The budget burden

    It’s the 200-pound brute cohabitating every police management office across the states: the budget gorilla.

    This year’s roundtable proves that some curse words have more than four letters, and the big one of these last years, and according to the roundtable participants, likely years to come, is budget.

    In this discussion of the police industry and profession, the Law Enforcement Technology management roundtable offers their individual 10- and 10,000-foot insights of where law enforcement is going and where it’s been.

    2010 has proved a hear of further cutbacks, layoffs and other economic related challenges that law enforcement mangers are continuing to grapple.

    But there's some lighter fare too. In addition to their department-specific insight on how to deal, the roundtable managers also share their favorite technological developments from their career (fingerprint tech, electric shock weapons, CAD), wish lists for problems the industry should address (ballistic T-shirts?), and the continued evolution of the police profession "police departments cannot operate in a silo ...).

    Roundtable Q&A

    What were the biggest challenges law enforcement faced throughout the past year?

    Chief Kiederlen: Increased demand for service and lower budgets.

    Lt. Twombly: It’s budget right now. This is going to be one of the big issues if not No. 1 issue in the top five that’s going to be facing departments for the next couple of years at a minimum until the economy improves. Because as Wisconsin, I think we’ve been pretty fortunate in comparison with other parts of the country that I’m sure you’ve talked to. Where they’ve had to lay off big numbers of staff and cut budgets pretty dramatically, we haven’t around here had to do that at this point, but I don’t know if that is a combination of Wisconsin really hasn’t been hit by the economy as much as other parts of the country.

    Chief Yaniero: Because of the most recent downturn in the economy and the housing market, one of the greatest challenges will be in meeting the demand for services with reductions in tax revenues. In addition, state and federal mandates, without additional federal funding, have forced police agencies to cut services. In my opinion, these mandates and budget constraints have had a profound impact on the ability of law enforcement agencies to engage in proactive policing. This forces an agency to become reactive to crime and community problems.

    Have there been any changes to the threats your officers face?

    Kiederlen:           I think there’s a higher concern of those unknown threats – not so much the potential of terrorists, but the individuals that look at some of those things that have been done and idolize that thing; the bomb-making, IEDs, those types of things. I think there’s a heightened awareness. Is it necessarily a firm belief that, ‘oh, it’s going to happen to me’ type of thing? No, I don’t think so. But I think all of that type of awareness nation-wide and world-wide has put everyone in a different mindset. It used to be we were worried about the guys in the traffic stops; now we’re worried about somebody who’s going to blow up their entire car. For me, I think the best way we can even come close to preventing something like that is by establishing those firm relationships with your community is really your best bet. That’s what my focus has been as a chief – finding ways to interact with your community through everything from class type situations where classes to people about the substation thing, and just a lot of community interaction in whatever way you can to hopefully befriend that one person who might actually find out something that could save a lot of lives.

    Twombly: I would say that we’re coming in contact with more and more people that are much more likely to use force on us as far as either fighting with us or using weapons. There’s always been a certain segment of the population that didn’t like law enforcement or would do whatever they could to evade capture if they felt cornered. But I’ve seen that segment sort of increasing. [When I started] they were less hesitant to try to take a swing at an officer, let’s say, as an example. That that hesitancy has deteriorated somewhat over the years, which I think is also evidenced by the amount of officers that have been assaulted and killed this year and last year, especially ambush style.

                    People are starting to view suicide by cop more as a viable option. Especially you’re getting these people where they’ve lost their jobs, they can’t make their bills, the economic times it’s a huge stressor on them and they just don’t care about their actions.

    Yaniero: Today, police officers generally face a different type of criminal: one that has no regard for human life. The recent ambushes of police officers, indiscriminately targeted for violence, may be a reflection of the current anti-government sentiment in our country. Police officers are the most visible symbol of government in any community. I believe that this anti-government sentiment will continue with the current economic climate. In addition, because of an increase in gang activity in smaller and medium sized communities, police officers have seen indiscriminate violence toward the communities that we serve. Due to the number of high-powered firearms available on the streets, police officers are faced with threats never before experienced.

    What problems would you like to see addressed in terms of equipment?

    Kiederlen: I’d like to see more less lethal technologies. I think things like the Tasers are nice, but they’re cost-prohibitive. So some competition there would be nice. I’d like to see further development of less lethal technology, something I can reach out a little further than 25-30 feet. Right now we have the mobile computers in cars; I’d like to see a less expensive technology that reduces the size of those things and in some way integrates it more into the vehicle. So many vehicles now have those LCD displays in them already, that being able to utilize something like that I think would be really innovative to try to do something.

    Twombly: I see training as becoming an issue due to the economic crunch we’re in because departments, including our own, are being forced to reduce our budget and there’s very few lines where we really can control. Personnel costs usually make up 90 to 92 percent of most budgets for most agencies. Short of laying people off, you can’t control that huge chunk that’s eating up most of your budget. I’m seeing training budgets decrease and the problem and fear that I have with that is in this profession, in order to stay confident in not only the legal changes and legal updates, but also the physical skills that we have to utilize [like] defensive driving, high-speed pursuit driving, firearms training, defensive tactics. When you cut back training, you really impair the officers from staying proficient in those skills. If they’re placed in a critical situation, or an emergency situation, they aren’t going to be as prepared and could make. And that increases the chances of them making mistakes. When responding to an attack on you or a crisis situation, you don’t have time to stop and think “What should I do.”Your reaction has to be almost immediate. And training is really the only way of doing those repetitions to keep your skill level up so you don’t have that pause.

                   Continuing to try to evolve lest than lethal weaponry so that it’s more effective. Even though shocking somebody with 50,000 volts or hitting them with a projectile that doesn’t penetrate their body but obviously will cause a large bruise and cause them a lot of immediate pain in a small part of their body is better than trying to wrestle with somebody and breaking bones and causing internal injuries over a larger area. The issue of trying to develop less than lethal weaponry that is much more effective at neutralizing the suspect without hurting them or causing permanent injury still needs to be refined a little more.

                    We’re still getting a lot of officers that are shot and killed because the vests that we wear that were developed don’t cover enough of our vital organs. The trade off is that obviously, you have to—it’s so cumbersome, I guess if they can continue to try to develop anti-ballistic material that would be much more comfortable to wear. The ultimate to me would be making an entire shirt out of it, where you didn’t have side panels, where the front and back panels meet, where you have gaps-- if you got shot in the side, it penetrates high up in the neck area where a vest usually doesn’t go. So if they could develop a material, that would be the ultimate goal.

    Yaniero: One of the most controversial topics in law enforcement today is the use of force. The balance of police authority and the credibility of police within a community are achieved when the police and community are woven together into the same thread. Nothing is as damaging to the relationship between a law enforcement agency and the community as an incident in which the use of force has not been clearly justified. The development of less than lethal weapons, such as the taser, has resulted in a reduction of injuries to police officers and suspects, while reducing the overall need to use force. However, this technology has risks. I believe that this type of technology, in conjunction with focused training, should reduce the risks of improper use of force, injuries to police officers and suspects and the resulting damage to the police/community relations that result from a controversial incident.

    How does your job continue to change, and how does it stay the same?

    Kiederlen: It stays the same in the fact that you’re still always dealing with people – their problems, their issues, their concerns. Where it has changed is in the complexity of those concerns. Electronics make things, everything from e-mail to Facebook, texting and everything else just makes the job a lot more complicated. Evidence collections becomes something completely different than it used to be; you have to be looking at everything people could possibly be using and it makes it more complex.

    Twombly: There’s going to have to be much more justification done to the cities and counties who hold the purse strings, you’re really going to have to show that you’ve done everything you can internally as part of reorganization and finding other cost-saving measures or time-saving measures you’ve tried everything you can before you’re just going to be able to hire more staff. with the budget cuts, social service agencies are also under the same hit, so the services that are provided to the public, those out in the public that have needs are going to be curtailed and as a result they’re going to be calling us because we’re sort of the stop of last resort for people in crisis.

                    I think law enforcement still has to continue and build those relationships with other groups because we can’t solve these issues on our own. Yes, we can take action once a crime has been committed, but the whole purpose of government and law enforcement being part of it, it would be nice to be able to stop the domestic violence incidents before they escalate into someone being hurt and us being called and having to arrest someone, as an example.

    Yaniero: Change can be difficult, especially in a police culture that thrives on the “this is the way we have always done it” culture. I have also experienced changes in the way government and the community view police agencies. There is a greater call from the constituents we serve for more transparency in police department operations. Legislative bodies are frequently asking agencies to produce results for the taxpayer’s dollars. Police departments cannot operate in a silo, which is a change from the traditional culture of isolation from citizen involvement. In a “Do More with Less” environment, a police administration has to “sell” the department’s programs and services in a competitive market against other governmental services with limited resources. For example, in order to effectively use technology, a police officer must be willing to adapt as these systems change and improve. Most modern police departments are dependent upon the use of technology as a tool in the delivery of law enforcement services. Technology is changing exponentially and requires adaptability in order to utilize the most efficient and effective means to deliver law enforcement services.

    What was the most innovative or most exciting product introduced in your career?

    Kiederlen: I think one of my favorites, and I’m going to make sure we’re going to get it (we have received a grant to purchase one and we’re in that process), is the LiveScan fingerprint technology. I think that’s pretty amazing. With fingerprint submittal, there’s always such a high return rate of unusable prints. With that technology it’s almost impossible to submit a bad print. Additionally, the ability to quickly identify individuals that either you don’t know the name of, they’re unknown people in the case of deceased individuals and stuff like that, to be able to submit those fingerprints and get responses on such a rapid basis is just amazing.

    Twombly: I would say the implementation or the deployment of Tasers, And that’s just been over the past roughly 5 years that they’ve come out. Because for the most part, the technology hasn’t really changed . Video: and that’s probably the last 10 years really in the late ‘90s video hit, at least in our agency, and we started to place it in the mid-90s – well, ’93-’94 we started putting those things in our vehicles.

                    As far as from a technology side, I would also say the information management systems as far as the ability to integrate the dispatch information with the records systems to allow street officers the ability to access that information out in the field, that would be a big one too. Rather than having to wait to go to the precinct or to go up to the main office to check records and get copies of reports and that. Now they have the ability to do that from the squad,  which really helps if they are investigating incidents for background information or even trying to identify people that they are in contact with. They can pull up mug shots and things so they can immediately, or relatively immediately identify someone. I would say that’s probably No. 1, followed by Tasers and video.

    Yaniero: Perhaps the most important change introduced during my 30 years in law enforcement is the computer and computer systems. As a police administrator, I have frequently looked to computer technology as a method for enhancing the effectiveness of police officers. As a proponent of the efficient practice of community policing, I believe that the use of high-technology equipment and applications is essential when addressing budget constraints in an environment requiring a high demand for service. Without effective technology, police officers would find it difficult to provide the level and quality of services that the community deserves. Technological tools such as Computer-Aided Dispatch, mobile computers in vehicles, digital cameras, and automatic fingerprint systems provide effective support to police officers on the street. These tools also improve police officer efficiency with the overall goal of improving the quality of life for all the citizens they serve. In my experience, the use of pertinent technology results in quality improvements, an increase in efficiency and a decrease in costs. Service costs decrease because of fewer errors. Delays are less frequent, with an improvement in the management of time and equipment. This improved effectiveness and productivity result in safer communities for the citizens we serve.

    In the coming year, (5 years, 10 years) what do you see as the biggest obstacles or barriers to the industry?

    Twombly: Right now, my biggest challenges we’ll run in to it will be with budgeting. As an example, replacement of our new squads. Just equipment and maintenance, budget lines, those really have never been fully funded in our agency and due to the way our county does budgeting, but it’s always tight. I see in the next year, that’s not going to get any better. And as far as we could use additional staff, but that’s also not going to happen with the current budget, so we’re just going to have to continue to again look for more efficient ways of doing business and with the resources we’ve got.

    Yaniero: persist as the greatest obstacle to improved police services. The demands of the electorate will force legislative bodies to continue to cut governmental budgets. Police services will be challenged to improve services in this anti-tax environment. Another obstacle facing our police department and many others is the “CSI effect.” Citizens and jurors expect highly technical forensic services in our investigation of crimes. In many cases, these services are not readily available or the technology is cumbersome and expensive. The need to improve forensic services, will little or no funding, will continue to be a challenge to police agencies in the next ten years. In addition, the issues that surround recruitment and retention of police officers and support staff will continue to be a challenge. It is imperative to recruit, select, and retain the type of personnel who will bring a strong commitment and job talent to the department and the community. In recent years, many areas of our country have experienced a reduction in the availability of qualified job applicants. As a new generation of police officer enters the profession, police administrators will be required to adjust in competing for this most important resource. Technology will be the key, as this generation has been raised in a technology-rich environment. These individuals will demand a police agency that keeps up with current technology or they will seek employment with an agency that does. I believe that officers will rarely remain with their initial department, and transition to agencies that best meet their philosophic and technical needs.

    Do you see better or worse economic times ahead?

    Kiederlen: It’s tough. Again, we have increasing demands. I think we’re going to see, as is the usual cycle, as the economy continues to be bad, crime will continue to go up. It’s just the way things go. And when we’re all in tough economic times, and our PD has a higher demand for service, service brings on additional cost, and there’s no additional monies, and there’s really no additional monies, it’s interesting trying to figure out how you’re going to do it.

    Twombly: I really think that we’re facing this for a few more years out, unfortunately. The other thing is just continuing to try to—I don’t want to use the word survive—but maintain the level of service in these upcoming budget years. I guess I’ve always tried to look at things with a glass half full type of guy. I don’t see this economic mess getting cleared up before the next presidential election—two more years minimum.

    Yaniero: I expect that we shall continue to experience economic challenges for the next five years. From a police point of view, an increase of property crimes will continue as a result of the challenging economy. In addition, in regard to budgets, there will be reductions in federal, state and local law enforcement dollars.

    How have budget cuts hit your agency the hardest?

    Kiederlen: We had to cut most of our auxiliary assistance programs; we had to cut back in some training, mostly because of travel expense, we just had a general budget decrease overall of about 10 percent.

    Twombly: All of our staff had to take a 3-percent pay cut. And then try to do more with less and then on top of that, the stressors of those kinds of incidents. So it’s not been an easy year for us by any means.

    Our budgets have been reduced and it’s an issue of trying to prevent layoffs of staff while maintaining the level of service that we’ve provided. We’ve had to look at trying to not radically as much as reorganize, but try to make ourselves more efficient is I think one of the biggest challenges.

    About 15 years ago, we were fortunate enough because we had fairly high turnover, we were always running short because someone would always retire or resign. And by the time you get someone hired and trained up, it could be upwards of nine months to a year before you got that position filled. So the only other way to fill a position is obviously on overtime and that was really creating a problem because we were burning our people out, quite frankly. So we were able to institute a pre-hiring group where we were able to over hire, so we always had people (who) could step in. And that worked actually quite well. With this budget year, we’ve potentially lost eight positions, but we were able to absorb that without laying people off because essentially, we just eliminated that group of pre-hires. Does that make sense? So luckily, no, it doesn’t look like we’re going to have any physical layoffs. But by the same token, we’ve lost that ability to fill positions more quickly, which at this moment isn’t a problem but if we all the sudden come into—this will be several years down the road—a large group of people retiring or leaving, that could be a problem facing us.

    Yaniero: The City of Jacksonville is the home of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, the largest military base on the East Coast. The City has not encountered many of the economic challenges faced in other communities. However, due to the realignment and closures of other military bases, Camp Lejeune has experienced significant growth, with over 20,000 additional Marines, civilian workers and family members in the past five years. Police calls for service have increase 35% in the past five years. In addition, the state of North Carolina has endured significant budget reductions, which adversely affect local budgets. In order to address these budget reductions in a high growth environment, the police department staff has been working on a variety of call reduction strategies. We believe that these challenges allow the staff to focus on developing processes that improve the efficiency of delivering police services. These strategies include the development of an on-line reporting process, the adoption of a comprehensive alarm ordinance, the prioritization and delayed response for calls for service, and the concentration on problem solving at high call locations.

    What are your agency’s short (remainder of the year) and long-term goals (1 – 3 years)?

    Twombly: We have a philosophy in our agency that we respond to all calls for service unlike some agencies. One example is the City of Madison, depending on the kind of incident—you had something stolen from your car, as an example—a minor crash, you get forwarded to a self-report phone number and basically they mail you the forms and you fill them out yourself. The sheriff’s office, we’ve never done that. If you call  in an incident, a deputy will show up. As far as providing that level of service to our constituents is a goal that we definitely want to maintain. Continuing to have the highest quality people that we can find to perform the different jobs within the sheriff’s office just to maintain our level of quality and service. Again, expanding with other community partners to try and address some of these issues facing society, to find if there’s better ways of dealing with them, I guess those are continuing goals. They’re not new by any means.

    Yaniero: Our short-term goal over the next several months is to detect methods to reduce patrol time, allowing officers to engage in proactive, community based problem solving approaches, as opposed reacting to problems after they have occurred. This goal is linked to the growth within our city jurisdiction and the corresponding increase in demand for police service. We have several long-term goals. The first long includes the recruitment of a diverse work force for the future. The agency has been focused on policy revision, specifically those concerning recruitment, selection, training, performance evaluation, and rewards, to develop policies that more accurately reflect our commitment to the philosophy and practice of community policing. The Jacksonville Police Department has occupied the same facility since 1956. The building is outdated and is in dire need of replacement. The City has hired an architectural firm, purchased property and is in currently engaged in the design process. The police department’s goal is to construct a technologically-friendly building that will improve the operational aspects of police services. The development of appropriate quantitative and qualitative measures to evaluate policing is another long time goal of our agency. These measures would prevent falling back to an overemphasis on meaningless statistics such as number of citations issued and response time.

    Split optimism

    And if this year’s roundtable participants are right, the 200-lb. gorilla is not vacating soon, nor within the next couple years.

    And Twombly’s confidence in a drastic economic mood swing before he retires from law enforcement is split.

    You listen to the quote unquote experts and that can scare the crap out of you, quite frankly,” He says. “I’m hopeful that by the time I retire, in the next three to five years, there’ll start to be an upswing. But am I confident? I can’t say that I am.

    But with optimistic consideration he adds: “I hope I’m wrong.”