Saturday, November 5, 2011

Doing More with Less - Part One

Graphic courtesy of the Design On Talent blog 
Doing more with less is the new reality for police upper management.   Careful financial management has always been necessary. These days doing more with less is a critically-important component of successful law enforcement.  

Up until the very recent past, making budget dollars stretch was a short-term, Band-Aid solution, often deployed at the end of a physical year or possibly the result of some unforeseen and temporary circumstances.  In these challenging financial times, lean and entrepreneurial policing is now an integral part of policy and procedure.

Departments may not replace personnel lost through attrition. Sworn positions may be evaluated to determine if civilians can accomplish the same task.  Full-time personnel may be converted to part-time to save salary and benefit expense.  Departments may use interns and volunteers to save money.    Scheduling changes can often save budget dollars and increase officer job satisfaction.

Some departments are moving toward 12-hour shifts for uniform patrol.  This solution may not work everywhere, especially in smaller department lacking depth in personnel.  There are pros and cons to using 12-hour shifts.  Senior executives should carefully consider if this solution is appropriate.  They must carefully monitor injuries and vehicle accidents to ensure that officer fatigue does not negatively impact the department. However, 12 hour shifts do place more officers on the street at the same personnel cost. 

Departments may also evaluate whether a switch from the traditional police car paint job to decals is appropriate.  Police executives must carefully evaluate purchases made for them by other areas of city government.  It is a common practice for one municipal office to negotiate purchases for many city departments.  This often makes good financial sense, but such purchases and any resulting savings should be carefully tracked in financial reports.

There are no easy answers these days in police budgeting.  The competent police professional will ensure that all stakeholders are involved in preliminary budget discussions.  Rank and file employees must understand and cooperate with changes so that the implementation process is efficient and effective.   All personnel levels need to understand the problem. Senior police managers and executives should seek out the thoughts of subordinates as they initiate change.

Personnel must feel that their dedication and service to the department is appreciated.  Police executives must stress that that changing financial times have forced management to adopt a more with less approach, not any lack of respect for personnel. 

All staff members may not be persuaded to support the changes, but they will remember that management reached out. They will remember having input as stakeholders in the process. If morale is not maintained within a department, then more will not be accomplished with less.  Rank and file personnel must play an active role.

Effective management generates effective policing. Doing more with less will enhance the quality of policing.  Law enforcement will learn to streamline procedures, eliminate unnecessary paperwork, collaborate effectively with other agencies, and accomplish the tasks at hand on a professional level with fewer personnel.

At the end of each tour, each officer must remain standing when more is asked of them than ever before.

1 comment:

  1. I strongly agree with you. Everyone acknowledges the importance of training, but it is a bit like "The pen is mightier than the sword," i.e. true in principle and in the long term, but not at the given moment. The important tends to lose out to the urgent.

    For all the obsession with equipment, from firearms to electronics, it remains true that three superbly equipped officers who are not sure of (or, worse are sure of...but are wrong) what they are doing will be less effective and far more dangerous that two competent professionals with only basic equipment. I should add that, while the former may feel great about their equipment, and maybe even about the chief who fought for it, the latter will feel better about themselves will have greater trust in each other.

    As you also point out, effective management is critical. I believe the most common and fundamental flaw in police management is that it both creates cognitive dissonance and ignores the destructive nature thereof. If you treat subordinates as inferior beings and/or punish them whenever they depart from detailed S.O.P.s, you should not be surprised when they burn out, when the settle for getting by, or when the engage in C.Y.A. instead of exercising judgment. Don't hire bright people and then treat their challenging questions as insubordination, and don't hire people of average intelligence and then deride them for not performing brilliantly (as you know, but other readers may not, some of the screening tests in wide use among law enforcement agencies warn against hiring a candidate with an I.Q. score about 105 or so- might become dissatisfied, be hard to supervise, etc.).

    The smartest decision a department can make is to hire over qualified people (albeit people who may rock the boat), encourage them in their professional development, and provide them with ways in which to pursue and share their (professional) passions.

    My former department had only 36 police officers at the time, but three had law degrees, one had a Ph.D., several had masters or bachelors degrees, almost a third were certified instructors, and two were adjunct faculty at a nearby university. One of our shift sergeants had over 100 published articles to his credit, another had so much crime scene expertise that the county police occasionally borrowed him to work homicide scenes, and are people performed very well in both the state fire and police olympics, and, the one year we entered, a national s.w.a.t. competition. Our pay scale was average, at best, and we did not have the equipment some other agencies had, but we offered a work environment where people could be proud of themselves and where they didn't have to worry about covering for a co-worker's shortcuts.

    It's worth adding that, in twelve years, almost that many of our people went on to become chiefs or assistant chiefs of other agencies. Not a bad type of attrition when a department has other good people, ready to fill the vacancies.

    One more thing. Like police departments, cities, counties, universities, etc. must establish priorities. Most have figured out that investing more in a police department does not necessarily mean they will see proportionate benefits. In other words, "If you pay us more and give us more, you'll get more" is a pretty tough sale these days. Anyone familiar with the history of the nursing profession knows that it once was a low paying and poorly respected line of work. That no longer is the case, but it wasn't a matter of hospitals increasing their wage rates and that improving the education and abilities of the applicant pool. Instead, the profession got its act together and thus made nurses much more valuable. If law enforcement is to make commensurate strives, it will be by making personnel more valuable. That means training, education, and positive motivation.