Case Study: How one PD boosted training, gear, morale without funds

Chief Malasuk took a mission statement and built a culture around it, holding officers liable for their own success


Greendale (Wis.) Chief Bob Malasuk was invited to speak to a packed room of police chiefs from around the world about his unique way of leading his department, because his all-hands-on strategy did more than change his agency. When word got out about his methods, and the surge of officer morale, other agencies in Wisconsin and beyond followed.

The result? More and better training. Updated gear. Happy, trustworthy officers. But it didn’t happen overnight. 

Challenge
When Chief Malasuk was sworn in as chief back in January 1987, he had no financial background – he’d climbed the ranks at Greendale, starting as a patrol officer at 23, and winding up with the detective bureau.

His predecessor, though respected by his officers, had negative relationships with political leaders and no connection to the community he served.

The challenge for Malasuk started before he was in office: town officials with distaste for the former chief wanted an outside hire, and one with an administrative background.  

Once he was sworn in as chief, he was faced with the same problems many small agencies with limited budgets have. A need for:

1. Cost-effective, quality training
2. Gear upgrades
3. Implementing change
4. Repairing relationships with leaders, community 

“People didn’t believe I could change the way a police department ran that fast. They thought political leaders would stop me from making the changes we wanted,” said Malasuk.

Solution

Step 1: A Visual (and Visible) Mission Statement

Thanks to the advice of his mentor, Malasuk started with a mission statement. He made it visible and he made it something he knew he would stick to.

The phrase “We settle for nothing less than continuous improvement” was posted all over the department.

Step 2: Establishing and Prioritizing Goals

Malasuk began conducting ‘Process improvement’ meetings where everyone – from patrol officers to crossing guards and dispatchers – gathered together to create a list of short and long-term goals that abided by two simple rules: The goals had to support the mission statement, and had to benefit the department as a whole. Goals were written down, prioritized, and posted on a board for everyone to see.

“I know from being a patrol officer that we sit around and think ‘what am I going to do when I’m in charge?’ So I asked them: what would you do?” said Malasuk.

The short term goals addressed existing problems that were easy to fix. They created objectives and an action plan to fix them. For example:

  • The squads’ video camera system hadn’t worked since the day they were installed. A tech-savvy cop was tasked with learning how the cameras worked, and after some research, made the fix.
  • Greendale had no relationship with the largest mall in the jurisdiction. They offered to train the mall’s contracted security officers in exchange for help financing training equipment. The mall eventually even funded overtime pay for extra officers around the holiday season.
  • By changing the rotation schedule of squads (putting older cars on the road and using new cars as back-up), warranties went from 8-12 months to 2-3 years, lessening maintenance costs by not running cars into the ground.
  • Malasuk contacted multiple vendors for services the PD used (such as floor cleaning, furnace maintenance, etc.), got estimates for each cost, and then put out bids for what the department would pay for services, significantly reducing overall costs to keep the agency running.

Long term goals weren’t quite as simple, and would require some patience, but would pay greater dividends than anyone was anticipating.  

  • Community policing: The PD starting placing cops at every community event. Malasuk would commend his officers when they were spotted playing basketball with neighborhood kids. Officers conduct public bike safety events, and visit the mall on weekends to read to kids.
  • K-9 unit: They established a 501C non-profit to raise funds for a K-9 unit. Once the community caught wind of the initiative, they chipped in and enough money was raised to purchase a K-9, the proper equipment, and the necessary training. The department is 3 years above their yearly goal to keep the program going for the next 10 years. The K-9 is deployed about six times per month, and attends every community event.
  • Gaining city leaders’ trust: “I went into a closed session and asked [city leaders] to give me one year to prove I’m a team player intent on being successful. They reluctantly agreed.” Those leaders quickly had a change of heart, and even gave the department a larger overtime budget the next year after seeing the effort officers were making to keep their OT down. Malasuk attended every financial meeting possible to prove his devotion.
  • Training: Instructors received training to be certified in as many areas as possible so they could provide in-house training to officers. Officers switched their days off in order to attend training without using OT. Now they’re receiving 100-200 hours of yearly training versus the 24-hour minimum, and all the money being saved in basic training is funding specialized training (and training outside agencies).
  • Cruiser funding: Malasuk and a team of officers presented the board with a two-hour explanation as to why they needed another squad. After some shopping around, Malasuk knew that finding the right deal had to be strategic, so he asked the committee the next year for a dollar amount rather than a number of approved squads. The committee approved funds for approximately two vehicles, and after from frugal searching, he was able to purchase three.
  • Firearms funding: The department started selling uppers in order to raise money to purchase more firearms. The agency was able to purchase six new firearms instead of the usual two, so the following year, the gun budget went toward TASERs.

Step 3: Make the Budget Visible and Officers Liable

The key to motivating officers to make these changes was simple: Every dollar saved was going right back to the officers in forms of training, gear, or other requests for upgrades they had and agreed upon.

“It took some time for the command staff to see that I wasn’t kidding,” said Malasuk. “But then once they started trusting sergeants to do their own thing and see they were successful, patrol officers could see changes in administration – it went right down the line.”

Malasuk printed out the department’s budget, left a copy on the roll call table, and stuck it in officers’ mailboxes. He made it known that any purchases officers wanted to make were possible, as long as they were willing to do the research.

“He told us, ‘if you guys want something new, find out what it is you want, what the assets are going to be for the department, contact different vendors, and present it to me with a dollar amount,” explained Officer Bob Utech, an 18-year veteran of Greendale.

Key Lessons

As a person in a leadership position, chief or otherwise, who decided to adapt this strategy: “Have an open mind. Reach out the people around you, listen to what they say. The best ideas came from my officers and command staff, not from me,” advised Malasuk.

When officers realized they were accountable for equipment, they took better care of it. If they were sharing equipment with other officers, they felt obligated to return clean, functioning equipment.

“My biggest priority is the development of my staff,” said Malasuk, who Utech and other officers adoringly refer to as ‘Bobby.’ “When I retire I want everyone here to be capable of taking my job. I have pages upon pages of ideas from my employees of more things we can do to make things better.” 

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