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Back to Archives | Back to March 2012 Contents 

Sustaining Police Operations at an Efficient and Effective Level under Difficult Economic Times

By Charles J. Kocher, EdD, Deputy Police Chief (Retired), Camden, New Jersey, and Dean, Cumberland Community College, New Jersey; Tina M. Raquet, MS, Legal Expert for Insurance, Brennan and Associates, Reading, Pennsylvania; and Darren K. Stocker, MS, MEd, Lieutenant (Retired), Westtown-East Goshen, Pennsylvania, and Coordinator for Criminal Justice Studies, Cumberland County College, Vineland, New Jersey

ost administrators recognize that one of the difficult measurements of leadership is focused upon department goals and objectives during chaotic financial times. The second decade of the 21st century has challenged the law enforcement community with such struggles as layoffs, cutbacks, and shared and consolidated police services. While the primary focus for many jurisdictions involves preserving the peace and protecting communities, it is similarly important to examine the professional services and standards for law enforcement—and if both will consequently be sustained when faced with the reduction of personnel and the call for the consolidation of services.

Sustaining operations in police agencies has become an art during complicated economic circumstances. Personnel, equipment, special services, and other valid expenditures persistently challenge administrators. Dissolving a police department is not a new concept and certainly is not specific to the United States. In December 2011, the Veracruz Police Department in Mexico disbanded, resulting in the laying off of more than 800 sworn officers and 300 civilian personnel.1 In Somerset County, New Jersey, the results of a yearlong study report made public in December 2010 suggest a methodology to combine 19 municipal police departments. Still other police departments have been subjected to cost-cutting methods by eliminating specialty units such as bike patrols, foot patrols, special weapons and tactics, marine units, and mounted horse units. Regardless of one’s personal philosophies relating to the fusing of services, it is important to endorse and preserve dialogue among professionals while providing enhancements for sustaining public safety. Similar to the mergers and acquisitions that exist in the corporate world, there is an appreciated need for restructuring, finance, forecasting, strategies, and consolidation.

The consolidation of services is undoubtedly not a new concept for any unit of government. Senior police administrators are regularly required to evaluate how and where shared services would benefit their municipalities. The fundamental premise pertains to how police executives expect to sustain services at the same level the community anticipates from law enforcement. This sustainability has been repeatedly faced with fewer resources and subsidies. The question that is paramount elicits this constant theme: In the final analysis, will shared services or consolidation of law enforcement services actually enhance the delivery of efficient and effective operations to better serve the community, or will services become watered down and impersonal? Frequently, police administrators begin to sense that to match the operational budget to the actual delivery of services, it is necessary to generate solutions to continue the efficient and effective function of the organization. Implementing regional or shared services may serve as the catalyst for a paradigm shift within the police domain that has not seen such a change since the postwar era of the 1950s.

One critical method in determining how to sustain police services at a high level is through evidence-based research. This type of study allows for the decision-making process to include collaboration between academicians and practitioners. Evidence-based research has been applied to a multitude of events that have directly affected the criminal justice system. The debate as to whether the police department’s services should be reactive or proactive in nature took a step back following the horrific events on 9/11. The USA Patriot Act pointed to a distinct need to connect seemingly disparate events and for police to understand the dangers of operating cells that might be planning attacks on American airports, train stations, and food supplies.

It may benefit police administrators to examine the advantages and disadvantages of sustaining shared services. By accurately distributing information, police services can increase efficiency and effectiveness. If successful and economically pragmatic, this type of shared services may essentially replace the era of the traditional individual police departments for many communities.

One example of a successful regional program can be found in York, Pennsylvania. The York Area Regional Police Department is an accredited agency with 50 sworn officers. The organization provides police services to a mostly suburban area of more than 53,000 residents in the townships of York and Windsor as well as the boroughs of Dallastown, Windsor, Jacobus, Yoe, Felton, and Red Lion. The merger is the result of forward thinking and the rapid growth in the region. The York Area Regional Police Department encompasses a geographical area of more than 60 square miles primarily located south of the city of York, near the central part of the state. The area includes commercial shopping centers and diverse residential housing, including some densely populated boroughs with older housing, light industry, and agriculture.

Conversely, the issues of shared services are associated with the powers of governance known as home rule. Regionalizing police departments may be an action that benefits taxpayers or enhances public safety; however, it may also become a divisive issue.2 Do municipalities prefer regionalization, which may provide less individual attention, or is home rule preferred in law enforcement issues? The types of calls for services have often become an issue of deliberation. The former Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton experienced debate concerning the planned changes for sustaining their police response to burglar alarms based on data that indicate most residential and commercial alarms were false. Home rule prevailed, and officers continue to respond to burglar alarms in the city. Likewise, should home rule determine whether or not officers are to assist with school crossings or participate with parade duties? The governing body of any incorporating town relies heavily upon the input of their law enforcement entities. This frequently leads to opposing viewpoints on how to successfully solve the actual problems and concerns that exist in society. Moreover, the matter of territorial rights often stifles implementation of collective governance or the consolidation of services to an impasse.

When a decision is made to pursue shared services, evidence-based research can provide valid and reliable statistics relating to implementation. Data can serve as a foundation and allow for subsequent construction and structure. For example, Camden County, New Jersey, selected former Miami, Florida, Police Chief and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Police Commissioner John Timoney to serve as a consultant in determining the course of action for shared governance of the Camden Police Department. The idea was to ensure that if a transition were to occur from an urban department to a county agency, the shift in authority and management would not affect the level of law enforcement services the citizens of Camden expected and to which they were accustomed. Timoney indicated that there is no cookie-cutter or one-size-fits-all approach. He stated that Camden County, New Jersey, is no different from other counties across the country, and what is taking place is not doing so in a vacuum. He continued to note that consolidation is a “very complex endeavor” with “lots of moving parts.”3

Police executives face continued analysis and scrutiny in almost every agency, from large departments to those in small towns. A 2003 report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics specified that almost 30 percent of police agencies in the United States comprise between 10 to 24 sworn officers. 4 Any reduction in fiscal support to an agency, regardless of size, could result in the reduction of officers and lead to the elimination of units and services. This becomes equally demanding on administrators whose focus is maintaining the mission, the goals, and the objectives of the organization.

Although a comparison to the New York City, New York, Police Department (NYPD) can easily become an overwhelming one, the bottom line is relatively the same. How can we sustain our budget and our police resources? According to NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly in his testimony before his finance committee, if budget cuts were approved as recommended, the uniform count of the NYPD could drop more than 8,000 officers, from 40,864 in 2000 to a low of 32,817 in 2011.5

Conclusively, we should ask these questions: Do we reduce the broad spectrum of police services to the public, or do we consolidate the duplication of services and sustain an enhanced public safety product? Over the next decade, police chiefs will be faced with the challenge of sustaining basic services for the community at large while at the same time balancing professionalism through training and motivational programs. The purpose is to maintain officers’ proficiency in the multifaceted elements of their duties in order to serve the public. The metamorphosis to shared services or regionalization of services should not be precipitous. Authors Kocher and Stocker point out that the major root cause analysis is centered within individual motivation and leadership of each and every officer.6 To sustain operations, ownership and empowerment components have never meant more to a police department than they do now. This mind-set applies to sustaining police services universally.

Police practitioners agree that the mere presence of uniformed law enforcement has an effect on societal conduct, but the degree of measurement regarding effectiveness continues to be disputed. In simple terms, quantifying the success of police patrols cannot be calculated in unrefined terms, but the observable existence of a police officer undoubtedly dissuades criminality. Therefore, implementing and sustaining collective police operation in demanding economic times require consideration of all the stakeholders involved, including law enforcement professionals, civilians, and business professionals. Furthermore, the only way for law enforcement to guarantee that rookie officers can adequately perform the tasks given to them is to provide the best training and education possible. 7 Historically, however, the line item for training and education is often one of the first to be severed from a budget.

Methodologies used in sustaining services of the 1960s or the 1970s appear to be no longer sufficient or practical. During the 1980s and the 1990s, budget savings measures were implemented under various models, including directed patrol, priority call responses, and stacked calls. Still, this new millennium has brought with it an economic crisis that is unprecedented. To meet these unparalleled demands, a well-established illustration of agency goals and objectives is central. Execution will require a well-thought-out plan with benchmarks that are attainable and agreed upon in advance. ■


1Associated Press, “Mexico: City Police Force Disbanded,” New York Times , December 21, 2011, (accessed February 6, 2012).
2Edward J. Tully, “Regionalization or Consolidation of Law Enforcement Services in the United States,” National Executive Institute Associates, January 2002.
3Sean Patrick Murphy, “John Timoney to Help Launch County-Wide Force,” South Jersey Sun News , August 26, 2011, (accessed February 6, 2012).
4Matthew J. Hickman and Brian A. Reaves, Local Police Departments 2000, NCJ 196002, January 2003, table 2: Local Police Departments and Full-Time Personnel, by Number of Sworn Personnel, 2000, (accessed February 1, 2012).
5Frank Lombardi and Rocco Parascandola, “NYPD Boss Raymond Kelly: Police Will Have to Continue to Do More with Less,” NY, March 12, 2010, (accessed February 1, 2012).
6Charles J. Kocher and Darren K. Stocker, “The Crunch of Soaring Fuel Cost,” Sheriff Magazine 61, no. 4 (2009): 48–50.
7Jeff Magers and Lionel Klein, “Police Basic Training: A Comparative Study of States’ Standards in the United States,” Law Enforcement Executive Forum (July 2002): 103–114.

Please cite as:

Charles J. Kocher et al., "Sustaining Police Operations at an Efficient and Effective Level under Difficult Economic Times," The Police Chief 79 (March 2012): 28–33.

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From The Police Chief, vol. LXXIX, no. 3, March 2012. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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