This year I went to my first city council meeting. A local department was facing more budget cuts and job lay-offs due to the economic downturn and, up until now, many of the reductions that have already occurred focused on non-sworn positions and the elimination of services that benefited, but had been deemed non-essential to, the community. Now sworn positions were in jeopardy for an already understaffed and overworked department. As sympathetic citizens and representatives of sworn personnel argued for the continued level of current staffing, the city council saw an entirely different side to the arguments presented. What I witnessed was a city council and a police department severely at odds. Granted, in the best of times, local government and law enforcement has an often adversarial relationship, but with the economic downturn peace officers as well as fire services are fighting for their jobs.
One of the reasons I believe the city council was at odds with public safety employees is their knowledge and outlook is more rooted in the private sector that has been experiencing the economic downturn since shortly after September 11, 2001. The lasting impact of that day sent ripples into our economy that hit many businesses hard. Combined with the effects of a massive economic recession that followed, almost all businesses have felt the hit, with many failing outright and others struggling to stay afloat. Even the most recession proof careers have been fighting for survival. I know; I have been changing the way I approach my practice since 2005. I have learned as a self-employed health care professional I have to work harder, get paid less, and be more creative to stay ahead of the economy.
September 11, 2001 had a different effect on law enforcement, at least for awhile. You were needed, desired, and respect was renewed. You were seen as heroes. No one could justify a reduction in peace officers when we had fears of terrorism and anthrax packages being delivered in the mail. People were fearful and they wanted to feel safe. They wanted to see you on their streets. However, times have changed and now people are fighting to keep their jobs, their homes, and food on their tables. Memories are short when public opinion is changing and people are fighting for basic survival and downsizing their own lives.
Another reason I saw opposition between the city council and the police officers was the private sector relies on quantifiable measures to justify which positions to keep or eliminate. This is easy in the private sector because it is measured in profit and loss. It is a numbers game. Does this position earn or lose money? Companies evaluate where they can trim the fat and then cut away without sentimentality. Those of us in the private sector have learned we need to be willing to do more for the same or less money to justify our jobs to employers. We need to prove that our cost is beneficial.
So how does this translate over to peace officers, since much of what you do is not quantifiable by empirical evidence? Even quantifiable measures are inconclusive and incomplete, such as the Uniform Crime Reporting Program (UCR) which is a voluntary nationwide view of crime based on the submission of statistics by law enforcement agencies across the country. Many calls or crimes an officer responds to are not included in the UCR such as alarm calls, disorderly conducts, or identity theft, as well as innumerable others that not routinely reported. And how do you quantify the crimes that never happened because you were being aggressively proactive, or maybe even simply because you write your reports in your car in the parking lots of businesses that have had increases in retail theft? It is a double-edged sword when doing your job effectively means crime has decreased. How do you explain that to those who only see the bottom line? I think you have a difficult job ahead of you educating the voting public and local governments about what you do and justifiable staffing requirements. I believe your challenge is going to be providing evidence based solutions rather than emotional arguments to support the need for public safety positions.