Time for my annual list of things you can do to improve your department. Send in your ideas and tips for next year's column and, in the meantime, consider some of these suggestions for a better 2008.
- Pay more attention to the spouses and families of your officers. Officers can't exist in a vacuum. Their relationships with their families affect every aspect of their jobs and how well they perform. I know I don't want an officer who just had a fight with his wife answering my call — and neither does the public you serve. Have get-togethers that involve the families, look into special programs for the spouses, help them get to know one another, feel a sense of community and work out the problems marriage or partnership to a police officer can bring into a relationship. Happy officers at home equal a better performance on the road.
- Recruit in unusual places. Military bases, colleges and universities, high schools and other departments — that's where everyone goes to find tomorrow's recruits. But one innovative chief of police sent his recruiters to spring break. While this might not be your cup of tea, the key to finding good officer material is to look in places that might not be so obvious.
- Free up officers by using civilians whenever possible. This is the tip I invariably include in my year-end roundups because I believe it's key to keeping costs down and productivity up. Hire smarter and save money by putting civilians in jobs like evidence collection.
- Use your intranet to its full potential. Departmental intranet's not just for storing reports anymore. Its use is growing and the possibilities are astonishing. Want to get the most out of your intranet? Ask officers what would make their jobs easier, then put your IT people on it. The most successful collaborations often stem from hands-on personnel, not administrative staff.
- Train officers in proper handling of the mentally ill. Whenever the mentally ill individual fails to receive proper treatment it opens the door to tragedy. Make certain your officers know how to handle these encounters. Being mentally ill isn't a crime, but it takes compassion and understanding to avoid catastrophes like Virginia Tech.
- Find opportunities for public-private partnerships. If your needs trail your funding (and whose don't?) look into public-private partnerships. One sheriff goes to a tech team or a major retailer for help in resolving grainy surveillance video. That's innovative thinking that helps everyone and creates a rapport with the business community. Look around you and see who might lend a hand when your budget's tight.
- Take alcohol out of the officer sub-culture. It's there and it ruins careers, breaks up marriages and turns your officers into potential liabilities. Watch for personnel who exhibit signs of substance abuse. Make it clear that "choir practice" is off-limits. I saw several good officers lose their jobs and livelihoods because they did something completely stupid while under the influence. Keep alcohol where it belongs — off-duty, in moderation and never before driving.
- Identify officers who are likely to make careers at your department and find ways to keep them. Tired of training officers, putting them on the road and then seeing them walk out the door to other careers or departments in a couple of years? Learn how to identify candidates that will stay with your department — not just the job but your department. Cultivate them, train them and give them the jobs they want. If they're happy, they're likely to stay, even if the money's not what they can make elsewhere. Happiness and job security many times trump big bucks.
Thanks for reading this year and especially thanks for the feedback to my columns and articles in 2007. Here's hoping all of you, and your department, have a safe and prosperous New Year.
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.