police chiefs

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Staffing police departments is a continuous challenge. “How many officers do we need” is a perennial question asked by police administrators, elected officials, and business administrators at every level of government, not to mention community advocates. It is a complex issue that has eluded many thoughtful planners. Quantifying police staffing and linking workload to costs to arrive at a meaningful budget is the focus of this article.  

What is the problem?  

Creating a budget and quantifying police work is not the same thing. Although a budget is a plan described in financial terms, knowing which budget to choose is a matter of what needs to be accomplished. Line-item budgets answer the question “what is to be bought”? A program budget answers the question “what is to be achieved”? A performance budget answers the question “what is to be done”? These models fail to link workload to costs. A recent PM article by Shayne Kavanagh and Jennifer Park noted that “Bureaucratic units, like departments or divisions, are useful for day-to-day management, but have limitations as the unit of analysis for budgeting. One limitation is that they are too large and encompass too many activities to make thoughtful decisions about how to reallocate resources.…Understanding how patrol officers spend their time and the results they produce is critical to figuring out how to better use police resources. Unfortunately, there is not yet a common method for further disaggregating general police patrol into discrete units for budgeting…more granularity is needed.”   

Police agencies often report that they “feel” understaffed, but cannot demonstrate it with empirical data.1 Lack of empirical data can directly affect department efficiency and recruitment efforts.  

Perceived understaffing may also undercut community policing and problem-solving efforts, as well as negatively impact officer morale, productivity, and community support.2 Even if a police agency can reasonably estimate their workload, they often do not have a rational method for linking the work to actual costs. This presents an “either or” conundrum for elected and appointed officials—solve the workload or the budget issue, but not both. Fortunately, there is a practical solution that is within reach.  

What is the solution? 

The most comprehensive and contemporary approach to determining adequate staffing levels considers actual workload based on the demand for service. The workload approach estimates staffing needs by modeling actual activity levels. By linking activities to costs, elected and appointed officials will have a better understanding of the full cost of service and resource allocation. This model is the activity-base budget (ABB). The ABB enables administrators to exercise both fiscal control (uncover waste and hidden costs; view which activities are most and least expensive; identify places to cut spending) and managerial control (assign personnel based upon a demonstrated need; expand or contract personnel proportionately as the need changes; assess the full efficiency of the organization; establish baseline costs that may be influenced through process or technology changes that reduce effort requirements for the activity).  

I adapted the ABB model for law enforcement organizations, which is ideal for planning and budgeting because it accounts for all the elements of a full workload assessment, and it assigns costs that are derived from the adopted budget. This model captures the context necessary to account for current and future states, including distribution of officers’ time, supervision, management, and support staff needs, relief factoring, salaries, equipment, and consumable supplies. This model was applied in Ocean View, Delaware, at the behest of Chief Kenneth McLaughlin. Chief McLaughlin asked a complex question: If OVPD increases proactive time from 67 percent to 75 percent, then what is the projected impact? The ABB model resolved this question with all of the contextual factors to provide the chief and elected officials with the data necessary to make an informed decision. The town subsequently hired two additional police officers to elevate their community policing profile. Without the ABB model, police and elected leaders would have been relegated to guesswork.  

What’s next? 

The ABB model is ideal for police executives (chief, commissioner, sheriff, superintendent, directors, command staff members), mayors, county executives, business administrators, legislative bodies, and those responsible for workload analysis, organizational planning, resource allocation, and budgeting. The model was developed in MS Excel, so there is no proprietary software needed. The model is customizable and expandable to fit any size organization and is complete with models for patrol, communications (PSAP), traffic, investigations, and prisoner processing (jails). Share with other organizational elements to produce an enterprise-wide budget, justify operations with actual workload and fiscal data, and incorporate as part of your organization’s business plan or strategic plan. This model is also consistent with CALEA standard 16.1.2 for conducting annual workload assessments. 

Visit jmshane.com/learn to watch a short video and read more about the model. The complete ABB model and instructional article are accessible.   

[1] Wilson, J. M., & Weiss, A. (2012). A performance-based approach to police staffing and allocation. US Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, p. 14.
[2] Wilson, Jeremy M., and Alexander Weiss. "Police staffing allocation and managing workload demand: a critical assessment of existing practices." Policing: a journal of policy and practice 8, no. 2 (2014): 96-108.


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