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The Changing Winds of Leadership

Recently, I was attending one of those meetings that no chief or sheriff likes to attend. Financial audits and governmental financial services review of the budget for the governmental entity that you serve. Now we all have to deal with these unpleasant moments of life. They are a part of the territory but are there changes in the local government’s view of public safety?  During the meeting, the hired gun of a bean counter referred to the police as a non-essential service that is provided at great cost without possibilities of positive income flow. We were not carrying our weight on the income side of the budget. Now, many of my readers know me and most you have a feeling on how I view life. To say that I was upset with this person is a vast understatement.

What do you mean that police are non-essential?

I was told that the police do not bring in enough income to be a viable service, not like the water, sewer or electric departments do. I was asked what service we provide to the other bureaus. How about when the hold-up alarm is activated in town hall? Who maintains order? The emergency responders are classified as ‘essential workforce’ in times of natural and manmade disasters. Most of the other employees are classified as ‘non-essential’. Before, I could finish I was told that anyone else could do this and “security”. Furthermore, the public’s safety could be bid out to any security company.

Now, again I did not spontaneously combust in this meeting, but I made my stance very clear. A governmental entity must provide safety and security to the citizens and businesses or there will not be a place to call a town, city or county. Matter of fact; let’s even add fire and emergency services to the mix. Do we ‘make money’ doing this? No, most states have laws preventing excessive fees, illegal fines and punishments. The framers of the Constitution made this clear as well. Bottom line we are not in the money making business, we are in the protect and serve business, and you can’t make an honest living doing it. This money making scheme is an idea that future city managers and similar types need to be reminded about. Without the safe environment that is provided by a municipality, there would not be any citizens eventually. 

Troublesome as this is, this seems to be the battle cry for far too many cities today. One cannot go for a week without hearing some doom and gloom story of yet another city that is on the verge of bankruptcy. What this does do is create a future problem. Budget is tight, so cut back on police, criminal justice and emergency services. Now they are policing by budget, which is always a losing proposition. Name any major city that has had a major crime spike and this has been its sad story. You must police by logical means of addressing crime. Comp-stat, Intelligence led policing or similar thought processes to address crime and criminality. Additionally, cutting back on officer’s training, equipment and overall safety, this too is criminal within itself. You do not have to be an urban historian to see the decline of cities within our country’s Rust Belt and crime has lead to this decay. Read the success stories of cities undergoing a renaissance and their positive approach to its police has been a solid foundation. 

The old saying of waters flow from its source can be said of the money stream as well. Yes, there are some concessions made to make the budget. These must be made with reason and restraint on the sides of all partners. I commend several officers’ unions that have made concessions where they did not have to; this is a long term investment in working with the public. Here it is not rolling over for management but planting public trust, we are here for you and not just the money. The public recognizes when their police work for the overall good. Chiefs have to dance daily with most all budgetary decisions. I have been a chief for ten years, it used to be spend down to the last dime, don’t let them think you over budgeted! Now, a reserve at the end of year is viewed in your favor.

To chiefs, commanders, officers and unions, I say stay on guard. Granted we are still duty bound to handle the job, although often restrained by tight budgets. Keep up the good fight but never let down your guard on this. Remind all of the elected officials, especially those that promise no new taxes or any increase in the budget, that crime fighting is their business as well. A healthy community is a result of good policing and good emergency services.


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.