Every year about this time I write about the things you can do to make your department better. Because law enforcement agencies are finding it harder and harder to stay afloat in an expensive, high-tech world with fewer and fewer qualified people looking for jobs, this year I'm concentrating on less expensive fixes, some of which I may have written about in previous columns or articles.
Here are my suggestions:
- Start planting the seeds for new criminal justice professionals early. I know a couple of agencies with Explorer posts that nurture teens interested in law enforcement careers. Seek out young people with the proclivity and show them the path to that badge number.
- Speaking of recruitment, I've said it before and I'll say it again: Things change. You need to look in nontraditional places for officer candidates. One chief mounted a successful recruitment campaign by sending a team to traditional spring break hang-outs. Think outside the box.
- My favorite idea: Cold case squads composed of retired criminal investigators. All those decades of experience and great minds out there just waiting to be tapped. What is there about this idea that some agencies don't get? These guys don't cost the agency anything, yet they can help clear cases that have sat on the books for ages. What is there not to like about this? If you're not doing it, then you're not doing your job.
- Cut personnel costs by going nontraditional in other areas. This means any task within the department that does not require a sworn officer can be filled by a less-pricey civilian and save money. A lot of agencies have civilianized their forensics sections and have stopped using sworn personnel to take simple reports, like bicycle thefts. It's a good way to get the most of the sworn officers you have on the street.
- Check out the programs that allow agencies to secure high-tech equipment from federal surplus. Computers, night-vision goggles, file cabinets, weapons, vehicles — the list of stuff that's available at little or no cost (depending on your state's program) is mind-boggling.
- Put more officers on foot, bicycles and motorcycles. There's some expense in training them, and it won't work for every jurisdiction, but every gallon of gasoline you don't use will save money. Look for ways you can cut the oil companies out of the mix whenever possible.
- Find alternative methods to train that do not require sending a gaggle of officers away for a week. Naturally, not all training can be accomplished via teleconferences or online, but if you can shift some of the departmental training in those directions, you can afford to send officers for live training exercises when it's needed.
- Look to the private sector for help. One sheriff told me that he is able to use expensive technological filtering technologies because he takes poor quality video to a private sector firm to clean it up. It costs his department nothing and shores up the public-private partnership.
- Speaking of partnerships: If you don't have good working relationships with surrounding jurisdictions, isn't it time to build them? So much can be done with task forces, sharing of information and concurrent jurisdictions that it's just plain silly not to consign old turf wars to the past.
- And finally, investigate programs that teach emergency responders how to interact with individuals suffering from mental illnesses without having to resort to unnecessary violence. The CIT saves lives and helps agencies to avoid negative publicity while treating the mentally ill with dignity and respect. It'll do more for your image than the most expensive PR campaign in the world.
I hope every one of you comes through 2009 safely.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.