February / March Digest: Blessed are the Peacemakers…

Come, labor on!
No time for rest, till glows the western sky,
Till the long shadows o’er our pathway lie,
And a glad sound comes with the setting sun,
Well done, well done!

Jane L. Borthwick, 1859, 1863.

It’s been a busy month or so.

The middle weeks of February were difficult for those in public safety around the country, particularly in law enforcement. Among the casualties of a particularly deadly week was one that hit close to home.

Deputy-Geer

Deputy Derek Geer, 1975-2016.

On February 8th, Deputy Derek Geer of the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office in Grand Junction, Colorado was shot and mortally wounded while investigating a report of a male carrying a gun in a residential neighborhood. A 17-year-old male suspect is in custody. Deputy Geer’s death is the first in the line of duty fatality in over 100 years at the MCSO.

I was privileged to know Deputy Geer and his wife Kate, who worked for a time as a dispatcher in the 9-1-1 center where I was a supervisor. Our paths had crossed infrequently since then – though it’s been a good 10 years since I spoke with them, any public safety community is a close-knit one – even if the boundaries of that community span time and miles.

The safety community in that part of Colorado is well-coordinated and highly efficient in responding to critical incidents, and their aftermath. News accounts that included online scanner audio testified to both the level of cooperation of local agencies, and the difficulty of facing something like this head-on.

Geer_Memorial

Roadside Memorial.

Mesa County’s excellent Joint Information Center leveraged its considerable resources in the public information arena to manage a massive turnout for Deputy Geer’s memorial service – this included arranging for several remote locations to view the service via video. Local TV stations also interrupted scheduled programming to air the service live, and/or stream it online. I watched most of it.

Pastor Kirk Yamaguchi stated in his eulogy that one of Deputy Geer’s favorite scripture verses was Matthew 5:9, from the Sermon on the MountBlessed are the peacemakers…By many accounts that’s exactly what Derek Geer sought – to apply his love of family and dedication to his profession toward achieving.

Derek Geer was my kind of cop – one whose approach to his work was an extension of his values as a husband, father, and military veteran. Service above self was how he seemed to live every day, all the way to the end. He’ll be dearly missed.

Hello, Columbus

In late February, Leslie and I traveled to Columbus, Ohio for the annual Midwest Veterinary Conference. This conference attracts around 6,000 attendees for each of 4 days, and is held annually in the state capital of Ohio, and their relatively new convention center complex. The conference offered a large exhibit area and a comprehensive selection of continuing education courses. It was interesting enough for someone like me who has been to my share of these things, even if the subject matter was largely over my head.

At an adjacent exhibit hall, a cheerleading and dance competition was being held. Visions of a new reality show – “Cheer Moms vs. Veterinarians” – danced in my head. This past weekend was the annual Arnold (yes, THAT Ah-nold) Sports Festival, bringing bodybuilders from everywhere.

We really didn’t have a lot of time to check out attractions such as the ZooScience Center, or the Blue Jackets, whose tickets are a lot cheaper than the Penguins’ are. What we did see, we found interesting. Some examples:

The city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau produces and widely distributes a comprehensive transportation guide that lists all options for getting around the area, be it bus, taxi, rideshare, or renting a Smart car. Imagine that – seeing Uber listed next to cab companies.

These transportation options include a free public transit circulator bus through the downtown area.

Columbus is largely a professional and educational city – the presence of all facets of state government, along with large corporations such as Nationwide Insurance and L Brands, and the ominous presence of THE Ohio State University, with its gaggle of students who have a penchant to cross the main drag, High Street, without regard for oncoming traffic. Dodging the future leaders of this country as they scurried to class was one of the most “exciting” parts of our visit.

“Most” importantly, Columbus also hosts the corporate headquarters of White Castle. There are at least three “castles” in the immediate Downtown area. Slider heaven…

Food was about the only real discovery we were able to make between lecture sessions and other convention activities. What we did find was impressive:

North Market, a historic public marketplace with numerous food choices, both prepared and for cooking at home. Most notable here was Hubert’s Polish Kitchen, with scratch delicacies like handmade pierogi and a huge stuffed cabbage roll.

North of town in nearby Worthington is Natalie’s Coal Fired Pizza and Live Music. Inventive, ample recipes with fresh ingredients prepared expertly by friendly staff, all at a reasonable price.

Double Comfort, in the heart of the convention center district, serves southern style cooking and a healthy dose of social responsibility – a portion of profits is dedicated to support local food pantries, to the equivalent of 61,000 meals as of February of this year.

For dessert, a Graeter’s Ice Cream neighborhood shop in Upper Arlington was a most excellent treat.

One thing that did strike us was the number of homeless that navigate the streets during the day and evening hours. There is an active Homeless Coalition that includes among their advocacy efforts the publication of a newspaper, as well as a compendium of information on available services for those in need – the Streetcard.

Columbus markets itself as a business friendly environment, but also shows intelligence and compassion as a community, along with the demonstrated ability to coordinate resources toward common goals. At the conference, we heard a talk from one of the executives of Pelotonia, a bicycle ride event each August that generates a tremendous amount of money for cancer research at Ohio State.

The streets are clean, the inhabitants mostly friendly, and it’s an easy 3 to 4 hour drive from the Burgh, even if you meander along the more scenic byways such as US-22 or US-40, AKA the National Road. If you want an interesting, exciting, and proximal urban getaway, this is a good start.

We’ll be back…

Profligate Police and the Under-Served Mentally Ill

Sunday’s Post-Gazette featured a comprehensive report on the ability of local police to obtain training in Crisis Intervention when responding to reports of a mentally ill person, and the ability to mobilize trained officers when needed. The P-G followed up with an editorial published today, calling in part for mental health training to be as important as training with a gun for all police officers.

The mentally ill are under-served on so many levels in our nation that I think it’s a bad idea to try to include local police in any scapegoating exercise. I also believe that police handcuff themselves from more efficient operating postures when there are so many individual departments – offshoots of the inefficient manner in which local government attempts to function in our Commonwealth, and in particular Allegheny County.

When our 130 municipalities, and over 100 police and 200 fire departments realize – or are forced to realize – that their independence may no longer be fiscally responsible or even viable – and that consolidation and coordination of resources will eventually be a foregone conclusion – only then will things begin to move in a positive fashion. Unfortunately, I don’t see this happening anytime soon.

As far as overall mental health response, the story also didn’t go far enough in assessing the availability of mental health crisis teams, from contracted providers such as the Resolve Crisis Network. Once law enforcement has mitigated any potential threat presented by someone in mental health crisis, the availability of these teams to respond, assess, and transport on a timely basis is something that needs to be evaluated as well.

Ambulance Angst and the Diva of Debt

In late February, news of a private ambulance company shutting its doors in the Pittsburgh area raised eyebrows in the public safety community.

The closure of TransCare, a Brooklyn, New York-based company with local offices in Monroeville, raised speculation among some local EMS personnel about who will assume the contract for transports for the Pittsburgh VA Health System.

It’s also noteworthy that Transcare was owned by Patriarch Partners and their high-profile, somewhat controversial CEO, Lynn Tilton. Ms. Tilton’s company has made a specialty of purchasing distressed companies and attempting to turn them around. Her holdings include the Spiegel catalog, Rand McNally, and Hussey Copper in Leetsdale.

Ms. Tilton and her group apparently ran out of luck with TransCare, which was trying to survive in an environment where reimbursement rates are being cut by insurers, to an extent that even major area EMS providers are sending out distress signals. Insurance reimbursement to EMS agencies from carriers such as Highmark has been a bone of contention for several years in Pennsylvania.

While TransCare did not provide “first due” emergency response to any Allegheny County municipality, there are EMS agencies out there who balance the provision of Non-Emergency Transports, or NETs, with mission readiness for the immediate needs of the communities they serve.

This is something to keep an eye on, lest more area providers that live by the NET find themselves dying by it as well.

Thomas Tull Courts the Sewickley Valley

The Village Theater Company, developers of what was to be called the Vanguard Theater in Sewickley, announced in a press release today that Thomas Tull, CEO of Legendary Pictures and recent purchaser of the Walker estate “Muottas”, has with his wife and their foundation agreed to donate $500,000 to the theater effort. In recognition of this, the theater will be re-named the Tull Family Theater.

Executive Director Carolina Pais-Barreto Beyers was quoted in the release as stating “The Tulls’ participation is rocket fuel. Our initiative is now stronger and poised to make a more powerful impact in the region.

I think it’s great that the current and perhaps future stability of the theater project may be truly assured by such a contribution, especially from someone whose fortune was made in the motion picture industry. There’s something about rocket fuel, though – it’s volatile, and can react badly if mishandled.

Mr. Tull deserves credit for making significant contributions toward the promotion of the arts in the Pittsburgh area. His foundation also contributed a similar amount to the salvage of the August Wilson Center from foreclosure.

And as much as I appreciate the reasons for the re-naming, I can’t help but think of a tongue-in-cheek approach to a new name for the theater – Let’s call it the Jethro.

Somewhere in Heaven, Bill Wheat is riding his bicycle and smiling.

Looking Forward

I turned 56 yesterday, and at the end of this week Leslie and I will celebrate 5 years as a married couple. I’ve also gone almost two weeks without my smartphone, owing to a faulty USB charging port.

The world as we know it continues to function, and as much as I would like a return to the convenience and allure of instant information gratification, something tells me that just having talk and text will somehow be enough. We’ll see.

Have a great month ahead.

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One Response to February / March Digest: Blessed are the Peacemakers…

  1. Pingback: Quotations, Tribulations, and the Carol of the Bells | John Linko

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