Petersburg Police Chief Kerr at his desk with materials from the leadership conference. (Photo by Rachel Cassandra, KFSK)

Petersburg’s Police Chief, James Kerr, recently returned from an international conference of public safety professionals. It was the annual conference of the International Association of Chiefs of Police held last month in Dallas. It included over 16,000 public safety workers from all over the world. Kerr traveled to Texas with his family to attend. 

KFSK’s Rachel Cassandra talked with Chief Kerr about his takeaways. He said the conference offered a wide variety of courses. 

James Kerr: They offer different career training paths and different debriefs of incidences that happen across the world and trends in law enforcement. And so, you’re able to pick and choose what classes you’d like to attend.

One of the classes I attended was, I mean, everyone’s facing this issue, but it’s “Solving the Hiring Crisis: what works through internal research.”

Another issue is recruitment and retention. That class was very interesting. One of the things I learned is that the borough’s actually doing a very good job with how they’re hiring and how they’re looking for employees.

One thing I learned about the factors facing us is our geographical location. I mean, we all know that, but it just kind of sent it home, that that’s actually a factor we’re facing. Other places have millions or hundreds of 1000s of people to choose from, they’re even having the hiring difficulties.

One of the things they talked about is having your HR in constant contact with people who are applying, that’s one of the things that they found out through research that kept applicants engaged in the hiring process was having an HR person constantly reach out to him.

Rachel Cassandra: And so, was that something that you all were doing here before the conference?

JK: That’s something we’re currently doing. So it it made me feel good that the borough’s already doing that.

One of the other classes I attended was the anti-police culture. And so, it talked about constructive police community relations, and talked about the anti police culture construct.

One thing I noticed is that Alaska seems to be very advanced as far as community policing and being in touch with your communities than other places. It could be just because we’re such a small community, everyone knows each other. And so, you get constant feedback, instead of having to hire companies to do surveys.

What I learned from that is, don’t be afraid to talk to them, try to bridge the gaps. For us, if we have a problem, or someone has a problem with us, they normally come and talk to us right away. And I really liked that. Because then we can handle the problem or handle the issue. So, we don’t let stuff get out of control. And at least we know about it.

I attended the pre employment evaluations, considering racial biases. And one of the things they talked about was the psychological evaluations. And one of the things I learned is that we’re already doing the higher standard of psychological evaluations through Public Safety Psychological Services. So that was very reassuring that Petersburg, a small agency of nine is still doing the industry- actually above-industry standard on our hiring practice, which made me feel good.

RC: And so what does that look like? That’s a specific type of test you give to applicants?

JK: Yes, it’s a it’s an additional screening that they go through. It just doesn’t do your basic psychological evaluation. They’re actually looking for biases in law enforcement, because we don’t need those.

RC: Okay, great. And do you feel like there were any other things that you saw there that that shaped how things will progress this year?

JK: I actually used being there at the conference as some research. We have the Axon dash cameras going through the assembly right now for the approval. And when I went to the other vendors that have dash cameras, they asked me what body cameras we have. It was reassuring for them to tell me that their technology was years behind Axon. So it made me feel good that we’re going in the right direction.

One of the other things: there was Dubai police. I got to sit in their just-under-a-million-dollar police car that they brought over. I got to meet three Ukraine police officers that were there. And it was neat to see them in this time that they’re facing in their country, actually over here at the International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference.

Police Chief James Kerr attended the International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference in Dallas. (Photo by James Kerr)