Director’s Column: June 2011

Earlier this year, I wrote that the time was ripe for changing the delivery of police services from a mid-20th century model to a 21st century one. I promised I would look at four themes that I believe will help shape this new model of service delivery. In April, I looked at the greater use of technology and the role of private security. This month I am turning my attention to a third important issue, namely, alternative delivery methods for traditional police services.

Police service delivery can be categorized into three tiers. The first tier, emergency response, is not going to change. Tier two is non-emergency response; where officers respond to calls after the fact, primarily to collect the information and statements necessary to produce reports. These calls, while an important service, do not require rapid response—the business has already been vandalized, the bike already stolen. Tier three deals with quality of life issues, such as crime prevention efforts or traffic management duties. They help make our communities better places to live, but they are proactive and ongoing activities. The second and third tiers have always competed for staffing and financial resources, but as local budgets constrict, that competition becomes fiercer. The public expects that both tiers are addressed, and agencies with shrinking payrolls are faced with finding new ways to make sure that can happen.

Some alternative delivery models have been around for years and it may just be time for agencies to take a fresh look at these older ideas. For example, do you have volunteers that work with your agency? What sort of tasks do they do, and is there more that they could be doing to support the core mission? The Los Angeles County (California) Sheriff’s Department has the Volunteers on Patrol program, where citizens are trained to provide a minimum of 16 hours of non-hazardous patrol duty each month. This includes conducting school, mall business, and residential vacation safety checks, searching for missing children, assisting at sobriety check points, conducting traffic control, and working with the Training Academy in role-playing activities. The Denver (Colorado) Police Department has volunteers that move the speed trailer around the city, staff the Records Bureau, serve in the field with the Victim Assistance Unit alongside the paid employees, work as role-players at the Denver Police Academy, and even assist cold case homicide investigators in the Investigative Bureau. The Volunteers in Police Service program, sponsored by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, is an excellent resource to help your agency make the best use of volunteers.

Another alternative delivery method worth considering may be to take a play from the utility service or doctor office models and actually schedule police services. For example, the Cambridgeshire Constabulary in England has launched a pilot scheme allowing citizens to make doctor-style appointments, in an effort to free-up officers to spend more time patrolling neighborhoods. Individuals can book an hour-long appointment at one of four police stations in the county between 8 AM and 8 PM, seven days a week. Officers still carry out home visits where necessary and can better assure that emergency response will be available quickly when required. Under a utility service approach, individuals could be given a time window during which the officer will arrive, rather than having to come to a station for the appointment. One or both of these approaches could help agencies move away from the current dispatch model of priority queues and more efficiently manage their staffing resources throughout the day while still providing services that citizens need.

These are just a few of the ways we can be looking at our daily work and how we can best manage our time and resources. With shrinking budgets, agencies will need to look closely at the second tier of calls for service and how they are handled—as no one would advocate that emergency response should be where service cuts are made. The best solution is not going to be the same for every department, but one thing is clear—the more time law enforcement spends on quality of life management, the less time there will be to spend on community involvement and crime prevention efforts that are vital to fulfilling the central mission of policing.

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