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Purchasing Equipment: Selling the Brass

Getting your chief or sheriff to buy into acquiring new equipment involves finesse, good timing, and hard work.

August 02, 2011  |  by Tim Dees - Also by this author

Staff Work

Most management textbooks say that a competent manager should be able to supervise between three and seven people. Fewer than three is inefficient; more than seven is overextended. As one rises in the organization, at some point it's most efficient to have a staff that both supervise subordinates and advise their superior. When these staff members make reports to the executive, they should include all of the appropriate research, arguments for all the options, and a recommendation for the final decision. That package is called "completed staff work."

The premise here is that the executive doesn't have to be an expert on the topic in order to make a decision; that's what he has the staff member for. The staff member who creates the report does the research, considers the needs and resources of the organization, and boils everything down to a recommendation for action. Ideally, that recommendation should be set out and justified in an executive summary that leads the report and condenses it to a single paragraph.

Failing to do completed staff work is a common error in the running of organizations, and the reason for many bad decisions. Staff work done badly slants the recommendation according to the prejudices of the staff member and doesn't put the needs of the organization first or it overloads the decision maker with too much detail.

This doesn't mean that the completed staff work should necessarily be brief. Some completed staff work can run into volumes if the project demands that kind of complexity. Still, the work should summarize the pros and cons and tell the top dog, "This is what we should do." If you are called on to make such a report or recommendation to your superior, ensure it's in the form of properly completed staff work.

Finding Funding

Public safety money has never been plentiful, and every police agency these days is strapped for cash. The first and maybe the only objection to your project will be, "We can't afford it." You can overcome that obstacle by including a source of funding in your proposal.

Keep in mind that most public agencies plan their budgets at least a year in advance. If your fiscal year begins in October and you come in with a recommendation for an immediate purchase in September, it's likely you'll be told to come back next spring. Understanding the budgetary process in your department is part of the organizational culture aspect discussed earlier.

Grants are the first choice for funding new projects, as they don't take money away from another category and they don't have to be repaid. For that reason, grants are always highly competitive.

Vendors of products and services may be able to steer you toward a source of funding, and they may even assist you in preparing the grant application. Take advantage of this kind of help whenever possible. The vendor will nearly always have experienced grant writers on staff and will know the hot button issues you need to address to secure the grant.

Some projects have the potential to generate new sources of revenue. For example, you could acquire a driving simulator for training your officers and then sell time on it to businesses with drivers of their own to train. A records management system that converts your report writing system from paper to electronic records could streamline the process for the public to acquire accident and crime report copies. By offering those reports over the Internet, you can generate fees without incurring new personnel costs. Be creative, but also mindful of the public image impact. Citizens who perceive they are being nickel-and-dimed for fees can turn against you.

What's In It for Me

It's rare that we make a decision without considering our self-interest; this is instinctual. One way of framing that self-interest issue is the question "What's in it for me?" (WIIFM)

In making a recommendation to your boss, consider his notion of WIIFM. What are his needs and priorities? Is he on the ropes to cut costs? If so, a recommendation that stresses potential cost savings will appeal to him. If she's expressed dissatisfaction with the personal appearance of her officers, she might be swayed by a program that improves physical fitness or the purchase of a more serviceable uniform item. When your department is under scrutiny over a misstep by one of your officers, a training program or product that would have prevented the faux pas may be favorably received. Sometimes the critical factor isn't the idea, but rather its timing.

The purchase of a new product or service or the implementation of a new program requires change, and people naturally resist change. Even if you overcome all of the obstacles discussed in this article, the adverse response to anything new and untried can undermine your proposal. Try to imagine yourself in the shoes of your chief or sheriff, and see his or her perspective on your idea. By doing that, you'll not just have a better shot at making your idea a reality-you'll be preparing yourself for the day you are making those decisions.

Tim Dees is a retired police officer and the former editor of two major law enforcement Websites who writes and consults on technology applications in criminal justice. He also serves on the executive board of the Public Safety Writers Association. You can reach him via [email protected]

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