Future Trends: Thinking Ahead to Stay Ahead

Sept. 17, 2022
A planning and projecting strategy from the 1980s can be used as more than a budgeting tool for police departments and law enforcement agencies.

Back in the early ‘80s, as a newly promoted sergeant, we all were sent to supervision schools. Each of these schools and its instructors all came out with their suggested reading lists for both the classes and post-class for self-improvement. Within their great literary suggestions that would enhance our careers was one book that we were required to read. Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives (1982) by John Naisbitt.

This article appeared in the September issue of OFFICER MagazineClick Here to view the digital edition. Click Here to subscribe to OFFICER Magazine.

During that time, this book was one that was really pushed through all the supervisory and business schools. A few pointers I did retain for later in my career as a chief of police paid huge dividends for me. Rarely is budgeting foresight or prediction an exact science; sometimes you need a séance and crystal ball. Because of your job description, budgeting insight is a true plus in your survival as a chief. This book gave us the foundation of performing one, three, five, seven and 10 years or more of a program’s projections. Some of this seems like fantasizing, for rarely do municipal budgets ever require 3- or 5-year programs with the budget process. Far too few small and medium size municipalities and counties ever do this. They continue to fly by the seat of their pants.

I believe it’s very interesting to note this activity is a good leveraging tool to prevent those “I told you so” moments. Some recent budget overruns can be attributed to evolving technology. Such as body worn cameras, in-car cameras, license plate readers, and then a method to store all this video information. I challenge any older reader to recall what was in your first patrol car - radio, siren and light switch. Now, look at the ‘cockpit’ of today’s police cruiser - with all the new electronics. Sometimes the up-fitting of electric goodies can nearly be the cost of another car. Review your own departmental history to see how technology impacted your budget as these new items were rolled out.

When the internet, email and every officer having access to an intranet, the money flowed. Just like that, we were modern and working in the future. Agencies bought computers, which also have to have software. Then their user licenses and renewals should go onto the next course of projected budgets. Most during the advent of computers, which we take for granted, did not predict the projected life of the machine. Before we knew it, many workstations had to be replaced. To be honest, I cannot think of any "lifetime" purchases that I had made; even sidearms have a life expectancy and must be replaced. Now, some people were shocked as this unraveled their budgets. Before I would approve a large investment, especially with technology, I would inquire on its projected lifespan. If it’s going to have to be replaced in three years, pull out the three-year budget worksheets. Life expectancy questions are commonplace. We always project the fleet lifespan.

On the income side, start attending or tracking with your planning commission. A great predictor of future income is tax base. You can view their projections by seeing the number of building permits, both commercial and residential. New shopping centers, hotels, eateries and entertainment centers will be a positive impact to the coffers. However, they can have major impacts on projected calls for service

A large growth projection may promote you to view future staffing to meet these new responsibilities. While on staffing, have projected retirements and add another sheet of those who are vested (can walk as well). Today’s climate makes staffing a true balancing act. I would also closely track your staff who are retirable or vested that hold specialized expertise. When they walk, so goes vast instructional knowledge. To retrain and gain meaningful experience in forensics or crash reconstruction can take years. Do not track just their names, but their worth to your operations. Start training their future replacements now.

Stay in contact with your state Department of Transportation. Maybe they may be considering a bypass; then the town could wither up and die, so you may need to adjust on the low side. If the DOT is adding a new exit or new traffic pattern to support a new shopping center, then you may have a projection for growth. The DOT usually works around 3-to-5-year projects. They must advertise, hold public input meetings, and the bid process for contractors.

Review your population trends. You can go review the geographics of your community and see if you have been having an upward or downward trend. The data from your public-school systems are great predictors in increased population trends. Also, look at your aging residential population. Senior citizens can create more public service responses. The more you research these and other trends, you may have a better grasp into your future requirements and planning. Little things in plain sight and ignored can become budget busters. Perform the due diligence in preparing next year’s budget but invest in planning the next few future years, it will pay off.

This article appeared in the September issue of OFFICER Magazine.

About the Author

William L. Harvey | Chief

William L. "Bill" Harvey is a U.S. Army Military Police Corps veteran. 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 in field operations, investigations and completed his career as the director of training. Served as the chief of police of the Lebanon City Police Dept (PA) for over seven years and then ten years as Chief of Police for the Ephrata Police Dept (PA). In retirement he continues to publish for professional periodicals and train.        

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