Sunday, July 8, 2007

Making ends meet

I'm an eternal optimist.

I refuse to let the bad news of the City's 2007-2008 budget change my long term outlook. The sumary view of the Mayor's proposed budget was published Sunday. As we had all been warned, it is grim. Despite the City's budget woes, I think we'll be just fine, and we'll be back on track for improvement when the City's financial picture eventually and inevitably rebounds. It is critical to restore public trust in the City's financial management and efficiency. Personally, I anxiously await the promised performance audits. I will put our efficiency, quality, and productivity up against any police department, anywhere, anytime. The bang-for-the-buck this department provides is incredible.

The budget-related news, however, is not all bad. We will have no layoffs at LPD, because we saw this coming and did not fill positions that became vacant for the past several months. Nobody loses his or her job. We kept our fleet replacement alive, that's good, too. At lunch with Omaha's police chief and brass last week, I learned that they had just hit an unenviable milestone: the average fleet mileage at OPD has now topped 100,000! And we'll still have officers in the training pipeline throughout the year, to keep the flow going to fill the predictable 5% per year post-training turnover we have averaged for the past 13 years.

Paradoxically, it could be a particularly good year for equipment and technology, due to some new grant funding (which can't be used on personnel). We may be able to tackle digital evidence and digital transcription, for instance, and make some more progress on the upgrade to OpenSky--the next generation of our mobile data backbone. Depending on what happens with our remaining unexpended budget reappropriation, other good things might be in the offing for one-time acquisitions.

Nonetheless, it will be a challenge. Here are the details, first the cash cuts, then the personnel cuts:

1% of total salaries $217,911
Overtime $101,450
Unspecified cut $190,000

1 Assistant chief
1 Office specialist
1.75 Public service officers
1 Records technician
1 Administrative officer

After conserving overtime very, very carefully (we spent the same amount this year as we did in FY 1993-94, despite the base payroll doubling), we will have to figure out a way to cut an additional $101,450. We're losing an assistant chief, despite having reduced the command staff of this department from 27 to 17 over the past 26 years as the overall size of the department has increased by 125 employees. Our support staff will be further stressed by the loss of a records tech, administrative officer, two public service officers, and an office specialist. Finally, like many other police departments, we will be forced to operate below our authorized strength slightly, because the full cost of our payroll is not budgeted. After fifteen years of being able to run at our slightly over our authorized complement, this will be the second straight year of having to keep fewer people on the payroll than the budget actually shows.

Before anyone starts blaming Mayor and Council, we need to remember that the citizens of Lincoln elected our representatives, and all of the candidates--winners and losers--promised not to raise taxes. When revenue is not keeping up with expenses, there are two ways to go, and the voters clearly chose this route.

It's up to our citizens to decide what services they want and are willing to pay for from their local government. They made their decision, and we will have to live with that. I'm not sure, though, that Lincoln's voters fully understand the bargain they get with City government compared to virtually any other city. That bargain, by the way, is largely due to the low cost of police services--since in almost all cities the police department is far and away the largest user of general fund tax dollars.

When you've got the smallest police department per capita in the State, and the 177th smallest of 192 cities in Nebraska and all it's surrounding states (not the mention the only city of 200,000 in the bottom half), it's pretty much a guarantee that your overall city budget will be down near the bottom. By the way, 177th puts us right between Hays, Kansas and Lee's Summit, Missouri.

So, what do we do in a time of declining resources? We keep our focus on our core mission, and we do not let the quality of those core services slip. Rather, we slough off those things that contribute least to our most important role, and devote those resources to more important tasks. That's what we'll be working on the remainder of this summer, trying to figure out how we can best continue to serve the citizens of Lincoln with the resources they have agreed to provide.

There will be better days ahead!


Anonymous said...

I realize that there will be no layoffs, but I hope none of the eliminated positions will be patrol officer positions.

Also, while I vote against nearly every bond issue on the ballot, I certainly wouldn't mind voting yes on a supplemental LPD funding bond issue. That is, as long as the city wouldn't then cut the LPD budget by the same amount and shift that to something like the Antelope Valley Project boondoggle.

Tom Casady said...

Anon: I thought I made it clear in the original post which positions had been cut in the Mayor's proposed budget, but to recap:

1 assistant chief
1.75 public service officers (downtown parking enforcement)
1 administrative officer
1 records tech
1 office specialist

Anonymous said...

Perhaps anonymous 1:58 came to the same conclusion that I did when reading the blog. The comments "we will be forced to operate below our authorized strength" and "to keep fewer people on the payroll than the budget actually shows." lead me to believe that (due to budget reasons) the number of patrol officers on the street will be fewer than the number authorized. This may not be an elimination of patrol officers but it would have the same effect. If there is insufficient budget to hire, staff, and keep 317 officers on the payroll then I'd be hard pressed to say that there has not been a cut to patrol officer positions. It may only be a temporary cut that can be corrected when funds are made available but an increase in funds seems unlikely given the city's current budget situation.

Please correct me if I am misunderstanding the situation.

Tom Casady said...

You understand it correctly for the most part. But not all our positions are in patrol, and I'll be looking for those things that have the least impact on our core mission. Uniformed officers on Teams responding to the expressed needs of our citizens is priority 1.

Anonymous said...

How about street Sgts start taking calls when its busy. Some already do and they are great Sgts, some wont help if they are the last person available in the city. It is almost an insult to some and they know who they are.

Help me out here... said...

I was raised knowing the phrase, "The squeaky wheel gets the grease." With that having been said, cutting back on all of our "public service calls" is probably what needs to happen to get the funding we need. If when Joe Citizen calls saying he lost his wallet "somewhere in town", and demands an officer to drive 5 miles to his house to take the rpt, and he won't make his rpt over the phone, we should tell him "No,our staffing won't allow that." Mainly because the Mayor answers to the citizens, not the Police, nor the Police Chief. If enough citizens are upset about us not jumping through our own shirts to coddle them anymore, and we responded more like Omaha PD (only dealing with the important calls), they will start to gripe to the mayor. Soon enough, the mayor will realize that's it's more than just "317 cops" who are upset, but rather a majority of the tax paying city demanding a better Police Force. Then we will get a response, but it takes some guts to make that move and stand on your own feet, and I am afraid that isn't in our near future. Secondly, there is an effective way to handle a lot of our staffing shortages for the time being, here are some of the ways:

1. Only respond to injury accidents, all other accidents tell them over the phone to exchange information and leave. (Works for Omaha)

2. Belated suspicious party, who left the area prior to the Officer being assigned the call. (This means there is no longer a suspicious party there... Don't dispatch us unless it's in progress, or there was a vandalism burglary etc...)

3. Registration violations, don't dispatch an officer, save it for the PSO's, or tell the caller no, we have a staffing crisis, we can't give you an officer for that type of complaint right now.

4. Tree limb, box, etc.. in the road. (Is this really a police issue???, All we do is burn gas while we sit and wait for the city crew to come remove the limb anyhow, why not just call them directly. If it was that serious we would be being dispatched to an accident at that location, not an object in the road).

5. Caller upset because the child who lives in the apartment above them is "running too loudly". (Answer: I'm sorry to hear that, talk with your landlord about moving to a new apartment, or go knock on your neighbors door and discuss the problem with them... that's not a criminal matter - don't send us)

People will be upset for a while, but they will realize that the only way to fix it is to call the mayor and complain to him about the budget, which is where the problem really lays.

P.S. I realize we have 317 Commissioned officers, I am curious how many of those are street officers who take CFS? I would be interested to know that number

Tom Casady said...

Anonymous 2:59 A.M. :

You seem to have some time on your hands. Or maybe like me, you're blogging off duty. Let me take these one at a time:

1. I believe the vaunted Omaha Police Department responds to non-injury traffic accidents. I think Omaha officers get their own fair share of silly CFS, too. I'll double check.

2. Belated suspicous parties: Personally, I'd like to catch a window peeker, stalker, burglar casing a property, protection order violator, LFA suspect, etc. in the area--even if he's left from the complainants view. I guess that's just me.

3. Now just how much work is that? Code 4, when you get to it. Believe it or not, the PSOs work, too, and we're loosing 1.75 of them. Those registration violations are taking tens of thousands (probably hundreds of thousands) of dollars in unpaid sales tax, personal property tax, and wheel tax out of the pockets of the rest of us taxpayers.

4. Tree limb / box in the road. Are we getting flooded with these, or is it the extensive report writing and follow-up? Kick the box out of the road and be on your way. If it causes a crash before Public Works gets to it, you'll have some real work on your hands--oh, no--we don't respond to traffic collisions.

5. You'll get no debate from me on this one. Whether an officer gets dispatched to something like this is largely up to the skill of the call-taker in figuring out whether something more is behind the scenes. They took the clairvoyants out of the Communications Center budget years ago. Are you volunteering?

You know, you're getting perilously close to loosing sight of why you have a job. When you start viewing the citizens' as an interruption to your day, instead of the purpose of your work, that's a problem.

We've got some good, legitimate service reductions to consider--things that can be adequately handled in a different way without intentionally annoying the people we exist to serve. I think you've missed them, but they are there. But don't let your frustration turn into cynicism.

Oh, and the number of officers servicing CFS is 177--72%, which is well above average. I've got the comparative data. Are you suggesting that we move a dozen or so to the Service Desk to take more of your calls over the phone?

Anonymous said...

Heres a great example of waste. I call dispatch and report that I have a boxed baby crib in my trunk. I removed it from the road and that it is undamaged and looks like it fell from a vehicle, onto the road. I explained that many cars had to avoid it at high speeds. The dispatcher says I should be more cautious and it could have contained snakes or even a bomb. He said he must send an officer to pick it up and that I may reclaim it in 90 days if the owner is not located. I might suggest to the dispatcher that not all of us out here are stupid, and that we can indeed use our brains just like Mr. Officer

The officer arrives and takes one look and says " I don't want it"
And that is that.

So I must say that there are a huge amount of problems with LPD and efficiency.

Anonymous said...

Nice post chief. The cops that are complaining have no idea what it's like to busy. It seems many of our new officers feel the department started the day they were hired. It's my understanding a history book of the Lincoln Police Department is in the works - perhaps they should read it to understand where we have been. The is a job that requires hard work, long hours, different shifts, and little sleep (all of which should have been known prior to applying for the job). I'm sorry the calls for service are getting in your way of doing nothing during your shift. If the OPD looks so good perhaps it's time to move on - I hear they are hiring.

Anonymous said...

A boxed baby crib? That you found on road? It sounds like it belonged to someone else and the police should be called and should have checked it and held onto it. A good officer would have picked up the crib and proceeded to the nearest major retailer and see if they could have tracked down the owner.

Anonymous said...

So, Chief, what kind of services ARE you looking at cutting? You don't seem to like any of the suggestions your officers have came up with recently so I'm curious as to what your ideas are.

Tom Casady said...

Actually, officers have offered several good suggestions--just not necessarily on this blog. We actually do have meetings, conversations, discussions, and email at the PD!

I am not ready to go public with any of my proposals just yet. This budget has not been adopted, and even when it is adopted, it goes into effect on Sept. 1. I'll keep my powder dry for now.

The management staff knows what service reductions we've been discussing, and I have shared my thoughts with many other employees one on one.

Anonymous said...

Has the LPD looked into hiring reserve officers? I know that many towns and cities make up for their low numbers by having part-time officers filling in some of the gaps. I know we're in a budget shortfall, but if we don't have enough officers as it is, why not boost that number at a minimum of cost (compared to hiring full-time officers)?

Anonymous said...

Why is it that when a teacher or firefighter wants a raise or schools and fire stations want new equipment/personnel, the public goes crazy to support it? Why doesn't the public support law enforcement in the same way? Perhaps you should propose stationing officers around the city and allow them to wait inside your buildings--perhaps sleep, cook, exercise, watch television, etc., until a call comes in for them to respond to. Or, perhaps you should propose giving your officers three months off work over the summer. Then perhaps the public would support keeping your budget where it needs to be or even increase it. Then the politicians will give you more money to appease their voters. Thanks for your hard work and that of all LPD personnel.

Anonymous said...

Chief--the boxed baby crib? Please don't waste any of my tax dollars on a highly trained officer tracking down the hundreds of places this crib could have been purchased at. The particular person who made such a complaint needs to wake up and look at the real word surrounding them. Thanks for all of LPD's hard work on real police issues.

Anonymous said...

In response to July 11, 2007 9:43 AM

There is a law that prohibits posession of property lost or misplaced, so the prudent thing to do is prevent an accident by removing the hazard. The next thing is to report it to police as the law requires. Further, no one suggested to track down where it was purchased. It was suggested by dispatch to tag it into property in case the owner would call to report a lost item. Sorrry for the confusion here.

Anonymous said...

Maybe citizens can volunteer or get $5 per abandoned bike call and free up policemen.

Anonymous said...

As an applicant for the hiring period for the Sept academy class, I am slightly concerned about how this may affect those of us who are hoping to gain employment with LPD. While the blog itself stated the active street force should be untouched, I became concerned and skimmed the comments seeing no mention of this. Am I skimming too much, or has this not been addressed?

Tom Casady said...

Yes, you are skimming too much. We're hiring 16 new officers to start in August. It looks like the January class will be in the neighborhood of 12, and the August 2008 class arouind 10. We'll still be keeping officers in the training pipeline, just slightly fewer than we otherwise would be funded for.

Anonymous said...

So, by keeping fewer officers in the training pipeline than would otherwise be funded for, essentially the Lincoln Police Department IS moving backwards with respect to officers per population.

I'm sure you have already completed the projections chief but how long do you figure this "temporary" budget crisis will set back staffing at the police department?

Tom Casady said...

That depends on how long "temporary" lasts. The picture for the 2008-2009 fiscal year (which begins in September of 2008) doesn't look rosy, either--barring any major uptick in sales tax.

Anonymous said...

Hey Chief, LPD IS VERY PROFESSIONAL...Keep Up Your Enthusiasm! What are your thoughts on lateral police officers throughout the USA. They are trained and ready to roll. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hey Chief, how about you put two or three officers in cruisers on I-80 and start writing tickets to people speeding through the construction zone? If you need to generate some revenue, get proactive about it, rather than sulk in the corner and whine. The city could make thousands on the interstate speeders. Just a suggestion.

Tom Casady said...

Oh, now that's brilliant. By law, all fines in this State go to the schools. Not a nickel of any traffic fine or criminal fine goes to the City or the police department.

Back to the drawing board, Mr. Anonymous--I'm not sulking at all, just trying to do my job with the resources our citizens are willing to provide.