Stone soup: the police recipe
The folk tale about the hungry visitor who convinced townspeople that he could make soup from a kettle of water and a stone — with a little help from local residents — provides an allegory for Colton, Calif.’s, police department. The town, located at the halfway point between Palm Springs and Los Angeles in southern California, had been a city boastful of its own full utility departments, including electric, water and sewer, library system, recreation department, a four-station fire department and a police department.
By the end of February 1995, however, the police department had lost six police clerks from a staff of eight, one of two animal control officers, its only community service officer, one of two records supervisors and two police officer positions, vacant at the time, from a total complement of 63 sworn personnel. The adjustment forced enormous procedural changes, and the department went from a total annual operating budget of $6,564,433 to just over $5 million in less than 12 months.
THE STONE — THE ZEAL TO SUCCEED:
Many procedural changes, equipment acquisitions and alternative staffing programs, both in development and online, in other police agencies were critiqued. As each program or procedure was discussed, the department asked three questions: Will it replace our personnel void? Will it maintain or increase our operating efficiency? Can it be paid for through asset seizure?
ONE CARROT — STENOGRAPHER PROGRAM:
Since the late 1960s, the department depended on a transcription method of report writing for all officers and detectives. As six police clerks were laid off, transcription came to an abrupt halt. For the first time in 25 years, officers were required to handwrite all police reports, memorandums and investigations.
A high-speed transcription system computer program, created by Rapid Text, Newport Beach, Calif., connected a stenography machine, like those used by court reporters, directly to a personal computer. The police department then requested permission to hire court reporter students, and the system was online within seven months of losing 75 percent of the records division.
A PINCH OF SPICE — POLICE CADETS:
Recognizing that the reports must be processed, the Colton Police Department still was not financially or technically ready for a paperless storage system. Officers were consumed with handwriting reports for the first six months of layoffs, causing patrol and response times to suffer.
With $34,000 of asset seizure funds for a one-year program, a cadet program was established. The department recommended hiring six cadets, each working 20 hours per week. As anticipated, the police department was easily able to select six conscientious workers who underwent an intense, accelerated training program, ranging through evidence processing, report filing and limited patrol functions, all of which were online within an eight-week time frame.
ONE ONION — RADAR ENFORCEMENT:
In itself, a radar trailer is not unique to police work — most police departments have used them for the past 10 years to 12 years. Until 1994, the department had assigned a traffic unit to crucial areas upon demand. As traffic concerns in newly developed housing tracks adjacent to main thoroughfares became a priority, traffic safety became paramount. Through asset seizure funds, a radar trailer was purchased. With the addition of the radar unit, surveys, documenting speed, stop sign violations and flow patterns provided a detailed needs analysis that promoted a degree of efficiency to personnel.
A CLOVE OF GARLIC — DISPATCH CENTER:
The dispatch center, constructed in 1959, had been forced to relocate to the redeveloped furnace room of the adjacent city hall, a building separate from the police facility in the mid-1980s. Interdepartmental communication began to deteriorate, and supervision became limited. Management worked with the local business sector and secured a 1,200-square-foot store-front in a major shopping center for office space, and the move took only 90 days.
ONE SOUP BONE — COPS GRANT FUNDING:
At the onset of the citywide layoffs, the Colton Police Department recognized that civilian personnel would be cut. As the two vacant sworn positions were abolished, deployment, officer safety and the feasibility of establishing new programs were eliminated. Recognizing that other departments have been awarded federal grant money through the Community Oriented Policing Stations (COPS) Universal Hiring Program, the staff applied for funding to hire two officers. By receiving the COPS grant, the police department would not only supplement its shrinking force, but it would also continue to pursue those established contemporary police service delivery methods.
The Colton Police Department was faced with a financial dilemma in 1995 that could have reduced the delivery of police service, but by combining resources, proven concepts and programs, the organization was rebuilt in less than 12 months.