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BACK OF THE BOOK – TAMING THE BEAR


January 9, 2013
By Robert Lunney

by Robert Lunney

The global financial collapse of 2008 foreshadows major, possibly even revolutionary change, affecting the future of government in developed countries. By reason of our close economic integration with major partner countries and global events, Canada will be no exception. Most economic experts are predicting slower growth, guaranteeing that control over public spending will be a pre-occupation at every level.

Police services will be no exception and in all likelihood a primary target for cost reduction, given the considerable influence of policing costs on local, provincial and federal budgets. As a consequence, the quest for efficiency and economy of operation will challenge the imagination and skill of police managers well past the end of the current decade.

Transformative change is in our future, with implications for consolidation of agencies, modified operational strategies, potentially fixed or lower staffing levels and challenges to traditional pay and benefit structures. There will be a fresh approach to tiered policing and collaboration with private security.

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{Consolidation}

Regionalization and consolidation for goals of efficiency and economy is a rational solution if the economic benefits are established in advance and the service standards and criteria for measuring success are included in contracts with local communities. While cost control is the objective, experience has taught that relationships with the public often suffer when a larger regional or provincial service takes over from a smaller local service.

The frequent criticism, or scare bear, is that the larger service is impersonal and insensitive to local priorities. Operational effectiveness is impaired when people feel estranged from their police. A successful transition that includes protection of local relationships places responsibility on regional and provincial police to develop policies and practices guaranteeing direct and close engagement with all elements of the community, inclusive of local councils, neighbourhood groups and individuals.

The objective is to provide boutique policing within a corporate structure, as opposed to the one-size-fits-all model bound by rigid institutional policy.

{Devolved organizations}

A devolved organization accentuates delegation of authority to local commanders, authorizing them to tailor decisions and practices to community needs. The devolved model encourages innovation, promotes trust and confidence, builds staff morale and contributes to a culture of performance and client oriented outcomes. Effective management of a devolved organization requires a strong corporate philosophy with policies which inform managers without being unduly restrictive. To be effective, it must include delegated authority over specified elements of finance and human resources.

The corporate human resources policy should be adapted to ensure minimum periods of tenure for officers posted to local communities, offsetting the complaint that they do not remain on post long enough to become familiar with the locality and its residents.

There are circumstances where a financial incentive to encourage officers to live within their jurisdictions is a reasonable investment, a cost offset by predictably higher productivity. Residence in the community policed ensures that officers are seen as stake-holders and encourages their participation in local activities, building social capital for the service.

{Commitment is imperative}

A devolved organization model is not simple to construct and initially there is bound to be some trial and error. A determination not to be discouraged by early setbacks but to learn from each experience and persevere is imperative to success.

Too often, a service that embarks on the path to devolutionary reform loses its resolve in the early going when some local commander’s decision falls short of its intended goal, or when the headquarters bureaucracy conspires to stifle local initiative on the pretext of protecting corporate interests.

Resistance to change and defense of organizational turf must be anticipated and overcome.

There are many compelling reasons to persevere. The strict command and control management system inherited from the professional model of policing has timed out. Rigid top down command and control is neither productive nor practical in the collaborative arena of the information age, when new entrants bring with them an educational experience that encourages openness, collaboration and innovation. Viewed from a strategic perspective, agency consolidation combined with a philosophy of devolved authority is a win-win proposition – scaling-up externally (consolidation) for economic savings, while scaling- down internally (devolution) for operational effectiveness.

If consolidation is a scare bear to smaller communities, then devolution is a formula for taming the bear.


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