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Scottsdale Police Department: Strategic Planning as a Management Philosophy

By Will Davis and Debra Allemang

he Scottsdale Police department’s strategic planning initiative was designed to create a long-range plan that would identify the organization’s priorities and be the foundation for the organization’s future. The department’s goal was to establish the strategic plan not as a document but as a management philosophy based on strategic thinking and shared responsibility to ensure accountability and sustainability.

Beginning Work on the Strategic Plan
In 2003 Alan Rodbell, Scottsdale’s chief of police, called for a total overhaul of the strategic planning efforts to provide the police department with a single guiding document that would be aligned with budget goals and performance measures. He called for a process that would involve the entire agency and the community, would instill accountability, and would be sustainable. A key focus was to integrate all other studies, performance measures, budget documents, and operational plans into one strategic plan. The department partnered with the city’s human resources staff to ensure that the resulting process improved organizational accountability across all supervisory ranks and contributed to the development of leadership.

The department evaluated various alternatives before developing the scope and processes of the final strategic planning initiative. The first step consisted of assessing of the department’s prior strategic planning efforts, conducting research into promising practices, and evaluating strategic plan documents from other agencies. The department also consulted accreditation standards from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies1 to ensure that the resulting plan complied with applicable standards and followed international best practices.

After the evaluation of past initiatives and best practices research, the department identified a number of repeating issues that were prevalent in a majority of strategic planning efforts. Among the objectives was the need to create a process that avoided traditional pitfalls of strategic planning.

Implementing the Strategic Planning Process
A challenge for the department was to devise a workable solution to address the identified problems, overcome traditional pitfalls, meet the chief’s requirements, meet proven standards, improve accountability and leadership across the department, and attain the goals of the police department. The department identified eight objectives for the strategic planning initiative:

Objective 1: The strategic planning process and strategic plan document must have a champion.
Objective 2: The process must be participatory on an internal and external basis to ensure acceptance of the plan.
Objective 3: Individuals must be held accountable for action on the strategic plan.
Objective 4: There would be processes in place to track and report progress.
Objective 5: There would be processes created for ongoing review and update of the plan.
Objective 6: The department budget would be tied to the plan.
Objective 7: Department workload indicators and performance measures would be tied to the plan.
Objective 8: The department’s operational projects would be tied to the plan.

Meeting these objectives meant that the development of the plan will not be merely an exercise with no follow-up that relegated the plan to gathering dust on a shelf. Rather, the strategic plan would hold employees accountable and the plan would be connected to the budget.

Internal Input
To kick off the initiative, the department hosted an intensive two-day participatory retreat. The 60 attendees represented all functional units of the police department, plus several city departments, including the city manager’s office, emergency services, information systems, human resource systems, neighborhood services, and the diversity office.

Attendees at the retreat evaluated the police department’s current mission and vision, assessed the agency and environment, and through a series of facilitated brainstorming sessions developed a list of critical strategic issues facing the department. They then grouped similar ideas together, gave titles to groups of similar ideas to form strategies, and grouped similar strategies together. Participants then created titles for each grouping of like strategies to form objectives, grouped similar objectives together, and gave these groups of like objectives titles to form the strategic directions.

During a series of subsequent planning meetings, participants assessed, discussed, and refined these strategic directions, resulting in the development of the final strategic directions, objectives, and supporting strategies for the department.

External Input
The chief of police also solicited input from the community during a series of three open community forums hosted in early 2004. The community forums consisted of citizens, community leaders, and business owners. The chief and his top staff facilitated the three open forums, one in each of Scottsdale’s three geographic police districts. Attendees reviewed the department’s identified list of strategic issues and then offered additional strategies and ideas for continuing citizen involvement with the plan.

In order to instill accountability into the plan and into the organization, the highlevel strategic directions were assigned to the chief of police, the champion of the plan. The strategic objectives that fell under each strategic direction were assigned to each deputy chief and commander as sponsors of those objectives. To increase ownership, sponsors were asked to provide quotes describing and supporting their objectives that were then included in the published strategic plan document.

Strategies under each objective are assigned to sworn lieutenants and to civilian managers who act as strategy leaders responsible for the implementation of individual strategies. The published document contains the names of those assigned strategy leaders to give them ownership of the strategies. The strategy leaders then worked with the objective sponsors and other department leaders to develop strategy definitions, measures of success, target start and completion dates, resource and budget requirements, and action plans.

The assignment of individuals to objectives and strategies creates the need for a change in resource management. The traditional chain-of-command approach does not work in the configuration. The new strategic planning process required implementation of a matrix management system within the department. With this system, lieutenants and civilian managers responsible for implementing strategic plan strategies are required to report not only through their traditional chain-of-command, but also are required to report to various objective sponsors not in their chain-of-command. To maintain accountability and effectively manage this system, strategic plan responsibilities were incorporated into lieutenant and civilian manager performance evaluations. Lieutenant and civilian manager performance evaluations are now comprised of input from both the individual’s regular chain-of-command supervisor as well as from all sponsors the individual reports to during the completion of their assigned strategies. To maintain the chain-of-command, the sponsors provide input to the individual’s immediate supervisor for inclusion in the individual’s performance evaluation.

Measuring Results
One of the early phases of the strategic planning initiative was the development of internal tracking processes and tools. A task force was assembled to develop not only the process of accountability, but also the tools and methods by which it would be tracked. For the process, the task force developed a monthly meeting and reporting system designed to focus on issues, keep the strategic plan in the forefront of the department command staff, and create the strategic management philosophy and culture. A monthly strategy review meeting was incorporated into the chief’s existing staff meetings. This monthly meeting includes all sponsors and allows them to collaborate on resources and jointly resolve issues. The intent of the monthly meeting is to focus on those strategies needing sponsor involvement (behind schedule or at risk), solve issues, assign resources, or discuss scheduling adjustments. The meeting format loosely resembles a CompStat approach of high-level accountability.2

The department created an Excel spreadsheet tool to allow sponsors and strategy leaders to share progress and issues in a timely manner. The department chose Excel because it was accessible and familiar to all participants and because multiple users could gain access to it simultaneously over a shared network.

The tracking tool serves as a scorecard and contains detailed information about department objectives, strategies, measures of success, timelines and accountability. Strategy leaders update the tool monthly and sponsors review it. The information includes the progress of the strategy as well as concerns that may be discussed at monthly meetings. Sponsors ensure that their assigned strategy leaders update the tool in a timely fashion. They also address concerns when a strategy has fallen behind schedule. The police department’s Planning, Research, and Accreditation Division uses the tool to create monthly and quarterly progress reports that are monitored by management during the monthly and quarterly meetings.

Annual Review and Update
One of the final phases in the creation of the strategic planning initiative was the development of the annual review and update process. This review process was developed to include four components:

• A review and validation of the current mission, vision, and strategic directions
• A review of inputs, trends, and assumptions, and development of new strategies
• The development and publication of a new strategic plan for the upcoming fiscal year
• The development of a performance report for the plan from the prior fiscal year

Each year the department conducts a strategic planning retreat attended by sponsors, strategy leaders, and other participants. The purpose of the retreat is twofold. The first purpose is to review and validate the current plan. The current mission and vision are displayed and discussed to ensure that the department is still committed to them. The strategic directions are also discussed and questioned as to whether the department has achieved each direction and, if it has not, whether the direction remains important to the department. After achieving concurrence on continuing with the directions, participants discuss changes to existing strategies.

The second purpose of the meeting is to review trends, assumptions, and other input to create additional strategies based on new information. All participants receive a resource packet of information before the meeting. They then review and discuss the information during the meeting and use a facilitated brainstorming session to develop new strategies based on the foreseen needs. They group and refine these strategies and then place them under existing objectives or create new objectives for them.

After receiving the input from the retreat and the subsequent work by sponsors and strategy leaders, the department reviews and updates its five-year strategic plan. It assesses the department’s overall objectives and five-year strategies and reprioritizes them if necessary, based on operating expenses, service indicators, crime statistics, or special initiatives.

The department then ties the newly developed strategic plan to the budget and publishes the plan each year to coincide with the city’s annual budget review cycle. The department prepares an annual performance report on the strategic plan at the conclusion of each fiscal year and publishes it on the city’s Web site ( to provide public access. This report provides a progress and status report for each of the individual strategies presented in the annual strategic plan.

Innovative Concepts
Several innovative concepts were brought forward in this strategic planning initiative. The concepts themselves are not so much innovative as much as their use in strategic planning in law enforcement is innovative.

The establishment of the strategic plan as a management philosophy to ensure accountability and sustainability was the cornerstone to success. The monthly strategy review meetings were based on a CompStat model of management accountability. The sponsors attended and spoke about each of the strategies in their objective. The chief held the sponsors accountable for achieving the results of their objectives through the completion of each strategy. This required the sponsors to know the strategies well and to hold strategy leaders accountable for completing assigned tasks and activities.

The strategy review tools and processes were developed with software products currently accessible to and used by all participants, because it was less expensive than buying new software and training employees to use it. These tools and processes were implemented in such a way that the plan remained strategic rather than operational.

In addition the tools and processes included Project Management Institute3 processes and techniques applied to both the strategic planning process and individual strategies. The department created detailed strategy definitions that serve as charter documents and scope definitions. It implemented processes for reporting progress and communicating success.

The establishment of matrix management, a tool popular with project managers, in a paramilitary environment had to be accomplished in such a way that the chain of command remained prominent. With the implementation of matrix management, the department is able to allocate the work across the organization so that there are equitable resources to each sponsor while still acknowledging the supervisory chain of command.

Through continuous incremental improvement, the department assesses, revises, and improves the process and tools each year. The process and tools improve and evolve as the department evolves and cannot be allowed to become stale.

For each of the last two years, during the annual review and update process, the chief called for community input through directed forums. The second-year forum was held in 2005 and was aimed at identifying strategies to assist in outreach to the Hispanic community. The third-year forum, convened in March 2006, was aimed at identifying strategies to combat gang-related problems before they became prevalent in the community.

After the first year, the department expanded the scope of the monthly strategy review meeting to include a discussion of accomplishments, presentations by strategy leaders on completed strategies, introduction of strategies started, and review and approval of strategies completed. The quarterly review meeting was replaced with a quarterly executive summary of accomplishments.

The police department used a bottomup approach in the original retreat to form the strategic directions. It will use the same approach every fifth year but adopt a topdown approach in the other four years to validate the directions and create new strategies underneath the existing directions.

In upcoming years the incremental improvements will focus on improving the alignment of the department’s workload indicators with the strategic plan, developing outcome-based performance measures for each objective, and creating strategy definitions earlier in the process so they are more clearly defined.

Implementing this strategic planning initiative created a positive impact on the agency. The process helped promote participation and accountability in the agency; it also linked performance measures, the budget, and operational projects to the plan. As a result, of the new strategic management culture, the department can now allocate resources to priority projects. The agency reviews the plan monthly, quarterly, and annually, and addresses inputs and concerns during the meetings.

This project also created other positive effects besides the broader organizational achievement. The entire process for strategic planning afforded individuals personal and professional development. It provided the lieutenants and managers with a way to gain or enhance leadership experience and skills. The completion of each strategy continued to improve the department. The plan helped to better position the police department in the budget process so that the agency and the community members could see the needs the department faced for the next five years.

The amazing success of this strategic planning initiative has allowed the police department to achieve all of the desired results as well as realize the additional benefits through the fulfillment of individual strategies. As a direct result of the skills, tools, and process used throughout this initiative, the police department has formed an organization focused on the strategic directions and objectives that are based on the overall mission and vision of the organization. The size of the initiative and complexity of the processes seemed daunting, but the results achieved, for both the members of the Scottsdale Police Department and the community, justify the effort.

One of the major goals of the strategic planning initiative was to achieve institutionalization and sustainability. The project would not be successful without this key component.

The Scottsdale Police Department has institutionalized strategic planning by incorporating it as a management philosophy. Strategic planning is now a vibrant core management process in the organization and is part of the department’s culture.

The department has instilled accountability through the institutionalization of three key areas: assignment of sponsors to objectives and leaders to strategies; creation of a monthly process of review focused on obviating problems, celebrating progress, and developing new and better tools; and reports that allow for analysis and evaluation as well as serve as a method of communication to management, employees, and the community.

The Scottsdale strategic planning initiative created a sustainable process, not just a written document. Through the development of the annual review process the police department ensures that the initiative, and the strategic plan, will continue from year to year. The quality principles identified during this initiative have been adopted as standard operating procedure.

The strategic planning process now allows the police department to establish a vision for the future and develop planned, well-defined objectives and strategies to accomplish identified goals. The strategic plan serves as a five-year roadmap that steers the department’s efforts and promotes effective resource allocation and budget planning. The resulting strategic plan is now the key focus of all decision making, including budget determination and resource allocation.

A Changing Process
Strategic planning should not be considered an output or a plan but instead a process that changes as the community and the police department changes. The process is more important than the document it produces. A strategic management philosophy and culture is critical to ensure that the process survives and that the resulting plan will thrive.

1Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) Inc., Standards for Law Enforcement Agencies, 4th ed. (Fairfax, Virginia: 1999).
2City of New York Police Department,“COMPSTAT Process,” May 22, 2006, , November 8, 2006.
3Project Management Institute Inc., A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) (Newtown Square, Pennsylvania: 2000).

Resource for Police Planners
The International Association of Law Enforcement Planners, comprising nearly 1,000 police planners and researchers, convenes an annual training conference, sponsors a certification program, and publishes a quarterly newsletter. For more information, visit or call 310-225-5148.


From The Police Chief, vol. 73, no. 12, December 2006. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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