Dianne Beer-Maxwell of the IACP tells PoliceOne that according to the latest study (2004) by the Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, approximately 85 percent of all the law enforcement agencies in the United States have fewer than 50 Officers. Approximately 75 percent have less than 25. A full 50 percent have less than 10, and slightly more than 30 percent of all agencies have less than five sworn officers! There are departments for whom the layoff of a single officer due to lack of funding can be catastrophic — sometimes that one officer represents the immediate reduction of patrol staff by 25 to 33 percent.
At the risk of overstating the obvious, in the vast majority of cases the smaller jurisdictions are the least affluent, with funding for their law enforcement following suit. These are the agencies that, while their bigger brothers might find a $250 grant to be a mere drop in the City Treasurer’s bucket, would find the same grant to be Christmas in July! Such Departments cannot count on the “usual” sources of funding for anything other than the essential basics — and sometimes not even those.
For those agencies, if you want it, you’ve got to find a way to make it happen in a manner that will cost little to no money, period. Cue Jeff Foxworthy: “You might be a poor department if you’ve ever actually used duct tape to hold a radar unit in place.”
In my career with small departments, I’ve come to learn that there are five ground rules when it comes to getting what you must be prepared to:
1. think outside the box
2. check your ego at the door
5. repeat all of the above... and repeat... and repeat!
Exit the Interstate!
Picture rush hour Los Angeles, or Dallas, or Northern Virginia. Each is an interstate parking lot, four to eight lanes wide with everyone trying to get to approximately the same place, at the same time, in exactly the same manner. For small departments, this image holds true on many levels. Everyone is going for the same limited grants. The town budget may be the destination, but every other financial liability for the town is clamoring for the same funds, and the competition can be fierce — and political. As the budget gets tighter, the road gets narrower, the competition gets fiercer, and the likelihood of success becomes exponentially more dubious.
Now is the time to take the road less traveled, or to blaze your own trail! Find a new and different way to get to where you want to go. Consider, for example, not seeking new equipment, but good quality used equipment that will do the job. Would not a non-new defibrillator with a good battery meet the need as well as a new one off the shelf? Won’t a properly maintained used Police bicycle roll down the streets of your town as well as a brand new one? So what if the paint’s got a bit of “seasoning” to it; this is a time when function takes priority over form!
Check Your Ego, and Be Prepared to Beg
The former must happen for the latter to take place. Get rid of any inhibitions brought about by feelings of being the “red headed step child.” What’s important is acquiring the tools needed to accomplish the department’s mission and goals — that takes far greater priority over a Chief’s or Sheriff’s ego.
The realities are what the realities are — if you don’t have it and you need it, then you don’t have it and you need it. Reach out to those who have what you need and can spare it, and ask for it. There’s no shame in acknowledging reality. Everything you can do to give your officers the tools they need is for a higher good.
Remember, if you never even ask for something, the answer is always ‘no.’
Be Prepared to Borrow
The reality is a larger Department may have something that you don’t, that you need, and that you’re not going to be able to buy before there are icicles in Hades. They’re not going to give it to you (they need it, that’s why they bought it), but they may be willing to loan it to you for a bit. I’ve borrowed traffic speed monitoring signs and trailers for specific periods of time to gather data for analysis of a possible traffic safety problem.
When trying to fine-tune an interdiction program, I borrowed a highly-skilled interdiction officer to come ride with my interdiction officer for a few hours to help him refine his skills. I’ve always been careful to return that which I borrowed in a timely manner (although I really wanted to keep that interdiction officer!), with much thanks and a small token of my appreciation, thereby keeping the possibility open for another loan.
Having completed steps one through four, you now move on to step five:
Repeat, Repeat, Repeat!
In the majority of the Poor Chief’s Guides to come, you’ll find some (if not all of these steps) are essential parts of the process of getting to where you want to go when the interstate is completely shut down.