Tackling Tough Questions for Police and Fire Departments

Dec 12, 2012 | ARTICLE

A large audience logged in to hear Leonard Matarese for an encore performance of his popular presentation, “Asking Police and Fire Chiefs the Right Questions: How to Make Data-Driven Decisions.”

Matarese offered the unique perspective of a professional who has worked on both sides of the issue. In his 43-year career, he has held the roles of police officer, deputy sheriff, police chief, director of public safety, city manager, and commissioner of human resources in five states. Now, as director of research and public safety programs for ICMA’s Center for Public Safety Management, Matarese takes a practical look at staffing and efficiency issues that are common in most police and fire departments.

Kicking off the program, Matarese references Sutton’s Law, which states that when diagnosing one should first consider the obvious. He explained that when used in activity-based costing (ABC) of management accounting, the law stipulates that ABC should be applied "where the money is," meaning where the highest costs are incurred and, thus, the highest potential for overall cost reduction.

Matarese explained that local governments typically use aggregate data of police calls as the basis for staffing decisions. The data are often misleading and are not an accurate look at the nature and the level of priority of the calls. Matarese explained the importance of data that can be used to determine priority, as well as call volume by season, day of week, and hour of the day.

With accurate data, police departments are able to balance their workforce – ramping up patrols when needed and avoiding overstaffing during slower periods. To illustrate his point, Matarese charted out an example of what an aligned police force looked like as opposed to a misaligned force.

For fire departments, accurate data is equally important. For instance, aggregate data doesn’t give insight into the number of false alarms or instances where fires were extinguished by occupants, but a call was still dispatched. Data, as Matarese explained, can be used to determine the frequency distribution of the number of calls. This means that fire chiefs can look at how many times in a year the department experiences busy hours and whether or not the department is staffed accordingly.

Matarese also discussed the findings of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Report on Residential Fireground Field Experiments.

If you missed this web conference, you can order an on demand copy.





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