Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Siege Mentality

Sunset, Chirichua Mountains, Southern Arizona

I was listening to a 60 Minutes interview on my iPad while driving to a job today. The recent story was about how Chicago Police led the nation in wrongful conviction of teenagers. Specifically, their ability to get teens to confess to crimes they did not commit. Crimes such as murder, rape, robbery, etc. The staff at 60 Minutes did not delve into the reasons why the Chicago PD could intimidate and billy-club kids into admitting to these crimes. But, I know exactly why. It is something that I have seen over and over again in the last 20 years. Not the beating up of children by police, but the breakdown in governmental agencies, due to the publics unwillingness to fund, support and supervise them.

Additionally, later that same day, I came across a Phoenix newspaper article about how Child Protective Services (CPS) was cutting more services to youth and families due to budget cuts. This is the arena that I used to work in when I was employed with the state and I certainly don't miss it.

While things are tight all over regarding the economy, wages, jobs and the like. The situation in the public sector is much worse than many people realize. When I worked for the State, the CPS workers had a siege mentality. This is inevitable when you are required to do a job that you don't have the resources to address. Many folks would assume that you can quit and look for a better job if your current position becomes untenable. But this isn't the case in today's economy.

The case managers that are assigned to care for these abused children are almost impossible to get ahold of anymore. You would be to if you received 80 phone calls a day, 200 e-mails, had to attend court hearing and visit with all your assigned children on a daily basis. The caseloads per case managers in Arizona are three times the national average. How long do you think you would be a 'Team Player' under those sorts of conditions?

If you were hired 10 years ago to handle a case load of 100 cases a month you could probably keep up with the work load. If over the next 10 years you see your case load jump to 800 a month with no additional resources to help you out, you are going to start to find ways to cut corners.

The cops in Chicago started doing that years ago. Crime was going up, they were not getting an increase in resources but they still had to maintain a certain arrest quota to show the public that they were doing their jobs. Guess what? Out the window goes due process, and you start coercing kids to admit to violent crimes they did not commit.

At the office where I used to work, this same senecio occurred. The case loads more than doubled over 10 years with little to know increase in the resources to handle the increase. The mantra was to try and work 'smarter', but this will only get you an extra 10% to 20% in efficiency, not nearly enough to address the 100% case load increase. So what did my coworkers do? They learned to cut corners, just like the Chicago cops.

There is the assumption that anyone that is 'professional', that works in an office environment (white collar), can be trusted to do their job in a proficient and professional manner. When pushed far enough by increasing caseloads, anyone will find ways to cut corners. This includes management turning a blind eye as long as the machinery keeps humming along.

I know this, because I used to run the numbers for the state division I worked in. I knew what people where doing (or not doing) regarding the children they were tasked to oversee in foster care.

I started to see that my co-workers were no longer taking the time to input tedious data entry in the state database. When I ran the reports that showed this missing data, management ignored it. I assume, because they were so overwhelmed trying to cover caseloads that they were not paying attention to the details and also, because they had questionable management skills, they really didn't understand the reports I was giving them.

The job process involved the review of foster care cases that were handled by the state. Management looked at the reviews assigned and the reviews completed and ignored the details about what each review contained.

Then, as caseloads continued to escalate, I noticed that some of my co-workers stopped doing the reviews all together. The hearings were held, but no reports or data were generated, they just re-shelved the files and ignored the end product that they were supposed to be doing. This is akin to a judge holding a hearing and then forgetting to publish the minute entries, finding and orders for the case. Again, management was oblivious. No one was complaining, because no one was actually reading the reports that the division produced. CPS and the Courts were as overloaded as my division was. The wheels were turning, but nothing was actually happening.

In essence, my coworkers had entered into siege mentality, just like those Chicago cops. They ignored the reason they were doing the job and cut corners to make it look like they were working, when in fact they were breaking the law in order to keep their jobs.

I have to state, that not ALL my co-workers were doing this. Some of them were sharp and on-task workers that went WAY beyond what they should have been required to do in order to get the job done. Sadly, these usually were the first ones to leave, since they either burned out, or found better jobs in the private sector. Unfortunately, these are the people that should have been promoted to help and train others, but they never were.

My point in all this, is that any organization wants and needs to ride the wave of the 'Bell Curve'. You need to stay ahead of the caseloads and resource drain. If you don't you fall BEHIND on the 'Bell Curve', and at that point, the cost to regain the initiative and stay productive starts to go up exponentially.

I have become sickened by the spin doctoring of politicians and civil servants that can't admit this. When times were tough back in the 70s and 80s and we started cutting all of the school programs and job training curriculum to balance budgets, no one seems to have questioned what the effect would be 10 years into the future. What was going to be the result of those budget cuts when teenagers started having babies and no one could find work. If we want to cut the teen pregnancy rate and keep children out of foster care now, it will cost us three times as much as the money we saved by cutting the programs three decades ago.

How much will it cost to hire and 'retrain' police officers in Chicago who will investigate crimes instead of coercing confessions? Hopefully, you start to see my point and my frustration.

Most social services and public agencies exist now in name only. They actually perform no function and cannot even be trusted to perform the tasks that they were assigned three decades ago, much less deal with the problems of today.

My plea here is that we stop accepting the excuses and spin doctoring that our leaders and our civil servants keep telling us. Someone needs to start fessing up to the mistakes of the past and making the hard decisions that will be needed to solve these problems in the future. If we want the elderly looked after, if we want to keep children out of foster care, if we want our streets safe and our prisons less populated, we are going to have to start paying for it. Paying a lot for it. Some might call that socialism, some might call it big government. If we don't address it, we will all be calling it anarchy. If we don't want to fund the entitlements that we have written into law over the past half century (and many Tea Party Right Wing Radicals don't), then we had better be prepared to arm ourselves, defend our own property, ignore the old, the sick and the dying infants in the streets and just look out for Number One.

Either way, I don't really have a preference. What I can't stand is to have folks saying that we are doing a 'great job' and 'serving the citizens of the state'. It is a lie. It is spin doctoring to the Nth degree, and I just can't take it anymore.