This past year has been truly difficult for most public safety agencies, and 2010 is promising not to be much better. The challenges facing the criminal justice community are compounded by an almost universal lack of resources and manpower, while criminal enterprise grows ever more sophisticated, dangerous and daring. That means you, as an agency head, must find more innovative ways to meet what's ahead. Are you ready?
It's not going to be easy. You have less money, a force that's contending with the aging and more experienced officers, younger recruits may or may not stay, and an aging fleet. Technology costs a bundle, and there's nothing in the budget for new gadgets. How are you going to keep your department operating successfully with so much going against you?
I don't have the answers, but here are five ways to help cope:
- Shift as much work as possible to computers. While I prefer old-fashioned, face-to-face policing, these are different and difficult times and many departments are finding new and exciting uses for computers and the Internet. One of the most effective is to cut out the middle man (in this instance, the police officer or civilian report taker) and have citizens fill-out low victim impact reports online. You create a registration process for victims and give them simple instructions so they can walk through the report themselves. Assign someone to review the reports and you've eliminated dozens — maybe hundreds — of time-consuming calls, allowing your officers to concentrate on the streets.
- Listen to your officers. It sounds elementary but in every profession there's a tendency to think that the bosses know best. Teachers complain the principal doesn't listen to their ideas, factory workers grouse that the supervisor ignores their suggestions — every industry has its share of leadership problems. Ask your officers and support personnel for input on ways to work more efficiently. They are the people in the trenches who see the time wasters for what they are. Open your ears and listen to what they've got to say.
- Take another look at the allocation and distribution of manpower, and you may find that by following traditional departmental structures, you're not getting the most productivity out of your force. Are your divisions working shift rotations that result in exhausted officers and too much court overtime? Are ranks top-heavy with too many supervisors and not enough rank and file? Is your investigative division tripping over itself while uniform can't afford to have an officer out sick? Maybe it's time to see if moving things around might work to your advantage.
- Ask for help out in the community. Look at the businesses you serve — most of them would gladly assist law enforcement with its needs. Do they have equipment you can borrow, capabilities that your department doesn't have, but could use, expertise that isn't otherwise available locally? Also check out area colleges and universities, local residents and surrounding communities for untapped resources.
- Explore conferences that spotlight expertise, resources and new techniques for handling the duties of your job. Yes, I know money's tight, but this is the perfect time to take a look at new approaches, and conferences can often spotlight ways to do your jobs better. Here's a good example: The Responding to Missing and Unidentified Persons National Conference will be held on Feb. 23 to 25 in Appleton, Wis. Sponsored by Fox Valley Technical College, this conference features a look at investigative and forensic tools, a collection of excellent speakers and brings together professionals and victim families in an atmosphere designed to find solutions.
Look for innovative solutions and you will find them. In tough economic times, it's the only way to survive.
A 12-year veteran of police work, Carole Moore has served in and has extensive training in many law enforcement disciplines. She welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.