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Back to Archives | Back to August 2007 Contents 

Police Foundations: Partnerships for 21st-Century Policing

By Pamela D. Delaney, President, New York City Police Foundation; and Chief Donald L. Carey, Melbourne, Florida, Police Department

Don’t My Taxes Pay for That?

With 90 to 95 percent of the operating budgets for most police departments dedicated to salaries and benefits, where do police executives find the resources to incubate innovation, keep pace with rapidly changing technology, meet time-sensitive needs, or implement vital new projects?

Police chiefs from Amherst, New York, to Melbourne, Florida; from New York City to Los Angeles; and from Vancouver, Canada, to Sao Paolo, Brazil, have found an answer in partnerships between the police and the public. Introduced in 1971 in New York City, these tax-exempt entities, popularly known as police foundations, assist agencies around the globe in closing some of the gap between what agencies have and what they need to operate optimally and promote experimentation. A few recent examples of such assistance follow:

  • The Los Angeles Police Foundation funded a Web-based learning management system for the Los Angeles Police Department.

  • The Atlanta Police Foundation’s advertising, branding, and recruitment incentive programs resulted in the hiring of more officers for the Atlanta Police Department than ever before.

  • The New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation established a fund to replace bulletproof vests for those lost or damaged in the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

  • A mobile command post, a truck, and a fully equipped forensic trailer have been purchased by the Amherst (New York) Police Foundation for the Amherst Police Department. A sophisticated video enhancement system is on its way.

  • Funds to sustain the Melbourne (Florida) Police Department’s peer support unit are raised by an annual “Lean on Me” family event sponsored by the Melbourne Police Foundation.

  • An annual Officer of the Year Luncheon and monthly television spots are provided by the Omaha (Nebraska) Police Foundation to publicize heroic acts by local police officers.

What Is a Police Foundation?

Although the official names vary, these nonprofit groups share a common purpose and similar organizing principles. Foundations can be expected to promote excellence in local police departments by providing resources not otherwise readily available from traditional sources. Agencies frequently use foundation grants to purchase equipment, provide specialized training, encourage professional development, recognize employee valor, promote wellness, engage consultants, and perform independent studies and program evaluation. Additionally, foundations receive donated goods and services on behalf of agencies. Pro bono advertising recruitment campaigns, promotional films and videos to enhance community outreach, paper and printing for public safety material, horses and dogs for mounted and canine units, and vehicles for transportation and enforcement illustrate the wide range of items and expertise that foundations have been able to provide. In times of catastrophic events like Hurricane Katrina and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, foundations provide a conduit for emergency resources for police departments. Both the New Orleans and New York City foundations were able to quickly funnel goods and services as well as funds to their departments. Finally, foundation boards of directors can be powerful allies of agencies and their programs.

The New York City Police Foundation is widely recognized as the first foundation established to support a specific municipal agency that was strapped for cash and that suffered from the loss of public confidence. In 1971, New York was beleaguered by the unrest that plagued many urban centers, while the New York Police Department (NYPD) itself was reeling from a corruption scandal that infected the entire department. The foundation was formed on the belief that respectful, courteous, and professional policing was essential for the survival of New York City, and individuals, businesses, real estate investors, and others were willing to provide resources beyond taxes to the NYPD if a legal vehicle existed for that purpose.

Except for parent-teacher associations (PTAs) organized around schools and committees that raised funds for local libraries, the notion of the public contributing funds to assist local government agencies was uncommon. The prime movers were a handful of civic-minded New Yorkers who proposed to the police commissioner the idea of creating an independent nonprofit organization to improve public safety and counteract corruption; together with the commissioner, they then took the idea to the mayor. That leap of faith by supportive members of the public and the police administration has resulted in over $74 million in grants and services to the NYPD over the last 35 years. Today, the foundation helps the NYPD to fight terrorism through programs such as the International Liaison Program, which posts detectives to cities from Amman, Jordan, to Toronto, Canada; to combat conventional crime with the Real Time Crime Center; and to promote managerial excellence by funding an external critique of its firearms discharge and stop-and-frisk policies. The New York City Police Foundation is the only organization authorized by the New York City police commissioner to raise funds on the department’s behalf.

The list of communities and agencies with foundations is growing and—lest chiefs from smaller cities and towns be dissuaded from exploring this opportunity—jurisdictions of all sizes, geographic locations, and budgets have joined in these ventures with desirable results. For example, one of the authors (D.C.) was as successful in creating a police foundation when he was chief of police in Omaha as he was in launching one in Melbourne, Florida, a municipality with a much smaller population. A few federal, state, county, and other law enforcement agencies are also benefiting from foundations created to enhance their operations.

What a Foundation Can Do for Local Agencies

Local government regulations discourage if not forbid the earmarking of donations for a specific agency, and law and custom often restrain police executives from engaging in direct fund-raising. Foundations resolve both issues. Not only do they raise funds (in fact, it is the raison d’être for most) but their legal status also permits them to accept designated contributions of money, goods, and services to benefit the police. The majority are organized under Section 501(c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code and their states’ nonprofit statutes. A few, like the Omaha Police Foundation, affiliate with established general-purpose foundations such as the Omaha Community Foundation, which “lend” their tax-exempt status and organization to administer their funds. Almost all have boards of directors who are independent of the police departments but who rely on the chief and the department to establish program priorities and submit requests for support. Some—New Orleans is an example—serve other emergency service agencies as well as the police, while others like the Federal Law Enforcement Assistance Foundation serve federal agencies.

Equally important as understanding the potential that police foundations offer is an awareness of the challenges they present. Because early police foundations were created, in part, to bolster corruption prevention mechanisms, their culture reflects a strong emphasis on good governance. Paramount to working effectively with police foundations is accepting their independent standing under the law and the different standards by which they are judged. All U.S. nonprofits (there are 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the United States), including police foundations, are subject to oversight by the Internal Revenue Service, state regulators, and watchdog groups. The current trend is to apply increasingly strong governance standards—such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, adopted by Congress for for-profit businesses—to nonprofit groups. Allegations of the inappropriate use of funds, exorbitant perks given to CEOs, excessive fund-raising and administrative fees, and other controversies have placed the nonprofit sector justifiably under public scrutiny. Moreover, because of the affiliation with police departments, police foundations need to adhere to the highest ethical standards by avoiding conflicts of interest; practicing transparency in their dealings; and adhering to the duties of care, loyalty, and obedience required of the boards of all well-run nonprofits.

Accountability, financial transparency, and other governance principles differ from those of government agencies, and it is in the best interest of police foundations and police executives to ensure that all the standards are met. For a look at governance best practices, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) has promulgated guidelines that nonprofits must follow to qualify for the BBB’s charity seal program. Foundation decision making must be independent from the police department, in part to ensure that foundations are not perceived as discretionary pools of money for police executives. They are obligated to spend funds wisely, consistent with their mission and according to the wishes, if any, expressed by donors. For example, donor requests to remain anonymous or to restrict contributions to a specific project must be honored.

Foundations are most helpful when they can meet the needs of a department for which government funds are not readily available. Although foundations are not required to follow government procurement policies and their streamlined processes can make purchases, for example, more timely, they are not intended to subvert these policies. When the NYPD was developing the prototype for the CompStat accountability process, it asked the foundation for a $15,000 grant to purchase a computer and software. Whereas the City of New York’s labyrinthine bureaucracy would have taken months to consider the request, the foundation acted in days. Nonetheless, selecting vendors, hiring consultants, and contracting for goods and services should conform to legal and ethical considerations. Furthermore, by promoting excellence in law enforcement, communities as a whole ultimately benefit from foundation largesse. Because of that role, foundations should not serve political and partisan purposes. No individuals—be they donors, board members, or police executives—should benefit personally.

Fund-raising, though not the only value of foundations, is their most important function. The greater their success in attracting contributions, the more effective partners they can and will be. There are as many variables that affect fund-raising as there are tools to raise funds. The intensity of competition from other causes, fluctuations in the economy, individual wealth, and community attitudes all affect fund-raising drives. The influence of board members, competency of fund-raising staff or consultants, and the force of the proposed priorities are important indicators of success. Fortunately, many strategies can be used to leverage these factors successfully even in a weak market. Special events ranging from the informal to the elegant and from the strenuous (golf outings, runs, and walks) to the cultural raise funds, make friends, increase profiles, and provide fun. Direct mail, formal proposals, and personal visits are among the tools used by a good fund-raiser. However, neither the New York City Police Foundation nor the Melbourne Police Foundation engages in telemarketing campaigns. Messages that mislead the public and fees that result in only pennies for the charity are some of the reasons that many police foundations avoid telemarketers.

Finally, individuals with significant standing in the community who agree to serve as members of the board include professionals and business leaders who possess a range of desirable skills and knowledge. They can generate financial support for the project agenda presented by police leaders and can serve as both bridges to groups in need and reasoned advocates in times of controversy. An advertising executive can provide consultation on a recruitment campaign, or a prominent member of the clergy can give advice on youth programs, but board members should not interfere in the management of the department or exert influence over police policy making.

Establishing a New Police Foundation

All police executives wish for more resources—but how can they know if a foundation will work for them?

Establishing and sustaining a police foundation present significant challenges. Some of the considerations include competition from established charities (New York City alone has 20,000), all of whom seek contributions from the same major donors; objections from elected officials who do not want police chiefs to have independent access to off-budget assets; attempts by municipal budget setters to reduce department budgets by the income from foundation grants (sometimes talked about, rarely implemented); convincing influential individuals to serve on the board of directors; and determining resource needs and the feasibility of attracting funding sources to the cause.

Three considerations are crucial to the successful launch of police foundations. Crafting a clear, concise, and compelling case that establishes the value of a police foundation to public safety, explains the necessity of public support to policing, and cites examples of program priorities that would be well served by the foundation is the first. The case, be it an informal thought piece for internal use or a formal document for dissemination, helps police executives plan strategically and frame the rationale. Arguments frequently used to build the case include the following:

  • With most of the police operating budget consumed by personnel services, the budget allows little room for creative strategic initiatives.

  • The cumbersome and public nature of the budget process inhibits experimentation and makes funding for time-sensitive projects uncertain.

  • Foundation purchases are not encumbered by rules governing the use of government funds; thus, urgent matters can be addressed immediately.

  • Government regulations limit the use of public funds for some programs, i.e., rewards for tips programs, personnel recognition programs, etc.

  • Foundation funds can provide temporary support while approved government funds are processed.

  • Private funds can be used to leverage public funds as in the case of matching grants.

  • Foundation funding encourages and supports innovation, incubation of special projects, time-sensitive and emergency needs, and community involvement.

Second, those wishing to establish a foundation must use these arguments to gain the approval of municipal officials who must consent to the process. Every community is unique, so there is no rule of thumb to guide a police executive through the stages of the approval process. However, efforts to convince those to whom police executives report will be aided by the coherence of the argument, by explicit examples of programs that might be enhanced by a foundation, and by citizen advocacy once community leadership is in place. In New York City in 1971, the incentive for creating a police foundation came entirely from outside the NYPD; today, the drive comes from savvy police executives as well as from municipal chief executives. The creation of the Newark Police Foundation was the brainchild of Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, New Jersey.

Finally, it is important to identify influential members of the community who are willing to play a leadership role in forming and serving on the board of directors. In the context of the caveats discussed earlier, foundation boards can be powerful allies for innovation in public safety as well as sources of financial and material support. Boards offer access, expertise, and advocacy. To take a recent example, a board successfully resisted an effort by a new city administration to reduce the police budget in light of contributions by the foundation by proposing to spend down the assets and disband the foundation.


Public-private partnerships such as police foundations are growing in scope and significance. The tangible results are impressive, providing a great amount of assistance to a police executive in addressing the complexities of policing in the 21st century. Foundation grants are timely, flexible, and nonpartisan. They can help mobilize community support in nontraditional ways and enhance community understanding of law enforcement initiatives. The benefits of foundations are many and varied, as evidenced by some of the examples presented here. However, great care should be exercised when starting a foundation. Decisions made at the very beginning of the process will affect the culture, style, activities, and outcomes of the organization for years to come. It is essential that police executives

  • accept the independence of foundations, appreciate the rules and responsibilities that govern them, and think through the relationship between the department and the foundation;

  • understand their own role in the fund-raising process and be willing to structure creative and appropriate approaches; and

  • present requests for support that potential contributors will find compelling and important for the community.

Finally, although most existing foundations use New York City as a model, all have been molded by the organizers to fit the particular circumstances, character, and culture of the communities they serve. There are a host of sources locally, nationally, and on the Internet that offer in-depth information and answers to specific areas of inquiry to help police executives create a foundation. Many police foundations have their own Web sites, and a guide called Starting a Police Foundation is available from the New York City Police Foundation for a modest fee. The New York foundation is also in the process of establishing a network for existing foundations and those interested in establishing one in their community. An informational session on creating police foundations will be offered as part of the meeting of the existing foundations during the annual IACP conference in October.■

Pamela D. Delaney was appointed president of the New York City Police Foundation, Inc., in 1983. Before joining the foundation, she served in official positions in the NYPD, including secretary of the department, director of civilian personnel, and chair of the Civilian Complaint Review Board.

Donald L. Carey is a veteran police chief of over 27 years. He has been instrumental in starting police foundations in Omaha, Nebraska, and Melbourne, Florida. A life member of the IACP, he is a graduate of the 23rd Session of the FBI’s National Executive Institute.



From The Police Chief, vol. 74, no. 8, August 2007. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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