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3 can’t-miss books for public safety leaders

Daily reading will make you a better provider, stronger leader and a more gracious colleague


Check out these title suggestions from Lexipol Editorial Director Greg Friese.

Editor’s note: Whether it’s for pleasure, to learn new skills, or to introduce little ones to community helpers, books are a gateway to knowledge, understanding and growth. Check out our list of epic public safety reads get (or give) the gift of knowledge.

I spend most of my workday reading public safety-related non-fiction, so in my off hours, I prefer to read novels, from crime thrillers to science fiction to post-apocalyptic dystopia. But I recently read three outstanding books written by public safety professionals.

1. Tangled Up in Blue: Policing the American City by Rosa Brooks

Brooks, a Georgetown University law school professor, applied to and joined the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department as a reserve police officer in 2016. Brooks explores her personal decision to become a police officer, the rigor and challenge of completing the academy, the intentional and unintentional lessons she learns during field training, and the unique challenges police officers face as warriors and guardians. After completing the academy and field training, Brooks volunteered as a fully sworn auxiliary officer until 2020.

Brooks was a full participant in the police academy, but her age and life experience also allowed her to explore the purpose and efficacy of the educational methodology and course content. For example, Brooks worries about the effect on recruits of watching hundreds of hours of body camera and dash-camera videos, often huddled around the phone of a classmate.

The book culminates with Brooks helping launch Georgetown’s Innovative Policing Program, now known as the Center for Innovations in Community Safety. The collaboration between the Metro PD and Georgetown helps prepare aspiring police leaders to meet the current and future challenges of a community that asks its officers to be crimefighters, social workers, mental health counselors, crime prevention specialists, teachers, role models and more.

2. Killing Season: A Paramedic’s Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Opioid Epidemic by Peter Canning

For years, paramedic and blogger Peter Canning has been personalizing the tragic toll of the opioid epidemic on the citizens of – and visitors to – his longtime home and response area, Hartford, Connecticut. In “Killing Season,” Canning takes readers into abandoned homes, restaurant bathrooms, hotel rooms and forgotten spaces as he and other first responders attempt to revive patients overdosing on narcotics. Too often, those patients are dead before help arrives, because they are using alone or unprepared for the increasing risk of fentanyl being mixed into the heroin, which, for many users, has become a drug of economic convenience because they can no longer support their addiction with expensive prescription pills.

Canning also explores how his own thinking about addiction has evolved through his career. Early on, like many paramedics, Canning took a tough-love approach with many of his patients, one that mixed blaming, shaming and fear-based threats to addicts.

In recent years, Canning, using the approach of an anthropologist, has investigated why his patients have started using opioids – many of them after a sports or work-related injury; why they continue to use as they lose everything that was once important to them; and how they obtain drugs, first legally and then illegally. He maps out the public places people use, photographs empty heroin bags and learns about the harm reduction community. He greets addicts by name, learns their habits and writes a timeline of their life experiences. One patient at a time, Canning eloquently and empathetically, advocates for easy access to naloxone, readily available treatment, decriminalization of drug possession and use, safe injection sites and other harm reduction efforts that will get users out of the shadows and help them stay alive until they are ready for treatment.

If you’ve enjoyed Canning’s other books about his EMS career, you are sure to enjoy “Killing Season.”

3. Wild Rescues: A Paramedic’s Extreme Adventures in Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton by Kevin Grange

“National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.” — Wallace Stegner, 1983

Yellowstone, Yosemite and Grand Teton, three of the crown jewels of our National Park Service, are the scene for Grange’s auto-biographical journey of becoming an all-hazards responder. When park visitors are having their worst day ever, Grange and other firefighters, paramedics, law enforcement officers and search and rescue technicians are there to access ill and injured park visitors, initiate lifesaving care and transport them out of the wilderness to definitive care.

In “Wild Rescues,” Grange, now a firefighter/paramedic in Jackson, Wyoming, interweaves 911, fire and rescue anecdotes with his own journey of self-discovery. When Grange began his first assignment at Yellowstone, his intent was to gain experience while applying to Southern California fire departments. Instead, he fell in love with wild places, prolonged patient care and the other unique challenges of rural prehospital care.

Buy the “Wild Rescues” paperback because this is a book you’ll want to read on a trip to a National Park, give to your kid to read at summer camp, or loan to a friend before a hunting or fishing trip. This is a book about wild places that is best read outdoors.

Grange is also the author of “Lights & Sirens: the education of a paramedic,” which chronicles his paramedic training at UCLA’s Daniel Freeman Paramedic Program. “Lights & Sirens” is a must-read for any aspiring paramedic who wants to understand the challenges they are about to undertake and the potential for personal transformation by choosing a career as a caregiver.

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Other public safety books

A few other books came across my desk or Kindle that I’ve read or hope to read:

Finally, three other books that I’ve read and enjoyed:

If you’re looking for more book recommendations, Jim Dudley and Christopher Littrell recommended 12 books for a cop’s book club on the Policing Matters podcast. Many of their recommendations would be a good read for anyone in public safety.

Make reading a habit

When I was a graduate student at the University of Idaho, the dean told us that those who read 30 minutes a day in their field will be in the top 5% of their field. Whether it is reading articles on EMS1, Police1, FireRescue1 or Corrections1, other trade media, scholarly journals or the non-fiction written by your public safety colleagues, I encourage you to schedule time every day to read. Reading will make you a more empathetic service provider, a humbler leader and a more gracious friend, parent or spouse.

This article, originally published in 2021, has been updated.

Greg Friese, MS, NRP, is the Lexipol Editorial Director, leading the efforts of the editorial team on Police1, FireRescue1, Corrections1 and EMS1. Greg served as the EMS1 editor-in-chief for five years. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree from the University of Idaho. He is an educator, author, national registry paramedic since 2005, and a long-distance runner. Greg was a 2010 recipient of the EMS 10 Award for innovation. He is also a three-time Jesse H. Neal award winner, the most prestigious award in specialized journalism, and the 2018 and 2020 Eddie Award winner for best Column/Blog. Connect with Greg on LinkedIn.