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Virtual Police Department Case Study Essay

Introduction

This paper will consist of an overview of the Virtual Police Department, the history of that department and where it is today. I will analyse the different issues within the department and set a constructive path for the department so that it may benefit fully from all the resources that it has available. The Virtual Police Department is a medium sized department with 155 sworn officers. The department has a long history of hiring from a “good ole boy” system. The criteria for being hired at this particular department is minimal and their turnover rate for personnel is often and all at once. The current department leadership has been around for no more than 15 years and most of the staff have been hired within the last 5 years. Because of the turnover rate, experience is lacking. All of the seasoned officers have “phased out” and promotions were required, however, not necessarily earned or deserved. I have identified several areas that I would recommend immediate attention to. However, I have highlighted four of these for the purpose of this case study. Firstly, I would look at the hiring process within this department and make some much needed changes.

Next, I would revisit the budget. Then, I would restructure the four organizations into functioning efficient groups. Lastly, I would establish connections within the community and neighbouring police departments and community agencies to ensure a close knit, positive, supported network. I recommend that this department begin with a change to its hiring process. Many of the employees have no more than a high school diploma. I feel there should be a set standard of education and experience to become the Chief of Police. Not just family relations or friends. The community of VPD are losing faith and confidence in their police department and one way to begin the change is to start from the inside. Once the Chief of Police is in office with a Bachelor or higher, then they may start enforcing their own officers to at least fulfil an associate’s degree in Criminal Justice. I understand that in the past, looking for personnel who had a Bachelor’s degree rendered many from within the department ineligible, however, maybe this is a beginning to the change.

The department needs to start looking outside of their town for personnel to police the area. According to the department demographics chart, the department has never had the full authorized members. From 2009-2012, the average number of actual sworn employees was 140. The authorized number rose in 2011 to 145. The current year, there are 155 sworn officers which is 10 over authorization. The history of the making of this police department has seriously perpetuated the situation the VPD is facing today. From the initial hiring in 1950, the Mayor and City Council hired their friends as the initial department members. In the beginning, this had no effect on the department and it actually solidified a great relationship within the community. However, as times have changed, the department itself has grown, the community has grown as well, this kind of hiring process has taken its toll on the department, authority, and the community.

The department has a significant repetitive issue which is the consistent bulk hiring and retiring of its officers. There really isn’t a phase out process in place whereby rookie police officers train and learn from the more experienced ones before they retire. It seems a common theme within this department is a lot of running from fire to fire. It appears the department spends more time playing defence as opposed to offense. Instead of the department spacing its personnel who are looking at retirement out, they all seem to retire at the same time. This is yet another impact of the hiring of friends and family. Although it worked well in the 1950’s, the city and its inhabitants are far different than they were in the 1950s. There also appears to be a significant amount of complaints from both internal and external sources; as well as decreasing percentage of crimes solved and/or successfully prosecuted. Based on these issues, I would phase the retirement and hiring process.

It may initially create a few headaches, however, I believe those will be fewer than the continual spiral out of control the department is currently facing. I believe that if some of those that are close to retirement were promoted to other positions within the force, they would stay around a little longer. Eventually, there will be a good mix of longevity within the police department. Ensuring that junior officers receive proper training from the more seasoned officers is extremely important. According to the crime statistics provided by the scenario, there appears to be a lot of burglary, robbery, and theft in the Part 1 Offences. Personnel should be dedicated to these areas to ensure the crime is attacked BEFORE it occurs. The Broken Windows theory is epic when considering the transformation of a community. Showing the community that the police want to be proactive as opposed to reactive is certainly a good start. In the proactive article titled “Broken Windows: The Police and Neighborhood Safety,” James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling argued that policing should work more on “little problems” such as maintaining order, providing services to those in need, and adopting strategies to reduce the fear of crime (1982:29).

Their assumptions were based on three reasons: Areas with street people, youth gangs, prostitution, and drunks are high-crime areas. Neighborhood disorder creates fear. (1982:30) Another issue with the current hiring process is there is no hiring board or public announcements made. The police department likes to hire from within and have kept to hiring friends and family to, “keep all the undesirables off the police force.” I would announce any upcoming vacancies state wide and set up a hiring process based on qualifications. The hiring would not be concurrent with the Mayoral elections and the police department will break from the political tie it currently has. As the police department and the mayoral council run so tightly together, it is impossible for the VPD, state police, and county sheriff to communicate with each other. Communication between police departments is crucial for the VPD to survive. The process of socialization seems to be missing from the Virtual Police Department. Although they are close because of the internal hiring, it does not lend credence to learning the ropes by doing as much as by the rule-book.

As the experienced officers phase out, there is not a lot left for the younger inexperienced officers to learn the valuable on-the-job lessons with. George, C., & Smith, C. (2004). With the changes to the hiring and retiring process, the budget obviously needs to be revisited. The first thing I would do is look at the average starting salary for the police and drop it to $32,000 – $35,000 annual. Starting rookie police officers out at $45,000 doesn’t give room for promotion with pay increase, time on department increases, and doesn’t encourage members within the department to further their education or strive for a better position. Pay should increase as positions and responsibility increase. If 75 of the 155 police officers are within their first 5 years on the force, their pay should be $35,000 annual. The budget would need to be met to cover the cost of each police officer with a buffer of 15% for over time. If the starting salary for the VPD force was $32,000, the total for the rookie officers would be $2,400,000 annual.

That would be a savings of $975,000 a year. Police departments should have a program and promotion rate for their officers to strive toward. According to George Cole and Christopher Smith, “The average starting salary in 2001 was more than $32,000”. (2004:173). Pay increase should come with responsibility and job knowledge and time on the force. I also think the police department needs to compare the pay of their officers and commanders to other neighbouring departments and base the starting pay on those. An extremely important aspect has been overlooked within this department due to budget cuts. Training has obviously suffered greatly. I do not believe that training should ever be jeopardized for the sake of saving a few pennies. Train the trainer programs are a great way to maximize training the cheapest way. Sending one or two individuals to receive training that will certify them to conduct the training within their department is gold.

Once the rapport is established with the other departments within the area, then the trainer can also train those departments. Essentially, each department would send someone to receive specialized training and share that training throughout the departments. This way, each department will save money and not have to forego the training. Another area that is concerning is firearm qualification training. This is a major mistake to allow officers to continue to carry their firearms when they are not qualified. If they had to use their weapon and during the course of the investigation, it is determined that they were not qualified, the repercussions would be immense, not just for the department, but for the other departments, the city, and the state. Also of great importance in the training area is E&T not keeping up with law updates, changes, and recent court rulings. Training can be conducted on the job and any additional training can be completed during one of the 8 hour shifts if the schedule can be made to allow a training day. That way, the officer isn’t on the road, isn’t side-tracked, isn’t in court, or isn’t unavailable. If training day was a “duty day” then training can be maintained. “Recruits need formal training in order to gain an understanding of legal rules, weapons use, and other aspects of the job.” (2004:179).

A positive approach to establishing a budget within the jurisdiction would be to evaluate the cost of crime. According to Mark Cohen, “taking a “bottom-up” approach to crime aids in breaking them down.” (2005: 84). Breaking the crimes down on a per-crime basis will give the planners assistance when looking at the statistics of their community crimes. In doing this, it would be beneficial for the courts to readdress the cost of fines paid, fees and offence times, etc. The courts would essentially be assisting the police department in policing their community. Possibly, stiffer sentences, stiffer fines, and attention to the crimes will be a significant deterrent. Let those who choose to break the law pay the price for it. The best way to reasonably ensure that training is being conducted is to organize the department a bit better. The department does seem to be organized well. It has the typical four separate commands; Patrol, Investigations, Special Operations, and Support Services.

Each of these departments has a commander. The departments are organized by talents, friendships, and skills. The department seems to be extremely mismanaged as they currently have 155 sworn officers, however they are only authorized 145 by 2012. Along with the sworn officers, they are also extremely overstaffed with civilian employees as well. According to the table, they are authorized 17, however, they currently employ 70. On top of the overstaffing issue, the department has a history of hiring predominately Caucasian male police officers (70%), and only 11% Caucasian female officers; which has held pretty steady over the last four years. According to Wilson and Kelling, “For most of the nation’s history, almost all police officers were white men.” (2004:174). The Civilian Personnel demographics are not much different. The department has a high number of Caucasian men and women employees. The African-American male employees estimate at 10% of the police force over the last four years. The African-American female police officers sat at 3.7% estimated over the last four years. As the community has grown in size, it appears the police department has maintained a consistent employee demographic base.

The last recorded census was from 2000. Based on that census, the population consisted of the following; 50.9% male, 49.1% female, 60.1% Caucasian, 16.7% black or African American, 11.4% Hispanic, 7.0% Asian, Other 0.2%, some other race 1.7%, two or more races 2.9% and foreign born 16.2%. The median age was 37.9 years of age. Not only has the ethnic population changed, but the median income average has as well. The median has dropped by 13% which should alert the surrounding agencies that their citizens are not as wealthy as they once were and most of the time, this also incites criminal activity. The demographic differences in the community and police department is wide. It may have been the same demographics at one time, however, the police department hasn’t seemed to change much since the 1930s in that aspect. As the department still chooses to hire friends and family, this is not expected to change anytime soon. I would argue that the change needs to happen immediately. I think a new census should be taken or at least have patrols identify areas within the community that have changed drastically with ethnicity.

A new census would also assist the budget and the jurisdiction boundary and also allow the bigger picture to be evident to the Mayor. Most cities have a natural cultural divide. It is important for the police department to recognize this and adjust their manning accordingly. If there is an increase of crimes against women, it would be important for the department to look at hiring more women onto the force who can deal with the more sensitive areas. If there are race issues within the community, it wouldn’t be a good decision to send a police officer into that area knowing it could potentially escalate a situation. The department should have more diversity amongst the officers.

To start this, I will go back to my earlier statement on hiring outside of the police force family. Try and appeal to the other ethnic backgrounds that the community can relate to and hopefully start to trust. Next, I would re-evaluate the shift work. If the area of responsibility has grown, and the number of citizens within the community has grown, it is imperative that the police are able to respond and react to calls appropriately. Because police work doesn’t end at the scene, officers must have time to go back to the station and complete their required paperwork. Twelve hour shifts make it virtually impossible to complete paperwork and get enough rest before the next shift. I would break the shifts up into 8 hour shifts and apply the greater amount of officers to the busiest time of the day or night.

Taking a look at the criminal statistics, I initially notice that due to the unplanned city demographic changes, the department is currently suffering a set back with a larger than projected area of responsibility and more citizens within their jurisdiction. The number of lower income families has risen, and the average age of the community dropped to 34.7 which means more children are attending the local schools. Looking at the Statistics of Crime in VPD area, there has been a significant increase in Part 1 and Part II Offenses. Part II Offences have seen the most increase over the last four years with drugs, disorderly conduct, and burglary topping the list. It is scary to note that although crimes in almost every offense is up, arrests are down significantly from 2009-2011 and 2012. Over the last four years, the city has seen a steady increase in crime and antisocial activity. Also, Use of Force, conduct, and performance complaints have drastically increased against the police, highlighting a possible stressed, stretched thin police department, and frustrated community. It also appears that the adult offences are higher than the youth offenses.

This could be as a result of the closure of the neighbouring city’s high rise public and subsidized housing causing its residents to relocate. Due to this, a 10% increase in low income residents are now a part of the VPD community. Larry Bennett, Janet Smith, and Patricia Wright wrote about Paul Fischer of Lake Forest College. In a 2003 study, “most families relocated from CHA housing are re-segregated into other very low-income, majority African-American neighborhoods where housing conditions are not appreciably better than those they left.” (2006: 219). Along the lines of changing 12 hour shifts into 8 hour shifts, I would also start communicating with the surrounding police departments. I would establish a rapport – even if it is to my departments sacrifice at first. I would be interested in any training opportunities, their demographics for their area, any areas that may “overlap” with jurisdictions, and I would start an interagency database so the surrounding areas demographics may be included in it. One thing that would have assisted the VPD before the buildings were torn down in the neighbouring areas would have been the communication between departments.

Having a good working relationship with them would have potentially avoided all the chaos that was created by the influx of lower income families. I would also have my Patrol Commander to establish a Community Oriented Policing task force to get out into the community and get some insight to what the citizens would like to see. If the department takes a step in the right direction and shows the community that they know there is a problem and they want the community’s help to fix it then it may generate a lot of interest. I am sure that if the community pulls together to start paying attention to vandalism, prostitution, drugs and disorderly conduct, then hopefully the homicides, rapes, burglaries, motor vehicle thefts and aggravated assaults would decrease. I would also incorporate an operation similar to “Operation Condor” which was highlighted by Howard Safir and Ellis Whitman. According to Safir and Whitman, Condor was an extension of the Broken Windows effect.

This operation had significant impact on homicide and crime rates and eliminated signs of lawlessness. (2005: 198). Based on the positive outcome of Operation Condor, VPD may benefit significantly with something like this. The police department has a bad reputation responding to calls. In 2012, there were 163,433 calls for police service and units were dispatched to only 131,548. That means that 31,885 calls for assistance were unanswered. This is not acceptable. According to James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling, “Untended disorderly behavior is a signal that the community does not care. This leads to worse disorder and crime. If police are to deal with disorder to reduce fear and crime, they need the community for assistance.” (1984:29) The new acceptable standard of bending the rules and the code of silence is inexcusable. The VPD has had a longstanding reputation for integrity. However, over the last several years, it has become accepted to bend the rules and violations, and is overlooked by supervisors.

The Virtual Police Department is in great need of a complete overhaul. Unfortunately, the department does not have its priorities correct. In my attempt to fix the VPD, I would call in Police Officer Standards and Training Commissions POST Commissions to evaluate and train the department on the critical issues of police officer standards. As this is a state function, the county, Mayor, and others will not be able to influence the training or decision making. According to Sullivan and Simonetti Rosen, “These state-level commissions provide law enforcement agencies with guidelines, established by administrative regulations or law, and require compliance by all municipal, county, and state law enforcement agencies, to maintain a baseline for police officer standards and training.” (2006: 350-351).

I honestly feel an “audit” would benefit the department on so many levels. Finally, I would appoint a Human Resource Manager to ensure that the needs of the personnel are met and a Safety Officer to ensure that regulations are being followed appropriately. The hiring process, budget, structure of the department, and community relations are what I see to be the weakest areas within this department. Fortunately, they feed off of each other and adjustments in one area will affect the others. It will be a process, but a greatly needed process none-the-less.

References
Cohen, M. (2005). The Costs of Crime and Justice. New York: Routledge. George, C., & Smith, C. (2004). The American System of Criminal Justice (10 ed.). Belmont: Thompson Learning, Inc. Howard, S., & Whitman, E. (2003). Security: Policing your Homeland, your State, Your City (1 ed.). New York: St Martin’s Press. Larry, B., Smith, J., & Wright, P. (2006). Where are poor people to live?. Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, Inc. Larry, S., & Simonetti Rosen, M. (2005). Encyclopedia of Law Enforcement (Vol. 1). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, Inc. Virtual Police Department Case Study Paper


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