Thursday, June 10, 2010

Subtle or radical

I have mentioned in previous posts that phenomenon occurring in U. S. cities in which the police budget is consuming a growing percentage of the overall city budget.  Here’s an example* from Lincoln, but we are certainly not alone: 

The piece of the pie allocated to the police is growing because cities are trying to preserve public safety budgets by cutting other non-public safety municipal services.  If the trend continues, municipal services will increasingly become police, fire, and little else.  This can’t continue indefinitely, and several things may change it: sustained and robust economic growth, for example. 

The consensus among my peers, however, seems to be that something has to give on the expense side, and that policing and public safety services are going to undergo some significant changes to cope with these fiscal realities.  Just exactly how policing changes if the economic crunch we are experiencing turns out to be “the new normal” is an intriguing question.  The changes could be subtle or radical. 

On the subtle side, I expect that more and more police departments will adopt organizational structures and practices that maximize their efficiency.  The cost of policing varies hugely from city to city.  Lincoln delivers police services for a much lower cost per capita than most. Since personnel costs dominate police budgets, you can get a good feel for this by simply examining the number of police officers per 1,000 population.  You will find myriad examples of cities that have similar crime rates, similar demographics, and similar economics—yet one has far fewer police officers than the other, when normalized by population. 

Size does not seem to have any direct relationship to crime, disorder, or citizen satisfaction with police services. In my opinion, being small in comparison to your population forces police departments to be more efficient. In our case, we eschew specialization, use information resources strategically, flatten the organizational structure, deploy a larger percentage of our officers on the street than most, and focus our resources on our core mission.  You won’t find a huge traffic unit, an accident investigation unit, an equestrian unit, an aviation division, or a large grip-and-grin squad at the Lincoln Police Department.  In essence, then, I think you are likely to see more police departments looking like Lincoln, Fort Collins, and Fremont (CA), rather than some of the more bloated police departments with far more officers per capita. 

The better use of information resources, crime analysis, problem-oriented policing, and predictive policing will be part of these subtle changes.  Police departments can’t afford to waste their valuable resources, and will be much more interested in wringing a greater bang for the buck by using information, data, and research evidence to guide their activities.  Evaluation of results will be an accepted part of reviewing police strategies, which will increasingly focus on the outcomes, rather than the outputs.  This is already incorporated into Lincoln’s way of policing, and more cities will start to look like us in this regard.

Also on the subtle side, I expect to see a reduction in the range of services police departments provide, as they focus their limited resources on the core mission, and divest themselves of some duties and services that make a smaller contribution to safety and security.  In Lincoln, we’ve dropped tons of police services over the years: private property traffic crashes, funeral escorts, elementary school resource officers, DARE, money transfers, gas drive-offs, most medical emergencies, lock-outs, citizen police academy, and more.  Other departments are doing the same thing.  I chatted with Ken Burton, police chief in Columbia, MO last week at the meeting in Providence.  He stopped investigating non-injury traffic crashes on city streets a few months ago. We’ve had quite a conversation about that in Lincoln in the past two years.

At the more radical end of the spectrum, I expect we will see more regionalization of police services.  To some extent, this is already underway.  Many small municipal police agencies are folding as towns and cities contract with county sheriffs for their law enforcement services.  In a growing number of metropolitan counties, local law enforcement agencies are merging:  Charlotte, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, and several others. This trend will grow.  At the far end of the continuum, I’ve got to think that more cities will be attracted to full-scale public safety agency merger, such as has existed in Sunnyvale, CA for 40 years. 

Subtle or radical, the cost of police services will drive some of these changes in future years. 

*Note: the police department’s operating budget does not include employee benefits, which are budgeted centrally in Lincoln from the General Fund Miscellaneous budget.  This is somewhat unusual in comparison to other cities. If benefits were budgeted within the department, our operating budget would be approximately 25% greater.


Anonymous said...

How much of the total LPD budget is spent meeting Federal mandates? I am guessing that a lot of resources are spent just doing C.Y.A work to meet Federal guidelines. Am I right?

Gun Nut

Anonymous said...

Are claiming-to-be-suicidal parties classified as medical emergencies, or as something else? In any case, how many incidents of that nature did LPD have in 2009?

Anonymous said...

What are the odds of a merger of LPD and the Lancaster County Sheriff?

Tom Casady said...

Gun Nut-

Not much, actually. I'm sure it's far different for City government as a whole, but about the only thing we are spending resources on (that I can think of) to meet a Federal mandate would be NIMS training.


During 2009, there were 1,991 mental health investigations by the Lincoln Police Department, 327 attempted suicides, and 24 successful suicides.


Certainly "do-able," but I'd put that on the more radical end of the spectrum, hence, it would probably require a greater degree of economic stress before it is seriously considered by the decision makers. The topic comes up with a fair degree of frequency, but never really gets legs.

Anonymous said...

"What are the odds of a merger of LPD and the Lancaster County Sheriff?"

Here you go.

Anonymous said...

During 2009, there were 1,991 mental health investigations by the Lincoln Police Department, 327 attempted suicides, and 24 successful suicides.

That sounds like an awful lot of officer-hours spent on that sort of incident. However, I'd imagine that the worst outcome isn't that the suicidal party "succeeds", but that they might try and take other people with them in pursuit of that goal.

I've always wondered, if one actually intended to commit suicide, why would they call/text/e-mail, etc someone and tell them about it? It seems that, unless their goal was to wrest sympathy and attention from others, they'd say nothing to anyone, and just do it.

Anonymous said...

So let's say you stopped investigating non-injury accidents. Wonder what the effect that would have on revenue re: the tickets that wouldn't be issued? I know most if not all that money goes elsewhere (county, judge pensions etc). But somewhere would be impacted financially by that decision.

Would there be anything stopping an enterprising group of people to create an accident investigation service - contracted either by insurance agents or just as a "for-a-fee" service to investigate and document an accident?

I know there was a funeral escort service that appeared after you stopped doing that (since defunct). Just curious if doing something like that would be legit if the department stopped their involvement?

Anonymous said...

does today's blog involve a Ghostwriter? It simply does not read like your usual lingo - therefore, I can't help but wonder.

ARRRRG!!!! said...

Times are tough and everyone is cutting back.

Anonymous said...

Chief-There is an interesting balancing act you have to perform as a publicly funded entity. With a corporation, it's a little easier since you can look at productivity vs. profitability and tweak the number of employees to try to find the right balance. Or you can drop services to see how that impacts profitability. As an easy example, we recently quit using FEdEx overnight and went to ground shipping or two-day at best. That savings immediately will impact our bottom line and we're finding the customers don't care.

In your situation, the benchmarks for making changes are more difficult. What benchmarks can you even use to determine how you adjust services? If response times for emergencies go up, do you drop going to non-emergency calls such as non-injury accidents? Can you use non-sworn employees to handle matters currently handled by Police Officers?

Once you've wrung out any innefficiencies that still exist, you'll have some tough decisions. The good news is that currently LPD is providing excellent service, is efficient, and is not in dire straights, so you have time to plan.

Also, I realize revenue to cover costs is outside of your jurisdiction, but the citizens will ultimately have to determine the level of service they expect and how they intend to pay for it. Will they step-up and support a 1% sales tax increase? Would they support an increase in other taxes? Would they support a Public Safety Tax? Only the Shadow knows. It will be interesting, no doubt.


Anonymous said...

Can you help reduce some of the challenges by screening calls for service? I wont say who... but an officer was sent out the other day for an out of control child. Protocol says send two officers.... suspect's age 4 (four) years old. Is this really necessary to even respond to with one officer? We all know there are similar calls for service.


Tom Casady said...


I normally keep it a little shorter and lighter, but every now and then, the egghead inside me leaks out. There are a few other War and Peace examples in my past. I sure don't need no stinkin' ghostwriter.


We get officers dispatched to all sorts of junk that shouldn't need the police at all. If I could be the desk sergeant personally 24/7/365, I have the savvy and judgement to weed hundreds of those out.

Alas, sometimes those who answer phones in windowless rooms are not so skilled at sorting these things out--or maybe just not as willing as I am to make the decision. Not everyone, though. Hang out at the Service Desk or in the Communications Center, and you'll see lots of examples of skilled employees talking people through these minor "crises" that the don't need to the police to deal with, despite what they may think or want.

Anonymous said...


Just a thought from someone who's been there. Stupid little calls for service like an "out of control child" are just part of the territory. I'd venture a guess that where there is an out of control child there is probably a frustrated and nearly out of control parent. I never thought when I signed on that I'd be handling babysitting service, garbage pick-up, trffic direction, etc. but it happens. By the way, we had 8 homicides in Wichita last year where out of control parents/boyfriends/girlfriends killed kids under the age of four. I guess someone has to mediate all those crazy people. Unfortunately it's usually someone wearing a badge. As for me, I used to carry a pocket full of bubble gum so when some nimrod told their kid to straighten up or the Policeman would take care of them, I'd hand a piece to the kid and remind them that Policemen are their friends.


Anonymous said...


From the news story, it looks like these assaults were more than "attempted". If so, shouldn't this darling little angel be charged with three counts of 28-931 Assault on an Officer in the third degree (a IIIA felony), not three counts of attempted? Did the county attorney already water down the citations? Is this typical when a suspect is charged with 28-929/30/31, to have the prosecutor wipe their feet on the original charge?

Anonymous said...

On the calls for service that should be weeded out, one also has to keep in mind what information is offered to the call taker.

The other day we reviewed a conversation where the citizen told the Service Desk a very enhanced version of events in an attempt to get the officer on site. When we responded to the reality, it was downplayed. This scenario is not unique.

This is much like when complaints are made on officers but often times, after research is done, it's proven that the series of events played out differently than alleged or perceived.

If there are concerns, you should let those unit supervisors and managers know. Sometimes fine tuning, improvements or education can be done with call takers. Other times an explanation as to how things played themselves out that inspired the call might be enlightening.

With literally hundreds of calls coming in daily, we certainly offer direction to our share of citizens. Ask any officer who's worked up here on light duty.


Anonymous said...


Could you expand on the Public Safety Agency merger...

Specifically, is the cost savings tied to personnel costs with regard to streamlined command structure and the potential of station co-location?

Anonymous said...

Let the drinking begin!
For those readers that know some history about the cat house, here is the new news.
I was mowing and I see a person sitting on the porch. I tell this person that we do not allow people to sit on the property and to please move along. He then asks for money. He took his back pack and away he went. I picked up his empty beer bottle and explained to the owners that it is not a good idea to let people stop and loiter. The owners did not feel safe asking the booze toting travelers to move along.
If word gets around that the cat house is a good watering hole, all of the beer packing folks will stop by for a cool refreshing rest in the pine tree shade. How do they stand the cat urine smell?
Thats all. FYI