A matter of balance

     While hammering down one city's 2009-2010 budget, the city's manager lobbed a few verbal grenades at the police department. The manager charged city police with being bloated and said police received a disproportionate share of the city's revenue increases. City officials also said police should combine some staff functions with other government departments in order to reduce costs. Among the specific functions mentioned: fleet and facility management, and IT.

     By the time this column is printed, this issue will probably have been decided and that city's budget will have been stretched and pounded to accommodate an anticipated multi-million dollar shortfall. I think impasses like this one are going to be common, and law enforcement agencies better be prepared to both defend their budget requests and operate a tighter, leaner ship.

     I am kind of old school when it comes to consolidating some police administrative details with other agencies. Personally, I hate it when hiring is completed outside the police department. I think cops know what makes a good cop, not review boards, not civil service exams and not catch-all personnel departments. The guy who maybe doesn't impress civilians during the interview might just have what it takes to make it on the streets on the right side of the badge. I don't believe someone who hasn't been there can possibly get it.

     Though I know some police agencies have gotten along just fine letting their personnel matters fall under outside supervision, I worked for a chief who never believed that. In my opinion, police personnel issues work out best when handled by police.

     But while I think a department should directly control as much of its peripheral business as possible, I also see the wisdom of paring an agency down to its leanest, meanest fighting weight. And it's infinitely better to be the one with the knife.

     Agency heads need to look at operations with a critical eye and see where they can pull in their belts without hurting delivery of services. Sure, some things might have to go, but you're better off saying goodbye to PR niceties on your own initiative than having some career bureaucrat stick it to you later.

     Protect the things that really matter — personnel, if you can, particularly the hiring process if you still have that ability — the strength of your line and keeping your officers equipped with the safest cars, vests and weapons possible.

     As for cuts, here are two ideas ripe for a preemptive strike:

  • Command staff. How many ranking officers do you have proportionately on your staff? I remember one department where the joke was that every officer with stripes on his or her sleeves or above had two officers to boss around. If you're top heavy, do something about that through natural attrition. It's a way to cut personnel costs yet keep all your sworn positions.
  • End-of-year leftovers. If you have any money left in your budget at the end of the year, give it back. Yes, I said to give it back. Departments need to get away from the idea that they have to spend all of the money they have or get a smaller appropriation in the next budget. Take my word for it — you are going to get a smaller appropriation anyway. By giving without being asked, you not only are doing the right thing, but you'll look like a hero to the taxpayer.

     By facing the inevitability of budget cuts and making it work to your favor, I predict you'll lose less and, when the pendulum swings back around to more prosperous times, that willingness to be a team player will pay off in future budgets.

     Before I go, one special note to those who have sent me e-mails and received no response — please try again. A computer problem wiped out my e-mail, so I am switching to a different e-mail address.

     A 12-year veteran of police work, Carole Moore has served in patrol, forensics, crime prevention and criminal investigations, and has extensive training in many law enforcement disciplines. She welcomes comments at carolemoore_biz@yahoo.com.

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