Cops are experts at identifying various types of impairments. The lay person wonders, "Man, is that guy on something?" A cop can tell you flat out. They have the training and experience to recognize a plethora of maladies causing disconnects between brain cells.
There is, however, a disorder that affects officers as well as the general public. The indicators may elude police but it's easily recognizable by financial folks. "Budgetitis" (Latin for "disinterest in finances") manifests mostly in the eyes, but the root cause lies in heart and brain.
The first indication of infection is glazing of the eyes. This can be followed by eyes rolling back into the head, rapid lid fluttering, head bobbing, and rarely, drooling. The urge to sleep starts to take control. Onset is caused by someone initiating a conversation about budgets. Symptoms will quickly dissipate once the conversation ends.
Those affected by this condition may find it humorous at first, but the side effects can be quite serious. They include, but are not limited to, inability to feed your family due to improper priorities (a new motorcycle is more important than food); furloughs; injuries caused by outdated and unsafe equipment; a decrease in take-home pay caused by the government's inability to ratify a budget; elimination of programs or services; pay decrease combined with benefit cost increase; public outcry over misuse of funds; public embarrassment; increased taxes; or even the loss of a job.
As a financial officer, I see the symptoms of this disease every day. Some officers don't think budgets affect them, so why should they care? I've even heard budgets compared to diets. Seriously? Budgets are important in every aspect of our lives. Ignoring, avoiding, or denying them doesn't change their importance. Inaction may cause panic.
Consider this. A supervisor with budget responsibility believes budgets are an annoyance. She marginalizes anything to do with them, pays no attention to her department's spending and writes off the financial officer as a controlling little nerd with nothing better to do than bother her. Without realizing the impact of her dismissive attitude, she may utter statements such as:
"I'm a cop. I have more important things to worry about."
"Training on my TASER is far more important than a stupid budget."
"I mean, really, what are they going to do? The job still has to get done."
While she is busy ignoring her financial house, expenditures are out of control. Soon she gets a call from the mayor telling her to get her budget under control. She can't take back the expenditures already made, and still needs money to operate the agency. Fuel, vehicle repair, and safety initiatives must be funded. She cuts the crime prevention program. Next, rather than replacing vehicles, patrol shifts must share a vehicle, transferring equipment at the end of each shift. Finally, the only thing left to do is implement furloughs. Still think budgets don't affect you?
This malady isn't exclusive to law enforcement. I've heard several teachers say, "I can't do this paperwork. I'm right-brained and creative. I just want to teach." Those statements may be true, but paperwork is part of the job they signed up for.
If you suffer from a severe case of Budgetitis and you are considering advancing into administration, do everyone a favor and get vaccinated by learning about budgeting.
If you're disinterested or the thought of fiscal responsibility makes you want to hurl, stay away. Keep doing the job you like doing and leave the budgeting to someone who takes their responsibility of public funds seriously. Everyone will be happier in the long run. This may sound harsh, but so is jeopardizing officer safety or causing financial losses.
Wendy Dutenhoeffer is a financial officer with the Bonneville County (Idaho) Sheriff's Office with 22 years of experience in finance.