First of all I wish to wish all a Happy New Year and may this one be safer for our officers. I am beginning my tenth year as a chief and have come to the realization that this business has changed immensely in my brief tenure. So, what are the new challenges on tap for chiefs?
New Lineage of Officers
More and more returning veterans are entering the job market. Once the Veterans Preference Points are added to the scores, the vast majority of the new officers may have military backgrounds. This is great for I as a veteran, understand the life lessons of the military and its applications to the job. This can be a future staffing nightmare especially if they still have a reserve or National Guard commitment remaining. Of course there will be the weekend trainings and summer camps; these do not provide that many scheduling issues. The biggest problem could be due to increasing numbers of officers that have these commitments, the more stress is in staff scheduling.
There is also another spin on the applicant field. Due to the harsh employment times more are applying to get any government job. Some are applying just to get any job and the police starting salary looks good. Not that they have desired to be a cop (or fire fighter for that matter) but it is a job with benefits and they are applying. Some do make the cut and now the problem is converting them from civilians who want to be only employees not warriors. That alone is another column for the academy staffers and Field Training Officers (FTOs). There are some great officers who have made this transition in the past, so with great training and leadership, they will make it.
There is hardly an agency head this past year that has not heard of ‘do more with less’ motif. If you have not, then you are the lucky ones that we hear of and desire to be again. Nearly every municipal government has been faced with vast shortfalls of income. Unemployment is high, no earned income taxes, the housing markets are off, no transfer taxes and add the others up and money cookie jar is nearly empty. Several municipal governments are slashing services to the bone and staffing is next. For that matter, the term financial distress is in the everyday vernacular.
Most elected officials are blaming the unions (if you have them), past sins of previous administrations for offering defined benefit packages, and anything else that is blameworthy in their eyes. These add up to near labor battlegrounds in some areas and rightfully so. If you have been told to seek a grant, well that well is drying up also. It is up to you to whittle down the numbers to make it work, where do you start? I see major changes in how we do things and most have repercussions. This is rapidly becoming a new era of budgeting.
Fleet reductions are the norm, diminishing in size and those agencies with take-home vehicles are seeing new regulations as well. Specialty fleets are being reviewed as well. Most every chief I know has had to either reduce their fleet in number or keep the stocks rolling a couple of years past its projected life span. This creates the ‘rob Peter to pay Paul’ scenario. You have less money for a new fleet replacement but now you have to stretch your maintenance budget to cover what an expired warranty will not. You have more minor repairs that add up. I did not even cover the roller coaster ride of fuel costs.
“We did not actually overspend out budget. The allocation simply fell short of our expenditures” ....Keith Davis
What’s in store?
What will the future bring to the chief’s desk? I hate to predict dark clouds looming on the budget horizon, but I think it is in the cards. How much more staffing can we cut? More and more departments are cutting out the free and often expected public services. We all have had to provide stand-by for special events, escorts, community events. I hate to say it but we will be seeking public philanthropy if this continues. Your next citizen’s police academy may be sponsored by the local mall. The biggest crime here is that for the past few generations of policing we have offered service, quality police work and meeting the demands regardless of obstacles. If you review the professional model, community policing/problem solving model, Comp-stat model and now intelligence led policing, all require proper staffing and financial support to succeed. We are letting down our customers both citizens and businesses. Now, throw in increased numbers of officers killed in the line of duty, unfunded mandates from federal and states, and for good measure throw an Occupy movement in. Now we are expected to keep the crimes down, citizens and businesses content and do it with less staffing? Maybe one day, some chief will look back at 2012 as the ‘good old days’, as for myself I perceive this a downward spiral that has lowered the quality of police service. Maybe I am a traditionalist, but you must provide service and protect your customers. Just merely attempting this does not cut it in my book, I hope that there is a turn around and we can continue to protect and serve without having to count every staple and paperclip.
About The Author:
William L. "Bill" Harvey is a native Virginian. He served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army Military Police Corps. He has a BA in criminology from St. Leo University and is a graduate of the Southern Police Institute of the University of Louisville (103rd AOC). Harvey served for over 23 years with the Savannah (GA) Police Department. He served in field operations, investigations and support services, and completed his career there as the director of training. He has published several articles in professional periodicals and has lectured nationwide. He is serving as a chief of police in central Pennsylvania area; a duty he’s performed for the past nine years. He is on the advisory board of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association and other professional associations.