Allen Banks, Police Chief of the city of Round Rock, discusses leading by example and creating a cultural change in his department through his C.H.I.P. Model of leadership. The C.H.I.P. Model focuses on “getting the chip off your shoulder” and instead emphasizes C.H.I.P.—Community, Honor, Integrity and Pride.

Transcript

Craig Weaver: Welcome to Response Leadership. A podcast featuring the top minds in emergency services brought to you by the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service, a leader in emergency response training. My name is Craig Weaver. I work in communications at TEEX. Today, I also have with me Scott McCollum. Scott is the Associate Division Director at TEEX Law Enforcement and Protective Services. And our guest today is Chief Allen Banks, in Round Rock, Texas. And Chief, I usually write things down to say about people, but I didn’t today because I would like to hear about you from you because you have a pretty extensive and impressive resume that I looked at today. So tell us a little bit about you. First of all. Thank you for being here. Glad to have you today.

Chief Allen Banks: Well, thanks for having me. Craig, I appreciate it. So just a little bit about myself is I was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at the age of about eight, around third grade. I decided I wanted to be a police officer. I just knew it was my calling at that time. So, when I turned 21, I had the opportunity and the blessing to join the Albuquerque Police Department, and I served with the Albuquerque Police Department for almost 22 years. In 2014, I retired as the interim chief of police in Albuquerque. Roughly about 1600 police officers, total employees are about 2300. And God brought me to Round Rock, Texas, and I took over as the police chief in Round Rock in March of 2014. So, I’ve currently been here for nine years. It’s an absolutely amazing place for me and my family and just love, love the people here that I work with.

Craig Weaver: Maybe a strange question. It’s a little out of left field, but obviously, this podcast has a lot to do with leadership. What is difficult about being a leader in the police force?

Chief Allen Banks: Honestly, I think, Craig, difficulty in leadership is–especially now in the police force–I think it’s evolved over time and I think as the social media era and the mainstream media era has really focused a lot on certain incidents, it makes it really hard for our officers to go out and do their jobs the way that we used to do our jobs in the field. And we’ve had to really change how we police. And as a result, as a leader, you have to stay up with the new laws, stay up with technology, stay up with generational differences. So, it’s just working through those things on a daily basis, I think makes it more difficult for leaders in any police organization.

Scott McCollum: Chief, do you think that also a lot’s been laid in the lap of law enforcement? It makes our job just so much more diverse. We’ve got to be experts at a lot of different things.

Chief Allen Banks: Oh, absolutely. I absolutely agree with that, Scott. So and when I go out and I speak to different groups, one of the things I bring up is if we go back to the Rodney King days in the early nineties and you look about look what happened there in Rodney King, and that’s kind of where I start my discussion when I started my policing era went from regular large batons to apps now, video cameras, that’s when we really started showcasing video cameras in law enforcement. And as you continue on down that history, our belts–our duty belts, utility belts–you know, used to be a gun, handcuffs and maybe a Naspers baton. And now we have tasers, we have mace, we have obviously our firearms magazines and, you know, so on. And so it just gets bigger and bigger and bigger. And I think that’s the demands on law enforcement right now is more tools, de-escalate more, additional training. And so, yes, I think a lot has been put on law enforcement over the decades, and it’s really changed how we are policing now, Right or wrong, it’s just the new look of policing. Sure.

Craig Weaver: At the current state of being a police officer, do you find it difficult to recruit and keep officers?

Chief Allen Banks: To me, being a police officer has to be a calling, has to be a passion. It should not be an 8 to 5. It shouldn’t be something that, hey, I want to try this out and see if it works for me. And so for me in Round Rock, when we do our recruiting, those are the people we’re looking for. We’re looking for those that have the heart to be a police officer. And we all know the term servant’s heart. We’ve also changed how we looked at it. I don’t think we have that warrior mentality anymore. It has to be a guardian mentality. We’re taking care of our community and those are the people I want in the seat.

Is it hard to get those people now? Yes, it is. And again, we’re in the era of social media and mainstream media that really beat up this profession. To me, it’s an honor- I’ve been doing these 31 years. It’s still an honorable profession. But when you’re in the mainstream media or social media, we call them the YouTube sensations, because everybody’s recording you no matter what you do. People don’t want to fall into that category. And so that’s where it becomes difficult when we grab those people with the servant’s heart and we put them through training and we explain to them, you’re doing the right things for the right reasons, you’re protected. And if you want to be here to take care of your community, we’re going to support you, back you, and make sure that that happens.

Scott McCollum: You mentioned the guardian warrior persona, I guess. And so, I guess historically it’s been challenging to find that unique individual that can be both the guardian and the warrior when time is of need. And finding someone that can flip that switch is extremely challenging because you need someone who can be a guardian 99.9% of the time. But there’s that time where they may have to step up and be a warrior. Have you found that challenging as far as the workforce today, finding those unique individuals?

Chief Allen Banks: Good question, Scott. And you’re absolutely right. You still have to have a little bit of that warrior mentality when it comes to this profession. But ironically, is when we talk about having that guardian vs. warrior or guardian and warrior mentality, a lot of our female officers have both characteristics. And so, recruiting the females to balance that out, that’s huge for us. And they teach us something as men because we want to stick our chests out and, you know, we want to, you know, run through the line with the football and knock everybody over sometimes. And they have that calming demeanor about them that says slow down, relax.

And so even us having them as instructors to help us do that, so finding our women that help us. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are we have a lot of male police officers that have that quality. I truly believe I have that quality where I can switch it back and forth. But again, it comes with the servant’s heart, and it also comes with training our folks–de-escalation, problem solving and just changing those different hats on those folks. Hard to recruit? Yes, absolutely. But easy to train and train them the right way.

Scott McCollum: You talked about women in law enforcement, and that’s one of the things that I valued extremely when I was a chief is that they bring a new dynamic, as you mentioned, to the police force. You know, we think differently, men and women. And so, I found huge value in having females on the force. Even in my command staff, I had an assistant chief who was a female, and she brought a different perspective to me on a day-to-day basis. And it was always great to get a gut check from her to say, Am I on base here, or do I need to consider something else? Have you experienced that as well?

Chief Allen Banks: Female employees bring the challenge to us to make us open our eyes just a little bit more and make us realize there is more than just handcuffing folks, taking them to jail, and roughing them up. It’s that de-escalation portion of our profession that’s so important–slowing down. And so, we see that with our female employees. I also you know, I have my very first female commander of this department ever and putting her in the mix of other male commanders has been great because she brings a different perspective to that room. And when they’re sitting at that table, she has a voice. And it’s not just a voice for her. It’s a voice for all women in law enforcement, really, especially our agency. So, yes, we see the difference. I think they’re absolutely 100% valuable to the profession and recruiting is a must. There is an initiative going on right now. It’s 30 in 30, I believe 30% of women in by the year 2030 in different organizations.

I don’t have a problem with that. I think our women are great. And I especially talking about Round Rock, I put our ladies up against anybody. I’ll tell you, they hold their own.

Craig Weaver: How would you describe–and we’ll just talk about Round Rock–What do you feel the public perception is of the police force, of police officers in this community?

Chief Allen Banks: Well specifically in Round Rock, we have a perception here is we’re good agency. We just did a survey and we’re about 80% approval rate here in the city of Round Rock. I often get other agencies that ask me why that approval rating is so high. And a lot of it is because we get out in the community and we have conversations with our folks in our community, treat them fairly and treat them with a lot of respect. And for me, it’s not us versus them or them versus us; it’s us together. And I preach that all the time, and so I think when we make ourselves available to our public, it shows. And that survey really, really showed 80% is about 30% higher than the national average.

Scott McCollum: You were talking about–I guess we had a previous conversation-and we were talking about how many events you guys have here. It’s pretty mind-blowing as far as the number of events you have in the course of the year.

Chief Allen Banks: Absolutely. So, prior to COVID, we were doing about 500 to 550 community events. Whether we put them on as an agency or we just attended, because another organization was putting them on. And to me, that’s important because it doesn’t matter what the group is. I don’t care if it’s Muslim or Catholic, I don’t care if it’s LGBTQ. We have to be there because it’s our community. And so, after COVID, we’re down to about 300 and 350 events now. And it’s starting to ramp back up. But we have a great community affairs unit that attends these, and our patrol officers get out there, and my expectation for my command staff is that we will be out attending these events.

Scott McCollum: Well, I think you’re right, too, is that you know, as a police department, we represent the entire community, every facet.

Chief Allen Banks: Yeah, absolutely.

Scott McCollum: And I think it’s important to recognize that as a police department and staff, to recognize that as a police department because getting out there and developing those meaningful relationships before a crisis is critically important to ensure that you endure the crisis. And it sounds like y’all embrace that.

Chief Allen Banks: And we do. And I’ll tell you just as important, Scott, and thank you for that is I believe our department has to look like or mirror what our community is. Right? And so that’s also a recruiting tool for us, is we are attending these events; we’re recruiting at these events. And so, when I have complaints, one of the first things they ask is, are you going to be part of the problem or are you going to be part of the solution? And so, let’s work on the solution part and how do we get better as an agency. Well, we need you. We need your input. Be a part of it, whether you’re in the civilian side of it or the sworn side of it. And so that’s why these events are so important to us.

Scott McCollum: Absolutely.

Craig Weaver: We had a discussion earlier this week, this past week, and I wanted to touch on something you talked about–C.H.I.P. and I wanted you to explain that because I loved what you had to say and why that exists.

Chief Allen Banks: Yeah, absolutely. So, Craig, when I got here to run our police department in 2014, one of the things that I was expected to do was look at the culture of this police department. Did it need to change? How did how do we change it and how do we make sure that the community and the police department are working together? And what I noticed is there was some separation. And so, I brought all my staff civilian and sworn together. And when I told them that we’re going to do is that chip that’s on their shoulder, we’re changing.

Again, it’s not going to be them versus us versus them. That chip on your shoulder is going to be a positive chip. And that chip stands for Community Honor, Integrity and Pride C are community. Community will always be first. That’s who we’re working with. That’s what it’s about. That’s why we’re in this profession. Why are we doing this job is to make sure the quality of life for our community is the best it can ever be. Honor is we honor this uniform, this badge, this patch.And by doing that, we’re doing the right thing all the time. That’s why we’re in this uniform. This is an honorable profession. And so we will honor this profession by doing the right things. integrity is transparency. It’s also doing the right thing when even nobody’s looking. We’re going to do that. That’s what this department stands for. And the P is pride.

We don’t stick our chest out and say we’re better, bigger than everybody. We’re not above the law. That pride is. We’re proud to be police officers here in the city of Round Rock. And we’re going to go out there and get into everything that we can do to make sure that the city is one of the safest cities in the United States. And so that’s the chip concept. It’s on most every wall here in the police department. I also when my officers or civilian staff do something great in the community, I give them a challenge coin and it’s an actual chip coin that I give them. They get three of those coins in a year. I’ll give them a day off with pay.
And it’s just to continue to encourage them to do the right things and take our core values out to the public and do what I’m asking them to do.

Craig Weaver: It seems like it’s leadership. It’s pushing a really strong humility of people and what it stands for. And not just aggressive or that’s very impressive to see those things kind of encourage a humility or, you know, humility in people.

Chief Allen Banks: And I appreciate and it has to be, and it starts at the top. And I have to lead by example in this leadership role. And for me and look, when I started, I said, this is my calling and I truly believe God put me in this place for a reason, so I’m doing to honor him first and foremost. And I just am. It’s my belief. And if I’m not, then why am I in this position? And so, if I don’t do if I don’t walk the walk and talk the talk, and then I need to move on and go to a different profession.

Craig Weaver: Do you find it tough to do that sometimes?

Chief Allen Banks: You know, I don’t and I’m not saying leadership is easy, but I love what I do.
I love what I do. I’ve been doing this 31 years. I’ve been in a leadership position now for almost 20 of those 31 years. I love the people that I work with, and challenges are challenges and how do you overcome the challenges? You tackle them head on and you work through them. I often tell people the hardest conversations are the ones you don’t have. Let’s sit at the table and let’s discuss what the issues are and let’s work through them. We might not we might not ever get to a resolution, but at least we’re talking face to face, eye to eye. And to me that’s important. And I find that we get a lot of stuff resolved that way.

Craig Weaver: That’s great. Tell us a little bit about some of the you mentioned when we spoke last week about camps and Citizen Academy, all the things that you guys are involved with.

Chief Allen Banks: Absolutely. And thank you for that. And so, one of the things that’s important to me and unfortunately this podcast would we’d be on here for several days if I really explain my background and how I grew up and where I grew up. But I really, really work toward taking care of our youth in our community because how I grew up it was in Albuquerque a rough part of the city, broken home, you know, etc., etc. And so, I really focused a lot on our youth. So, we started the Junior Police Academy and its kids from the age of 8 to 14 that we bring in during the summer, because what we see is kids go to school during the summer, they’re out of school and then they’re running around crazy during the summertime. And so, what we want to do is we want to bring them into our police department during that summer and spend time with them.

That gives them time with us, us time with them and just teach what it is about law enforcement. Talk about discipline, responsibility and physical health and mental health. We get that opportunity during the summer. And so that’s our junior police academy. We take them on field trips. They get a chance to repel. We talk about getting over your fears. So, we take them down to repel Tower. We also have the big People’s Academy, which is the Citizen’s Police Academy. We put that on twice a year. That’s a 12-week course once a week. And we want our citizens to come in and kind of do the same thing, see what it is that the police officers do. So, we open our doors, we allow them the opportunity to come and talk to our police officers.

Our officers go and tell them about their unique experiences. They’ll talk about what they do, whether it’s detectives, crime scene, homicide, whatever. So, they get to come talk to them. We’ll let them go drive our police cars out on our driving track, not in the streets. That’s a good move. And it’s again, it’s just getting us engaged with our community. We have certain programs such as a lock box program. Our lock box program, let me backtrack. So, we have a telephone insurance program. So, our elderly folks who live alone, we call them if they’re signed up for a program, we call them every single morning at a certain time, specific time. And if they answer the phone, they know we’re checking on them. We are you okay, Mr. or Mrs. Smith or whatever? Yes, we are. Well, next day we’ll call them. If we do not get an answer, we will go to their house and just to see if they’re okay. So that’s it works perfectly, except for the fact when you have Ms. Smith, who lives by herself, knows that the police are going to be calling her 7:30, 8:00 every morning, she knows not to answer that phone because she wants that handsome, you know, muscular build officer showing up at her house and she’ll have a table full breakfast waiting for that officer. So, we’ve had a couple of those instances.

Craig Weaver: That’s kind of genius.

Chief Allen Banks: You know, I mean, when you’re lonely, you get a nice officer to come to your house. You do what you need to do this, right? Oh, the thing is, we get an opportunity to take care of our youngest to our oldest in the in our lock box program. So, if Ms. Smith does not open her door, we don’t have to kick it in. We have a key in a lock box so we can open it. We have instances where they forget to call us and tell us they’re on vacation or they went to go visit, visit a friend or something of that nature. So, the last thing we need to do is cause more damage and financial responsibility for a homeowner that we don’t need to.

And so different programs like that that we run to this police department, I think are absolutely unique. The most recent one that we started in 2015 was our front porch, Operation Front porch. And for our citizens who are victims of porch pirates, they get their packages stolen from the front porch during the holiday season we ask them to send them here to the police department. So those packages are here. We’ll safeguard those packages. You come pick them up after work or on the weekends. That way it eliminates the opportunity to become a victim, but it also keeps our officers handling priority calls for service instead of going to write and report. You know, spending an hour writing a report for a stolen toaster. So now they’re out, you know, handling the violent crime. So that has been a very, very popular program. It’s being picked up internationally, which we’re very proud of, and we’ve been able to win multiple awards for that and that program. So, there’s a lot going on here in Round Rock right now.

Scott McCollum: What’s your population here?

Chief Allen Banks: 125 to 130,000 people.

Scott McCollum: That’s a lot of folks. That’s impressive you have that high level of service and those service-oriented programs. I mean, you’re definitely a trailblazer. And it’s pretty impressive to see you sustain that high level service when a lot of folks are cutting those kinds of programs out of their repertoire because they just are trying to handle calls for service for sure. But the chief we talked about a lot of things today.

And one of the things that, you know, being a police officer for so many years, we see a lot we we have a lot of things that we see that most of society never sees. And so that being said, you know, the well-being of our employees is at the forefront of our mind making sure we take care of our own.
So, what kind of efforts do you guys hear at Round Rock have with regard to mental health and wellness resiliency just to ensure that our employees are ready to serve their community?

Chief Allen Banks: And that’s a great question. I appreciate that. And so, we don’t take that lightly at all. We see a lot of PTSD, a lot of mental health issues going on not only in our community but within our police department. And we have to watch that because PTSD is a hidden issue that just peaks it at the worst times. And so, one of the things that we do is this department is we mandate our officers to physically work out at least three times a week during their shift for a one hour.

Scott McCollum: Mandatory?

Chief Allen Banks: Mandatory. And we also pay them a stipend to work out. And one of the things I tell them is you have to be not only physically fit, but we also have to be mentally fit as well. And so we ask them to have downtime when they can. And part of that downtime is reach out. We have an on call psychologist and if they need to go see the psychologist, we encourage them to do that back in the days to be taboo.

You didn’t you considered a quack or you crazy or whatever. We don’t. We don’t. That’s not how we talk anymore. Now we encourage them to go do that. We are also and I would have never in my 30 years ever thought we would be doing this. We have a decompression room. So, we have some we have a room dedicated to where they can go and close the doors. Be quiet. We have a sound machine in there and if they need to take a quick nap, they’re allowed to go do that. Now, they cannot take take advantage of it. So, they have to notify their supervisor. But if they have a traumatic incident that happens during the shift and they need that downtime, we provide that room for them.

At that time. Some of the things that we’re working on currently is we see a lot of officers in the profession have heart attacks because they’re not eating well. Right. Hereditary, you name it. And so, we are currently working on yearly heart screens for our officers. Having the heart screen, I think also goes to the mental health as well, because they know they’re physically fit. That’s less worry they have to worry about in their personal lives as we don’t, we highly encourage our folks to make sure that they are taking care of their family first, whether it’s childcare, wife, financial. And so, we have steps in place to help them through that. We have a financial advisor that we offer for free here at the PD to help them.
Marriage counseling. We have a tremendous chaplains program that the chaplains actually go out and ride with their officers. That way they can be that ear for that for the officer and civilians staff as well. I can’t leave out civilians. They are a huge support of this department. So our chaplains will go out and ride. And they’ll go to show up to briefings and they’ll walk the police department.

We also bring support dogs in. So, our support dogs come in once or twice a week and just walk around the PD. We have our own communications or dispatch and so those folks are in one room 12 hours a day. And, you know, it’s tough for them. The problem for our dispatchers is they know they get the beginning of the call, rarely get the end of the call or what happened. And so, we want to make sure that they’re there mentally okay as well. So, we provide services for them as well. Strong peer support group, very strong. And I would encourage any agency, if you if you don’t have a peer support group, start a peer support group, because nobody knows better than your own officers, your own support staff, what you’re going through and have them there just to fall back on is huge. And so we have a very strong peer support group. So, there’s a lot of things that we are putting in place to make sure that mentally are and again, just not our officers but our civilian staff are taking care of mentally as well.

Scott McCollum: Well, it’s pretty evident you guys have a model agency with regard to mental health and wellness. I commend you for all the steps that you’ve taken to, as you point out, not only help the officers who see traumatic events sometimes multiple times during a shift, and I think that’s a lot of times the public does a, necessarily understand the intensity that that can create for an individual officer. And sometimes you need to step away and sometimes you need those type of programs to maintain your resiliency. And I think you guys have done a phenomenal job not only focusing on the officers, but the civilian staff, because the officers on the street can’t get the job done without the civilian staff.

Chief Allen Banks: Correct.

Scott McCollum: Taking care of the details to keep them safe and functioning out on the roadway. So, I commend you guys, you’ve done a phenomenal job here.

Chief Allen Banks: Thank you. I appreciate that. And, you know, we’re still trying not a perfect department, but, you know, we’re trying to do what’s best for everybody. And we do want to be that model agency. And so, we’re striving to striving to be there. So, we’ll keep working hard on it.

Craig Weaver: What’s the most rewarding thing to you about being a leader, about being a chief?

Chief Allen Banks: That to me, it’s easy meeting people, meeting people, I love. I love people, I love meeting people. And so that’s my reward, is I get to go out and on top of that, talk about this agency and the people who work here. And so that’s the reward I get out of it. I’ve saved lives. I’ve pretty I’ve changed lives in my career. But it’s taking care of the people and meeting people that’s important is really what I love to do.

Craig Weaver: Chief, thank you so much for being a guest here. We’ve really enjoyed getting to talk to you. Thank you.

Chief Allen Banks: It was my honor. Thank you for having me.

Craig Weaver: Thank you for listening to response Leadership brought to you by Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service. New episodes will be released on the fourth Tuesday of each month. Follow us on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen to podcasts and visit us at teex.org/Podcast.

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