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The Money Crunch: Brother, Can You Spare a Few Mil?

Finding funding is becoming harder for law enforcement agencies, but it's not impossible.

November 01, 2004  |  by - Also by this author

Making Money

Actively bringing in revenue can help a department even more than saving costs, especially for a smaller agency.

The Juneau (Wis.) County Sheriff's Department has found ways to create extra revenue for its cash-strapped agency, even though it's working with what Sheriff Brent Oleson calls a skeleton crew.

Because the department shares a facility with the District Attorney's office, it benefited from a grant that refurbished the justice center that houses both. Now, the Sheriff's Department operates a jail that holds 154 beds. After accommodating the county's own inmates, the facility still has room to regularly house 35 to 40 inmates from surrounding counties that are short of jail space.

"We charge those counties $45 a day per inmate. So that will probably bring in close to a half-million dollars for us this year," says Oleson. "Maybe we'll be able to get new vehicles now."

For large events, Juneau County also provides extra after-hours security to local organizations and businesses...for a price. "If it's over and above what we normally would do we charge for the service and bill the organization," Oleson says. "Other than that, we're broke."

Recovering Costs

Officer Michael Chiu, public information officer with the Bellevue (Wash.) Police Department, says his agency has found that jailing practices can save money.

"We're farming out the holding of arrested individuals to the most cost-effective locations instead of always going to the King County Jail," says Chiu.

Because some jails are 10, 20, or 50 percent cheaper than others, Chiu says this creates a great cost savings, even counting the time and money to bus inmates to jails farther afield.

"Yes, it costs money to get them out there, but daily incarceration-food and administrative costs-is what really costs a lot," Chiu says.

Drunk drivers have also helped Bellevue PD save money, with a DUI cost recovery program.

"People arrested for driving under the influence, once convicted, get billed for police services. We bill them for officer hours worked for paperwork, processing, and court." Although it's not a perfect system, the revenue that has been recovered hasn't hurt.

"Maybe 25 to 40 percent of people pay, but just that alone has brought in tens of thousands of dollars," says Chiu. "And we use police volunteers to send the notices and collect the fines."

The department is currently streamlining the process and the enforcement of payment, which should recover more money through the program. Specific cost-saving strategies and programs aren't the only ways to save money. Some general rules of thumb can go a long way toward protecting agency revenues.

Officer Awareness

"Pushing down the budget," is something Chief William Harvey of the Lebanon (Pa.) Police Department believes can help any agency use its resources more wisely. He explains that when police officers at the lower levels understand more about how the agency obtains its funding for equipment and uniforms, they are more likely to make better choices about spending and maintenance.

For example, Harvey encourages his staff to compare costs each time any replacements are needed instead of automatically ordering the same brand. He also puts sergeants in charge of cost comparisons instead of someone higher up in the ranks, pushing down fiscal awareness to the lower levels of command.

"I think the chief of today should not be the sole guardian of the budget. Having staff members who know how to wisely shop and be guardians of the budget themselves makes success easier to come by," says Harvey.

Making Connections

Most law enforcement administrators agree that one of the keys to running a police agency in the best way possible is to maintain contact with the outside world and consult other departments to determine best practices-or in this case, the most fiscally efficient practices. It's often the best way to find out about cost-saving strategies and available resources.

Oregon State Police's Ruecker recommends that department administrators get involved in regional and national organizations. In addition to giving you an inside track on what's new in law enforcement, networking also acquaints you with others who can help you when you're in a really tight spot.

"It would be nice if everything I need to know showed up in a little bulletin, but in reality there's too much going on on too many different levels. So you've got to be constantly talking to people," Ruecker says.

Ruecker recognizes that such involvement can be time consuming, but he says it can be well worth it in the long run.

"Especially in the federal system, once they establish their distribution rules or grant guidelines, it's a done deal. If at some local community level, or even the state level, you say, 'That doesn't really work for us,' there's no flexibility in how it goes. So the place to get involved in the discussion is before the decisions are made."

Not everyone can be part of a national panel, but that shouldn't prevent anyone from remaining active in the community-, county-, or even state-level organizations, advises Ruecker.

Organizational involvement needn't be limited to heads of agencies or even higher ranked officers, either. Members of SWAT teams or K-9 units probably already meet at least semi-regularly with other like-minded individuals. These meetings can be used to discuss financial concerns in addition to technique and liability issues.

"Get actively involved in your local law enforcement associations and attend training and meeting opportunities where you can build relationships with others," advises Ruecker. "That's how you find out about important information."

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