If the topic of strategy is brought up in the police world, more than likely the conversations that follow will include topics that range from dealing with a suspect that has barricaded himself in a house, how to address an uptick in a particular type of crime or how to address budget cuts that are on the horizon. These things are strategies, but they are actually more of a tactical planning process. By definition, tactical planning addresses issues on the short term, maybe up to a year. Arguably, few industries have nailed tactical planning to the degree that police have. After all, tactical planning is their forte. Many police actions that are covered in tactical terms are reduced to seconds or minutes; not many other businesses are ever faced with challenges that police deal with.
Strategic planning (planning for the long term), can address some of the tactical issues mentioned above and some police agencies actively pursue strategic planning by developing multi-year plans in addition to annual goal and objective processes. Law enforcement oriented accreditation agencies, like the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) include requirements for participating police departments to develop multi-year plans.
Strategic planning in the business world is a little different than the policing world, in that it gives a strong consideration to competing for business, which is something police departments do not have to do. I would suggest that even though police departments have no competition (Monopoly: Your the Only Game in Town), they compete with themselves, in terms of how they are viewed by the public. The business world also develops strategy to grow the business. Police departments have no need to drum up business (Lord knows they usually have more than enough) but departments do need to grow in size. Aside from these differences, the business world and the police world share the same concept of strategy that includes improving performance, and answers what their present situation is, where they want to go from here and how to get there.
Strategic planning in policing is critical if the agency is going to move forward and find itself prepared for changing times. By design, the strategic plan should question the status quo. The plan should not institute change for the sake of change, but the plan certainly has to be the result of a careful scanning of the environment with consideration of trends that are both local and national. The plan has to be detailed and firm and at the same time has to be amiable to change instead of being rigid. In short, the plan is more of a work in progress instead of a one shot deal. Holding on to a plan and resisting change in the face of uncertainty is worse than having no plan at all. Police are more apt to benefit by using an emergent strategy; working with a combination of proactive and reactive considerations while leveraging the value of abandoning elements that become obsolete or are found to simply be ineffective.
In the end, the strategic plan should always be closely related to the police department’s business model and support the value proposition that is offered to the community. In fact, the plan should be prepared to subordinate virtually every function of the agency to the agency value proposition.
How do we know whether or not the strategic plan is effective? First, we can examine the plan using fit tests. Does it fit the police department’s current situation? To evaluate this, we have to look at the impact externally, with regard to the effectiveness in providing services to the community. The next fit test is internal; is it advancing the effectiveness of the agency itself? And finally, as I mentioned above, does the plan demonstrate a dynamic fit? Will the plan evolve over time in a way that maintains support of the department’s business model, or change with the model if the model changes? If the plan passes muster against these tests, it is likely working well. For the time being anyway.
Lastly, good strategy can only be good if it is executed properly. The best made plans are useless if they are not put to work correctly, monitored for effectiveness and refined whenever the need to adjust the plan arises.
However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.” Winston Churchill
© 2014 David A. Lyons