Emergence Alumnus Making a Difference: Improved Community Engagement

Effective law enforcement extends beyond tactics and training; additionally, it requires timely and impactful community engagement. For Center of Homeland Defense and Security (CHDS) Emergence 1701 alumnus, Sergeant Blake Higley of the Idaho State Police, this multifaceted approach to building a more effective cadre of law enforcement professionals was central to his progression as a student and practitioner. Graduating from the inaugural Emergence cohort in March 2017, Higley applied the program’s curriculum to address the challenges surrounding effective police-community relations.

Higley departed the CHDS academic environment with an eye on improving community outreach and interaction in his Idaho Falls hometown. His multifaceted approach included leveraging current technologies as well as returning to traditional, homespun efforts centered on reframing members of the department as not just law enforcement officials, but rather, neighbors helping neighbors. The genesis for both programs began with Higley challenging himself with a simple question, “what can I do to have a positive impact and how can I help those in the community while building more trust in our department?”

Higley’s first effort centered on gaining a rapid, modern, and positive presence for the local residents of Idaho Falls. As part of his Emergence project, he created a social media strategy to bring his department to the community. Higley noted, “I spoke with our Captain concerning social media…prior to developing our own social media presence, we were only represented by a singular, state-wide account ran out of the Boise office…we needed something to serve Idaho Falls.” Although the program required several months to launch, his Twitter page provided instant and broad outreach opportunities to include public safety information, traffic conditions, weather alerts, and a variety of other department information to support the community. Higley commented, “it created a way for the public to interact with us and, as an added benefit, we gained the trust of the news media…they would immediately distribute our content.” More importantly, each district in the state looked towards the Idaho Falls model, and developed a unique and distinct social media presence. With the first phase of his outreach strategy complete, Higley pivoted to the second phase, one that would personalize the interactions between the department and community.

Ten Counties of Christmas started in 2017, with his department’s solicitation of donations to address the needs of those citizens within Idaho Falls most in need of financial support. For Higley, the decision to start the program during the holiday season was easy, “I knew how lucky and blessed I am in my own life… trying to give back to others during the holiday season simply struck the right chord within our department.” In its first year of operation, Higley and his department provided 53 families with dinner and winter clothing. The newly created social media presence not only facilitated the collection of donated items, but also provided a forum for highlighting the tangible impact on the families. Thus, moving towards the 2018 holiday season, the number of families receiving assistance expanded beyond 200.

Summarizing his Emergence experience Higley commented, “the problem-solving skills I learned in Emergence were tangible…it wasn’t inapplicable theory, but rather a more methodical way of thinking and looking at challenges to find solutions.” He continued, “Emergence provides tools and techniques for developing an effective proposal as well as the platform for converting those project ideas into real programs…there is no doubt that I felt more confident with my initiatives as a result of my time in the CHDS classroom.”