The time was 1892. The place was Omaha, Nebraska.
It was in that moment Omaha Police Chief Webber Seavey would change the course of law enforcement forever.
Seavey was convinced if law enforcement leaders came together, they could marshal their knowledge, experience and skills to fight crime and improve police services in the predawn of the 20th century. That year, some 50 police chiefs accepted Seavey’s invitation to meet and explore his aspirations. A few months later, in 1893, those same law enforcement officials formed what is now known as the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
The association commonly known as IACP has been committed to advancing the profession of policing for 125 years. In that time, IACP has swelled to 30,000 members representing law enforcement organizations in 150 countries. Ottawa is counted among those agencies.
And now Ottawa Police Chief Dennis Butler will help guide IACP into the 21st Century.
The Ottawa Police Department announced earlier this year Butler had been appointed to the IACP Board of Directors.
The IACP board has 46 voting members who represent the diverse global law enforcement community.
Butler brings nearly four decades of law enforcement experience to the leadership role. Thirty-eight years have passed since Butler put on the uniform for the first time as a police cadet in Alexandria, Virginia, where he retired as a police captain to become Ottawa’s chief of police in June 2004.
Chief Butler looks forward to being a voice for smaller and Midwestern police departments at IACP policy and training discussions that affect those agencies, he said.
“A lot of the governing board members are in larger cities ... and so I’m excited about the idea that they thought I would be a good fit on the board and be able to provide meaningful input, to represent some of those other voices that maybe think IACP is not for them.”
Butler, who did not seek the board position, smiles when recalling that first encounter.
“I was just really floored when [IACP] asked me to consider joining the board,” Butler said. “It was actually about a year and a half ago that they first approached me. They didn’t have a position at the time, but I expressed an interest. I didn’t think it would really happen.”
Butler was approached by current IACP President Louis Dekmar, Chief of the LaGrange, Georgia, Police Department, at an accreditation conference. Ottawa Police Department completed a three-year accreditation process through the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) in late 2015, according to Herald archives. The prestigious distinction is only awarded to about 5 percent of all law enforcement agencies in the country.
Butler said he knew Chief Dekmar from accreditation issues.
“I didn’t know him real well but we recognized each other and would say, ‘Hello’ and talk,” Butler said. “He asked me, ‘Hey, would you be interested in serving in this capacity. I’d love to have you, but we don’t have any openings right now.’
“Then I got a call a few weeks ago. ‘Are you still interested? We have an opening,’” Butler said in a February interview from his office at the Law Enforcement Center, 715 W. Second St., Ottawa. “I had already talked to the city manager [Richard Nienstedt] about it and he supported it. So, I immediately accepted.”
Butler is the consummate professional, a trait not lost on IACP leadership.
“Chief Butler was appointed as a member of the board of directors because he exemplifies a high-level of commitment to the association’s values and to the law enforcement profession,” IACP President Dekmar said. “I look forward to working with Chief Butler in the year to come.”
Some of Butler’s duties on the board are to share information with colleagues, be available to the media about IACP issues, attend a few meetings of the governing board each year to discuss IACP priorities and how to achieve those objectives.
“One example: The new IACP president [Dekmar] has started a campaign called the One Mind campaign, and it’s all focused on addressing the mental health issues faced by many communities and there’s a list of criteria that they look for you to commit to as a law enforcement agency to basically pledge that you will join the One Mind campaign an do all these things,” Butler said. “The good news is for the most part, with a few minor exceptions, we’re doing all those things already here in Ottawa. So I signed up for the pledge just the other day.”
The One Mind campaign involves the police department, the county attorney’s office, the sheriff’s office, EMS, Elizabeth Layton Center and others.
“It’s ‘how are you collaborating and working with partners in your community to address mental health?’” Butler said. “Our crisis intervention team, we’re doing a lot of those things in the [IACP’s major initiative]. That was good information for me to learn.”
IACP has advanced the profession of policing by launching ground-breaking research, exchanging information and offering extensive education and training opportunities.
“In their organization they have different tracks, they call them, for different disciplines. They have tracks for public information officers at police departments, so they devote a whole series of training resources to those types of jobs in the police department ... the one that I love the most is they have a smaller agency track. It had been a concern raised many, many years ago that because of limited resources, geography, you name it, a lot of the things that came out of IACP were good ideas, but they didn’t really help a smaller department that didn’t have the big city budget and the staffing to go with it,” Butler said. “So they created a smaller agency track based on feedback. And that happened about the time I came to Kansas. I’ve used that extensively for different types of programming, information, policies throughout the years that I’ve been here. So they try to offer something to everybody.”
Professionally recognized programs such as the FBI Identification Division and the Uniform Crime Records system can trace their origins back to the IACP, according to the association’s website.
The culmination of the association’s educational opportunities takes place at its main conference, which Butler said draws thousands of participants annually — so many only a handful of U.S. cities have venues large enough to host the conference.
“One of the things that I love about that conference — and I go — is because if you are in policing it doesn’t matter what your interested in they have a class or workshop on that topic,” Butler said. “Literally, it’s three days of nonstop training in a large convention center. There’s probably five or six hundred different classes you can choose from — all on topics that are important in law enforcement but sometimes it’s really specialized.”
Attendees can sit in a classroom with subject matter experts on a topic, Butler said.
“Some of the things you see, for example, active shooting is a big issue in our country right now,” he said. “You can go to training with police officials and prosecutors from Orlando about the Pulse nightclub [shooting]. They’ll be there to talk about it, just with a law enforcement audience ... They’ll say this is what we know about this person, this is the timeline leading up, these are the things that happened during the event. This is what went well, this is what didn’t go well. Here’s what we did. Here’s what we suggest you do in the future.
“That’s invaluable information if you’re a law enforcement official about your approach to trying to prevent [or] address issues if you can’t prevent them in your own community.”
Butler said he is looking forward to his commitment with IACP.
“I’m pleased to have been asked to do this. I take it very seriously, and I’m really humbled by the fact that they would ask me, but I wouldn’t be able to do it if I didn’t have great support from our city manager, plus the governing body, and also because the department has supervisors and commanders and staff that are doing a good job,” he said. “They are running the department well. If they weren’t, I wouldn’t be in a position to be able to say yes to something like this.
“Because of all that support I don’t look at it as anything I’ve done individually ... it’s the support network I have around me that allows me the opportunity to try and provide some meaningful input and give back to my profession and hopefully improve it.”