In the summer of 2008, the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) conducted a poll of 200 police departments and found that 39 percent of respondents said their operating budgets were cut because of the declining economy. A further 43 percent of departments reported that the faltering economy had affected their ability to deliver services.
That sounds bad. But here's the kicker. This poll was taken before the current economic meltdown, before the stock market plummeted and the banks and auto companies went hat in hand to Congress begging for bailouts.
For those in law enforcement, the question becomes one of: How does all of this economic gloom affect me? To address this question, POLICE decided to look at five of the biggest economic threats facing law enforcement.
1) Your Training Budget Will Be Cut
"When the economy goes downhill, one of the first things to get cut is usually training," says Sgt. Brian Muller of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
"Unfortunately, it usually ends up costing us more in the long haul. The LAPD MacArthur Park incident of May 2006 is a prime example. Some shortsighted higher up decided to cut civil disorder training for Metro in the months preceding the MacArthur Park protests. It resulted in a situation where Metro personnel that had never been trained in handling civil disorder problems ended up dealing with protesters at the park. This proved disastrous both at a public relations level and at a litigation level.
"It's one of those pay now or pay later situations," cautions Muller. "You pay now; you know it's going to cost you 'X' number of dollars. Sometimes people will look at that and say, 'We'll just cut that dollar amount right there.' They end up rolling the dice and hoping that nothing will happen. Then something bad happens.'
"And just because a budget has been compromised because of the economy, doesn't mean you're not going to be sued because of an incident whose roots can be traced back to budget cuts," Muller warns.
Reconciling the need to protect themselves from liability while still being able to manage their budgets has found many law enforcement agencies leaning on the federal government for support. But monies once readily available through Clinton administration grants have been diverted to military campaigns and matters of homeland security.
We may well be entering an era where it'll be increasingly incumbent upon the individual officer to subsidize his own training, on his own dime and his own time. Another option is to consolidate training among agencies.