In the recent weeks I have been surfing the news and reading clips regarding budgetary hearings of my colleagues. Many have been battered; bloodied but unbowed. Some are even trying to defend the numbers of their department, fighting off reduction in their force--to save the budget. Seems that some local governmental bodies have gotten into their minds that police chiefs have been doing such a wonderful job recently, they can do just as well with less. Past headlines of crime going down means that we can get by with less? Who is advising them of this theory of management? We, as law enforcement administrators, are being made victims due to our past performances. Excel and get punished. Let's look at this dilemma.
Truth in reporting
Recent data and headlines seem to differ with this line of thinking. There have been several summits about the cyclical events of violent crime in America. Several metropolitan areas and many rural areas are reporting upswings in violent crimes, the emergence of gangs, and gun violence. If this has not happened to your city yet--brace yourself. Now, if you have been "cooking the books" with your Uniform Crime Report (UCR) stats to protect your city for its tourism or its pristine image--start filling the sandbags! Your past sins are about to haunt you. Integrity in reporting is always the key.
Change in political climate
For those who recall the days of community policing (COP); it has its worth. There were many worthwhile programs. Did I say the word "program?" You see, anytime "program" is used, there are two realities of life attached to it. One is a start date and an end date. Chiefs would give glorious press conferences about how we are starting a new era of community policing and we are all going to feel better for it. The choir would then sing Kum-By-Yah and off the department would go into this new era or program. The key to COP is it is a philosophy and/or style of policing, but not a program--get it?
Nobody had the moxie to tell anyone the second part out loud. Part two is that this was a funding train. The COPS grants were like having your favorite rich uncle come to visit during the holidays, handing out gift checks. Problem here, your uncle has now died--COPS grants have dried up or now become Homeland Security.
I fully understand the terrorism that faces our land and challenges we face. As a chief with an extremely tight budget, working in a city that is financially stressed--I would ask for some help from the federal fat uncle! I will be the first to say there is not any "home" in "homeland" when it comes to street level crime fighting strategies. They are fantastic with some initiatives, but the days of funding coppers on the street and other grants to shore up cops-to-citizen ratios are past, I fear. So how do you ensure that your budget is sound every year? You have to survive the budget hearing process.
Surviving the budget hearing
Budgetary hearings can be a stressful event in the chief's life. They come yearly and you are under the gun. Your boss and the governmental council are there and you are in a crossfire between the two--well, maybe. The chief financial officer of the municipality is there. He is the king of the bean counters. Your relationship with him or her is always one that is on the line, as well. The media is present and their advantage is your disadvantage. They are pointing everything they have at you--the camera that never blinks and the microphone that picks up every voice inflection. Tip here: practice your presentation! Prepare for the hearing. Additionally the citizens will be there, and if they are allowed public comment, this gets all the more interesting. Remember, they are your bosses as well.
How can you stand up to the pressure? Just remember you wanted to be a chief, and this is what you are paid the big bucks for! I recall the days as a patrol officer, and my former chief once told me, "you fight the bad guys and I will get you what you need." Good words to remember when I go through the door. And when you go through the door, you must have on your "A" game.
One budget hearing a few years ago took a turn at getting rather tight between infrastructure improvements and police improvements. At a break, council asked if I really needed what I was asking for. My only statement to them was, "Could you stand answering to the public for bullet holes or for pot holes?" They did not say anything and I walked off. That night, I got my entire budget.
This year, in open council, they asked how I viewed my budget. I replied, "It's like feeding an Irish family; everybody will get something; but nobody will get full" (meaning it was adequate but no fat). Some years are lean and some are good. Maybe the next column will be on stretching the budget.