The Police Business Unit

Police departments, with very few exceptions, are operated with incredible finesse.  Given the complex and dynamic nature of the services they provide, coupled with the social, political and economic influences that shape the strategies that they develop, they out-perform many other service industries. A challenge that most agencies will continue to face is related to financial management and those operational and strategic functions that are tied directly and indirectly to money.

It is not for lack of desire or effort, but police officers take the job of policing to police. Getting an assignment to work in or command a business-related administrative function can be a jump into a pretty cold lake, followed immediately by a baptism by fire. Some officers have business backgrounds or business educations and own businesses themselves, but whether or not they ever work in related assignments in the police department is random.

The cycle in an agency is pretty standard: one is transferred or promoted (willingly or unwillingly) to the assignment, slowly learns the ropes (maybe with the help of the predecessor, maybe not) and acclimates to what is expected (or at least it sure feels like it). Just when that person feels like they have it (see ‘or at least sure feels like it’, above); they are transferred or promoted (willingly or unwillingly) away from the assignment (maybe helping their successor, maybe not).

Rinse. Lather. Repeat.

Despite the difficulty that we find getting that square peg into that round hole over and over again, we keep picking it up for another try. And every time we run the cycle, more apples roll off the cart. After time, it is amazing the function survives. If we scanned successful corporate organizational structures and strategies, it’s not likely we would find much movement of personnel through specialized positions inside those organizations.

Most police departments have defined administrative functions (units, sections, divisions, bureaus, etc.) but how many of those functions have the full business responsibility of the agency within their control? I would say that is the $64,000 question today and a hint of where the policing industry should head.

It might be time to take that next step and integrate full-fledged Business Units into the policing organizational structure. The units would be staffed by experienced business professionals positioned for a long-term career and every decision in the agency that was tied to money would be researched and evaluated through the Business Unit.

Some of the most beneficial functions that a professionally operated Business Unit will provide for a police department will revolve around these financial management issues. The stability created by employing and empowering business professionals who gain tenure in the agency, will add a great deal of credibility to the agency when budget discussions roll around.

Business professionals will be better at making the case for when to invest and divest in equipment and technology, increasing budgets by demonstrating the return on the investment the local government will be making and when it is time to expand the workforce instead of using more money for overtime. The impact the Business Unit can have on Operations is unlimited and from what I can tell in some cursory research, it is largely unrecognized.

© 2014 David A. Lyons

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