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.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Hardest Part

Back Yard Marbles - Lytro Light Field Camera

Sitting with my wife on a Saturday night at the Bisbee Coffee company in old downtown Bisbee. It is a cool December evening with the street lite with colored lights, as if a scene right out of "Its A Wonderful Life". Coffee never tasted so good. Turmoil swirls all around us, but right here and right now, life seems good.

I am dealing with a lack of focus without the frustration that came with my past life working for the state. I used the blogging arena to focus my frustration and used it as an outlet to deal with that frustration.

That part of my life is now over, but there is frustration of a different sort that I now have to deal with. Not the organized and institutionalized incompetency of the public sector, but the incompetency of the general public and culture. It is not as overwhelming as was the state, but it exists never the less.

Where Ever I Go - The resistance to change...

In the rural world that we live in now, there are two types. Those who have escaped from the perils of the big city and those that have never left the small town. The latter have some issues. They don't see or understand the change that is taking place in the rest of the world. They don't really understand the Internet, they don't watch cable news and in general, they just want to be left alone. These people don't usually have a lot of ambition, which is a dual edged sword. If society does have something better to offer in the form of a better quality of life, they don't tend to embrace it. Case in point. Paper Checks. Since I have moved down here, the number of times that I have waited behind someone at a check- out line that is writing a check is astounding. They will not embrace the concept of a debit card, regardless of how much more convenient and simple it is. Now mind you, they may be paranoid about big brother tracking every purchase they make. But really, do you really think the feds want to know where you buy your kerosene and 6-packs?

The addiction to media and our loss of self....

I have often railed against the media culture that has grown like a cancer in our society since the late 1950s. Madison Ave melded the idea of Propaganda and Consumer Capitalism into a twisted economic engine that makes us long to go into debt to acquire things that we don't need nor should be have has become worse and worse. This is born out in vivid detail when moving to a small town such as this. With the exception of owning a really nice Harley-Davidson motorcycle, folks down here are not very materialistic. They don't like franchises, and newer is definitely not better. It isn't a game where you strive to collect the most toys, it is an experience where you seek to understand others and the world you live in. Owning a McMansion in the burbs and commuting 2 hours each day to work is considered insane here. The fact that it isn't considered insane in Phoenix, Arizona is even more amazing.

The slow creep to acceptance of the norm, and the assumption of entitlement.....

My final observation here is the concept of acceptance and comfort with the norms that we live in. When we lived in Phoenix, crime and corruption were a given thing. You expect to be burglarized once or twice a year. You expect to see several roll-over accidents / car chases every month on the local news. Officer involved shooting and rapes are just background noise on the television. We accept them. Moving to the smaller town, this isn't the case. EVERYONE knows what everyone else is doing. Not in the sense that they spy on each other. In the sense, that there are fewer of us down here and their isn't as much anonymity and there is more law enforcement per capita. In the past 12 months our home in Phoenix has been robbed three times. We don't even lock our doors where we live now. There is still crime her. But it is a rarity as opposed to a common occurrence. In Phoenix, the police indicate that you should be greatful that you weren't injured when someone broke into your house while sleeping...that it was a GOOD thing. The concept of preventing the crime or catching the perpetrator isn't even on the radar anymore.

So there has been a shift in my frustration and anxiety of late. While living in the big city and working for the corrupt government has slowly faded into the past, there is now the problem of dealing with them from a distance. Like any addiction, it is not easy to free yourself of the trappings that you have become accustomed to, even though they are bad for you. If you have eaten nothing but Big Macs from McDonald's your whole life, it is hard to go vegetarian and organic.

Trying to divest ourselves of all the trappings of the media / anxiety society takes time, and they sure don't make it easy for you. Few corporations want to lose a cash cow. So we are still struggling to sell our house in Phoenix, and pay off all the debt that we incurred so that we could live in the big city. We are selling or giving away all those things that aren't necessary to live a healthy life....and this all take time and effort. Like withdrawn from a drug, it isn't easy or painless. Hopefully, it will all be over in the next couple of months and then we can finally start working on the rest of the items in the bucket list, unencumbered by the distractions and falsehoods of modern society.

But as I have said before, the waiting is the hardest part. Waiting on other (less competent) individuals to get their jobs done before we can move on.