It’s true. Nothing is free. Whether we see the up front cost that comes out of our wallet or the cost in terms of the time it takes to get something done, there are no free rides. This universal truth extends to the policing industry, though the lack of a set of financial books that show whether or not we are making a profit, leaves it a little obscure.
The big financial picture is pretty easy to comprehend. The police department has a fixed budget. We know what we can spend in that budget and once the money is gone, it is gone. The budgets are very difficult to expand. In reality, a department is lucky to survive year-to-year without steady budget cuts, especially in tough economic times.
It should go without saying that every dime spent, has to be spent wisely. Every tax dollar that is used has to represent effective decision making that provides the best return on that investment possible. In many case, local governments will move police departments from traditional budgeting (where a historical review of spending takes place and adjustments are made as deemed necessary) to zero-based budgeting (where every expense has to be justified for each new period) to verify that the tax dollars are allocated effectively. As with most conventional business operations, it is best to use a combination of both methods. I believe that police departments will benefit from the same and those evaluating the budget will have a clearer picture of the department’s needs and justifications for those needs.
Governors, mayors, city managers, county judge executives, council members, alderman, etc. should carefully scrutinize all budget requests to make sure they are realistic, effective and have a direct connection to the mission of the police department. Whether or not they were elected or appointed, this is an obligation that they have to the tax payers (the stockholders). Zero-based budgeting with an analysis of historical budget needs will create a framework for a fair evaluation of a budget request.
Police executives using traditional and zero-based methods to develop budgets with the assistance and input of all of the operating units in the police department, will present a more confident and professional budget pitch than the old ‘because we have always done it that way’ reasoning. Police and public safety units have to compete for funds with every other service component of government, so coming to the table prepared is essential to getting the resources they need to operate.
When completed, the budget must provide the services we have promised to our constituents.
-Jane D. Hull
© 2014 David A. Lyons