A Foundation for the Future: Aligning Law Enforcement with the Community and Government Policy Makers

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.

-Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862)1

The responsibilities of a chief of police are becoming more complex with each passing day. The position always had its challenges—leading an organization in highly fluid environments, both internal and external, where the day can transform from standardized routine to chaotic crisis within mere moments, is not what most would call “easy.” Still, in the past, there was also a greater sense of stability, especially in smaller communities where there was less turnover in population, where many citizens and officers were on a first name basis, and where the laws were more readily applied to community occurrences because they represented the basic rules with which the community members were raised.

Today’s police chief faces a constantly shifting landscape with a far more mobile and communicating public, the growing integration of vastly differing cultures, the emergence of sophisticated electronic crimes not even fathomable 20 years ago, and a public with a higher expectation of the local government’s role in providing “feel good” or “comfort” programs.

Many of these same challenges, however, are not unique to law enforcement services alone. Decision makers in local governments are constantly lobbied by growing numbers of interest groups for money or services to further their own causes. These external pressures divert the attention of policy makers and divide the limited resources available for services over an increasing number of programs while elected officials try to please their constituency.

It is fiscally, ethically, and ideologically impossible to continue down that road. Changing that direction, however, will require one or more people with unparalleled leadership, the political courage to stand against that tide, the vision to take what is to a newer level of what could be, and a tenacious belief in what must be done.

The authors have worked with many local governments over the years in the development of public policies. Public policies are the stated position of a unit of government concerning issues of common interest to a community and how that representative government prioritizes resources to address those issues. Almost invariably, the first questions to a group of elected policy makers are “Why was this unit of government initially created? Why does it still exist? If this government did not exist at this moment in time, would it be created and why?” The questions often result in blank stares—none of them had ever been asked such a question before, nor had any of them taken a moment to consider their true purpose. They had little or no clue as to their foundation. The public policy development process then leads those decision makers to their own conclusions as to why units of government exist—to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, governments should only do for the people that which they cannot so well do for themselves as individuals.2

Taking the process further, premised on Lincoln’s purposeful reasoning, elected decision makers have, in the authors’ experience, identified the public’s safety and ability to be secure in their persons and property as the first and highest responsibility of that government. The second most important responsibility often cited is the maintenance of infrastructure to ensure the free flow of people, traffic, and commerce. From there, the sense of importance in service delivery rapidly dwindles. What this process has done is to refocus the attention of those elected officials on the most basic and critical responsibilities of a local government; how the provision of services should be prioritized; and, just as importantly, how limited fiscal resources should be allocated.

To this point, the ideology seems simple and rational, but it’s only a first step, intended to refocus the policy makers’ attention on the government organization’s priorities. The real issues arise when they are asked what kind of law enforcement services the policy makers and the community really want. Imagine for a moment that a rich constituent approaches the captain of a luxury cruise vessel to charter the vessel to take his or her family on a luxury vacation. The request is “Take us on a vacation cruise we will all enjoy.” The captain’s response would naturally be, “Where do you want to go? What do you want to see? What type of services does your family want or expect?” The questions could go on ad infinitum. This is the nexus where the decisions of public policy are formed—creating the correct levels and types of services the community wants and expects at the price it can afford to pay. Once again, the development of this part of the policy is the process where priorities are formed between want, need, and affordability. The result of this step should be types and levels of law enforcement services, provided by the police department, that are aligned with the community and public policy and defensible to criticisms and special interest pressures.

Public policies exist only as long as the sentiments of the policy creators remain in office and are not unduly influenced by outside pressures. The stability of consistent, fair, articulated law enforcement services provided at adequate levels with adequate funding is sufficiently important to require additional steps in the public policy process to ensure its permanency.

There is little in realm of policy that has sanctified permanency; public policy at the local level is best protected through a formally adopted resolution by the elected legislative body of that local government. An adopted resolution is, in essence, one step short of creating a law or ordinance. It is permanent until some future elected body modifies or overturns it, and it is enforceable. The rationale in establishing a formally adopted resolution is to give a foundation to the types and levels of law enforcement services established through the public policy process and, through its execution, leverage for the sustainability of certain levels of funding. The elected body has set a benchmark for services; therefore, it has an obligation to fund it at the levels they have created.

Law enforcement executives work hard to establish professional, progressive organizations of which to be proud. The competition for limited resources creates instability in what has been built. The public policy on policing process fiscally and ideologically solidifies that foundation for the future.

From Theory to Reality: The Olympia, Washington, Police Department’s Public Policy on Policing

The City of Olympia is the state capitol of Washington and is the seat of government for Thurston County. In the mid-1990s the city had a population of approximately 45,000, and its police department had approximately 70 officers and 30 support and corrections staff. Circa 1995, the Olympia Police Department (OPD) found itself in a state of significant organizational conflict and needed to reinvent itself. A consultant was hired by the city to assess the condition of the department. When the assessment was completed and the report was submitted to the city council, there were several problems identified at all levels of OPD. While this was a bitter pill to swallow, OPD seized the opportunity to make positive changes and build a new culture.

A forum on the future of policing in Olympia was held at the Evergreen State College where city councilors, OPD staff, and community leaders heard from policing experts, academics, and city managers from across the United States about their successes with contemporary policing initiatives. As the reinvention process began, the city council asked the Olympia Planning Commission to help develop a police chapter for the city comprehensive plan that would speak to the type of policing the city council and community wanted for Olympia. This request began a year-long public outreach effort to connect with community members who helped develop the following goals in Olympia’s public policy on policing (PPP).

The public outreach was essential to determine what type of policing the community wanted out of its police department. Use of the media during this process was helpful not only to inform the community on the process, but also to advertise the community meetings where people could come and comment on what was important to them.

As the OPD continued to reinvent itself, the following PPP became the foundational piece that served as a springboard for the new culture that was developing:

  1. To provide police services in a manner consistent with the values of the citizens of Olympia.
  2. To empower citizens of Olympia as partners in solving community problems by effectively coordinating police services with the full range of community resources.
  3. To provide police services consistent with Olympia’s high quality of life and do so in a cost-effective manner.
  4. To achieve broad community participation in identifying policing priorities and solving policing problems.
  5. To maximize the effectiveness of Olympia’s police services by communicating openly and by being accessible and responsive to feedback.
  6. To maximize the effectiveness of Olympia’s police services by collaborating with other service providers.
  7. To ensure that the conduct of police officers is held accountable to defined community expectations.
  8. To achieve a natural and built environment that uses design techniques to discourage criminal behavior.3

The Gladstone, Oregon, Police Department’s Public Policy on Policing

The City of Gladstone has about 12,000 residents and is a bedroom community in the Portland, Oregon, metro area. The police department has 16 sworn officers, 3 support staff, and has reserve officer and emergency management volunteer units. In 2008, the Gladstone Police Department (GPD) was experiencing a time of transition.

The chief of police for GPD, Jim Pryde, had been involved in the development of Olympia’s PPP, and he collaborated with a consultant for the city council (retired chief of police, Rod Brown) to create a draft PPP for Gladstone.

The Gladstone City Council charged Chief Pryde with further development of the draft PPP and implementing it. To this end, Chief Pryde formed an advisory committee representative of the Gladstone community. The stakeholders represented businesses, youth, senior citizens, minorities, faith communities, schools, and citizens at large. Updates on the PPP development process were provided in the community newsletter. A town hall meeting was held for interested citizens to talk about the service levels they wanted from GPD, and informal and formal conversations took place regarding the PPP throughout the community, including service club presentations. After a few city council meetings and editing changes, the Gladstone City Council approved the PPP. GPD staff received copies of the new policy and discussions about it took place. As the chief traveled throughout the Gladstone community, copies of the PPP were shared with residents and business owners along with an explanation of what the policy was about. This process reflected favorably on the city government, community, and the police department.

Since the implementation phase in 2010, the PPP has been used as part of a sergeant and lieutenant promotional processes and selection process for specialty assignments. Those seeking opportunities in GPD are expected to explain what they have done to support the PPP. GPD has developed performance measures, and efforts supporting the PPP are included in these measures.

As demonstrated by the experiences of the Olympia and Gladstone police departments, a well-designed and properly processed public policy on policing provides benefits for the community and the department. It creates and sustains alignment between the governing body, the community, and the police department and provides a foundation that can help policing efforts succeed and can support funding requests that coincide with the approved public policy on policing.♦

For more information/assistance, please contact Rod Brown at: brownr@blackfoot.net and/or Jim Pryde at: pryde@ci.gladstone.or.us.

1Henry David Thoreau, Walden (Boston, MA: Ticknor and Fields, 1854).
2Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 2:221.
3“Chapter Thirteen: Public Safety,” City of Olympia Comprehensive Plan, October 10, 2003, 1–14, http://olympiawa.gov/~/media/Files/CPD/Planning/LongRange/Forms/CPChapter13.ashx (accessed May 14, 2014).

Please cite as:

Rod Brown and Jim Pryde, “A Foundation for the Future: Aligning Law Enforcement with the Community and Government Policy Makers,” The Police Chief 81 (June 2014): online bonus article.

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