The Hardest Budget to Come

As chiefs of police and sheriffs face what will probably be one of the most difficult years of budgeting, here are some thoughts. Many this year will have to make the decision between ‘wants’ and ‘needs.’ Yes, this was something taught to me as a child but often we forget when we see the new shiny widget. Some programs, outreaches or initiatives could be on the chopping block with monies diverted or lost.

One thing that I keep reminding the new chiefs and sheriffs of is that you are the chief executive officer (CEO) of an organization, you are not just the figurehead. You must run your department as a professional organization and not a frat house. This year with the impacts of Covid-19, on-going social unrest, and the possibility of the defunding some police missions, the hard decisions will be made this year. These upcoming decisions will have long-term implications. Be the leader and decide wisely.

Unfortunately, a lot of ​chiefs and sheriffs use “personality-based decisions” in purchasing. Every one of us has our personal likes and dislikes. We have our brand preferences, our favorite company or our favorite contractors.  Often, we make our purchasing choices with these personality-based influences rather than hard data. Now with the budgets tighter than ever imagined, one must perform due diligence for nearly all budget-based decisions. Going back to our favorite product brand, you must now decide is a name recognition worth the price? Is there something comparable and more economical and here goes the dilemma?

Another area to revisit is our existing contracts. Every organization has vehicle maintenance, dry cleaning, building maintenance, and other support services contracts. These line items are often in the budget often without review. All too often departments have always used a particular company just because this was the way it has always been. Granted, sometimes it was a political decision made for you by elected officials. ​Reality is that politicians have to ​”​spread the wealth​”​ to their supporters, whether you like it or not. 

 
In a perfect world, all want to see the local vendor, or the local smaller business get these lucrative contracts. This only makes sense to keep local tax money within the local tax base. When reviewing existing contracts and requesting competitive bids, you will ruffle the feathers of most businesses, but it has got to be accomplished. Be honest with them, state that you are performing due diligence, after all you have to be the guardian of taxpayers’ money. The main point here is that you must ensure the process is the best for all concerned. You can defend your selections, while trying to preserve your funding.

Spreadsheets

I strongly suggest you create a spreadsheet of upcoming renewals and review them. Memberships to professional organizations will be scrutinized, as well as renewal of service contracts for technology, projected replacement of outdated technology, fleet management and all maintenance and replacement costs. Elected officials may not ​understand proper law enforcement practices. I have heard in public meetings, “I still hunt with my granddaddy’s shotgun, why do you need new shotguns​?​” and “Why do you need expensive uniforms, why can’t you get the rental uniforms like the public works employees wear​?”​ Yes, there are more foolhardy statements that I have had to field in the past. Tip – be prepared for anything this year. “Needful things” has to be on the defense spreadsheet, review the expendables you have gone through for COVID and recent unrest, you have to keep your quartermaster stocked for bad days.

Personnel

In this current climate I feel we will see those able to retire submitting their papers. Some who are fed up may vest or withdraw their retirements, invest in a private retirement fund and walk out. The personnel shortages will be another war cry of do more with less. Granted salaries and related personnel costs make up the biggest slice of your budget pie. Politicians will view this as a means of closing the budget gap. Be ready to guard your staffing and operational requirements. Recruiting will probably be more difficult than ever; I foresee department jumping. Better benefits, better working/living conditions will attract officers who can leave without retirement impacts. Care for your staff, they are your most important resource.

Training Solutions

One thing which is particularly disturbing will be the attack upon the training budget. This is often the most vulnerable for most political leadership cannot see this as a tangible item. All they can see is police officers not working on the street, getting paid to sit in a classroom. As training budgets get tighter, you must begin to seek other non-traditional sources for training. Many insurance trusts who service governmental organizations offer some free training. Since the department is underneath their insurability umbrella, ask for their training offers or grants.  Research government​-​supported training where all you have to do is host the training. Now, never say it is ​”​free training​”​ for there is no such thing as free training – you have to have overtime for backfill​ and​ there may be some expendables (classroom supplies or hall rental). The goal is to seek partnerships you can build to establish free training.

Training conferences may be viewed with skepticism for the fees, travel and per diem adds up quickly. My best suggestion is inquiring if attendees present a topic or assist in some way with the conference operations, could they receive complimentary attendance or some perks to lessen the costs.

Most state POST councils are now approving virtual or on-line training options which helps with the scheduling and gives you more latitude on meeting state requirements. To me there is no ‘minimum training’ but seek quality, suitable training to meet the demands that your officers are facing.

Nuances of 2020

The first reality is that most municipalities or counties will be facing budgetary shortfalls this year and probably until there is a full economic recovery. Most all are facing reductions in employment taxes (people not working), sales taxes (shops closed or going out of business) and if they offer utilities services (water/sewer for example) many customers cannot pay or legislation preventing cut-offs for non-payments inhibiting this income. Some of their own sacred line items may also face cuts – donations to the arts, recreation and other public donations/support to non-profits. What will convolute the next few months is that most budget processes should have been completed, but due to no public meetings or face to face meetings all are behind schedule. Chiefs​ and sheriffs​ need to schedule telephone or email time to answer and defend questions to the budget staff and elected officials.

New demands

If your agency does not have body cameras and other recording systems (vehicle and station), expect to be purchasing them. In the quest of transparency, it is going to force your hand.

New training demands will come about. ​There will be m​ore mandated training with no financial assistance. Whether it be bias training, use of force, de-escalation, or whatever; you will need to insert this in the budget. Problem is the ​f​ederal ​government ​or ​the s​tate will manda​​te this midstream of next fiscal year without warning, so you will have sticker shock.​

In closing, with the ‘defund the police’ movement some missions may be reassigned to another agency. Mental health calls have been discussed in the past. Have the data of the number of mental health calls from the past and calculate the percentage they were from calls for service.  We have been through something like this in the past. It created social experiments in the 1980s and other times where draconian backlashes have occurred for political changes and motives. We will get through this, but it will be hard, tedious work. If a chief or sheriff expects this year or next year for that matter to be a budget process as usual, you are sadly mistaken. You will earn your salary on this one. Good luck and keep up the good work.


By William L. Harvey | Officer.com
 
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon

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