Thoughts by Richard Bleil
Tonight’s blog will probably have very little focus. Sometimes you write on a weak topic, like tonight’s, and let your mind and fingers meander where they will. So, let’s see where we go.
Back in the day when I was the director of the forensic lab, it wasn’t just the lab. I was actually the director of the entire evidence section, which included the evidence warehouse. The warehouse was specifically designed with a reinforced ceiling and redundant security systems to prevent those who are unauthorized from accessing and capturing images of everybody who does. Every night, I walked through this very large room in person just to verify that nobody was in there.
The joke was that I would shout “is anybody in here”? If somebody yells back, “me”, then I caught them. But if I hear “No”, then I knew the warehouse was clear, and I could lock up knowing it was empty.
Clearly (I hope) this is just a joke, but people who know me well know that I actually did yell “is anybody in here?” every night as I locked up. I didn’t expect an answer, and I did walk to look down each isle and in the two locked room inside the locked security warehouse just to put “eyes on”. But I still thought it was funny, so I still did it despite the fact that by the time I left the building was completely empty.
I’ve always been the kind of person who would do stuff that I think is funny even if there is nobody around to see or hear it. If a dad tells a joke in the forest are the trees still grown?
The evidence section was really an interesting study in pride. We had our analysts, all college graduates typically with master’s degrees, and our evidence warehouse specialists who had bachelor’s degrees. When I first arrived, the analysts would wander through the evidence warehouse picking up whatever it is they wanted to analyze. This was a very poor practice, and a violation of accreditation standards as it basically gave everybody in the building access to the warehouse. In reality, fewer is better, so when we moved from the old warehouse to the new one, we implemented new practices and the analysts were not allowed in the warehouse except for highly specific purposes (some of them would help with regular inventory checks for example). The analysts were very upset with this, despite the fact that it was required to attain the accreditation we wanted. Ironically, it made their life a little bit easier, since all they had to do was send an email requesting the evidence they wanted, and it was brought right to their lab. And yet, this represented a restriction in their “freedoms” which made me wildly unpopular and was probably one of the factors in my dismissal.
The analysts tried very hard to make the warehouse specialists answerable to them. They complained that it took too long for the evidence to come up to their labs and tried to get me to tell the warehouse specialists that the analysts should always have highest priority. Well, no, the police officers who needed help had highest priority (that would never change), and frankly, I was not going to dictate that the specialists sit at their desk just in case an email comes in while neglecting other work (checking in evidence, cataloging and so forth). My analysts hated that answer, but it was the best one I could offer them. The idea that the analysts were somehow more important than the specialists rubbed me the wrong way because, frankly, it doesn’t matter what their lab results were if a defense attorney could prove that the practices in the warehouse were not up to appropriate standards.
This pride struggle is all too common, the desire to be more important than, well, somebody, anybody, everybody. As dean, I would walk the campus and just chat with people. It didn’t matter who, other administrators, faculty, advisers, clerical, grounds, students, in my eyes they are all equally important. We had one person who was a volunteer who needed to unload one day, and I gave him the opportunity to do so. This was his retirement job. He walked around to the support offices and collected and delivered mail. One day he must have missed an outgoing basket, one that was usually not used, and somebody felt the need to blow up at him. He never did tell me who it was, but this person felt somehow more important than this man, and therefore entitled to belittle him. And yet, how long would the campus last without mail delivery? How far behind would we have fallen if scholarship and student assistant forms were not delivered in a timely fashion? How long would it take for students to become so frustrated that they decided to go elsewhere that was more responsive? How long would the university last without the students?
We need to let go of our pride. Everybody is important, and we’re all in this together. It’s time to start treating everybody with respect and, frankly, getting over ourselves. Otherwise, we’ll find ourselves telling jokes to nobody.