What does Oakland, CA., Camden, NJ, Port St. Lucie, FL, and Akron, OH, all have in common? Apart from being a representative sampling of municipal America, they all either face or have faced police layoffs - in record numbers. Agencies are shedding uniforms faster than "The Biggest Looser" can shed pounds. Unlike traditional recessions where the health of regional economies differs greatly, this one is wide ranging and long term. In fact, historians of The Great Depression offer that without the social services that had been statutorily enacted in the aftermath of that era our current Great Recession would actually have been a greater depression than that of the 1930s. Imagine the 15 million Americans who are presently out of work without their unemployment benefits, federally subsidized housing or other governmental assistance? Images of soup kitchens ran by churches and tent cities in local baseball parks should conjure up images...
The New Normal
Even The President of The United States is pessimistic. Obama commented to CBS's 60 minutes this past November 7th that he feared a ten percent unemployment rate was what the American public needed to get used to. That often touted U.S. Dept. of Labor statistic of 10% is misleading too. Some states struggle with 15% if not higher. In terms of public budgeting principles, the trickle down effect is starting to have an affect. As the tax base shrinks there is less and less money available to operate government services that include the essentials; Police and EMS/Fire. Once Rainy Day Funds are depleted, then personnel must go. It's as simple as that. Nearly two years ago I wrote a piece where I predicted that within 18-24 months police agencies would face a menace unlike anything that has ever been dealt with since the inception of our nation - a near economic collapse of our government it terms of the safety services it could provide. That time has nearly arrived and this spring promises that pink slips will bloom across our law enforcement agencies nationwide rather than flowers. For more on this issue make sure you watch the recent 60 Minutes special below, titled State Budgets: Day of Reckoning.
Drastic situations call for drastic measures and I am about to embark on a series of recommendations that are certainly going to be unpopular with my brothers and sisters in law enforcement. My purpose here with these proposals is simply to generate discussion, among you. The answers to the economic issues facing our respective agencies begins and ends with you, and I'm not talking about giving concessions in your Collective Bargaining Agreements either. At some point, sooner better than later, good information needs to ascend to the top of our governing system (legislature, executives, etc.) from the rank-in-file. Far to often we are told what is going to happen by the political elect, and if we do not like the answer it is often to late to change anything. Think Police Pension Reform - get my drift? Okay, now that I've given you my disclaimer, let the hate mail begin.
I'm sorry, but police agencies need to be consolidated. Patrol Officers and Investigators need to be retained, but supervision (especially at the command level) needs to thin out. The fragmentation of policing where nearly every small town has their own police department led by its politically appointed chief should become a thing of the past (such as the Wild West did). Agencies need to become streamlined, without redundancy of operating units (Gang, Vice, Narcotics, etc.) and the dominant policing strategy should be Community Oriented Policing - departmentally wide. For those of you who think that community policing is simply being nice and not real police-work then my response is that someone failed you. You were not trained properly, and you do not have a realistic understanding of what community policing is all about. When done properly it's aggressive and arrest oriented while it builds a tremendous intelligence apparatus. It's real cop work.