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Reduce Expenses: Tips to Live Within the Budget

Written by Andrew Borrello

The abundant ’80s and ’90s were good to us; pay increases were regular and improved benefits could be relied on during the collective bargaining process. Currently, those agencies hit the hardest have been forced to lay off officers, freeze positions, suspend needed programs, reduce pay and benefits, and halt purchases of needed equipment and infrastructure improvements.

Law enforcement administrators have been challenged to cut costs at every level. Here are some budget and money tips and tricks that may offer some needed help. Of course, the application of the following tips may depend on agency size, region and other factors that are unique to each organization.

Extended Maintenance Agreements

Many large purchases, i.e., in-car cameras, commercial shredders or digital phone recording systems, come with standard warranties. However, vendors offer extended maintenance agreements (EMA) to extend the warranty. Standard practice suggests the EMA be purchased for as long as the equipment is planned to be in use. Despite the high cost of EMAs, such extended warranties are well worth the cost when compared to the substantial cost of purchasing parts, labor or replacing broken equipment.

EMAs are sold as part of the product package. Police staff responsible for purchasing the products knows they can negotiate the cost of the product itself. However, they may fail to realize expensive EMAs are negotiable as well.

If an agency purchases 15 digital in-car camera systems to outfit its patrol fleet, each of the systems will have a one-year warranty. The manufacturer will likely offer an EMA for years 2-5. This cost will cover all parts, repair / labor, or full replacement for four years. Many agencies prefer to be invoiced for the EMA monthly or annually.

Purchase the full EMA (years 2-5) upfront. Roll it into the initial cost instead of paying it monthly or annually. This is very attractive to cash-hungry manufacturers and is often a preference. Ask the vendor if the City pays for the full EMA up front, if the EMA can be offered with a 15 percent discount, or provide the first year of the EMA at no cost. Remember, as a customer purchasing a product, the more creative you are and the better you negotiate the more money you can save.

Outsourcing Parking Enforcement

Traffic enforcement and the penalties gained from parking enforcement are an important part of the muni revenues generated by a law enforcement organization. Agencies rely on sworn officers or in-house staff to enforce parking violations. Many agencies have found that outsourcing parking enforcement duties to private companies has a number of benefits.

Agencies might consider contracting with a reputable company that offers civilian parking enforcement on a full- or part-time basis. A team of contract parking enforcement officers are assembled, trained, provided needed equipment, and scheduled. The parking enforcement officers can work 24/7 and their sole responsibility is parking enforcement.

The muni does not pay benefits or any of the other substantial costs associated with in-house or full-time employees. If one of the parking enforcement officers does not work out, he or she is simply replaced by another officer.

Having civilian parking enforcement frees up police officers to deal with more important calls for service. The investment into this type of contract service, well managed, can yield substantial returns in revenue generated from the parking penalties and the cost of their service is only a fraction of the penalty revenues. At the same time, parking problems and enforcement are being thoroughly addressed.

Audit Vendor Pricing Annually

At least once per year, consider auditing the pricing or fees of your regular vendors. Compare their costs, services and customer service to other vendors. This can be done easily with a phone call or by visiting company websites. Some vendors have state contracts that offer better pricing than those without such contracts.

For example, in California, the California Multiple Award Schedules (CMAS) offers a wide variety of commodities, non-IT services, and information technology products and services at prices, which have been assessed to be fair, reasonable and competitive. Vendors with state contracts have already been to competitive bid. This means agency buyers can select this vendor without being burdened by having to go through the time and cost of going out to bid with multiple unwanted vendors trying to lowball each other.

GSA (General Services Administration) provides contracts for vendors who service federal organizations. GSA pricing does not apply to local, state or municipal law enforcement organizations. Despite this, agency buyers can collaborate with GSA contract holding vendors and develop a price schedule that is slightly higher than GSA pricing. Vendors certainly comply with GSA requirements, but can use the modified schedule to offer highly competitive pricing to local law enforcement.

If you have a contracted vendor who provides monthly service, compare your contract pricing to the vendor’s own advertised pricing or Internet pricing. Sometimes their general pricing goes down or offers special savings, but your contracted pricing stays the same. The vendor’s general Internet pricing might be less, even with shipping and handling. Pointing this out to the vendor might result in a discount. Expect the best pricing and always ask to get it.

Plate Reader / Scofflaw Violator Revenue

Agencies across the country are purchasing and deploying Automated License Plate Reader (ALPR) systems to selected patrol cars in their fleet. Aside from the many law enforcement benefits these systems offer, the systems can also be used as an effective tool to generate parking enforcement revenue from scofflaw violators. For example, in California, such violators are identified as having five or more unpaid parking citations. If the state has vehicle storage laws or municipal codes allowing for the storage / impound of scofflaw vehicles, the vehicles can be stored or booted until all the fines are paid.

The list of scofflaw violators can be electronically entered into the ALPR system and as officers drive throughout the city, the system alerts the officers to the violator vehicles. Once the vehicles are stored / impounded, the owner must pay all existing fines before the vehicle can be released.

Energy Conservation Lighting

Many police and sheriff facilities across the country were built long before energy conservation was a priority. Remodeling has occurred, ergonomic desks have been added, and computers are abundant in every office. One upgrade that can save a substantial amount of money that many organizations overlook is the facility’s lighting.

Consider contacting your local power / electric company. Ask for a representative from the company to audit your facility lighting to assess if the lighting can or should be replaced and if upgrading the lights to newer, more efficient lighting would be eligible for energy rebates.

Some power companies may offer a list of authorized third-party vendors to conduct the audit and provide a quote for full lighting replacement. Many organizations with old-generation lighting can have their lights changed out with new lights that use substantially less electricity; they provide brighter and better light, and they generate less heat.

The power company approves the lighting and confirms it qualifies for a rebate. After installation, the muni gets a rebate of $5,000. The $6,000 the muni invested is recovered in savings from the new lighting and breaks even in the first nine months. From that point on, the savings in the reduction of power consumption offers substantial savings.

Pockets of Hidden Usable Revenue

Upgrades of equipment and systems are always being made in law enforcement organizations. Some equipment that is replaced has money budgeted for it to sustain it.

For example, some agencies across the country still have in-car camera systems that operate with VHS videotapes and 9V batteries to power the transmitters. This type of system was state-of-the-art a decade ago. Today the in-car systems are digital, eliminating the need for VHS tapes and the transmitters are rechargeable, excluding the need for bulk purchases of expensive 9V batteries.
 
When agencies upgrade to a digital system, the money budgeted for VHS tapes and 9V batteries will no longer be needed. This budget surplus can be thousands of dollars and left alone will roll back to the muni’s general fund. The money has already been allotted for police use, so why not use this pocket of dormant usable money to fund other needed items in the organization.

Even if the money is earmarked for an in-car camera system and budget or finance policy restrictions prevent it from being used elsewhere, simply use it to offset the cost of the new upgraded system, thus saving thousands off the purchase. Look for these pockets of unused money that might be used for other needed items.

Grant Allocation Specialist

Applying for and being awarded grant funds is an integral part of law enforcement’s efforts to supplement shrinking budgets and limited resources. There are numerous federal, state, and private or commercial grants available to fund the purchase of equipment, provide a budget for training, establish new programs, or to hire new police officers.

Many agencies rely on in-house sworn staff to seek out and research such grants as a collateral duty, but this can often be a time-consuming task. Grant applications can be very detailed and require a good amount of research. Once the grant has been completed and submitted, if approved, the purchase must be made with oversight of delivery, installation and any associated training.

Very detailed auditing of the grant often follows and sometimes for years after the funding was awarded. The entire process of obtaining and processing grants can be an arduous and time-consuming endeavor, especially when it is the responsibility of a sworn staff member as a collateral duty.

Some agencies utilize a civilian part-time Grant Allocation Specialist (GAS). A part-time employee without expensive benefits whose sole responsibility is to seek out and secure grant funding can be very valuable. In fact, the entire annual salary of a GSA may be less than the award of a single grant.

A good option for this position is to hire a recently retired sergeant or lieutenant looking to supplement his pension. They are familiar with the organization, highly knowledgeable in law enforcement, and with some specialized training or apprenticeship, can be very effective at obtaining valuable grant funding.

What Else Can We Do?

Audit your agency’s fees (vehicle release, fingerprinting, citation sign-off, etc.) to ensure they are in line with other agencies in your region or county. If you do not have a traffic enforcement unit, consider scheduling officers to work in four-hour blocks of overtime with their sole responsibility to write 10 to 16 moving citations per four-hour shift. The portion of the penalty that returns to the agency for those moving citations may substantially exceed an officer’s pay for a four-hour period. Done regularly, this could both generate revenue and enhance traffic enforcement efforts.

Instead of sending officers away to expensive training, consider developing in-house subject matter experts to teach the most needed training such as arrest and control techniques, DUI and narcotics investigations, or range training. Consider creating a well-developed program or system to reduce or eliminate sick-leave abuse to address having to backfill overtime officers at +150 percent of the budget.

Risk management training is often reserved for the higher ranks of law enforcement. Develop and custom fit line-level risk management training to staff targeted at reducing injury, enhancing better decision-making, reducing complaints and lawsuits, and facility and human safety.

Andrew Borrello is a lieutenant and 21-year veteran with the San Gabriel (Calif.) Police Department. He welcomes comments at promote411@aol.com.

Published in Law and Order, Oct 2011

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