Management roundtable: Two Cents on 2009

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

   Cmdr. Paul Ciesielski: Budget. I know other agencies within the city have had to reduce their budget whereas here, public safety has not. We've still had to find innovative ways to make sure we're spending our money the right way. But I think that's always the No. 1 concern.

   Lt. James MacGillis: We recently transitioned to a new chief from outside the agency. It was the second time in history that we looked outside for a chief. There were some new ideas and growing pains. Our agency has since enjoyed a more positive public image, a significant reduction in crime and a general feeling of trust in the administration over the last year.

   Cmdr. Mike Nolan: 2009 budget projections did not meet the actual revenues collected. This year falls in the middle of Clark County's [Washington state] biennial budget process. We are faced with making reductions in the middle of the budget cycle. Unfortunately, only salary and benefit reductions will meet the budget reduction requirements. This means the agency will have to explore early retirement options or layoffs of our newest sworn and custody employees.

   Sgt. Faye Schouten: Budget and layoffs.

   Sgt. Jack Serier: Budget issues, perceived and real. A very difficult year to keep up department morale given potential cuts in budget.

   How have budget cuts hit law enforcement the hardest? How are agencies coping?

   PC: I think we're lucky here [at Indianapolis Metro PD] because our mayor says that public safety's job No. 1. He hasn't cut our budget like he has some of the other agencies within the city budget, [and] that has helped. [However] we have made cutbacks, especially in the area of overtime and trying to find innovative ways of saving money … yet still buy the technology and the police cars we need.

   JM: Our agency has examined and enacted new ways of doing more with less. We have less personnel dealing with increasing crime and smaller overtime and operating budgets. We are employing some new and old strategies, such as beat patrol or park-and-walk, targeting specific auto types, public education, etc. [We're] using problem-oriented policing strategies to try and reduce crime while making the public feel safer. All levels of the agency are also empowered to try innovative ways of saving money — through modified deployments, overlapping schedules, geographic policing based on crime trends.

   MN: Current budget projections, which are causing current personnel reductions, are making it necessary for agency managers to reassess our current deployment strategies. In addition, the executive staff will need to determine what level of service will be possible once all staff reductions are in place.

   FS: We tried to involve the officers as much as possible in the scheduling of the furloughs and try to keep the lines of communication open. We also went for more grants to assist with equipment needs.

   JS: Personnel [was hit hardest]. We were scheduled to hire 40 to 50 officers for our agency this year to get close to our authorized strength [but] we hired only half as many. This was also put off until the last quarter of the year to use salary not paid to new officers to meet some of the budget shortfalls.

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

   JM: When I first started, carbon paper was just being replaced by PCs in the station. (Seriously.) Nowadays, we use fingerprint machines that can identify a subject in 30 seconds on the street. We also have a camera that can identify stolen license plates and people's faces that are wanted. Almost all squads have PCs in them, some with cameras, some with long rifles with optics, body armor that is rifle capable, etc. It amazes me that as the dangers have increased, so has the technology to combat those dangers. It's comforting to see that administrators recognize the dangers at the street level and are equipping officers accordingly.

   Have there been changes to the threats officers are facing?

   MN: The threats facing officers seem to be driven by the current economic condition. Statistical information is not available as yet, which would indicate if crime/reported crime is increasing [or] decreasing due to the dramatic effects on the job market. On top of this condition is the threat or planned reduction of the sheriff's workforce. These reductions ultimately mean less officers on the street, greater response times and reduction in service.

   FS: The officers' identity is easily assessable via the Internet now. It was much easier in the past to "conceal" your address or phone and personal information. [Officers should] make families aware of the easy access to information and suggest alternatives to [posting] public information.

   JS: The emerging threat [in the St. Paul area] has been a new wave of East African and Mexican gang networks that cause us to have to learn new approaches to gang intelligence and culture.

   What would you like to see addressed in terms of equipment, training or personal protection?

   PC: We'd like to see something that, if you're in the pursuit of a vehicle, [officers] have the capability of somehow shutting that car off.

   JM: The use of Blackboard, Sharepoint and other data-sharing programs can increase the efficiency of an agency. If used correctly to train members and network with outside jurisdictions, those type of technology can streamline policing.

   MN: I think the standard police vehicle will have to be reinvented for the single purpose of patrol operations. If possible, this single base design will have to meet the multi-faceted needs of [law enforcement] agencies of all sizes. The design would have to be versatile to geography, interior design features and prisoner transport. [Ideally]micro technology will enable the vast electronics needed in the car to integrate with the interior ergonomics emphasizing safety for the officers. Interoperable communication via wireless, remote, and satellite will have to be regionalized where no agency or community is left behind.

   FS: We have been trying to combine training funds and equipment with our neighboring jurisdictions so we can train together. NIMS/ICS helps with this a little [but I would like to see more] collaborative technology with police, fire and emergency management.

   JS: Expanded networking of computer-related data gathering and sharing by law enforcement at the local levels.

   How does the law enforcement job continue to change?

   PC: Well, of course laws, court cases, litigation, all those kinds of things continue to change our jobs and sometimes [make] it more difficult — sometimes it's for the good as well. I think now there's [a court decision that is going to influence] us to use audio and video tape when we interrogate suspects. That's a big change; we don't use that in all of our crimes now, so that's part of the technology where it will be good to record it.

   JM: When I first started, officers used their gut, knew their area and the problems within it. Nowadays, officers use intelligence, data, and crime analytics to work on crime-fighting strategies before even getting into a squad car. Those methods coupled with the beat officers experience and knowledge make for very effective policing.

   FS: [Today, personnel have] more "hats to wear" as the budget gets tighter and morale issues have to be addressed with budget cuts and expectations of line staff.

   JS: Technology continues to change how we gather information on some levels. At the other end, engaging people face to face is still as important as it was 20 years ago.

   On the flip side, in what ways does it stay the same?

   PC: We're still out there locking up bad guys. Sometimes obviously the technology makes it a lot easier to do our job, but sometimes I think we rely on it too much. We have so much technology to map crime that can pinpoint this and that and sometimes the best type of crime fighting is just grass roots getting your hands dirty, go out there and find the bad guy … and that will never change.