Strategic planning for small law enforcement agencies

Smaller law enforcement agencies often face an uphill battle due to limited resources


By Chief Jonathan B. Flores, P1 Contributor

The law enforcement profession is fluid and police leaders must be able to forecast emerging trends that will allow them to plan strategically for the future of their department. Over the years this has become increasingly difficult as the economy becomes more unpredictable.

Smaller law enforcement agencies often face an uphill battle due to limited resources and competitive grant opportunities that require an unattainable match. These agencies still have to provide the same quality service to their communities as any other mid- to large-size agency; however, they have to do more with less.

Following a strategic plan helped the Alton Police Department implement a bike patrol program within four months of an anticipated one-year goal. (Photo/Chief Flores)
Following a strategic plan helped the Alton Police Department implement a bike patrol program within four months of an anticipated one-year goal. (Photo/Chief Flores)

Strategic planning for any law enforcement entity serves as a document that provides the vision and goals of the organization over time, with a roadmap for how those vision and goals will be accomplished. For a smaller organization a strategic plan provides stakeholders with a living document that allows for proper planning toward the priorities of the organization in accordance with the operating budget. The following steps can help create a strategic plan for your agency.

1. Set a clear vision and goals

LE leaders must be able to set a clear vision for their agency so everyone knows the plan for the organization. Once a clear vision has been set, goals should be established, along with a time frame for accomplishing those goals.

2. Forecast your budget

It is a good rule of thumb to increase line items by at least 15 percent when forecasting future budgets. Certain line items such as fuel can be very unpredictable, so you should compare your previous fuel budget and allow for increases. It is always better to forecast a higher number and come under budget.

3. Prioritize your goals

When creating a strategic plan, consider goals that can be achieved with minimal impact to the budget (low-hanging fruit). Such quick victories will boost morale within your organization and make an impact within your community. These items can be accomplished while allowing time to achieve more lofty goals that require a more significant investment.

4. Set reasonable time frames

A three- to five-year strategic plan allows enough time to implement thorough, effective measures to achieve the vision and goals of the strategic plan.

Strategic planning in practice

Using the steps above, my department – which is comprised of 21 sworn officers and six civilian staff – created the following strategic plan:

Short-range goals

One short-term goal for the Alton Police Department was to re-brand the agency via new vehicle decals, new uniforms and new patches. (Photo/Chief Flores)
One short-term goal for the Alton Police Department was to re-brand the agency via new vehicle decals, new uniforms and new patches. (Photo/Chief Flores)

All these items had a minimal impact on our operating budget but they had a huge impact on morale and our community’s perception of our department:

Mid-range goals

We understood that while larger ticket items were a priority, they would take a little more time to accomplish.

  • We reviewed our operating budget and allotted ourselves six months to acquire a CAD/RMS system for our communications center. This item took time, planning and support from our city administration to acquire. After going through all of the steps, we were able to acquire the system that improved the efficiency and effectiveness of our department within four months of our six-month goal.
  • We implemented a bike patrol program within four months of our one-year goal that required investments in equipment and training, however the impact that this program has made in our community has already paid dividends.

Long-term goals

We continue to work toward increasing department personnel in our communications center, patrol and investigations divisions in order to serve our growing community with the highest level of service. We understand that this part of our strategic plan will take the longest and must be done in increments over time to ensure a smooth transition in our operating budget.

I have found much success in strategic planning for my organization. My hope is that this article will assist those in similar situations to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their organizations via a solid strategic plan.

The Alton Police Department is comprised of 21 sworn officers and six civilian staff. (Photo/Chief Flores)
The Alton Police Department is comprised of 21 sworn officers and six civilian staff. (Photo/Chief Flores)

About the author
Jonathan B. Flores is chief of police for the Alton (Texas) Police Department. Chief Flores is a former homicide investigator for the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office and has 16 years of law enforcement experience. He has a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and a Bachelors of Science in Criminal Justice Degree from the University of Phoenix.

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