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More Assessment is Needed

Written by McBride, JT

The stage has been set for profound change in the way states, counties, cities, villages and townships protect their citizenry. Prolonged economic distress in parts of the nation coupled with lessening tax revenue from businesses, industry and citizens may prove to be fatal to many local law enforcement agencies. Public safety revenues, for the most part, have been dwindling since 2008 when the current prolonged “recession” began. The failure of the American economy to “Jump start” itself has resulted in budget reductions and leanness in the ranks as “non-essentials” have been eliminated to reduce costs. 

Unfortunately, some of these “non-essentials” have included hundreds of full-time jobs (turned into part-time jobs to save benefit costs or simply eliminated), vehicle replacement, training, uniform reimbursements, etc. Administrators are faced with the challenge of “making budget” while meeting ever-increasing demands for public services. The situation for many agencies brings to mind an old adage: How do you rob Peter to pay for Paul?

Law enforcement and fire fighting are two of the critical services, which state and local government has provided to citizens throughout the nation. They are also two of the three public functions (the third being education) most devastated by current economic realities. What options do state and local officials have to meet this challenge? Besides reducing staffing even more, or negotiating income/benefit reductions, what strategies offer hope for success in this regard? If appropriate action isn’t taken on these matters quickly, some of American’s smaller law enforcement agencies are destined to simply disappear.

A few options come to mind, which might prove sufficient to balance the operating realities of agencies with the realities of their workloads and budgetary constraints. Assess currently delivered public services and modify or eliminate as many as possible to reflect current economic capabilities of agencies. 

Update the department’s mission statement accordingly. Evaluate the possibility of charging reasonable minimal fees for non-emergency yet essential services. Utilize new technology to share information and allow minor-incident reporting via Internet-based social media, i.e. web-sites, Facebook, tablets, cell phones, etc. 

Empower residents who don’t have Internet capabilities or skills to utilize “snail mail” to document minor property-related offenses. Utilize carefully selected and well-trained volunteers to perform some of the functions traditionally assigned to paid personnel. Share and reduce operating costs by creating multi-jurisdictional economic mutual-aid consortiums to reduce facilitate purchasing, motor vehicle fleet management, health insurance, uniform replacement, laboratory work, radio system operation, and hiring. Engage in as much multi-jurisdictional training as possible. 

Privatize costly auxiliary services such as background investigating, jail operations, vehicle maintenance, cleaning and housekeeping, courthouse and agency security, and prisoner transportation. Share expensive critical assets including personnel, equipment, narcotics units, SWAT teams, aircraft, watercraft, vehicles, headquarters, training facilities, radio equipment, weapons, etc. When appropriate, consolidate agencies to create a synergetic effect beneficial to agencies and taxpayers alike. 

This is not a time for police officials to be territorial or stubborn. It does create an opportunity for courageous officials to step up and seek new solutions before elected officials are forced to initiate action themselves. Law enforcement officials who are proactive in this regard might be able to avoid cuts initiated by well-meaning yet unaware council persons, trustees or commissioners who have no option but to cut, cut, cut!

It would be wonderful if the traditional American policing model could maintain itself without major modification, but that’s highly unlikely given the world’s economic and political turmoil.  Eliminate agencies and jurisdictions that no longer can be justified in terms of an objective cost versus benefit analysis. The choice is simple: Act now or follow later. Agencies that are no longer justified in the minds of citizens or political leaders may soon disappear from the ranks of the Thin Blue Line forever.

 

Chief J.T. McBride (Ret.) is the basic police academy Commander Emeritus and an adjunct criminal justice instructor at Lakeland Community College and a 40-year veteran of Ohio law enforcement. He may be reached at jmcbride@lakelandcc.edu.

 


Published in Law and Order, Jul 2014

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