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How to Evaluate and Improve Your Agency in 5 Easy Steps

By Lt. John Weinstein

As a head of an agency or unit commander, we have at least three major responsibilities: establish and maintain safe and secure jurisdictions; serve as an effective steward of the funding we receive; and ensure our agency has the flexibility to adapt to our changing political, social, cultural and economic environments.

All of the things we do, whether it’s patrol operations, training, composition of general orders or community outreach, contribute to one or more of these responsibilities.

Any leader worth his or her salt will be aware of agency strengths and weaknesses by virtue of spending time with the troops, reading reports, conducting command staff meetings and receiving feedback from citizens as well as community leaders. The challenge is focusing on more than the episodic issue du jour. If you’re consumed by current issues and problems, it will be almost impossible to develop an integrated, long-term plan that accomplishes the above responsibilities.

What is needed is a mechanism that allows a leader to assess an agency’s ability to meet its key mission objectives (outputs), to develop a prioritized plan to improve weak areas, to provide a means of assessing the impact of the corrective actions and a means of explaining the rationale of selected courses of action to one’s political masters and department subordinates. The key to this methodology is identifying priorities so as to facilitate decisions that have the greatest impact. The following five-step process demonstrates this methodology and identifies resulting courses of action for a leader’s decision.

Step 1: Identify Your Department’s Priority Mission Objectives/Goals

Here is a list of 11 goals, listed in what I consider to be priority order for a campus police department.

  1. Keep campus(es) safe. This goal encompasses things like officer visibility, responses to calls for service, arrests and adjudication, etc. Safe campuses are our ultimate objective.
  2. Establish and maintain a good departmental reputation on campus. If citizens fear us or don’t respect us, they will not report crimes, attend our outreach training or view us as a key contributor who supports the academic mission. Ultimately, failure to establish and maintain a professional reputation on campus will have a negative effect on departmental funding, resulting in dire effects.
  3. Officer safety. We owe it to our officers on the front lines to keep them safe, with good equipment, good supervision, and appropriate training and support.
  4. Effective police operations. Closely tied to the first two goals, effective police operations include crime analysis, investigations, interviews and interrogations, evidence storage and documentation.
  5. Values. Instilling ethical behavior, integrity, dedication, proactivity, sacrifice and perseverance in officers’ interactions with each other and the campus community also contributes to a positive reputation on campus.
  6. Officer training and development. This objective goes beyond initial field training of new officers. We must be committed to training all officers to do their jobs in difficult and dynamic social, political and cultural environments. Additionally, we must train our officers as leaders who can accept greater responsibility within the department.
  7. Morale. Operating a law enforcement agency is a daunting task that can become even more daunting in the face of significant and regular personnel turnover. Departments that lose large numbers of officers will have a difficult time meeting other objectives. Having positive department morale includes more than providing pay and benefits. It also includes opportunities for personal and professional growth, effective supervision, responsive leadership and information flow within the department.
  8. Currency and adaptability. This goal addresses whether the department is keeping up with current laws and campus regulations. It also covers whether a department has a finger on the pulse of its environment and is able to adapt proactively and effectively to extant and anticipated trends.
  9. Avoid liability. Individual officers, the department, its commanders and the institution in general can be held liable for officer malfeasance, indifference, illegal behavior or failure to comply with myriad regulations (e.g., Clery, Title IX). Liability threatens morale, a department’s reputation on campus, its funding and police operations, to name just a few.
  10. Establish and maintain a good reputation with external entities, such as police, courts and civic organizations. Earning the respect of local agencies through close interaction contributes to effective police operations that maintain a safe campus, a positive reputation in the community, morale and adaptability.
  11. Improve the college brand. Ultimately, an institution’s support for its police or security department depends on enrollments. One means of enhancing buy-in from administrators for departmental initiatives and funding support is to demonstrate how the department contributes to supporting the college’s educational goals. In short, maintaining a safe and secure campus through visible patrols, responsiveness and community outreach help to bolster the college’s brand.

Obviously, different leaders may have additional goals and/or may prioritize them differently to reflect their experiences, their environments, unique departmental histories, special clientele, etc. However, this list of goals serves to illustrate Step 1 in the evaluation process.

Step 2: Identify The Assets and Tasks (i.e., inputs) Available to Accomplish the Priorities

There are scores of activities, tasks and resources in which a department engages in the course of daily operations. These include patrol, training, investigation, communications and more. There are many ways to list these, but the breakout used by the federal government to categorize activities connected to ensuring the safety, security and control of nuclear weapons is aptly suited for characterizing police activities.

The government categorizes all activities associated with nuclear weapons into one of five categories: personnel, procedures, facilities, equipment and communications. The “Activity Categories” below (click to enlarge) show us how various police activities, resources and assets group under these headings. Sixty-nine inputs are listed, with the recognition that the list likely omits other valid inputs.

Step 3: Identify Which of the 69 Inputs from Step 2 Affect Which of the 11 Outputs of Step 1

If we create a matrix with the 11 outputs (goals) so they are arrayed on the horizontal and the 69 inputs are arrayed on the vertical axis, we have a matrix with 759 cells. Not all inputs affect all goals. For instance, spare radios do not affect values.

The task at hand is to determine which inputs affect which outputs. If we know, for instance, that an FTO program affects 10 of the 11 priority outputs (all but reputation of police on campus), while teaching at the academy only affects two (reputation with outside agencies and improving the college brand), we have a way of knowing which activities have the most impact on our police enterprise. In the process of determining inputs’ varying impacts on outputs, we can identify which activities are most important for meeting our priority objectives. If inputs with the most impacts are deficient, we now know where we can and should institute corrective actions.

A matrix of this size is unwieldy, so a smaller version, titled “Department Assessment,” is presented on the next page before step 5. This version has seven outputs and 39 inputs, creating a smaller and more manageable 239-cell matrix that still demonstrates the methodology. In the analysis, we see that the following 12 inputs (with the number of goals affected in parentheses) have the greatest impact on a department’s ability to meet its goals (i.e., they affect at least six of the seven goals):

Personal

  • Sworn officers realistically trained (6)
  • Training for unsworn personnel (6)
  • Number of officers and supervisors on duty (6)

Procedures

  • Campus-wide training and command post/field exercises (7)
  • MOUs/Joint training with local agencies (6)
  • Threat assessment and info dissemination processes (6)

Facilities

  • Availability of training venues (6)

Equipment

  • Ability to sustain long-term deployments (7)
  • Vehicles with radios and MDTs (6)

Communications

  • Dedicated police channels and dispatchers (7)
  • Dispatch (communications interoperability with local responders (6)
  • Radio coverage (no dead spots and few outages) (6)

Step 4: Assess the Health of Each Input and Associate the Level of Health With Each Affected Goal (Output)

This step is subjective and based on many factors. For instance, are all officers aware of associated requirements? Are they proficient and current in certifications? Are the inputs accessible to the officers? Perhaps a department recognizes the need to do something, such as conducting CPX/FTXs, but has not done so yet. This might receive a higher rating than a department that has taken no steps to do so.

A small committee of senior- and mid-management, officers and select civilian personnel, and a member from the academic community could review each input and determine its health. Once this review is complete, the health of each input is associated with the corresponding output.

In this analysis, a “stop-light” color is used to assess each input’s ability to achieve its associated goal. Each input is assessed on whether it is mission capable (green), partially mission capable (yellow), or not mission capable (red). Clearly, the more green that appears indicates a sound and capable department. Large areas of red, especially in high-priority mission areas, show where corrective efforts are most urgently needed.

Click to see the sample matrix full size

Step 5: Evaluate Overall Department Mission Capability

The Department Assessment sample matrix table above shows the results of this department-wide analysis. The scores should be determined as follows:

  1. The total number of X’s in each row show which inputs affect the greatest number of outputs.
  2. The total number of X’s in each column show how many inputs affect that goal. More X’s in a column suggest there are more “moving parts” associated with that goal.
  3. Each column should be scored by adding the total number of green cells (three points each) plus yellow cells (two points each) plus red cells (one point each). A cell that is extremely deficient could be given a zero score.
  4. Each column’s total should then be divided by its total maximum score [the number of X’s times three (which would be a perfect score for each impact)] to determine its percentage of mission capability.
  5. Each goal should then be assessed as fully mission capable (a percentage of 75 percent or greater); partially mission capable (50-74 percent), or not mission capable (less than 50 percent).

The resulting matrix should provide a lot of valuable information. It tells us how capable we are in achieving our desired goals, where we are most deficient and what needs to be done to correct those deficiencies. Since one cannot eat an elephant all at once, we can prioritize corrective actions by first focusing on deficiencies that affect the greatest numbers of priority goals.

This abbreviated analysis reveals the department is mission capable in its first (safe campus) and fifth (avoid liability) goals. It is partially mission capable in all remaining goals except officer morale.

In this analysis, a chief’s first priority would likely be to begin fixing the high-impact red inputs (i.e., affecting at least six of seven goals): initiating training with local agencies and conducting campus-wide command post and field training exercises (perhaps adding participation by local police and fire responders). Next, the chief might move to the high-impact yellow inputs: training for unsworn personnel, increasing the numbers of officers and supervisors on duty during high crime periods, securing training venues, enhancing the ability to sustain long-term deployments, enhancing inter-operable communications with local responders and improving radio coverage. Many of these initiatives can be achieved at low or no cost. Furthermore, correcting the above inputs would have beneficial effects across all other mission areas.

The beauty of this methodology is it provides a chief, sheriff or head administrator of an agency with a persuasive tool for justifying and building support for funding requests. It also provides a tool by which one can assess the impact of programmatic improvements over time. Finally, it serves as a planning method for developing a long-term agency roadmap.

A Systematic Approach is More Effective
Every member of every department has a sense of his or her department’s strong and weak points. However, these opinions are often based on personal and episodic interactions and are neither systematic nor convincing. They offer little guidance in determining which problems should be corrected first and lack compelling persuasiveness that is crucial to building support from those who hold the department’s budget strings.

The foregoing methodology is a tool that is easy to use, instructive in its revelations, supports effective priority corrective actions, fosters sensible stewardship of precious resources and can build support for budgets in resource-constrained environments. What’s not to love?

Lt. John Weinstein is the commander of Northern Virginia Community College Public Safety District 3. He is certified by Virginia’s Department of Criminal Justice Services as a firearms instructor and is his department’s lead firearms instructor. He also conducts firearms training at two local police academies. Lt. Weinstein can be reached at jweinstein@nvcc.edu. Lt. Weinstein will be speaking at Campus Safety Conference East.