Building a Healthy and Just Community

Highlights from John and Peter's May 29, 2012 Conversation with Mike Butler, Police and Fire Chief, Longmont, CO

“Mike Butler integrates theory and his own practice like no one else,” Peter said of the conversation he and John had with the Longmont, CO public safety chief, who has a lifetime of experience creating a restorative community and implementing Restorative Justice (RJ). “This conversation makes so clear what is possible when committed people make a commitment to a place, over time, and all along keep inviting and inviting and inviting everyone into the conversation. And when the Chief of Police brings restorative practice into the heart of community, you know something is happening there.”

In Part One of their conversation, they explore the meaning of RJ and Mike’s experience in creating the Longmont Community Justice Partnership.

In Part Two, they examine ways that Longmont is engaging the community in the process and the role of its police department in inviting, convening, and galvanizing citizens to take a different approach.

In Part Three, Mike describes the evolving role of the Longmont Fire Department in community health and responds to questions from callers on starting conversations with neighbors about the RJ process, getting the right people involved in the process, and more.

Go to Audio Recordings and scroll down for information on downloading or listening to the uncut conversation.


Part One: Restorative Justice and the Longmont Community Justice Partnership

Peter: Mike is a special guest for John and me because he introduced us about 15 years ago.

What’s interesting and compelling about Mike is that he’s multi-lingual — he’s always been a role model to me because of that. He’s able to engage in the conversation of Restorative Justice and the conversation of building community and the conversation about why citizens keep themselves safe.

It’s from Mike I first learned that 80 percent of the calls his officers get don’t require uniformed officers, they require a neighbor, and Mike for 20 years or more has lived within the patriarchy and participated fully — this is his second language, as police and fire chief in an important city in Colorado. Mike, you found a way to live within the patriarchal world with its traditional language and culture and done that very successfully. And at the same time when you brought John and me together, you had 200 people in a church talking about how citizens build community. I am very grateful that you invited us together back then, and that you are able to share your views today on this phone call.

That’s an overall introduction. I thought it would be interesting, Mike, if you would start by reflecting a little bit on the dual nature of your work and sharing any thoughts you have about how you have been able to be successful in the world of community, in the citizen world. I know you have strong feelings about the importance of that. And you run a system that works. So give us some opening thoughts about that, in addition to whatever you would like to share with our audience.

Mike: Thank you, Peter and John.

I work in a couple of patriarchal systems. Number one, local government, certainly has a top down feel to it. The top makes the rules and the top basically decides what happens. I also work in a system called the criminal justice system, where the professionals within the system decide what justice looks like. It’s a one-size-fits-all kind of system that’s basically hard to penetrate and hard to change. The caveat that I  want to state is that there certainly are people in the system that want to be good; in fact I find very few who don’t want to figure out how to better the lives of others. But they still have the perspective that John’s book The Careless Society talks about: “you will be better because we know better.”

So I work in two of those systems, and probably others if you think about the patriarchal society we are in. In terms of being able to navigate that in a more partnership-orientated way, a way in different people are making decisions or  having a larger voice — part of what we did was develop a mechanism called the Longmont Community Justice Partnership. It’s the organization in Longmont that provides Restorative Justice services. And the organization that provides about 90 percent of the support to the Longmont Community Justice Partnership is the Longmont Police Department. We have had the Restorative Justice system in our community for 16 years. We have put probably put more than  2,200 offenders through the system.

Peter: Would you explain, for those who might not know, what Restorative Justice is about?

Mike: Restorative Justice basically operates off the principles of relationships and works from the ideas of repairing the harm done and choosing accountability. Say someone commits a crime — and by the way we put all kinds of crimes now through the system, whether it’s misdemeanors, felonies; we put first-time offenders, multiple offenders, we put kids in, people under the age of 18, people over the age of 18; we have had cases involving deaths and fatalities in Restorative Justice. Whatever the crime, basically you ask the offender and you ask the victim if they want to participate. It’s voluntary and once they realize what they are in for we find that the majority say, yes, they would like to go through that process.

So there is a victim in the room, there is an offender in the room. They are each accompanied by support groups, if they want that — family members, friends. There is another very interesting facet of this in that there are community members also involved in what we call conferences or circles. Then we have trained facilitators. These facilitators are volunteers in the community that come together and are pulling people together who interacted in a very harmful way through the commission of the crime. The circle or conference is basically an extended conversation about what happened to the victim, how the victim was impacted, what happened to the community, how the community was impacted.

For the offender,  RJ is basically their opportunity to choose accountability and responsibility. And we call it magic or we call it different forces of the universe that are brought into play through this mechanism of Restorative Justice where we begin to see a relationship develop between the community, the offender and the victim. One of empathy, one of apology, one of accountability — one of saying, I’m sorry.

Through Restorative Justice we begin to see a relationship develop between the community, the offender and the victim, a relationship of empathy, of apology, of accountability — one of saying, I’m sorry.

When you bring those forces into the room and you have people talking about what it meant to them and what it did to them — or what they can do in terms of seeing their community or people differently — very powerful things begin to occur.  The recidivism rate of these offenders is around 10 percent. Compare that with the criminal justice system in the United States, where 70 percent of the people who have gone through the system typically recidivate or repeat within a three-year period.

People in RJ choose accountability versus having it forced upon them, and victims walk away, certainly still victimized by a crime, but having grown a better connection to the person who harmed them. They come up with a contract and then the offender has to complete the contract, and typically the consequences in a contract very much match what happened in terms of the crime. We had one case in which someone was involved in a car accident. The person who was at fault, who committed the traffic offense, caused brain damage to a family member, so one of the consequences was to spend time at a hospital where doctors and medical professionals are treating brain-damaged people. It’s just really remarkable.

Peter: Is it typical for a police department to be a major sponsor of Restorative Justice partnerships?

Mike: It’s not typical in the police profession. Longmont, I am very proud and happy to say, has a really robust Restorative Justice process that’s supported by the City of Longmont, our police department, and our school district. But I will also tell you that, when you talk in terms of a patriarchal culture, you still live in a society in which justice is defined as an eye for an eye or a pound of flesh — when you hear people say they want justice, that’s what they mean.

So we still live in a larger society in which professionally that’s the definition of justice, but in Longmont, where I would have to say that the majority of people still have that sense, we still have been able to make great strides in defining or changing the definition of what true justice can be. And you have sustained accountability because we don’t have repeat offenders, and you have victims walking away saying, “I feel a lot whole, much more whole.” There is no legal provision in the criminal justice system for any victim involvement.

Peter: Say that again, Mike. That is a big point. I don’t want to pass it too quickly.

Mike: There is no legal provision for victims to be involved in the criminal justice system.

Peter: Wow.

Mike: Sure, there are some systems, local systems, that have advanced somewhat in terms of victim’s rights; there is no question about that. But in most cases the victim is typically represented by the state, so it’s the state versus whoever the offender is. That’s how it plays in the criminal justice system.

In Restorative Justice it’s the victim, the actual victim, and the actual offender, with no intermediary as in the criminal justice system. But we also have members of the community there who talk about the impact, and what we often find is that offenders who go through the system now want to be representatives of the community in working with other Restorative Justice processes or conferences.

There is no legal provision in the criminal justice system for victim involvement. In Restorative Justice it’s  the actual victim and the actual offender who have a voice. 

John: It’s a fascinating point you’re making about the place of the victim. Years ago a famous Swedish criminologist wrote a paper called “Crimes as Property.” The point he was making was that in many societies crime slowly became the property of the state, so that when we see a case now in the criminal courts it’s the City of Chicago vs. Charlie Smith, rather than Mary Jones and Charlie Smith as two people together. In a sense what we are looking at here is the fact that the community’s power and capacity to deal with people who are deviant have been removed, and in their place we have created a system, as an alternative, that only succeeds 30 percent of the time.

What you are trying to do in Longmont, it seems to me, is to restore the community’s capacity to deal with deviance or people who have been marginalized or are marginal. And one of the things that I wonder about is, do you think that as more and more people in the community get this experience they begin to see the possibilities of how the community itself can relate to people in ways that decrease the possibility of negative deviance taking place? Are communities learning how to deal with the fact that some people are at the margins and maybe there is a better way to deal with them than the criminal justice way?

Mike: Without question. There have been literally thousands of people from our community involved. To what level they change their perspective around understanding their own capacity to make a difference or to have a voice or to have impact on deviant behavior, we don’t have a measurement tool for that.

But we really do believe that that’s happening. And where the tipping point is, we don’t have that either, but we believe that we are a lot closer to it than what we once were — there is no question about that.

You articulated very well, John, what the professionals in the systems have done. And it goes all the way up to elected officials or people who want to be elected. They all get tough on crime — three strikes and you are out. It is as if they had the answers to the crime problems. They were trying to pass legislation with these one-size-fits-all ways of doing business. The mantra from politicians, the media and everybody else began to get filtered through that kind of thinking and the community bought it. And so trying to get our community to understand that those ways are not successful, or not as successful as they would like to think, is a tall order, there is no question. But we are making progress and Restorative Justice has become more than a fad, it’s more than something novel. People are starting to realize, all over the world, the power that comes through having community members involved in this process.

John: Is there a way our listeners could follow up on this if they are interested? Do you have a website or material or associations?

Mike: They can certainly email me and I will be happy to get back to them. My email is [email protected]. I can talk to them and I can certainly introduce them to the Longmont Community Justice Partnership.


Part Two: Community Engagement and Public Safety

Peter: Mike, you are bringing Restorative Justice into the public safety domain in a hundred different ways. And you have just taken on the role of Chief of the Fire Department [in addition to being Chief of Police]. Could you share a little bit about what you are doing to engage citizens to rethink the role or place or gifts of that office?

Mike: Absolutely and first let me just venture off a little bit more on the police officers in Longmont.

We are looking at how to reintegrate people who come back into the community from the criminal justice system. Right now there is just not a lot of success with that. Their recidivism rate is very high. Communities tend to say, “It’s your problem, police department, and it’s your problem, criminal justice system. Just keep those people from hurting us.” And that’s certainly part of our responsibility, but we are going to turn the tables a little bit, not only on people entering the community, but on people who have mental health issues and people who have chemical substance issues. And we know that publicly subsidized mental health has dropped dramatically with budget cuts and so on. We see a lot of people with mental health issues and they end up committing crimes. Unfortunately, the only way they sometimes get treatment is through the criminal justice system because the mental health system is not robust enough to deal with it.

So for the most part we are challenging our communities to join us in a new way of seeing people who are entering our communities from the criminal justice system, people who have mental health issues and people who have chemical substance addictions. Basically, we are going to invite, convene, and galvanize a community to take a different approach. We have been in conversations for the last two years with a number of private treatment providers, psychologists, psychiatrists, MSW’s. We also have been in conversations with lots of various service groups from around the community to join us. And to this point we have yet to get a “no” on joining us.

It’s going to be advanced by the police department because what we are seeing more and more is the “recycling” of these people. I guess there is a better way of saying it, but what it means is that people come into our community and they have 2.9 strikes against them. Their chances for success and taking another path, a productive path, in their life are minimal. And so the question and challenge for our community is, what can our community do more of or less of? Then we can actually begin to see, at some level, developing circles of accountability and support that surround each of these people. People in our community can begin to help people to take a different path, whether that’s through employment, housing, treatment of some kind or just staying on a path that doesn’t involve crime. It’s basically asking our community to take on more responsibility.

The question for our community is, what can our community do more of or less of?

Peter:  What form is that taking?

Mike:  We will have community-wide conversations. And that will take a number of different forms. We will have large community conversations and enlist volunteers like we have done in the past for a lot of other things. And we will be developing circles of accountability and support, made up of members of the community or the private treatment providers working with people who have mental health issues or chemical substance addictions. The treatment providers are willing to take on four to five more people on an annual basis, gratis. And we will support them by asking at first a segment of our community, and then the entire community, to assist us with people coming out of the criminal justice system. And although we have not decided the final form yet, to the specifics that I think you are asking about, Peter,  I think we are addressing something that people in the criminal justice system, and perhaps certain police chiefs, will tell you: they are constantly seeing the same people over and over again.

Peter: You are giving it some form, you are saying you are holding conversations; you are getting people in the room talking about what is possible.

You are partnering, and you, as the police department, are the convening agent. You are extending an invitation to a conversation rather than telling people what the police are going to do to keep them safe.

Mike: Right. A different conversation. And we have been having those kinds of conversations for a long time, which, I have to say, are not as tough as they used to be.

John: There are two other resources our listeners might check out. One is a program  in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania — at least the headquarters are there — called the Youth Advocate Programs, YAP, which has now 25 years of experience building these circles of support around young offenders. That’s their focus: young people. And they have great experience and a wonderful record in putting these kinds of teams together. Another resource is the Inclusion Press. Every summer I am on the faculty in Toronto, Canada, of a summer institute on community and inclusion, which focuses on methods for bringing people on the margins back in the center of the community. And you can find a lot more information about that by looking at Inclusion Press, which publishes more about how to approach people at the margins and bring them into the community than any other place I know of.

Mike: I am aware of a few programs around the country that focus on youth. There are very few that focus on adults and  yet these people are in our community.

The other thing I want to say is that while I think the concept is an outstanding one,  it doesn’t come without a lot of trial and error, without a lot of persistence, without a lot of commitment to something that you think is important. And I think ultimately that’s what paves the way. We can develop different mechanisms, we can develop different programs, but we have found success through people who have said, This is what we want to see our community become.

And we do our best to back up those people in terms of assuring that they have the support required to bring what they want to see come to life. But it’s a lot of hard work and I don’t want to give anybody any impression that there is any panacea or any kind of magic bullet. It’s a marathon-like process. It is easy to talk about bringing people in the margins into the mainstream. It’s difficult to do, and I don’t think we have a lot of choices about it anymore.

You can draw your own conclusions about what is happening in our country, and other countries, in terms of haves and have-nots, in terms of where that is all headed. I think local government is the perfect leverage point to begin to do this kind of work, the kind of work we are doing in Longmont. And I think police departments, and on some level fire departments, have legitimate platforms to become the convening agent that Peter talks about, and to be able to do this kind of work.

We have some successes here and we have made some great progress, for whatever it is worth. Longmont requires more social services than any other community around us. But we have been deemed the second safest community in the state of Colorado and a lot of this has to do with the kind of work we are doing and the involvement we are asking our community to take, even though we have a lot of very difficult socio-economic problems.

Peter: How rich a community are you?

Mike: We are not a rich community. In fact we are one of the poorest communities along the Front Range of Colorado. And for people who do research, there is a definite correlation between socio-economics and crime.

But we have gone against the grain in Longmont and we would like to think that it has a lot to do with the efforts that have taken place along the lines of the community’s commitment to making our community a safer place.

John: You are a perfect example. Do you remember Henry Moore?  Henry was a city official who did more to turn around neighborhood policy than anybody I know. He called his work “leading by stepping back.” And I think you are the model for that too. If people could understand the power of people, then the patriarchy would see themselves transformed into supporters, rather than providers. Then you would begin to get the kind of  results that you just described to us. I hope that you have opportunities to train other police officials and lead by stepping back.

Mike: One of the things that I am talking about with our city manager is developing people in our own government and developing leaders in our own government who can do just that. That we become, that we take on, the profiles we develop for leadership, profiles for people we bring into government who have those kind of skills, those kinds of desires, or that kind of mindset. We don’t have to be leading the way, we can be supporting the way. I am convinced that’s where it’s all headed.

Peter:  One other thing before we open it up.  When I talk to people in city government they mostly want to talk about city council and elected officials and how hard it is. I never hear you in that conversation, Mike. Talk a little bit about how you see the role of government and public servants like yourself. It always seems to me that people give too much power to the elected officials, yet you have been able to manage generation after generation of people elected. What is your thought about that?

Mike: City managers, city councils, everyone — they are all looking for answers What I do is sit down with wannabe elected officials and explain what we are trying to do. One of the things that I encourage them not to do is to make crime a part of their platform, because what it will do is just engender that patriarchal mindset — like “I am here just to stop crime, and the answers to the problems are found through me.” And so I have long conversations with people who want to be elected officials. And I have long conversations with people who want to be part of our police department and fire department about that. I say, This is the model we are working on. And I have only had one  person who wanted to be an elected official even try to make crime part of their platform — fortunately that person lost the election. And I also very much put in their ear this thought: Don’t pass any laws, don’t pass any more ordinances; we don’t need any more, those are not the answers to our problems.

Peter: That’s amazing.

John: That is wonderful.


Part Three: Q&A on Community Health, Starting Conversations and More …

Judith Snow (Caller from Canada): Mike,  I live in a neighborhood made up of housing co-ops. And they are opening a super jail four blocks from my house. We have a very large police presence in our neighborhood because they also opened the police college next door.

I know that the circles of accountability and Restorative Justice have been around since the 80’s, but they are not catching on as the official approach. So if you were just a neighbor, how would you get attention paid to these processes?

Mike: Great question.  My first question to you would be, Do your neighbors feel similarly?

Judith: Most of my neighbors want to call the police.

Mike: Part of the challenge then is to get more people to think like you think. So the question becomes  this: if you wanted to get your neighborhood together and to have a conversation about what is happening and about what your future might look like and maybe that’s not the kind of future you want, what can you do as a group of people? It would be a smaller group, probably, but it would be a neighborhood group. And you never know, you might find a lot of people who have the same thinking that you have.

And I would also say, I think a lot of things get started when neighborhoods start taking action. We can point to neighborhoods in our community that when they decided to build their social capital they turned into neighborhoods that almost became crime free. We know that. We see that. We have like 60 of those neighborhoods in our community right now. But it all starts with that neighborhood group.

I would invite you, challenge you, to begin to start having with your neighbors the kind of conversation you are having with us now. Invite them to something. Invite them to a cookout, or invite them to something where they will want to come for something and then start having those conversations. That’s how it starts. There is no magic to this. If you can get the neighborhood more involved then your voice begins to resonate louder with those entities, those institutions, that are starting to grow in your community.

That’s a tall order that you have in front of you. I can’t say that there is a magic answer. I can only say that it begins with you and it will move forward with the people that think like you. Because I would imagine that there are probably a number of people that do think like you.


A question from the chat: Do you have any advice about getting the right folks at the table? In other words identifying critical non-traditional stakeholders to partner with public safety.

Mike: First of all, I think you get as many people to the table as you can get. There certainly are the traditional ones ––the business community, the faith community, the school district, neighborhood group alliances. Those are perhaps the more traditional people you need to have at a table. But you invite everybody, whether they are traditional or not. And basically you see who shows up.

It’s making the invitation that can possibly be the trickiest part of all. It’s just not a letter or it’s just not a phone call. It’s basically having lots of conversations, personal one-on-one conversations. I find that when you look people in the eye and you have a conversation over something, over a meal or whatever, that can be very powerful. And these things are going to happen, one opportunity, one person at a time.

Making that invitation is very, very important. You’ve got to go through the effort. I don’t think there is any way of not going through the effort. And they have to know that you are sincere, they have to know that you are real. They have to know that you have the convictions that you have around moving forward with these kinds of efforts. Anything less than that and you are found out down the road and sustainability is not there. But that’s what it comes down to.

Also, we have a number of efforts where you have to really nurture the group along and you have to constantly be, at some level, in people’s faces, challenging them, inviting them to be part of what you want to happen. Sometimes it is easy to say, “Come with me,” and people follow. But I find that the vast majority of times, that is never good enough. That you have to really make the effort to have people sit down with you and then you have to nurture and cultivate those relationships so they continue to sit down with you. And that takes time, and it takes energy, but it’s an important piece.

John: Mike, one other way of approaching the non-traditional people in this process is to look on the Internet at Project Friendship in Prince George, Canada, where a group of citizens identified as many clubs, groups and associations as they could in the community. And they put out an annual directory about 1,200 to 1,300 of these groups. These groups then have become the focus by which Project Friendship takes people who are marginalized and introduces them to these organizations. Usually around something of common interest, for example, if people ever fished they might put them with a fishing organization. It’s a wonderful way of beginning to pull into the process the people you are talking about. People who are already organized and can be engaged by including people who are at the margins. So our listeners might find that valuable too.

Mike: Thank you for that, John, because there are high leverage points in every community and you are talking about exactly that. People are organized, people are looking for a cause, a mission. People are wanting to get involved. And you would be surprised by how many people want to make a difference. What they don’t have is the mechanism to which they can attach themselves. And some of these groups, these service groups that you are talking about, John, are high-leverage points. You get a lot out of  connecting with them.


Edgar Cahn (Caller from Time Banks, USA, Washington, DC): The police in Washington, DC have been a major resource here. They are our strongest ally in setting up the Youth Court and I think we all need to learn to abandon an enemy mentality and follow the kind of tips that we are getting from Mike today.

Mike: Thank you for saying it’s time to quit seeing the police as the enemy because I guarantee that the police feel just as futile as any entity in any community. And anytime someone approaches them and says we want you to help us, I would bet that the vast majority of police departments would jump on that.


A question from the chat: What would help reduce what might seem as a threat to Restorative Justice, traditional criminal justice and law enforcement in your community?

Mike: Great question. You know the threats could come from a number of angles. I would imagine that the person who wrote that knows that. It’s professionals within the criminal justice system that I have found to be actually the hardest group to bring about, because they are people who have been trained and skilled and taught on the arts and science of criminal justice.

And then there is the whole mindset of how we currently define “justice” within our community. Part of it is advertising your successes and inviting people to be part of the process. We have been able to turn a lot of people around when they became part of the process and actually saw it happening. So once again it is making that invitation asking people to be a part of it.

Another part of it is utilizing the media to the extent that you can. Part of it is having conversations with the people who are interested on some level, because a lot of Restorative Justice programs get eliminated because they are victims of the budget and so you have to really begin to work with elected officials, school boards, and begin those conversations. You know, get on their itinerary, go to their retreats, get on those council agendas. Those are things that you can’t miss. Unless you have a separate source of money that you don’t have to depend on any other source of money, then you have to consider all of that.

Then you have to make the invitation, you have to invite people in. You have to have other people singing the praises of it too. And you create marketing or social marketing strategies around that.

All those things have to happen. And I would imagine that the person who wrote that question in the chat box understands all of this. Those are the things you have to do. If you can get your police department on board with this, I would say that you are probably 50percent percent there, because they are the ones in the midst of the day-to-day happenings in terms of crime and disorder. If you can get your police department to speak positively about Restorative Justice I would say that a large part of that battle is won.

Peter: I think Restorative Justice is one program that is already in place in something like 300 cities. But I think you represent something more, Mike. Like the fact that you are now rethinking the role of the fire department. We don’t hear much about the fire department. And you told me that in all citizen rankings the library and the fire department always win.

Mike: They always win because of the nature of the work.

Peter: How are you trying to shift the thinking about how we relate to the fire department?

Mike: That’s a major challenge because fire departments have typically circled the wagons around what they do. There are not a lot of people that really know what fire departments do and they have been sacred cows in budget processes, etc. Most of all, their services have been reactive. So the shift we are making is asking the question, how can we become more pro-active?

We have a lot of paramedics and EMT’s like a lot of fire departments do, and I would bet that the vast majority of individual engine companies average about three to five calls a day out of a 24 hour day. Those calls last on an average about 30 to 40 minutes each. Not a lot of touches for people who have all these skills. So we have developed in Longmont what we call a Community Service Network that includes all the medical clinics, the hospital, Boulder County Health, our position advisor to the fire department, our ambulance service. And we are starting to identify the problems that we all have in common. We believe we have to localize solutions around health care and get a collaborative going; that’s what this is coming down to. This is one of those examples where I have had to sit down with CEO’s of hospitals and medical clinics and basically talk to them about getting this kind of effort going.

Peter: What is the effort, what are you inviting them into?

Mike: I am inviting them into running the business, their business, much more efficiently and much more effectively and being able to deal much more robustly with uninsured people and under-insured people. To deal with people who represent tremendous duplication, to deal with the tremendous number of super-users of the system. You know, there are some communities where 90percent percent of the costs are represented by 20 percent of the users.

Peter: But this is not the fire house, is it? How do you connect the fire department to health?

Mike: No, this is not the fire house. But what we can do with that is begin to turn our fire stations into health clinics, maybe make some medical home visits. For example, we are looking at dealing with shut-ins and people who have had surgery and can’t get back to the hospital or doctor and so we go visit them in their homes. We can do electrocardiograms, blood pressure checks, and medication checks. We can do a lot of things that would happen if they could go back to the doctor.

And so there are lots of things we are doing, but we have to really work on getting the community to accept this. And where this ends up  is we will probably have a lot of volunteer people at our fire stations. We will probably have more medical assistants at our fire stations and we will be able to reach into neighborhoods.

I realize all that is still utilizing the professional, but on the other hand, there are certain things in medicine that I would imagine that most people aren’t going to let people who are not professionals deal with. And so what we are doing is decentralizing and systemizing the professionals that exist in our community around medical services and putting them out into the community. And then what we haven’t engaged yet is the question of what more can our community do in order to bring this about. We haven’t gone there. We are still working with professionals within the medical system and determining where our fire department can maybe match up on that continuum a lot better and be more pro-active. I would like 99.9 percent of the fire departments to be active in nature. The shifts we are making are about being more pro-active.

Peter: You know, I can imagine that since the fire department is so tied to the neighborhood it could actually do the inviting to find out what gifts and capacities citizens in that neighborhood have to help each other.

Mike: Absolutely.  We are taking on the mission of answering the question of how we can make our community more self-sufficient. We are, the fire department is, an “if you need us, call us for anything” kind of entity, and when you dial 911 we go. And one out of every two people we transport doesn’t need to be transported. So another part of our effort in Longmont is to bring about neighborhoods, relatives, family members as alternative sources and options for people who really don’t need to go to the emergency room. That’s a big part of it.

Peter: Wow.


Ed Everett (Caller from California): I just wanted to mention to Mike there is a tool that I think you would find very useful because it is about trying to get neighborhoods organized and it is free to cities and free to neighborhoods: Next I have worked in the profession for 35 years, 24 as a City Manager. I am working with Next Door because I think it is probably the best community building social network tool that doesn’t cost the city money and time, and it is proving to be very useful to police departments as well.

It is very, very useful for exactly what you are talking about. It is about figuring out how to connect neighbors to each other. Facebook is great for friends and families, but not neighbors. Linkedin is great for professional association, but not neighbors. Next Door connects people to where they live versus having a community where they never see each other. We have found it quite successful.


Peter: I would like to end by asking people about what use this conversation has been to you, what was instructive about it, and I think it is a nice way to thank and express our appreciation to Mike, for the life he has led and as well as this conversation.


Lee Rush (Caller from Pennsylvania): Thank you so much, Mike, for your words. I studied criminology 35 years ago and it so nice to see things actually coming to fruition, things I heard about in theory. I live in Pennsylvania and work for the International Institute for Restorative Practices as one of their trainers.  My question is what kind of success or story you can tell about your inner workings with the school district in Longmont, because in my opinion in the long term that’s really where change has to come from: our young people coming up through the school system. I have never seen a more patrichcial system of discipline than in school districts, so I am curious about how your school system has taken to your thinking?

Mike: They’ve taken to it very well. They have changed their entire disciplinary procedure to encompass Restorative Justice. That’s number one. Number two, we have a program that deals with expelled students through a Restorative Justice model versus of kicking them out of school. Number three, we have trained all of our School Resource Officers to understand and implement Restorative Justice.  And we have schools right now where students are actually the implementers of Restorative Justice. So we have made a lot of penetration in the schools.


Peter: Let me just end by saying thank you, Mike. What you are doing and who you are has such resonance for this country and the world. We thank you so much for that.


Going Further:

 The Future Right Now

image: Banspy


About the Lead Author

Mike Butler
Mike Butler
Mike Butler is Public Safety Chief for the City of Longmont, Colorado, where he oversees the work of the Fire, Police, Community Health and Resilience, and Dispatch departments. He has long been a leader in the restorative justice movement and was instrumental in founding the Longmont Community Justice Partnership, one of the best programs of its kinf in the country. He also has nitiated several programs to address the mental health needs of his community. The Edge Program pairs mental health professionals with Longmont police to reduce ER visits and jail time. The Angel Program enables people with substance use disorders to relinquish drugs and/or paraphernalia to the Public Safety Center without fear of arrest or legal consequences. Angel volunteers help participants obtain shelter and connect them with treatment providers. Every Sunday, Mike and his volunteer team walk local at-risk neighborhoods to promote safety and link residents with resources. His honors and awards include being named Individual of the Year by Mental Health Colorado.

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