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Top Picks: Innovation-Friendly Culture, Fireable GPS Trackers, and “The Big One”


August 10, 2015 by Byron Katsuyama
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Top Picks: Innovation-Friendly Culture, Fireable GPS Trackers, and “The Big One”

Milwaukee Police have a new way to catch fleeing criminals. Image courtesy of Vincent Desjardins.

Each week I scan the web for interesting and useful news, blog posts, articles, and reports from a variety of local government-related sources, and post them to the In Focus section of MRSC’s homepage. Here are the top picks from my most recent “In Focus” scans.

Listen to Your Front Line Employees!

What do you get when you ask front line employees what is and what is not working with the services they are providing? You get some of the best advice available on ways to deliver those services faster, better, and cheaper. A recent article in Governing by Stephen Goldsmith, “Denver’s Peak Academy Creates Change Agents in Government,” profiles Denver’s successful Peak Academy program that seeks to do just that - leverage the valuable insights and creativity of city employees to identify problems and improve services.

It’s really no big surprise that those local government employees who work the service counters, process the permits,  answer citizens’ questions, and otherwise engage most directly with members of the public, are also the ones who have the most detailed knowledge about how well a particular service is operating. These employees often also have the best ideas about how the services they provide can be improved, sometimes dramatically so. What is surprising are the number of local government organizations that fail to take advantage of this valuable knowledge pool. In order to do so, managers must open new, targeted lines of communication and work to create a supportive and innovation-friendly culture that not only encourages, but empowers, employees to share and implement their ideas for improving services.

What is your organization doing to foster an innovation-friendly culture?

Will Fireable GPS Trackers Eliminate the Need for High-Speed Police Pursuits?

I have heard about the possibility of using GPS devices to track fleeing criminals, but this is the first time I have found a city where such devices are actually being deployed. The Milwaukee Police Department has begun outfitting its squad cars with fireable GPS devices. Mounted behind the a vehicle's front grille, they fire off and stick to fleeing vehicles, giving police the option of  tracking and apprehending their occupants without having to engage in dangerous high-speed pursuits.

The department had, several years earlier, adopted a restrictive pursuit policy after a series of fatal accidents caused by drivers who had been involved in high-speed chases with police. The policy requires officers to show they have probable cause to believe that a vehicle’s occupants have committed a violent felony or present a “clear and immediate threat” to others before they can engage in a high-speed pursuit. The decision to deploy the fireable GPS units was partly in response to critics of the pursuit policy who argued that it was too restrictive and, as a consequence, letting too many bad guys get away.

For as long as police have been using vehicles to patrol neighborhoods and respond to calls, they have had to balance the desire to apprehend criminals with the need to protect their officers, other drivers, and innocent bystanders from getting hurt or killed in the wake of a high-speed vehicle pursuit. Fireable GPS trackers appear to offer an effective way for police to break off a potentially dangerous high speed chase and still track and capture the bad guys. I’ll be keeping an eye out for any follow-up reports about Milwaukee’s experience.

Thinking about “The Really Big One”

I don’t know about you, but I have been giving a lot of thought lately to the inner workings of the Cascadia Subduction Zone. Ever since I read the article, “The Really Big One” that appeared in the New Yorker Magazine last month, I have been fretting over the massive amount of tension that has built up between the North American tectonic plate and the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate, supposedly making the zone overdue for a large rupture. Kathryn Schulz, the article’s author, had me convinced that the Cascadia Subduction Zone, where the two plates meet, might actually be located directly below MRSC’s 8th-story office here in the Belltown neighborhood of Seattle. Ms. Schulz says, rather ominously, at one point, “when the next full-margin rupture happens, [the Pacific Northwest] will suffer the worst natural disaster in the history of North America.” Her article, not surprisingly, has caused quite a stir among residents living in the Pacific Northwest who have been wondering just how much credence to give to her dire predictions. Interestingly, it has also created a significant uptick in the sales of earthquake-related preparedness kits ... just in case.

That’s why I was relieved to see a bit of pushback in an article that appeared recently in the Spokesman-Review, “As Fears of West Side ‘Megaquake’ Danger Grow, State’s Emergency Planners Unshaken,” and reprinted in Emergency Management. According to the article, geologists from the U.S. Geological Survey's (USGS) Earthquake Science Center at the University of Washington say that there is no consensus that the region is overdue for a large earthquake and that many of the predictions appearing in the New Yorker article were “overly dramatic” or “just wrong.” That’s not to say, of course, that earthquakes, even large ones, are not in our future. They are, and we need to prepare for them. But I will sleep a little better after hearing a more balanced view from our local USGS experts.

One more thing: it won’t hurt to take a look at this recent article, also appearing in the pages of Emergency Management, “How Many Households Have an Emergency Plan?” reminding us of the importance of having a household emergency plan ... just in case.


MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Byron Katsuyama

Byron began work at the Center as a Research Assistant in July 1978. He holds a B.A. degree in Political Science from the University of Washington and an M.P.A. from the University of Washington's Evan’s School of Public Policy and Governance. After completing his M.P.A., Byron joined MRSC's consulting staff as a Public Policy and Management Consultant concentrating on municipal administration and policy analysis. Byron is responsible for research in such areas as emerging local government issues, best practices, strategic planning, performance measurement, and local government management. In addition to his consulting duties, Byron also maintains the "Focus" section of MRSC's website and is editor of our "In Focus" and "Ask MRSC" e-newsletters. He also coordinates our HR, Planning, Finance, Government Performance, and Council/Commission Advisors. In his own community of Kirkland, Byron also served for eight years as a member of the city's planning commission. Byron is a member of the Washington City/County Management Association (WCMA) and the International City/County Management Association (ICMA).

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