BUDGETS VS. OFFICERS

Whether training and working with my former agency or interacting…

Whether training and working with my former agency or interacting with officers from all over the country, a few things never change in law enforcement. Whether you are an agency of 30 or 30,000, there are never enough officers. Good economy or bad, there is never enough money. Lastly, someone is always unhappy with training. Generally, there is either not enough of the right training, or too much of it is useless. These are just constants.

When budgets get tight, many decisions made at the administrative level incur the most complaints. Although many are just the cost of doing business, sometimes they are simply bad decisions. Made with no thought beyond the bottom line, they often come from those who have not seen the road since J. Edgar Hoover was around. Another constant is someone complaining about the chief or captain that has “lost touch with the troops.” Often, that might not be true, but unfortunately, at times it is. A recent conversation with a good friend of mine may illustrate this point.

Removing Tools
A local agency in my area decided it was just too costly to buy ammunition for officers’ shotguns. So, the decision was made to simply take them away. My first response was just plain shock. Given the cost of feeding a rifle, agencies have been known to stay with or even return to shotguns, but to remove shotguns from the toolbox due to cost just seemed implausible. It is easily the least costly weapon system to maintain and the most versatile to deploy. Replacing them with rifles has been the norm—not eliminating them all together.

Something Old, Something Blue
This is certainly not a new concept, as I experienced something similar 25 years ago. As a reserve for a large agency, the decision was made to remove all impact weapons from officers. Rather than train officers to use a straight stick properly, it was easier and cheaper to just take them away. It left officers with three real use-of-force choices. You could talk them into submission, use your hands to bring them into compliance, or shoot them. It didn’t take long to realize this was not such a good idea.

It happened again many years later with the PR24 (or side-handled) baton. With the introduction of newer systems, it was just too costly to keep the training up, so they were taken away. For many, this tool had proven incredibly effective, far more so than its replacement. Even today, agencies that are moving to the Taser are removing pepper spray, impact tools, or both, simply because it is a good “cost-saving” move.

Bottom Line
As a lieutenant, the woes of making a budget work are not new to me. It was always about making things work with less—I get that. But, never losing sight of who is most important is critical, and it is not the person making the budget. The line officer or detective is the most critical person in a police department and always will be. The police world can always do with a few less administrators, but there are never enough street cops.

Their need for tools and equipment is a constant and should be the priority. Sure, officers can do with less—always have, always will. Cops may be the most creative people on the planet when it comes to making do. But, it is incumbent upon a chief executive to provide the basic tools an officer needs to safely do that job.

As budgets get tighter and manpower dwindles, this becomes more critical. The new desk, computer, or gadget in the office may just make someone more comfortable, but removing a tool from an officer may just get someone injured or killed. Please, let’s make certain our priorities are in the right place. Without a doubt, those priorities are the men and women who put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe, and the tools they need to do so and come home each and every night. Everything else is “supplemental.”

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