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How to Deal with Shrinking Budgets

It's not fun or easy, but there are ways to do more with less.

June 16, 2014  |  by Amaury Murgado - Also by this author

Agency administrators will likely disagree with you on how money should be spent unless you present a convincing argument.
Photo: Amaury Murgado
Agency administrators will likely disagree with you on how money should be spent unless you present a convincing argument. 
Photo: Amaury Murgado

Budgets remain a big concern even in the largest of agencies. It's a given there is a lack of funding, so the issue becomes who gets what little there is. It would be easier if budgets were just based on need. Unfortunately, it's never that simple. Budgets are based on politics, bureaucratic red tape, and whatever hot topic is floating around in your decision-maker's head. What you may see as a need may not even be on the radar. The reality is where you sit (your position within the agency) determines where you stand (your views).

If you are an administrator, you have a broader view of the agency as a whole. If you are in a specialty unit, your world revolves around your specific mission. So which viewpoint wins? It depends on how you look at it. If you are a "cup is half empty" person, then the guy who controls the purse strings wins. If you are a "cup is half full" person, then having the right perspective, attitude, and imagination can conquer the frustration of an ever-shrinking budget. It is possible to still make things happen.

Perspective

In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan used a pie analogy when he talked to the nation about the budget. He made it clear there was only one pie, that it could only be cut up in so many ways, and that everybody's piece couldn't be the same size. In order to deal with your budget pie, you first have to accept that you don't always get the piece you want.

Let's face it; you are competing with every other unit for the same dollars. Even if you present the best proposal in the world, if it's not on their list of priorities, it won't fly. You have to learn early in your career that not all decisions are yours to make. Accept that fact and your work life will become easier.

You need to adopt a different perspective. When they say no, take it to mean no right now, but the future remains open. Be prepared to submit the proposal again later on. I use six months as my bench mark. Just make sure that your facts and figures reflect any changes that may have occurred since your original proposal. I have won some serious concessions with this strategy. I have had members of my command attend training, conferences, and we have been able to obtain some great pieces of equipment as well. You have to keep in mind that everything in law enforcement is dynamic and therefore always changing. Today's refusal might become tomorrow's top priority.

Attitude

Even with an optimistic perspective, you have to maintain a realistic attitude. When splitting up the pie, there are three categories that guide the slicer: need, want, and wish list. In today's world we tend to get mostly what we need. We sometimes get what we want and rarely do we ever get to tap into our wish list.

For example, just about every agency has that guy/guru who wants the latest toy. There is nothing wrong with the old toy, but when a new version comes along he has to have it. I call this guy Gadget Bob. Gadget Bob can score big sometimes but rarely does it come without a price.

I know of a smaller agency that had a very basic version of the M4 carbine. Along comes Gadget Bob and convinces the chief they need to buy the newest and "bestest" M4 from a designer label. Was it a nice rifle? No doubt, but the point I'm trying to make here is there was nothing wrong with the old one. Later on, when Gadget Bob asked for something else and it was denied, he didn't understand why. The why is simple and you don't have to be an accountant to understand the concept behind it; you can't spend the same money twice.

Therefore, one of the keys to getting new equipment is to ask yourself a simple question: Is the equipment you have now mission-capable or not? If it doesn't do what you need it to do, then it's time for some new gear.

Let's take computer software, for example. Our office is currently upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7. Windows XP no longer does what our IT section needs it to do. In addition, the support for the software ended on April 8, 2014. Even Scrooge would have a hard time saying no to an upgrade under those conditions considering all the vulnerability and security issues surrounding it.

Imagination

I knew of a SWAT commander from another agency whose ammo budget for his team was bigger than the one I had for the entire office when I was in charge of training. After speaking with him about his training, I realized his team didn't train; they just shot a lot of rounds. Training and shooting are not the same things. A hundred rounds shot with a purpose beats 500 rounds shot without goals and objectives. Enter imagination…

Let's say your training budget gets drilled and your ammunition is cut in half. Instead of complaining about what you don't have, change your attitude and focus your attention on what you do have. Spend your time figuring out how you can meet your goal and objectives.

Anyone who works with firearms knows there are various dry fire drills you can incorporate into your training. Ball and dummy drills are great for general marksmanship training. Add some one-on-one coaching, and you have a great training session. If you incorporate malfunction drills into your training, you're adding an important survival skill.

If you have access to paintball or Airsoft guns, you can incorporate them into your tactical training and save your live ammo for qualification tables. The bottom line is you have to use your imagination and think in terms of how to get it done.

Putting It All Together

Here are some examples to get the conversation started:

  • Can't do a full-blown Active Shooter scenario? Do it notionally as a desktop exercise. Talk it through. After you complete it, start again but change some of the factors. Rework it based on the new information. It's a great time to play "what if." Challenge your junior officers to answer as supervisors. It makes them think about more than just their particular assignment.
  • Can't afford to buy X for a project you need? Then design it yourself with components you already have. It doesn't have to be pretty, just effective. That's how we made our saddlebag rifle mounts for our Harley-Davidson police motorcycles. We had Blac-Rac rifle mounts in stock and created our own bracket.
  • Look at government programs like the 1122 Programs, the 1033 Program, and the Cooperative Purchasing Program. Do some research and take advantage of what's out there.
  • Need a trailer? Maybe you can get one donated. Maybe all that's asked in return is placing "Donated By…." on the side of it.
  • Look for some type of corporate sponsorship. Many companies give out grants. Years ago, an outgoing administration gutted our Police Explorer program. I was able to build it back up with local grants from places like Walmart and Target.
  • Need some money to make up for a budget shortfall? Use online public safety auction sites to sell off your confiscated items. If you have a savvy IT guru, you can even create your own web page to do the same.
  • Want to stretch your ammunition budget? Add some simulation training. Make it happen as a joint project with surrounding agencies then share time on the simulator. We did that one year with two other agencies and it worked out great.
  • Look for agencies that are buying new gear and willing to give away or trade for their older gear. We gave away six older radars to a smaller agency when we obtained six new ones from winning a state DOT traffic challenge.
  • Look for agencies that are disbanding units and see what you can negotiate. I know of an agency right now that's dismantling its motor unit. This would be an opportune time to get six fully equipped motorcycles at a great price.

Being Productive

Learning to think outside of the box should be a familiar theme for most of us by now. With the events of 9/11, the several recessions we've been through, and the constant barrage of the anti-police pension/benefits politicians, we continuously have had to do more with less. Priorities may change, but the way budgets are sliced and diced never does. Only by changing your perspective and attitude and using a little imagination will you be able to deal with budget crunches in a more productive manner.

Amaury Murgado is a special operations lieutenant with the Osceola County (Fla.) Sheriff's Office. He is a retired master sergeant from the Army Reserve, has over 27 years of law enforcement experience, and has been a lifelong student of martial arts.


BUDGE-STRETCHING TIPS:

  • Accept you will never have the budget you want.
  • Priorities change; keep submitting purchase proposals.
  • Fight for new gear if your current gear no longer gets the job done.
  • Use your imagination to repurpose what you do have to meet your goals.
  • Find other resources to get gear for cheap or free.

Tags: Budget Cuts, Purchasing Equipment, Best Practices


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