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Fire department First Amendment audits

Listen as Gordon Graham details how to handle First amendment auditors in this tip from the risk management expert

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Gordon Graham here with Today’s Tip from Lexipol. Today’s Tip is for fire service personnel. Today I am here to talk about First Amendment auditors. These people take audio or video in public places, then see how a governmental agency reacts.

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Let me start with this I am a big fan of full transparency in all government operations. The public has the absolute right to know that we are good stewards of tax-payer dollars and that we are doing our jobs correctly. With that in mind, I have no problem with audits or auditors.

Unfortunately, some auditors go too far and get confrontational with government employees. Many times, their goal is to get a government employee to overreact. This overreaction can result in a spot on the evening news and a social media post that lives on the internet forever. It usually reflects poorly on the firefighter or their agency.

There are three ways fire departments can minimize the risk of confrontation and negative press from First Amendment auditors. First, if you haven’t already done so, set physical boundaries by marking areas at fire department stations and facilities that are restricted from the public. These areas should include the apparatus floor, living quarters, and parking lots. If a First Amendment auditor requests access to restricted areas, you can always arrange for a scheduled tour. At a fire scene, quickly set operations areas, mark them out with scene tape, and restrict access.

Second, train personnel on how to keep a confrontation from getting out of hand. This training can include immediate referral to a press information officer and use of de-escalation techniques.

Third, be nice. Chief Alan Brunacini was perhaps the most famous fire chief in the history of the world. He developed a way of viewing the world from a fire service perspective. He professed a simple concept known as being nice. Being nice can disarm those folks who are looking for a confrontation. Being nice isn’t being weak. It merely means you’re not going to launch into an argument with the auditors or take physical action to stop them.

The takeaway is to avoid a confrontation on the First Amendment auditor’s terms. Training and preparation are the best defense.

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Gordon Graham has been actively involved in law enforcement since 1973. He spent nearly 10 years as a very active motorcycle officer while also attending Cal State Long Beach to achieve his teaching credential, USC to do his graduate work in Safety and Systems Management with an emphasis on Risk Management, and Western State University to obtain his law degree. In 1982 he was promoted to sergeant and also admitted to the California State Bar and immediately opened his law offices in Los Angeles.
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