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Show Me the Money

Written by Ed Sanow

As a patrol officer, every day used to be all about handcuffing, defensive tactics, criminal law, and developing probable cause. Arrest reports, physical fitness, and courtroom testimony filled your day. You dealt with bad guys, period.

As sergeant and lieutenant, policing changed. You got off the street or out of the car and into the world of supervision. Your day was all about people, your people—how to schedule them, how to motivate them, how to discipline them, perhaps how to cover for them, and definitely how to manage them. Daily questions like where the police cars came from, where the overtime money came from, and where the communications systems came from, were all someone else’s problem. You dealt with the good guys, period.

As chief, policing changed again. Your day has become all about money, and the people you deal with are all other government officials. Like everyone you have dealt with in your police career, those officials probably do not share your goals, and they certainly do not want to share their money with you. You must now compete for it.

The basic academy may have prepared you for patrol, but you already know it didn’t prepare you for supervision and it certainly did not prepare you for budget meetings with the mayor and city council. It is up to you to get that financial training to get your piece of the pie.

Money buys staff, vehicles, overtime, radios, uniforms, laptops, buildings, software, sniper rifles, throw phones, and high-tech gear for both the lab and the street. In middle and top police management, it is pretty much all about money.

You need to learn about budgeting and the budgeting process. Learn about grants and grant writing. Learn about debits, credits, legers, and spreadsheets. Learn about the tax base, rate structure, and the very core of government financing. Learn about the legislative process that can result in favorable, or unfavorable, laws as they affect your department. Learn about municipal leases.

Learn about in-house costing versus outsourcing for everything your department does. Look into free training. Look into becoming a warranty repair center for your vehicles. Look into contracting police services for other municipalities. Look into holding prisoners for other agencies.

Talk to other chiefs. How did they justify 2.6 officers per thousand, while you are stuck with 1.7 officers per thousand? How did they get their state legislature to authorize turning in patrol cars at 49,000 miles? What are they doing to get along so well with their city council? How come they have money?

Most of all, aggressively justify the existence of your department. Cultivate community support. Of course, that means actually solving some of their problems, such as community policing, or better yet, CompStat.

Your police career has moved you from dealing with the bad, to dealing with the good, to dealing with the ugly (what else would you call a budget meeting?). To remain successful, you must complete the move from a law enforcement officer to a chief financial officer.

Published in Law and Order, Aug 2005

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