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The Paradox of Police Practice and Budget Allocations

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Brenda Bond
June 6, 2017

Recent history has been marked by renewed turmoil between some police practitioners and members of their communities. While the majority of communities and police professionals are not conflicted and maintain positive relationships, media coverage of the tragic deaths of citizens at the hands of the police and of police officers at the hands of troubled individuals have broad brushed law enforcement as a deeply flawed institution. These cases should prompt us to recognize the need for constant change, but the types of changes called for will only occur if we confront the paradox that exists between policing practice and police budget allocations.

police-1665104_640The current dialogue prompts a heightened understanding of what we want from police. Citizens want the police to prevent and respond to crime, and to be transparent in their practice and management. We want police to know our communities, to be present and visible on our streets, to show up promptly when called, to help solve our problems, to bring justice to those who offend, to regularly monitor and improve their practice, and to protect our liberties and freedoms. To meet these expectations, we assume and expect police are adequately trained, supervised, equipped and funded. The reality however, is that the way police budgets are currently constructed may conflict with what is expected. In police agencies, 96-97 percent of police budgets are dedicated strictly to personnel. The majority of these individuals are sworn officers responding to 911 calls for service, patrolling the streets or engaged in administrative work. In most communities, 911 calls take precedence over relationship building and community engagement. While all officers can engage in some sort of relationship building, the capacity to spend meaningful time in face-to-face discussions and problem-solving with the community is lacking.

In truth, there is very little funding, if any, to support relationship building, prevention and collaboration in systematic and sustainable ways. Thus, the police must look to the remainder their budgets for critical activities such as training, equipment, collecting and analyzing data, proactively engaging with the community, and investing in capital needs. For some agencies, grants from state and federal agencies can fill a gap, but in sporadic and unsustainable ways.
Imagine we could fund a police organization from scratch. Policing would be viewed first and foremost as a community-centered organization and the primary attraction for those entering the profession would be to work closely with, spend the majority of their time with, and be held accountable to, citizens. A significant percentage of the police budget would be dedicated to recruitment, allowing police leaders to fully understand community needs and seek the right candidates for the job. The process for recruitment and hiring would reflect the needs, goals and expectations of their host communities, without compromising hiring standards.
Once hired, officers would embark on a lifelong training and professional development process. As recruits, they would be trained on traditional public safety tactics that equip officers to respond to unpredictable and life threatening situations. But, equal training resources would be given to relationship building, collaboration, problem solving, race relations, conflict management, ethics, procedural justice, personal leadership development and knowledge and skill areas which foster long lasting community relationships. Training and professional development would then continue throughout their careers, integrating critical legal and constitutional requirements, but also more adequately addressing evolving community-specific needs, research and innovative and progressive practices in public safety partnerships. Funding would allow for this type of model. Current funding structures are so inadequate most agencies provide only 40 hours of in-service training consisting mainly of legal updates and CPR re-certifications. Indeed, most training is about risk management.

In this new police organization, civilians are strategically integrated into the agency. Crime analysts, researchers and civilian performance management professionals would support a more sophisticated and progressive police organization. Crime analysts would be on hand to collect and analyze data on crime, disorder, community perceptions of fear and of police practice, police interactions with the public and the outcomes of police work, to name just a few of the analytical options. In the real (i.e. current) world, most agencies do not have the capacity to consistently measure their performance. Many police agencies do not employ analysts, and those that do have them have poorly funded arrangements through short term grants. Additionally, most police agencies do not systematically seek out the public’s opinion on crime or police performance. In this new police organization civilian staff members would participate in more strategic performance systems that help to improve the performance of the police agency, thereby increasing satisfaction with and the legitimacy of police practice.
In truth, only some big cities have some form of this ideal police organization, yet big cities are not representative of most communities across our nation. The majority of communities do not have the financial luxury of meeting all of the expectations around police-community relationships that are currently being discussed. If we want the police to do all of these things, we need to take real steps to align police budgets to community expectations.

Author: Brenda J. Bond, PhD is Associate Professor and Chair of the Institute for Public Service in Suffolk University’s Sawyer Business School. Dr. Bond’s research centers on the introduction and implementation of organizational change and evidence-based practices in public safety institutions. Email: [email protected]

Special thanks to Charles A. Young, MPA Suffolk University 2017.

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One Response to The Paradox of Police Practice and Budget Allocations

  1. Thomas Engells Reply

    June 6, 2017 at 10:08 pm

    Well stated argument that is both timely and relevant. Simply communities get the Police Department they deserve. The hypocrisy of leaders and the led to poorly pay, train and equip their Police Officers and then feign surprise when the wheels fall off. It doesn’t happen overnight, but incrementally rot and decay take hold if not aggressifely countered by engaged senior officers.

    These communities have No one is to blame except themselves. I close with a simple question – just how much magic is a fatigued 28 year old women being paid $ 35k supposed to pull out of her pocket while responding to a bar fight at 0300 in the morning? Sure it’s all her fault. Maybe she is just the visible tip of a long spear made decades ago.

    Fundamental change is needed on so many fronts –

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