Our team doesn't just talk the talk; they’ve walked the walk. This blog post is a continuation of 'Behind The Team,' a blog series interviewing Utility's Business Manager team and discussing their experience in law enforcement.
After earning his Associate's Degree in Criminal Justice and Corrections from Indiana State University, Mark Osborn set off on a path to follow his calling and start his law enforcement career. In 1996, his career in law enforcement began, with job functions ranging from road patrol to homicide investigations.
Osborn also served with SWAT for 16 years, where he performed functions within the team, including entry member to the commander, training on M4 platform, and entry techniques. Osborn finished his law enforcement career serving as Commander of Investigations Division at Lawrence Police Department in Indiana before retiring and joining the Utility Family as a Business Manager providing the smartest police body cams to law enforcement.
Osborn sat with Utility's Blog Editor to answer a few questions:
Q: What made you choose the path of working in law enforcement?
A: I guess the decision was probably just more or less the way I was raised – to be a servant to the community and the citizens of our city. I grew up in Indiana, so I felt like I needed to give back somehow. You know, I had a perfect childhood and I’m pretty grateful for what I had looking back on it. I grew up in a middle-class family, but I knew some people were not as fortunate in that situation. Entering law enforcement was my way of giving back to our community.
Q: Tell us about your role as Assistant Team Commander for SWAT.
A: I started as the commander and did that for about a year, you know, the street-level operations patrol investigations. It's where everybody starts and it's a unique position. You get to see everyone on their worst day. They're not calling you to say, hey, come by, let's have a chat. They're calling you because their day is really, really bad. You learn very early on that you can't fix everything. You’ve just got to take it one at a time and try to resolve what you can. That which you can't, know that it's bigger than you, and push on to the detectives or somebody further up to help handle things. You learn quickly to delegate what you can handle and what you can't.
For 16 years on the SWAT team, we never had a fatal police action shooting. We had lots of barricades, lots of hostage situations, and lots of high-risk warrants. Looking back on our training and how hard we trained, the style of entries that we used, and the methodology behind it shows that training does have a purpose. It works to prepare the right way and continue to train that way until you’ve perfected it. The outcome for us was always positive. Everybody went home safe at the end of the day, and the situations were resolved peacefully.
Q: How can technology aid in law enforcement?
A: A primary way that technology can help aid law enforcement is through the officer-down functionality that is built into the Utility BodyWorn ecosystem. An example of this that is still very fresh in my mind is an incident that happened in a neighboring agency. An officer was doing a routine stop on a Sunday morning to check in on an elderly man. The officer let his guard down for a split second and was gunned down by that elderly man. It was discovered later that the man was a convicted felon of violent crimes and was just released from prison, was out on parole, and was carrying a firearm. That officer laid out on the road for about 30 minutes before a citizen had discovered him and dialed 911. The downed officer was only a few minutes away from a trauma center, but his location was not known. Had his agency been using a solution such as Utility’s Officer Down safety features, who knows, his life could have possibly been saved. There's a lot of what-ifs that were going through our heads, could the results have been different if they were alerted the moment the officer went down with his status and location? We don't know. If he would have been equipped with the Officer Down technology at the time, he may have had a better chance at surviving.
Technology in law enforcement helps to aid with efficiencies on several different levels. For example, after using Utility’s ecosystem at Lawrence PD for five years, we were able to verify that our officers were behaving appropriately 99.9% of the time, which is something that LPD prides itself on.
Additionally, it saved us on court costs and preparation, since the video evidence is so transparent in showing what actually happened, which resulted in the cases getting thrown out. It's all right there on video, captured from the beginning to the end.
We saw how we could do crime mapping with it, and see hotspots. We could redirect resources and operations to any specific area. Because of calls for service on our CAD, we could see where everything was going in real-time. With other systems, an agency might have to wait for daily or weekly logs from dispatch.
Q: Did the Lawrence Police Department have existing body cameras or in-car video cameras?
A: Before implementing the Utility system, we had an older in-car system but didn’t have body cams. The in-car solution that we were using was outdated, old-school technology with the cassette deck above the rearview mirror. It required additional staff to oversee burning tapes, erasing tapes, and dealing with the tiny highlight tapes.
Most body cameras at the time had significant flaws, such as officer activation.
The Utility BodyWorn was an exception, as it came with automatic activation within its technology. By implementing BodyWorn, we equipped our officers with a useful tool that turns the camera on for them, which helps in many situations. In split-second immediate decision-making moments, they can focus on the job at hand and not have to put their safety in jeopardy by deciding, "Oh, I should turn on my body cam?”
Utility was able to answer a lot of the questions we had about body cameras. Not to mention, Utility answered all those questions with the SaaS business model. They are constantly maintaining, upgrading, and keeping things in working order.
So we went with the entire setup and everything that Utility has to offer. Lawrence PD was also included in be a beta test agency for Utility, so we were one of the first agencies to test out the holster sensors for activation In that first-generation model. We felt very fortunate that our agency was chosen as one of those agencies to help prepare other agencies and move Utility along in the future. We have a great working relationship with the company. But now, there are officers that are being forced to wear something inadequate, and it was not built for the role of law enforcement. It told the public and counsel, "although there are errors, hey, we've got one." And now, these officers are being terminated or disciplined for a failed product that doesn't stay on. It's not secure, and it isn't capturing their whole story. It's catching after the fact if it gets turned on at all, and so do your research.
Q: How did you transition from working in law enforcement to being a Business manager for Utility and what was the driving force behind making the change?
A: With the skills and knowledge I gained through my career in law enforcement, paired with the overwhelming amount of positive experiences and interactions I had with the Utility team, I thought it would be a good transition for me to stay in the law enforcement world, and continue to help others have the same successes we had at Lawrence PD. It helps to have law enforcement experiences when working with other departments because we've earned and built that credibility within ourselves.
I come from the same cloth, I’ve done the exact job that they've done. I’m not just here selling them a product, I’m sharing my personal experiences in a product that I have used and strongly believe can help them day in and day out with trust and transparency for themselves and the communities they serve. I feel like it was my natural calling to make this transition.
Q: What advice would you give to an agency (police department, sheriff's office, corrections facility, etc.) that is selecting a body camera program?
A: You know, one of the significant hurdles that I've seen so far is that agencies come with a price point first. They don't even care what the product is or what it does. They just want to know who's the cheapest. Well, when you're looking for the most affordable, you're going to get what you pay for. Agencies need to build a plan around what it is that they want and need for their department. After they have figured out their needs, then they should start comparing vendors. Worry about the price point later. Instead, what I see repeatedly is these agencies are in a hurry just to get something because it comes at a cheap price, and it checks that one box for them that says “we have body cameras,” and since that was cheap enough, they go with it. So, my advice is to look for the vendor that will give the agency the best possible product and service – one that will help effectively serve them and their community because you can’t put a price point on that. Getting the best product for your department and hitting their needs should be the priority.
Q: What would you like to see as far as the future of Utility?
A: I would like to see more agencies across the country adopt the Utility solution and help to show them the world of possibility. When I look at what competitors are doing, their technology seems to be in the same place it was five years ago. In contrast, Utility took the right approach from the beginning and started with a computer-based platform. So you know, it leaves a door open for all the possibilities down the road. I’m excited to continue seeing user-agencies come up with innovative enhancement ideas that Utility can implement and bring to life.