of learning. But it was a realization that no matter how ugly the media would portray the world, I worked in this sphere of men and women who were selfless and willing to risk the ultimate for other people. So for me, I'm gonna miss that. I'm gonna miss being in that sphere, that environment, because that actually helped me with my own wear and tear on my own soul and psyche.
From the community, I'll go back to using those words great and good.
I believe greatness is determined by the content of our goodness, whether it's a community, whether it's a person, whether it's an organization, whether it's a country or planet.
This community is great because it has a lot of good, I have seen that especially the last few years on these walks, getting to know people getting to know stories. But even long before that, and even before I got into this job in Longmnt, the people I knew in this community were good people and they have a lot to offer. And many people are doing things that we're not aware of, they don't get their names in the paper and their friends may not even know. But they would do these wonderful things in their lives. And so, what I think I learned from this community, what I learned about this community is that sense of goodness, that depth of goodness is so alive and well.
And even though the media wants to dramatize everything and market fear fault, and exploit our wounds, there is a goodness here that is much, much, much more prevailing. And there's not a close second, there's not a close second, in terms of what's ugly and what's good. The good outweighs the ugly by 1000.
What are some of your favorite moments during your tenure?
Some of my best memories of course, I mean, this is trite, this is cliche, but it comes from people. Whether it's the whole public safety team rallying around a particular issue, it's just felt good to be part of that rallying team. That was powerful.
I can't remember everybody who saved a life. But I can remember lots of circumstances where lives were saved by people in public safety.
And today, we're probably saving 50 to 100 lives a year just through the use of chemical called Narcan. And I hear about every single one because I see the report on them.
We're making differences in people's lives. And when you hear back from people in the community, for instance, I got a letter from somebody who said 'I got stopped last week and I ended up getting a ticket. But I just want you to know that that was the best experience I had that day.' And then it began to talk to me about how the officer treated them with dignity, respect and kindness and there was no patronizing and no personal thing going on. It was just how they felt about it. Those are wonderful moments for me when someone got a ticket, and they're willing to take time to write a letter and say that that was the best experience they had. I got a lot of those, a ton of those.
Of course a ton of letters from people who said how firefighters helped me, how a firefighter helped our family, a police officer help me. Whatever that might look like. I would say for every complaint I got from the community, I got 25 compliments. So people sometimes say you never get a compliment, but I'm going to give you one. Well, that's not accurate. Fact is, its a 25 to 1 ratio, compliments to us.
You mentioned it just just briefly about what you would miss the most is that environment, that camaraderie, those people, is there anything else you might miss? Or do you want to expand on that?
Being in an environment where the altruism that exists, where people are looking for creative ways to help people, not thinking twice, not even thinking about risking your lives to help somebody else, that's about as good environment as a human being can be in.
Do you have any words of wisdom to whoever they choose to fill your shoes or even some words of wisdom to the community at large?
Yeah, the word of wisdom I have is that there's goodness inside everybody. And part of your work is to reflect back goodness. That's a big part of your job.
To the person that's doing this job. You need to really do your best to keep healthy boundaries through. Because this is the kind of job that if you don't, if you're not taking care of yourself intellectually, spiritually, physically, emotionally, this job will eat you up and it won't take long. You've got to do what you need to do to take care of yourself.
Healing, initially, decompression. I'm gonna be engaged in this community. I don't know what that engagement is gonna look like totally. There's some things that are already out. I'm gonna be doing a weekly podcast with Longmont Public Media. I've done a lot of writing, whether that turns into a book or not, I don't know. There's a lot of people encouraging me to do that.
I'm also not gonna just be engaged in city government, that's maybe a small part of what I do.
I really think a lot of what we need to start thinking about as people, where we need to go and I'm hoping to help us understand that there's a very bright light, very bright, powerful light inside of us that we have to pay attention to. And we have to figure out how to let that work for us. And some people could refer to that as my fate, my spiritual nature, as what I want to see myself.
I think our world is way over secularized and way over materialized and that we have to somehow find our balance and find our feet and be able to stand solidly on the ground and be able to make differences in other people's lives. And I think the only way to really to get beyond what is perceived as chaos right now is by doing that. So, I'm going to be spending a lot of time, the majority of my time, doing that whether that's speaking or writing, whatever that might be.
**Correction: This article was orginally edited in another software. Those edits did not translate when it was moved over. This article has been edited for clarity and grammar.