Look at your budget, then look at these ideas

Every year I write a column dedicated to saving money. Some ideas have been time-tested by agencies across the country; others grow from observations I’ve made, either from experience or as a writer and columnist. Some stem from the suggestions of LET’s readers. Although I anticipate that this year’s list won’t make everybody happy, I’m hoping what it will do is inspire agencies to examine policies and procedures and come up with acceptable ways to operate more efficiently.

For better or for worse, my suggestions:

1. Consider paring your public information office from your budget

Over the past few months I have dealt with three major departments’ public information divisions. In one case, I am STILL waiting for a call-back from the PIO (that story has already gone to press — I’m not holding my breath); in another, the PIO did everything she could to block the progress of a story; and in the third case, the PIO tried to micromanage the piece and tell me what to write. The odd thing about this is that these stories were all good publicity for their respective departments, yet I had to plough through some of the strangest protocol imaginable to talk to professionals who were perfectly capable of holding their own with me.

In my professional opinion, police agencies should never place barriers between themselves and the people they serve or press with which they deal each day. Super busy chiefs and sheriffs can have an officer who handles information, but that officer’s duty should never be to obstruct a story or skew public perception. Instead, agencies should deal with truth, not PR. The extraneous flack layer only makes the agency look bad. Scuttle them, spend the money to hire more officers and do your job the right way. It’ll show in the results.

2. Attend conferences.

Sure, it costs money to go to conferences, but you’ll get top-notch training, news about developments in your fields, as well as available grants. And there’s a way to do it right: Send the officers who do the actual work, not the supervisors or the suits, but the guys who put the knowledge they bring back into practice. Here’s a good one to start with: Fox Valley Technical College’s annual conference on missing and unidentified persons, one of the best hands-on gatherings I’ve seen. (Disclaimer: I’m going to do a break-out session at this conference this year. Stop by and introduce yourself.)

3. When we went to the police range, we were expected to police our brass.

The range master and his assistants would then take the old brass and reload it for practice rounds. Whether you do that or whether you sell the brass for recycling, reuse that brass—don’t dump it. It’s money in the bank.

4. Up-to-date fleets save.

If you’re driving old gas-guzzlers that constantly break down instead of renewing the fleet, you may actually be costing the taxpayers money rather than saving it. Crunch the numbers and show your bosses how a more up to date fleet actually saves taxpayers money over the long haul.

5. Take a hard look at your accreditation protocol.

I think accreditation can be a plus, but going through state accreditation, rather than national, might return more bang for the buck. In 2010, for example, the Naples PD (Fla.) announced it would forego national accreditation through CALEA (which it had earned in 1989), costing the department just under $5,000 a year to maintain (plus another $3,000 every three years) in favor of accreditation through the state. That option runs between $600 and $1,000 annually.

No matter what changes you make, the name of the game is investing wisely and making those investments pay.

Editor’s note: Visit www.fvtc.edu/public/content.aspx?ID=1238&PID=3 for details on the Responding to Missing & Unidentified Persons Conference in February 2012.