Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Don’t get over stimulated

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (AKA the Stimulus Bill) had opened up a number of funding streams for criminal justice. We are watching these closely, and frankly the announcements in the Federal Register and information coming out on the Federal agency websites are so hot and heavy that it’s a full time job just to keep up.

On the one hand, you don’t want to miss out on any golden opportunities. The whole goal, after all, is to get money moving into the economy, and some of it might as well move through the Lincoln Police Department. On the other hand, you don’t want to bite off something you can’t chew. Sometimes the eyes are bigger than the stomach. So, in order to avoid heartburn caused by overstimulation, we have a few principles that are guiding our thought process as we pick and choose our possible targets for application.

Look for genuine needs that cannot be fulfilled in our normal budget.

There is no shortage of these. We haven’t had capital outlay money in our operating budget for many years, and there are lots of items of equipment and supplies that need to be updated. Technology needs in particular are always looming—lab equipment, broadband, digital video, audio, and transcription to name but a few. Our crimes scene van is a 1991, and we’ve got to be one of the largest police departments in the country without a mobile command post vehicle.

Do not create a substantial on-going obligation with one-time only funds.

Here today, gone tomorrow—at least with many of these funding streams. One-time projects and expenditures are the most appropriate target for one-time funding. It takes over a year to recruit, hire and train a police officer. More personnel is the biggest need of all for us, but if the dollars are gone by the time the position is ready to go, you better be able to build the ongoing cost into your long range budget, or you’ve made a huge mistake even starting down that path.

Look for projects that are within our capability to manage.

We need to get cracking on anything we apply for and receive quickly. The economy needs the shot in the arm now. Some of the projects we have in mind would require significant management: grant writing; financial monitoring and reporting; the drafting of requests for proposals, specifications, and contracts; project management and performance testing; and so forth. We have limited resources to devote to these functions, and only a few personnel have the capability. The short timeline and the need to get underway in 2009-2010 is a limiting factor.

Do not start programs that create a constituency that will demand continuation.

A luxury once tasted becomes a necessity. Once you start a program, there are people with a vested interest in its continuation. If you’re not careful, the hue and cry when you try to sunset it down the road will become intense, and even political. Here’s what happens: responding to the uptick in crimes against gerbils, you implement a Gerbil Protection Unit. The officers get spiffy windbreakers with POLICE-GPU printed on the back, and join the International Association of Gerbil Crime Investigators. A few years later, the funding has disappeared, and it’s time to roll the function back into the regular operations of the department. Attempting to do so causes an uproar among gerbil lovers (and who doesn’t love gerbils!) The personnel in the Unit are cheesed at the demise of their chosen specialty. I’ve been through a Warrants Unit, D.A.R.E., G.R.E.A.T., and school resource officers in elementary schools. The tooth-gnashing and hand-wringing was significant.


Anonymous said...

What consideration is there if there are strings attached?

Will you take federal money if they make demands upon the Department?

Tom Casady said...


That's the whole point of this post: we'll have to take a pass if the funding creates on ongoing expense we can't build into the long term projection, or it's beyond our ability to manage, or it creates a constituency that will be tough to deal with when the program sunsets. There are a lot of little strings attached to almost all Federal grants, but these are mostly bureaucratic, and not major hurdles.

ARRRRG!!!! said...

You had to know this was coming.

South Island said...

That is a great point about the specialty units, especially those created in response to whatever terrible crime is being hyped by the media at this particular moment.

People underestimate the capabilities of a large, experienced patrol section. Patrol officers can carry some serious files, provided they get the time to investigate them.

Specialty sections are needed, of course. But they should be well thought out, with a long term mandate to address a clear problem. They also need to be carefully managed because they can become black holes for overtime, which then affects the entire department budget.


Anonymous said...

What kind of capabilities do you have in your current system for reviewing video files sent in by citizens on cell phones?

I realize this could soak up a lot of resources of staff if it was expanded. However there are probably a lot of older retired folks like me out there that do volunteer work that could help do some of the grunt work in a system with a minimum of expenditures.

I know a lot of people that carry video capable cell phones. They could be a tremendous resource in policing the community if a system was in place to handle this information.

Just an idea I wanted to pass along.

Gun Nut

Tom Casady said...

Gun Nut:

I have no idea. When you upload a video from a cellphone, I'm assuming its in some standard digital format--.wmv, .mov, .mp4 or some such--so we should be just fine.

We have a full-time AV tech that does the high-end stuff with video we receive from all sorts of places in all kinds of formats. Our forensic video software is from Ocean Systems, and was just updated.

Anonymous said...

But what if it's a Service Gerbil?

Eric said...

Can you explain how the stimulus bill provides money for police?

It sounds like anything the stimulus bill provided would not be sustainable (the money wouldn't continue to flow in), so you couldn't really use any of it.

Tom Casady said...


Well, I thought I already explained that, but I will try again, with some more detail.

The stimulus bill contains some significant funding for law enforcement that can be used for a variety of purposes--personnel, equipment, training, technology, etc.. I think it is ill-advised to take money for personnel, unless you can plan on retaining those personnel beyond the life of the grant.

The biggest pot of money for personnel is the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services Hiring Recovery Program. These are competitive 3-year grants that fund the entry level salary and benefits of officers who are either added to the department, or who would have otherwise been laid off due to budget problems. There is a requirement for the agency to retain these officers for at least one year after the end of the three year grant.

The second large funding stream is the Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants. This program has $2 billion allocated in the stimulus bill, and it is a formula grant, based on the Part 1 crime rate and population of the jurisdiction.

Lincoln will be receiving approximately $1.4 million, which must be shared with the Lancaster County Sheriff. This is an existing grant program, but we only received $90,000 during the current Federal fiscal year, so this is a very large increase. While it can be used for a variety of purposes, it's year-to-year, and likely that the funding level will return to prior levels next year. This is why it will be important to allocate these funds for projects that have little or no ongoing expense.

Anonymous said...

Trickle up poverty in action.

Anonymous said...

Can you send this to the Governor? He seems to be missing some of this logic.

Thanks, again.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the perfect opportunity for the new uniforms I hear requested regularly on this board.

My memory is fading, but I seem to remember that the biggest roadblock to this was the significant outlay of $$ to retrofit current officers out of their current uniforms.

Assuming that the new uniform pants cost the same or close to the old ones...

I think that meets your requirements pretty well.

Anonymous said...

9:18 AM-

Uniforms??!!! You have got to be kidding me. If that is at the top of your priority list you aren't seeing the big picture with LPD's funding problems.

Anonymous said...

Primarily one-time expenditures?

Automated License Plate Recognition System and a vehicle on which to mount it. I guess you'd still have to pay the recurring cost of the driver/operator.

Now, if the state would just keep their registration check system up and running all the time...

Anonymous said...

Great idea 11:51. Automated License Plate Recognition Systems are so cool!

Tom Casady said...

11:51 adn 8:10-

Already on the way, from last year's reappropriation.

Anonymous said...

Excellent! Now let's hope we keep both plates, or else you'll see an amazing proportion of cars and trucks backed into their parking places - just like they did when I lived in a one-plate state. If anyone stammers anything about the cost of two vs one, tell them to tack the cost on to the registration fee, and that'll quash the argument.

I'm dead-set against automated traffic cameras of any sort, but I like ALPRS and cruiser/handheld radar, because there's a sworn LEO right there in the unit to immediately review any hits, not some contract stooge savoring their company's cut of every "fee".