Using Community Policing to Manage Police Equipment
When most people think of police, the first thing that probably comes to mind is their most visible role: patrol operations. However, the inner workings of police departments are extremely more dynamic than that. There are other divisions, many functioning behind the scenes, that support operations in one way or another, and their importance should not be overlooked. In fact, a common error made by many departments is to assume that supplemental law enforcement tasks do not require the same attention to detail as patrol operations. One assignment that fits this category is equipment management.
Police officers have thousands of dollars in equipment on their belts, and they drive around in police cars that have tens of thousands of dollars in upgrades. However, at some departments the manager of this equipment does little to maintain records of where gear is assigned and how it is maintained. In today’s economy, the need to effectively manage police equipment is imperative. The good news is that it can be done with minimal effort if it is made a priority. How can police departments accomplish this goal? One quick solution: Departments can use equipment management systems to help them efficiently and effectively control their inventory.
Police equipment comes in all shapes and sizes, each with a unique set of challenges. From vehicles to radios, stun guns to hand guns, all the gear is expensive and must be monitored in some fashion. Managing this equipment can be overwhelming and employees who take on this challenge might not know where to start. The first step a police equipment coordinator should take is to embrace the community oriented policing concept of transparency.
Police equipment managers should look at the law enforcement employees at their agency as customers. The best way to manage the equipment under their authority is to have each customer acting on their behalf. In other words, if you develop a system to manage your police equipment based on the needs of your agency but don’t communicate those needs to your customer, you will struggle to meet those needs. However, if your goals are transparent and information on how you manage your equipment is accessible to all customers, they will purposefully strive to help you meet those goals. When the rubber meets the road—literally in the case of police vehicle fleets—most well-informed customers will work with the equipment manager to help reach the goals of the department.
Sgt. John DeRousse of the Everett Police Department (Washington State) learned the importance of transparent communication firsthand when he took over the police vehicle fleet management duties in 2009. Initially, his biggest challenge was communicating life cycle needs to the customers. Police officers in Everett—a medium-sized agency with several hundred police vehicles—were driving around in the newest cars in the fleet, leaving the older cars sitting in the precinct parking lot. That made for a big problem when it came to cycling older equipment out of service. In Everett, like other police agencies, there are mileage requirements that help determine the end of the vehicle’s life. The vehicle must reach 100,000 miles before it can be pulled from service and replaced with a newer model. Sgt. DeRousse began actively communicating this requirement to supervisors across the department. He also assigned newer officers to older cars, and e- mailed them with reminders that getting 100,000 miles on their car was the quickest way to a cruiser upgrade. By embracing a transparent communication model, Sgt. DeRousse has been able to improve the average age of the fleet by 2 years since taking over.
Transparency is not the only requirement to effective equipment management, but it is a good start. In addition, equipment managers need to have the authority within their agency to make important decisions regarding inventory. This authority might not be granted by police administration the moment the new equipment manager starts his job, but a transparent model will infuse your management principles both up and down the chain-of-command. Once administrators get a feel for how the equipment manager does the job, and they see how this model increases efficiency, they normally leave more of the decisions in the hands of the manager.
After developing a structure for your equipment management program, and getting support from your administration, you must ensure your customers are following the directives that are laid out. When rules are violated, then the officers need to be coached on how to properly handle the equipment. Transparency has to be coupled with accountability or the customers will continue to complete their tasks in the same fashion. For example, if you establish a practice for yearly preventive maintenance on your department’s patrol rifles, and discover that officers are choosing not to turn them in as required, swift action should be taken. By holding the customer responsible, you are training them to be your equipment manager in the field. If educated, they will be your voice on patrol and will train others to follow the program.
A police agency that has properly monitored equipment translates into one that has newer and better running gear. Those who believe that patrol operations should be the main focus of the department must be reminded of the importance of the other divisions, such as equipment management, that provide troop support. By using effective systems— some of which are rooted in community oriented policing principles—we can enhance frontline areas like patrol operations by outfitting officers with tools that will allow them to perform their duties more effectively and safely.