Thursday, May 21, 2009

Run it like a business

How often I've heard that refrain from critics of government. I am usually silently thinking of those stories about CEOs with multi-million dollar compensation packages. I digress: if you're going to run it like a business, you make decisions on how to spend your revenue in a way that produces more of your core product: profit. In our case, the core product is safety and security. How do we spend our revenue to maximize that? It's not quite as easy in policing as it is in some private businesses, because the production function--the link between our inputs and the desired outcome--is not quite as direct. Nonetheless it's a great way of evaluating what you do, and it's a practice we try to engage in as we prepare our lean budget.

I've got plenty of problems of my own, so I don't really need to defend the Lincoln Public Schools, but there is a great example of this in the news lately. It is one that I've blogged about before. Last week, Pyrtle Elementary School was burglarized. Twelve laptop computers were stolen. The story in the Lincoln Journal Star unleashed a flurry of criticism in the comments directed at LPS for not either alarming all the schools or (alternatively) staffing overnight janitorial crews to deter burglars:

"They just don't get it. Put custodians in the schools at night. Geesh."
"...the administration still does nothing to tighten security."
"How many times does this have to happen before they start installing alarm systems?"

Last year, there were 18 burglaries at Lincoln Public Schools, with a total loss and damage of $40,539. The numbers are trending down. The average since 2000 is 33 annual burglaries, with loss and damage of $46,329. Pyrtle Elementary was the fifth burglary of 2009 (we are making good progress on that, by the way).

Exactly how many custodians do you suppose you could hire for that amount? What do you think the monthly fee to an alarm company would be for 70+ buildings? Forget the false alarm fines, and don't even bother with the seven-figure costs of installation. Just think about the monthly service charge.

Now, how would a business make this decision? Simple: what is the impact on the bottom dollar. Does the loss justify the expense?


Anonymous said...

As a pretty much life long Lincoln resident this does not surprise me. Here is the Lincoln refrain - WE are NEBRASKA's capitol city - WE need to have all the latest stuff and our town needs to look good. WE have UNL and FOOTBALL.

But don't you EVER ask us to raise taxes one cent to pay for anything - you should just be grateful we let you live here.

Anonymous said...

You know, I've never thought of it that way. Actually it makes good business sense.

If you use that same logic, what is the value of property stolen in Lincoln in general versus the amount of money spent investigating and responding to petty thefts? Perhaps just let the insurance companies deal with it?

Anonymous said...

I would run it like a business. I see that by correcting the system in which they operate is the answer. It seems that laptops as well as vandalism are the two types of crime reported in the papers.

So for laptops, there are is the collection of portable towers which if left unsecured will only aid the would be burglars because you have collected the loot nicely for them. The next would be securing such towers in strong rooms. And maybe this is the wrong fix, but being complacent by having an acceptable loss is a losers mindset.

Why can't LPS involve more of a design for security? Readers of the blog will know that lighting is a great deterrent. The majority of schools are already lit during some portion of the night. Ensuring that it is the correct lighting is critical. I am not saying to leave the lights on all the time but by rotating that times they are on with your little heat sheet of when crime occurs may be of benefit.

My ultimate solution is not possible...yet...but if we could get some pups like Zues and Apollo from Magnum PI and let them roam the halls, we may have an answer.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the explanation. LPS is always being wrung through the is LPD...for not doing things the way the taxpayers think it should be done. If they would just sit down with a good ol' piece of paper and pencil, and start figuring the "apples to oranges", they just might find out that both entities are doing the best they can with what they have. Nice blog!

that's what she said...

You read my mind on this one. When I read the LJS article, and the resulting posts, I wondered what the loss costs were compared to the costs of security. Good job.

Tom Casady said...


Well, again, it's not my job to defend the school district, but I think you are way wrong if you think they are complacent. There are some things going on behind the scenes that you don't know that would impress you. We didn't solve the most recent burglary on our own.

Your "strong room" concept is interesting. I suspect that in most any school these days there are a huge number of computers, spread throughout the building in offices, computer labs, classrooms, and media centers.

A business would decide if central storage was practical, and if whatever gain from reduced exposure to theft was worth the expense of creating the central storage and the impact that this would create on operational costs and efficiency.

Anonymous said...

Exactly how many custodians do you suppose you could hire for that amount?
Good point.
LPS has custodians they can assign to any shift of their choosing.

Anonymous said...

I live right across the street from an elementary school. I can see one side of the building just by looking out my front window. There are residences on all four sides of the school. If I see anyone over the age of 14 walking on the grounds after school hours it sets off an alarm in my head. I am sure that most of the neighbors in the area react in the same way. That is a lot of eyes that are not costing taxpayers a dime.

Gun Nut

ARRRRG!!!! said...

'There are some things going on behind the scenes that you don't know that would impress you.'

Kim said...

Hey Chief:
Thanks to one of Lincoln's finest for dealing with an inappropriate individual who showed up at last night's Girls on the Run Spring 5K. It's pathetically sad that a participant's relative (the participants are girls ages 8-11) showed up to "support her" by being drunk, abusive to the organizers and other participants' families, and by driving drunk at an event that included about 300 children and adults. He also drove across a lawn in Holmes Park to get into a closed parking lot, where he proceeded to throw items at people even after he was asked to leave.

Thank you to the officer who responded and took the "gentleman" to where-ever.

We appreciate the service.

Anonymous said...

How about motion sensor alarms that run off of the already installed fire alarms. No one would steal with that ringing in their heads they would run quickly away. One designated person to go shut it off.

Anonymous said...

Alarm systems at schools are problematic, because of the large number of people in and out after regular hours. It would be a false alarm bonanza! Forgotten PINs, wrong PINs, and so on. You've got groups coming in during the evenings, and on the weekends. Sports practice and club activities.

Now then, you could secure a whole lot of laptops inside a gun safe (no one said you can't use them for other items), but you'd have to develop a protocol for who has the combo, when it has to be secured, all sorts of things. Compared to LPS's 300+ million dollar budget, one of those in each school would be a drop in the bucket. No safe is undefeatable, but if you put a monitored alarm on just the safe (which puts a lot of time pressure on the burglar) with shock and motion sensors, not the entire building, the false alarm problem almost disappears completely.

Anonymous said...

Dear Chief,
I just saw that someone from Norway was reading your blog! Where is the most interesting place that you have seen your blog being read from?

just curious,


Steve said...

One thing I see as a problem running the police department like a business is that some of the less common or less serious needs of the public may be ignored.

Take an example from the recent post about dog poop and cigarette butts. To get the most bang for our buck, these calls should probably be ignored. So the little old lady, or any person too shy, fearful, or otherwise unable/unwilling to confront the offender just has to "live with it" and keep picking up the poop and butts themselves. To many people, these kinds of things are more important (and directly affect their lives more) than a convenience store robbery, theft from an automobile parked at a trail head, or prostitutes hanging out in some far off neighborhood.

Now, it's not that they don't care about the robbers, burglars, and whores (murderers, rapists, or whatever). It's just that to them, these things are generally just something to be entertained by as they read the paper. Cigarette butts and dog poop (or cars parked illegally half-blocking their driveways, neighbors with barkng dogs or loud music that keep them from a decent night's sleep, etc.) are things they actually have to deal with on a daily basis.

Don't they deserve some "bang for their buck" too?

Most retailers will stop stocking their slow moving or low-profit items to make more shelf space for the things that bring in more money. I hope that doesn't happen with LPD.

Tom Casady said...


I have a very regular reader in Singapore.


Agreed. Taking care of the small stuff helps prevent the big stuff. In our increasingly impersonal society, though, we seem to increasingly need to the police to be intermediaries in very minor interpersonal matters that used to be handled between the yard owner and the dog owner. I'm not sure how much of that we can afford, I definately know it comes at the expense of other things we could be doing: read my post Outside the Bubble.

"On the Southwest Team on Monday, while Officer Rich Fitch was dealing with the suicidal Somali man, while officer Kirk McAndrew was investigating a child abuse, while Officer Cass Briggs and I were looking for the mentally ill Vietnamese dad, while Officer Chris Ehrhorn investigated a hit and run accident at 13th and B, and while Officer Kelly Koerner was snapping photos of gang graffiti at 19th and Washington, someone was calling the police to the Ridge because a neighbor with a leaf blower was blowing his leaves into the street."

Anonymous said...

Speaking of business, this guy is good:
A blk male 5'9 lighter skin about 180 wire rim glasses with many scars (abdomen and shoulder) and claiming to have cancer (part of the hustle) was hustling people in the area of 22nd P St about 4PM today. He mentioned your name (Officer Marti) after he asked about my pro-94 radio, I told him it was law enforcement related and he asked if I was a police officer and I told him I wore many hats, so he never did get an answer as I out shelled him at his own game. He ended the conversation after getting quite nervous.

Anonymous said...

I sent Marti an Email about his street friend...tounge in cheek.

Steve said...


I don't have an answer to the dilemma (of having to prioritize because you lack the manpower to handle everything). And, you're right; most of us "in the bubble" don't know about what goes on in the rest of the city. They don't want to know anything about it either. They want to live their lives in peace and happiness without all the "ugly" things messing it up for them. Who can blame them for that?

Keep in mind that those people in tne bubble (for the most part) are the ones paying for the police department. If they are unhappy with the response they get when they call for help with dog poop or leaves blown into the street, they're not going to feel like forking out more for police to take care of problems outside the bubble.

I'm glad I'm not the one to make those choices. I think you and the department are doing a great job with the resouces available to you. I wish more people in tne bubble would realize the prioritizing that must occur every day and put pressure on the city council to get the resources you need so you can send an officer to any request for service, no matter how trivial.

Tom Casady said...

Has anyone else noticed that ARRRRG!!!! has picked up his (her?) game dramatically in the past few weeks?

For newcomers, please refer to last fall's brief history of pirates on the Chief's Corner.

Anonymous said...

Do keep in mind that not every bubble-subdivision resident lived there from birth. There are some bubble-sub dwellers who grew up in (or have lived in) neighborhoods far, far worse than the most dangerous and crime-ridden that Lincoln (or even Omaha) has to offer.

Steve said...

Perhaps the snipers' success recently has encouraged Arrrrg to get going on his "bucket list".

Anonymous said...

I think the glorification of business went too far a LONG time ago. Public service is not a business - it is a service! It's an investment for our communities that pays huge dividends. For example, IIRC for every $1 spent on public libraries, a community gets approximately $5 back. However, since most of these benefits are intangible - i.e. the taxpayer doesn't recognize the community benefit only individual benefit - it's considered a waste of money during the good years, even though these things are most needed during the lean years.

That's even more true for police departments - since when times are bad, crime often goes up. And the perception of crime (and community fear) goes through the roof. :-(

Anonymous said...

This study is even better. It shows that for ever $1 spent on public libraries, you get $6.54 as return on investment.

Anonymous said...

I work in the City Manager's Office in a small town in Wyoming, and it does get tiresome hearing this catch phrase. Which company can you point me to for a model? AIG? Chrysler? GM?
If LPS did hire staff, or installed a security system, the public would be outraged at the waste of taxpayer dollars. The biggest issue is this. A private company would do one of the above and pass the cost on to the consumers. Government cannot. We are on a fixed income and allocation of resources in one place means de-allocating resources somewhere else. Increased security would mean fewer books, programs, activities for your children. It is that way in all government...unless you do not mind paying more taxes to get everything.