How to stretch a dollar

When I first took over this column, I began compiling an end-of-the-year list of tips designed to help law enforcement executives find answers to the important issues confronting them. As times have changed, so has the character of those tips. The primary focus now is how to stretch a dollar.

One reason for that is because times have changed, and not in a good way, when it comes to the resources law enforcement agencies have at their fingertips. With budget concerns wiping out some departments entirely, and many others battling to keep manpower at a workable level, police are up against one of the most difficult eras in which to enforce the law and provide protection to its citizens.

Add to that the growing pressure on agencies to go head-to-head with criminals on the ever-changing playing field of technology, and flagging public support when it comes to staff salaries, benefits and pensions...and it’s never been more of a challenge for law enforcement to operate efficiently. Simply put: The fiscal side of the house is a mess.

So here are a few ideas to assist law enforcement agencies in managing resources during the year ahead. Not everything suggested can be done in-house: they might require lobbying and/or changing of the mind-set at other levels. But I think they’re all valid ideas and deserve consideration.

1) First, one of the biggest, current wastes of manpower is the way most state and local retirement systems set up their benefits: Some retirees cannot work for the same retirement system from which they retire or are limited in the number of hours they can put in. It amazes me that the federal government seems to have found a way around this (I know several retired federal agents who have picked up lucrative jobs working at the same agency from which they retired, literally going back to work in the same office the day after they go out.) Why can the feds find a way around this, yet locals cannot? The wasted experience robs local jurisdictions; most retirees would work for the salary alone and forego most, if not all, of the benefits. That’s a winning combination for tight budgets.

2) Second, state certification programs should establish a quick entry program for officers who have already worked in law enforcement and are returning to the profession or are transferring from another place, if they don’t already have one. The New South Wales Police (Australia) lets police transfers go through an eight-week program (versus 32 for new recruits) and those reentering return for a two-week refresher (if they’ve been out of law enforcement for more than two years) and a four-week refresher, if they’ve been out two to 10 years. This allows experienced people to go to work faster and makes a lot of sense to me.

3) Third (and this comes from an interview I recently conducted with IBM’s Chriss Knisley), let’s not forget that there are still federal grants out there. Granted, the money is probably in hotter demand and the competition fiercer than ever before, but they still exist and we should make grant applications a standard part of doing business.

4) And the fourth suggestion is simple: Power up your next budget request by making a smart case. According to Knisley, for the first time more than half of the world’s population now live in cities. As a result, cities have become more competitive in order to attract top police candidates. And, since the quality of a city’s public safety departments, as well as its crime rate, are prime reasons that new businesses relocate in an area, it’s a really good reason to put the city’s money where it counts.

Good luck and here’s to a brighter 2013!