In a popular television reality show, talented chefs vie for top honors in a food competition. An integral part of that competition is financial: They have to spend their resources wisely. Typically, this means they are given a scenario: "cook a four-course meal for 12 people" -- then sent to the store with $150 to buy their supplies.
The contestants on the show must not only buy enough to go around, they can't stray over their budgets. Staying within the parameters of the contest, yet consistently turning out gourmet dishes that please their demanding diners and the show's judges is a difficult feat, but the producers also throw them a few curve balls here and there -- unforeseen factors making their tasks even more difficult to execute.
If you're wondering what a cooking show has to do with running a law enforcement agency, look at it in this context -- law enforcement executives are given a budget and told to work wonders with it. Not only do they have to stretch that budget, but often dodge unforeseen circumstances thrown in by elected officials, the state, the federal government, politics, a changing social climate, technology … the list is pretty much endless.
Policing is not a static business. Executives, and agencies, must bend and change to meet those challenges, even if the challenges themselves seem insurmountable and the tools to effect those changes appear out-of-reach.
At the top of everyone's list
Before changes can be tackled, identify the problem. There's no management issue more perplexing and difficult than recruiting and retention. With many new officers entering the field with intentions of leaving after two to three years, and older, more experienced officers cycling out of the door and into retirement in growing numbers, agency managers are grappling with one of the toughest issues ever to face law enforcement.
Dr. Kevin Love, industrial psychologist and professor in the Department of Management of Central Michigan University, sums up the challenge facing law enforcement executives with this question: "Will an accounting major who can start at $50,000 a year and move into a six-figure salary within three years choose to go into a forensic accounting unit for half that?"
As many agencies have discovered, the most common answer is disappointing, but manpower needs don't go away simply because there's no handy solution. Here are some approaches that are working:
- The Los Angeles (California) Police Department, like many large agencies that hire from smaller departments, offers a good lateral entry program. By showing up at job fairs, advertising and sending their recruitment teams on the road, LAPD plays heavily to experienced officers.
- Another tactic used by many agencies is to recruit first-hand on-site at military bases, hoping to snag men and women at the end of their military careers. Former military usually find the segue into policing a natural fit.
- One problem with recruiting officers from lower-paying areas is that the salaries in larger cities and resort towns are often not adequate to cover the higher cost of living. Some city governments have looked into creating lower-cost housing for essential professions such as nursing, teaching and law enforcement.
- Opportunity is the key to staying in a job for the long haul. Does your department offer plenty of chance for advancement or specialization? And if an officer chooses patrol as a career, is there a carrot to make that an attractive option? Are you still stuck in assessment-center based promotions, or are they more personalized? Take a hard look at how you're handling these issues. They can be key to both attracting good candidates -- especially lateral hires -- as well as retention.
- The New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, which controls all state police training including corrections, has jumped on the same bandwagon as North and South Carolina and some other states. Instead of hiring officer candidates and sponsoring them through state certification-based programs, they pre-qualify candidates before hiring them. These programs, like the one at Caranozia College, allow officer candidates to go through mandated training before even applying for a job, saving the agencies time and money.
- Hire older rookies. In places like Jacksonville, North Carolina, a large number of officers are in their second careers. Many are military retirees in excellent physical condition, who are more than prepared for the next challenge. Sometimes the guy or gal who has always wanted to be a police officer but kept putting it off may be a better bet than the recent college grad who isn't sure where the river of life is taking him. If your agency has age limits, consider changing them. While a 45-year-old rookie probably won't give you 25 years, he might give you 10 years of hard work and loyalty. Base your hiring on the individual, not a preconceived notion of who can do the job and who can't.
- In Minnesota, retired officers can work a reduced number of hours on the clock for their former agency while still collecting their pensions. It's a total win-win for law enforcement and the jurisdictions for which they work. All that experience -- and no benefits to pay out. If your state has rules against double-dipping, maybe it's time to light a fire under your state lawmakers. Police officers are in short supply. Experience can go a long way. Get those laws changed.
"You don't know the value of public safety service until you need them. The public must become aware that "you get what you pay for,'" adds Love.
Limited resources joins staffing as a top problem confronted by criminal justice professionals. Hennepin County (Minnesota) Sheriff Richard Stanek knows all about it. Stanek heads a department totaling 850, including sworn and civilian employees. Among his responsibilities commanding one of only two accredited crime labs in Minnesota, the challenges of heading an agency of this size add up fast, but Stanek puts his experience to work finding innovative ways of dealing with them. One strategy in particular stands out -- he takes his case to the private sector.
The sheriff says public-private partnerships give law enforcement agencies the edge they need to stay ahead. "[The private sector is] light years ahead of us, and they want to help, want to be engaged," Stanek says.
When upgrading the department's computer forensics section, Stanek sought help bringing the division up-to-date. "By using our fantastic public and private partnerships, we doubled, almost tripled our computer forensics capabilities and size," he says.
The crime laboratory has also benefited from the private sector. With increased demand for complicated analysis, lab personnel strain to meet obligations. When the lab needed help refining crime scene videotapes, Stanek went shopping for assistance at the Target Corporation based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
"Target is great at computers and video forensics," he says, "when we have a difficult picture, they are more than happy to [help] us."
Stanek says payback to the private sector isn't in dollars and cents, but in community service. "They have a vested interest in the community here," he says. His advice to departments with limited resources that want to draw the community closer together: Embrace partnership with the private sector and use their resources and experience.
We'll see you in court
Liability issues remain at the forefront of many criminal justice agency challenges. Richard Kreisler has spent several decades looking after police interests from a legal standpoint. The attorney, who practices in California and acts in an advisory capacity to several police agencies, says he is impressed by the way improved technology interacts with civil liability issues. "Those black-and-white digital cameras that automatically activate when an officer makes a traffic stop -- I can't think of anything that has cut down more on felicitous citizen complaints," Kreisler says. "More often than not, they show proper conduct by the officer. I can't imagine an officer on the street without one."
Another technological advance Kreisler says can cut down on liability and also create a different level of officer safety are Global Positioning Systems (GPS) -- especially the sometimes controversial tracking of cars. Like cameras that record traffic stops, GPS units have been the subject of endless debate between departments, officers and union representatives. Although officers and unions fear a "Big Brother" approach, Kreisler says most of their fears are groundless, and indeed, the devices can save an officer's life. But, he also admits that the units can be useful in identifying officers who are not on target.
"If you have a problem officer who is not out there pushing the radio car where he or she should be, GPS can be used to keep track," he says.
Kreisler also says criminal justice agencies should maintain close liaison with their attorneys to avoid liability pitfalls. "What I see are clients -- police chiefs -- who realize they have to have attorneys involved at all stages," he says.
Today's officers must not only master the techniques of arrest, search and seizure, but also learn to use sophisticated equipment that a few years ago exited only in the minds of scientists. How agencies choose to use their technological muscle and know-how helps them meet many future challenges head-on. For example, take a look at another type of GPS technology.
The Piscataway (New Jersey) Police Department, which deploys 95 officers over slightly under 20 square miles and serves a population of about 50,000, uses a GPS -- but not to track its officers. Instead, like most departments, Piscataway uses it to determine the origin of telephone calls. But instead of using a GPS expert to interpret the data, the system Piscataway purchased does not require expert analysis. Instead, it uses what the company, Queues Enforth Development Inc. (QED), calls "intuitive location intelligence solutions."
Phil Zmuda, officer and spokesman for the Piscataway PD says his department chose the QED package for many reasons. "The nice part about this is that it's directly interfaced into the CAD system," Zmuda says. "It's all within the QED product line, all one package."
The system integrates with mobile units so everyone is both literally and figuratively on the same page. And that's an important consideration when choosing software packages and technological upgrades for departments.
"It eliminates problems with response time because cars have mobile interface out there," he says. Zmuda adds that because the system is extremely accurate, dispatchers can direct officers to precise locations, "third building on the right, second floor."
Kevin Hanron, GPS product manager at QED, says that as accurate GPS data is available to more and more municipalities, the demand for mapping software will rise. "But having the data doesn't mean having the application that can benefit from it -- that's always been the [catch]," Hanron says.
GPS is not the only techno-game in town. Advances in criminal justice technology can wield stunning results. In one case, for example, wounds in autopsy photos were technologically "erased" and replaced to illustrate the method used to inflict them. Other recent advances include computer mapping of chemicals used in bombing cases, computer-organized partnerships between schools and the criminal justice system to identify and track problem-prone juveniles and a newly launched online repository for cases involving the missing and unidentified dead, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.
Strategies for staying on-game
Just like the contestants in that reality chef program, law enforcement agencies have to keep cooking up new ways to handle the business of policing. Sometimes the challenges consist of the same issues that have always faced the criminal justice community -- like recruiting better-qualified applicants, balancing training, court, work and real life and stretching a thin budget. But as long as terrorism, computer crimes and new, untested criminal opportunities remain on the horizon, law enforcement will continue to face new challenges.
On the horizon
Experts interviewed for this article took a turn at predicting some of tomorrow's biggest challenges. Here's what they see as heavyweight issues looming on the horizon:
Kevin Love, Central Michigan University: "Meeting an ever-changing set of enforcement realities with ever-decreasing budgets for staff and resources. There will be, and currently is, a huge turnover of law enforcement personnel as the Baby Boomers retire out of these agencies, after 30-plus years of service. Will these agencies be able to attract the best and brightest away from the private sector given the booming economy? The recruiting of the best talent will be critical."
Richard W. Stanek, Hennepin Co. Sheriff's Office: "The whole concept of homeland security versus policing. Prior to 9/11 how many knew what homeland security was? Some would argue we have been doing it all along, but we just didn't call it that. Now it's all dumped on local law enforcement and we didn't get many additional resources. But [overall] it's a positive thing. I think it's remarkable how law enforcement has evolved, and embraced and accepted the challenge."
Vito Sparace, Director of Pre-employment Basic Training Program, Caranozia College, Caranozia, New York: "The age and background standards will have to change in recruiting. Agencies will have to modify the way they look at candidates. Little things that would have gotten them bumped from the program won't be as critical. Nobody is squeaky clean anymore."
Richard M. Kreisler, partner Liebert, Cassidy, Whitmore Law Agency, specialist in representing the interests of California-based police agencies in employment matters: "One issue staring us in the face are significant unfunded liabilities caused by burgeoning retirement systems. Sooner or later someone is going to pay the piper. We're living longer and that increases the cost of insurance and unanticipated expenses down the road. When officers retire at 90 percent of their salary and COLAs -- someone has to pay this bill. The future has nothing to do with tasers and black and whites, it's how are we going to fund these benefits? The new officers down the road -- will they have to come in on a lower tier with lesser benefits? When someone asks a law enforcement professional what the big future problem will be, they expect to hear the traditional thing -- gangs, terrorism; but you can't address any of this if you are broke. I think retirement and insurance benefits are the real challenges ahead."
Phil Zmuta, Piscataway, NJ Police Dept.: "Improving GPS technology stands as a challenge to companies that work with criminal justice agencies. In order for this technology to be fully functional, cell companies will need to more accurately pinpoint locations and do so at a quicker rate,. Until that time, law enforcement must struggle with some cell companies that get it -- and some that do not."
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.