In the spring of last year, Brad Brekke was asked by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to set up the Office of Private Sector Engagement. “It may sound like an unusual title,” he says, “but the idea is to build a strategy and organization to support engagement with American corporations.”
Before the FBI, Brad served as Target’s vice president of security during the American retailer’s extensive expansion into the country’s East and West coasts in the late 1990s and early 2000s. “At the time, we were literally asking the question: As we expand into higher-risk areas, building stores in one of the boroughs of New York instead of a cornfield in Iowa, how do you keep the same shopping experience without spending five times as much money on security?” The result was Target & BLUE, one of many initiatives that partnered the company with local law enforcement and other organizations.
“We’d usually go into the area a year out,” he says. “The idea was to get to know each other and include the police departments, city councillors, etcetera, in – I won’t say the design – but the operation of a store. We’d lay out how we operated and how we intended to partner with them, as well as try to understand what their environment was like in order to help them create safe spaces to do business in.”
Target & BLUE helped develop solutions that ranged from providing technology, where the retailer helped local law enforcement set up and operate camera systems in their environment; to setting up local governance structure, where the right leadership would meet on a quarterly basis to check in; to introducing local police departments to one another. “We actually found we could function as a convener,” says Brad, “bringing together businesses and members of the community to help address their needs and initiatives.”
What Target and its local partners created were tight-knit, resilient communities that addressed each location’s unique needs and challenges. “It allowed us to build stores in very high-risk markets like Compton, Queens or Columbia Heights here in DC, and operate them quite safely and profitably. These weren’t just stores; they were communities. We could monitor things like litter, traffic flow, and crime, but we could also successfully respond to hurricanes and tornadoes because we had expanded beyond law enforcement into the emergency sector.”
Brad is now working to create an equally resilient nation. “The FBI has many good programs – InfraGard and Domestic Security Alliance Council – but the push now is how do we strategically use all of these corporate partnerships to be more productive, more efficient,” says Brad. “We’re pretty much in the start-up phase. Trying to be, if you will, a service provider model to support companies on the outside and the bureau on the inside. I’m here as a sort of voice of the customer – identifying who to build relationships with and how – but also to basically create a customer relationship management approach for how to operate and manage these resources for the bureau.”
He cites The City: A Global History, a book by urbanist Joel Kotkin, as a reference. “Kotkin studied what makes a city successful. There were three factors: cities with something sacred, a temple or form of government, which speaks to DC; cities that were safe; and cities that were busy. They’re a nexus. From my own experience, that’s what we saw with Target. We could build in environments that other people had not gone into and succeed if we had partnered with the local community to help keep it safe. At a federal level, I see something similar”