What's in a budget?

The quote, “The only constant in life is change,” has been attributed both to Heraclitus of Ephesus, a Greek philosopher, and to Isaac Asimov, a popular science-fiction author. I tend to believe that Isaac cited Heraclitus and some people simply didn’t attribute the quote correctly. Be that as it may, back to the quote: The only constant in life is change. I can think of a few instances when I would argue whether or not this deeply philosophical point is true. Several of these examples revolve around the budget planning process and budget management in most of today’s law enforcement agencies.

As I look back at my 30-year law enforcement career, it occurs to me that—at virtually every agency I worked with, trained, consulted with, etc.—the senior administrator (chief or sheriff) always had to battle to get enough budget and then to spend it without catching grief. What strikes me as being of particular concern is that an insufficient budget can negatively impact the overall safety of the officers working, and disallowed spending from an already-approved budget can have the same negative impact. Even knowing this, though, those who approve budgets don’t seem overly concerned.

If I had to pick one single characteristic of law enforcement work to change, it would be the elected representatives who nickel-and-dime police departments or sheriffs’ offices (or both in some places) and then demand a perfect level of performance from the very agency they short-changed. Why do I bring this up, you ask?

In this issue of Law Enforcement Technology we have a number of feature articles about topics which are easily and sometimes severely impacted by budget. Traffic safety and enforcement is a forever-hot topic and a primary activity for patrol officers which carries a high level of risk. As you read through Editor Sara Schreiber’s timeline on the State Highway Patrol, consider the various circumstances and challenges that might have been reduced or increased if different budgeting had occurred.

Likewise, Doug Page provides us an article about standoff explosive detection, and if you think that’s not an activity impacted by budgeting then you’ve never been the officer trying to decide what exactly that HAZMAT placard on the side of a tanker truck says. Something as simple as a good pair of binoculars can go a long way toward reducing risk, but far too many patrol vehicles today don’t have a pair on board.

Contributing Editor Ronnie Garrett provides us excellent insight into the development of and purchasing decisions for body armor. Any officer who has ever either had to buy their own vest or attempt to requisition a replacement vest from their agency knows the impact of cost on this life-saving piece of gear. What’s of even greater concern is that, quite often, a better vest is available but funds weren’t budgeted for the higher cost. As a police veteran it galls me that the budgeting process sometimes puts a finite dollar amount on the value of saving a life.

As you read through, consider your own agency’s budgeting process and, especially if you’re in a position of responsibility, recommit yourself to maximizing the value of every dollar spent. It IS representative of the value each officer in your agency holds.

Read on. Stay safe!