IPMBA Joins the US State Department’s Speaker and Specialist Program

by Craig Lepkowski, PCI #1180/EMSCI #272
Lake Forest (IL) Police Department
IPMBA Secretary

In early April, I received a cryptic email from Maureen at the IPMBA headquarters: “you may get an email or call from Jody with the U.S. State Department. They are building a database of persons willing and able to assist them in guiding other countries through the process of creating and sustaining bicycle units….”

At first, all I read was “the State Department may be calling you to build their database” and I figured the game was up – I’d been accused of doing something as a kid growing up overseas and it had finally caught up with me!  Then I re-read the email in its entirety and understood that the State Department had reached out to IPMBA as an expert organization in police cycling with the intention of creating a database of personnel who could be used to educate foreign countries on the topic.

Surprisingly, within a few minutes of reading the email from Maureen, I received a call from a representative of the U.S. State Department’s Speaker and Specialist Program, part of the Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP), who explained the program: “The Bureau of International Programs Talent Management and Partnerships Office supports the Department’s foreign policy initiatives by recruiting American experts and creating public-private partnerships.” 

The program “promotes approximately one thousand in-country or virtual conversations with foreign professionals, academia, civil society and youth annually.  Participants are leaders in their fields and provide a range of opinions on U.S. culture, and foreign policy priorities through lectures, workshops, seminars, articles, and/or blogs.”

Basically, the State Department had initiatives in some South American countries that were seeking information on developing police bicycle patrol units to address numerous issues facing their respective departments or municipalities.   

I was referred to the State Department IIP because I am an IPMBA instructor and Board Member who speaks Spanish.  As I gained an understanding of the scope of the program and the possible travel and time commitment involved, I made sure to present it to my police chief for approval before I agreed to pledge my energies to the federal government.

While I awaited the approval from my chief, I complied with the requests for a resume, condensed biography, work and home contact information, my “name as it appears on [my] passport” and “any restrictions that an embassy should know prior to travel”.  When my chief did grant approval, the IIP representative arranged for me to speak with a representative from an unknown South American country by phone so he could gauge the level and quality of my Spanish aptitude. 

Apparently, I passed the initial verbal testing because the next few months were filled with countless emails between my city IT department, the State Department, and the U.S. Embassy in Lima, Peru.  Ultimately, an internet-based conference was scheduled between the three entities. 

There were about 25 attendees.  I was not introduced to all of them, but I saw police personnel in uniform and government officials in suits and business attire.  The Coordinator, Bruno Portillo, explained in advance that they represented the Metropolitan Municipality of Lima, which serves a population of eight million and coordinates with 42 district municipalities. 

The attendees included high-ranking police and government officials, and non-governmental and private stakeholders linked to sustainable mobility. Their interest was in improving and increasing cycling and walking modes of transportation and I was one presenter of many during the day who would address different aspects.  If there was a technical term I did not understand, the Coordinator spoke perfect English and would translate or define the word in Spanish for me.  I would then address the group with a response. 

I gave a general overview of the pros and cons of a police bike unit and described the issues involved in starting and funding a bike unit.  I referred the audience to the IPMBA website, promoted the video and The Complete Guide to Public Safety Cycling, and suggested they hold a course or two to train officers and then possibly send some for Instructor training. 

I answered questions about police cycling in Lake Forest, and they tested my knowledge on police cycling in bigger departments and cities. 

One issue we faced was the internet connection and quality to allow me to perform a virtual PowerPoint® presentation between my location and a meeting room in Lima.  Another issue involved re-creating a presentation and ensuring the Spanish translations were accurate and pertinent.  The internet connection was the biggest hurdle to overcome. 

The final solution involved Skyping over the internet and using the PowerPoint® to accompany the video.  Unfortunately the internet speed in Lima was very spotty at times, and I ended up having to verbalize my side of the presentation while their Documentation, Research and Cooperation Coordinator typed questions from the crowd.  The event took about 45 minutes, but could have been shorter had it not been for the technical issues.

Even with the technical difficulties and a few language struggles on my part, I believe the presentation was widely useful and appreciated by the participants. 

Mr. Portillo followed up afterwards to commend me on the presentation and information I shared, and we facilitated the purchase of the The Complete Guide to Public Safety Cycling and the Fundamental Skills video.  Afterwards, the State Department contacted me to advise that the presentation was a success and to address the $200 honorarium they owed me (my department) that had not been processed for some reason.

In my opinion, the experience was a positive in many ways:  I was able to practice my Spanish and share my love for police biking with a foreign entity; IPMBA may gain more international recognition; IPMBA and the Lake Forest Police Department will hopefully benefit from a developing relationship with the State Department; and I may get to visit Lima as an IPMBA Police Cyclist Instructor someday.

If you are interested in serving as a subject matter expert for the formation of police and/or EMS bike units, please send the following information to Maureen@ipmba.org, with IIP in the subject line:  name, instructor number(s), department name, number of years on bike duty, role/rank within the bike unit, email address, phone number, and languages spoken and/or specific countries/regions of interest.  Instructor certification is preferred but not required.  IPMBA certification is required.

Commander Craig Lepkowski is an administrative supervisor for the Lake Forest (IL) Police Department. He is an IPMBA Police and EMS Cyclist Instructor and oversees the department’s part-time bike unit. Craig was recently elected to the IPMBA Board and serves as the Secretary. He enjoys biking as often as possible with his children and fiancée.  He can be reached at secretary@ipmba.org.

© 2013 IPMBA.  This article appeared in the Fall 2013 issue of IPMBA News.

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