Budgetary Constraints In Police Departments

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This paper explores the budgetary challenges facing police departments after the U. S. Great Recession of 2008. Community policing was the dominant approach for local law enforcement for over three decades. This stemmed from the broken-window theory which proposes that disorder within a community will lead to following occurrences of violent crime. Local governments were able to afford this tough-on-crime movement when the economy was flourishing; however, departments were forced to decide if they could sustain these services given recent budgetary cuts. This paper will analyze the effects this has had on public safety and the different methods that have been used to adjust to the decreasing resources and revenue. The changes to the criminal justice system will also be examined to see the cost-effective alternatives that have been proposed to deliver the same level of accustomed public safety. Finally, this paper will evaluate the emerging trend of evidence-based decision-making and explain how it can accomplish the public safety goals of community policing while also making more informed, smarter decisions over policies and practices.

In the past several years, the United States has experienced devastating economic downturns. Because of this, local economies and their law enforcement agencies have been forced to limit their budgets. This resulted in a change of the delivery of law enforcement services. Departments were forced to lay off many of their workers, leaving fewer officers. However, expectations of the agency could not be lowered because of this. Due to these budgetary constraints, law enforcement leaders had to select new models of policing that worked best for their communities. Since the 1980’s, community policing has been the primary approach to law enforcement. This method stemmed from the broken-window theory of public safety which suggests a relation between misdemeanor and felony crimes. If police allow minor offenses to occur in communities, it will result in even further disorder and more serious crimes in the future. Order maintenance laws were adopted by local governments to clampdown on these low-level offenses, thus leading to community policing. This approach is comprised of three tenants: community partnerships, problem solving, and organizational transformation. Partnerships develop an increase in trust in police, as well as solutions to problems. Police agencies also put a greater emphasis on problem-solving techniques to ensure they best use their limited resources. Effective responses were developed as well as the rigorous examination and identification of problems. To support the two previous tenants, organizational management, information systems, and personnel align to create organizational transformation. This redesign of the practice of public safety forges strong relationships between law enforcement and members of the communities. However, this also increased the cost of policing, prosecution, jails, etc.

Before the Great Recession, local departments were able to pay for this community policing approach; however, the economic downturn had a serious effect on the public safety budget. More officers were needed to maintain their presence in communities, which meant less officers were able to patrol portions of the city. These incarceration-dominant approaches to policing have financially posed a challenge to local governments. Counties spend $100 per day to house criminals and those accused. This has led to localities rethinking the traditional “tough on crime” approach that has influenced the criminal justice system for decades. While the current budget crisis is the leading motivation for local departments to rethink their policing approach, there is also the desire to create safer communities and avoid recidivism. House arrest is starting to be used for pretrial detainees, parolees, and criminal sentences. Those who have committed, or been accused of committing, nonviolent, low-level crimes may serve their time at home. In return, localities no longer have to pay for these inmates’ healthcare, food, or other expenses. An additional benefit is that offenders are able to hold a job and receive help and support from their families – factors that reduce the chance of recidivism. Dallas County, Texas saw 273 of 281 offenders successfully complete the house arrest program, saving $400, 000 in the first year. Day reporting centers are also becoming an option for low-level offenders, commonly alcohol and drug abusers, who are unable to make bail. Typically, failure to post bail would result in these offenders sitting in jail for weeks; however, this new program allows offenders to report to the center daily where they can receive vocational training and are also subjected to random drug tests. Upon successfully completing the program, offenders can avoid jail time altogether.

Director of the Office of Community Oriented Services (COPS), Bernard Melekian, explained three tiers of police services. The first of these is emergency response. This tier will never change, regardless of budget limits. Following this is non-emergency response. This includes officers responding to calls after a crime has been committed and collecting statements and information to produce reports. Although this is important, it does not require as rapid response as the first tier, since the crime has already occurred. The final tier deals with issues on the quality of life. This ranges from traffic management duties to efforts on preventing crime. Financial and staffing resources have always been competed over in the last two tiers, and with more budget cuts, this has increased the competition. However, the public still expects agencies to address both tiers. With shrinking budgets, departments are challenged to find new ways to efficiently and effectively make this happen with their available resources. The main sources that fund local governments is taxes, federal and state government assistance, fees and fines, special assessments, and borrowing. Local governments commonly use property tax to garner funds. Block grants are also given by the federal government, allowing more discretion for agencies to use the funding for different policy areas. After the Great Recession in 2007, all of the local government’s funding sources were severely reduced. In 2010, the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) conducted a nationwide survey asking police departments about their fiscal matters. The results showed that two-thirds of respondents were currently planning on making cuts to their budgets. In addition, 47% discontinued or reduced multiple programs for officer training. 24% of agencies were using attrition to lower employment levels, and 12% were considering forcing retirements as well as using unpaid furloughs to reduce their spending. The Fraternal Order of Police documented 4, 000 sworn officers being laid off in 2011. However, this agency, as well as the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), estimated that 10, 000-15, 000 were actually lost.

Due to recent layoffs, some agencies have turned to civilianization to save more money. Police departments will hire non-sworn workers to take on the duties of previous sworn staff. This is cost efficient through lower pay and reduced training and overhead requirements. In The Privatization and Civilianization of Policing, Brian Forst conducted a study finding that in New York City, civilian employees cost one-half less than that of a sworn officer for performing the same duties. Cities across America have begun to make this shift. The police department of Mesa, Arizona created a team of civilian investigators for crime scene processing and fraud investigations. In addition, the unit handled nearly 50% of burglary calls in 2010, while getting paid 40% less than an officer.

Volunteers are also used whenever possible. This promotes partnership between civilians and police and enhances public safety. Some departments even allow police recruits from local academies to gain experience on the field through volunteering. Information about law enforcement volunteer programs are provided by the national Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS). This has proven to be highly successful. Partnering with the White House Office, the IACP helps manage and enact these programs. 115 law enforcement agencies that were registered with VIPS programs were used in a study conducted by the IACP. The results shown that of the respondents, 94% believed the programs added value to their department; 92% said it allowed officers to respond to more important needs, and 85% claimed it enhanced the public’s understanding of the police.

Local government jails have also experienced a lot of cutbacks. The largest service cost for most jails are medical costs. In the attempt to reduce these expenses, many countries have stopped transferring inmates to external facilities, and began treating them inside the jail. Some have also started using generic brand medication, rather than name-brand. The distribution of this medication is also being heavily monitored in order to reduce the amount of unused medicine. Another change that has been recently made is the cost of feeding inmates. Just from serving cold cereal instead of a warm breakfast has saved Sauk County, Wisconsin approximately $50, 000 per year. In New York, fourteen counties are now using “Cook Chill” products which only requires the food to be reheated and then served to inmates. This effective switch saves the police departments $730 per inmate every year. Other jails have also started growing their own produce to use for meals, saving nearly $20, 000 in food costs.

Jails have also attempted a number of small, random cost-cutting measures to meet their reducing budgets. Hays County Jail in Texas has changed lights out to 11:00 pm, rather than 1:30 a. m. In addition, inmates are now being used for general labor. This ranges from mowing lawns, maintaining parks, picking up litter, and caring for buildings. Other localities have also considered combining jails and their services to save money. The use of technology has been reduced or entirely cut from numerous departments’ budgets. However, some technology systems are able to help agencies increase efficiency and improve outcomes by acting as force multipliers. Light-Based Intervention Systems (LBIS) and Closed-Circuit Televisions (CCTVs) help with incident and crime prevention, without the need of an officer present. Social media has also become a huge trend in local police departments. Law enforcement agencies are able to directly communicate with those they serve by sending out information about particular crimes or suspects and receiving feedback.

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The use of video teleoferacing has also been on the rise. This equipment allows lawyers to discuss their cases in front of a judge via video. Defendants will no longer have to be transported to court by a sheriff or an officer. According to a survey conducted by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts (AOPC), the state of Pennsylvania has held more than 15, 700 proceedings through video conferencing, resulting in cost savings of nearly $1. 7 million per month and $30 million annually. The study also found that on average, the cost of transporting one defendant to and from local facilities is $73. An additional $588 is needed for transporting to and from state correctional institutions. The elimination of court transport has proven effective in other states as well. Annually, Georgia has saved $600, 000; Ohio has saved $50, 000.

In order to make smarter decisions on how to police their communities, local governments are moving towards evidence-based decision making. In this approach, police officers review the best available evidence to inform and challenge practices, policies, and decisions. The National Institute of Corrections (NIC) began its “Evidence-Based Decision Making in Local Criminal Justice Systems” initiative on the belief that better research would lead to better decisions and outcomes for public safety and the communities. Historical outcomes of previous cases are used to improve decision-making for future similar cases, such as the terms of releasing an offender on bail. There are also other evidence-based practices. For example, a matrix system has been designed in Napa County, California which classifies inmates based on certain factors. This helps determine who is too dangerous to be released early and which nonviolent offenders could be eligible for early release or diversion programs. Compared to the statewide recidivism rate of 70%, graduates of the Napa County matrix program only showed a 24% recidivism rate with a 70% employment rate. Upon the success of this program, the American Civil Liberties Union has administered other California counties to take up evidence based practices as an incarceration alternative.

Political-decision making often interferes with this new approach. Many politicians do not want to be seen as ‘soft on crime. ’ Regarding public safety matters, political decisions can be influenced by moral panic. This usually involves a horrible crime that triggers an emotional wave across the public and a demand for political action. The reactive political-decision making following this is not always backed up with social science research. Rather, a popular political fix is established to ensure the community that public officials are doing what they believe to be best.

Another challenge for adopting evidence-based decision making is that evidence is not always clear. At times, it can even be contradictory. So, making decisions involving resources, programs, and policies still call for self judgement. This will no doubt receive criticism for those who do approve of the decision. Moreover, many criminal justice agencies are unable to provide the training necessary to make a change in their organizations. Nonetheless, despite these disadvantages, many localities are moving towards evidence-based decision making in their police departments as a means of evolving from community policing. The U. S. Department of Justice’s National Institute of Corrections (NIC) sponsored a grant competition across the country to support the adoption and funding of evidence-based decision making in local criminal justice systems. Only three localities were awarded this grant, including the Milwaukee police department in Wisconsin. This department believes that it can reduce incarceration levels, save money, and maintain the accustomed public safety level through research and data. It hopes to expand its evidence-based decision making in four areas.

Firstly, the Milwaukee County Criminal Justice Council (MCCJC) will train its field officers and dispatchers to effectively respond to those who are mentally ill. They will also learn further communication skills with others in the criminal justice system, such as prosecutors, defense attorneys, court officials, and those in jail, regarding the challenges that mentally ill people will face through their progression in the system. Training will also help officers identify these chronic offenders and get them the treatment they need to avoid future problems.

Secondly, the department will use its current information to held identify cases that could succeed in a diversion program. The MCCJC has set three goals to evaluate the effectiveness of this approach. The first is increasing the number of safely released pretrial detainees or those supervised in the communities, as opposed to jail, by 15%. In this process, the department hopes to save $1 million. Lastly, the number of defendants who do not comply with pretrial rules will fall by 40%

Thirdly, through studying other jurisdictions, the MCCJC plans to change their approach to pretrial decisions. A new protocol has been developed to perform a risk assessment for everyone who enters the criminal justice system. There are numerous factors that a person will be based on in order to be rewarded points. For example, the department will check the number of cases a person has been previously involved with, as well as their record of appearing in court for said cases. The person’s employment status will also be researched. There will be four categories of associated risk levels under the protocol, and the number of points a person gets will determine which one they fall under. If any bail should be set on a defendant’s release, the judge will be provided a grid to help determine the amount. The goal of this program is to increase the number of successful diversions by 10% while saving $350, 000 in the first year.

Finally, Milwaukee wants to develop a pilot program to help rule-abiding probationers get early termination from their probation. The MCCJC will base the program from research of developing a profile of types of probationers that would be successful in this program. They will compare this to other probationers to test the efficiency of the program. Once the offender received the sufficient amount of treatment, their probation would be terminated early. It is estimated that costs and recidivism rates will be cut by a minimum of 50% within the first year. Milwaukee County police department Law enforcement agencies nationwide have also been taking steps towards consolidation to uphold their service levels. This helps increase efficiency and enhance productivity. The New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police explained four types of consolidation in Police Department Regionalization, Consolidation, Merger & Shared Services: Important Considerations for Policy Makers. The first is local consolidation. This occurs when two police agencies combine to form a single unit. When two agencies merge certain function units, such as records, emergency communications, and dispatch, this is known as shared services. Regionalization develops when numerous jurisdictions patrol one geographical area, rather than a jurisdictional one. Lastly, is contract services. One jurisdiction will pay for the law enforcement services, through a formal contract, to other jurisdictions. The police authority and San Anselmo police department of Minneapolis/Saint Paul, Minnesota began turning to consolidation through sharing officers and dispatch services. Immediately, the plan saved San Anselmo $50, 000. It was also predicted to save another $113, 000 in the future.

In conclusion, law enforcement agencies across the nation have been severely affected due to the recent economic recession. Never before has this community experienced such significant budgetary constraints. This has forced police departments to change their traditional approach to the criminal justice system by incorporating new policing styles and other ways to connect with their communities. Technology has provided ways for citizens to give feedback to their local departments, which incorporates new ideas and can be used to make better informed decisions. We can no longer just be tough on crime, but must also shift towards ‘smart’ on crime. This means that police will have to do more with less by making the decision if certain police services they used to provide, such as illegal parking or non-injury vehicle accidents, are still sustainable with the decreasing budget. With that being said, new strategic practices will have to be developed to ensure an effective delivery of police services. Hopefully, these challenges may actually lie opportunity for law enforcement agencies and the criminal justice system to become more innovative and efficient in the future.

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