It Is ALWAYS The People’s Money

Vox populi, vox dei

I take a dim view of anyone who wastes the People’s money. Sorry, just the kind of guy I am. Unfortunately, I see too much waste out there in Law Enforcement Land.

Not all of it is intentional waste of taxpayer dollars; some is waste borne of the failure of true leadership, settling for complacency and, in some cases, downright laziness or ineptitude. Yet, for the most part, it is waste borne of a lack of understanding and appreciation for the sanctity of the taxpayer’s dollar. At the core of some of the waste is the sarcastic, cynical view: “Hey, it is not my money …”

Yes, someone actually said that to me once.

The attitude too many people in law enforcement (and in all of government) seem to exhibit about “funding” – about where the “budget” comes from is interesting to me. Some of my customers and students remind me of public radio, teenagers and the homeless when it comes to the budget: “Can I have a dollar?”

Many so-called leaders in Law Enforcement have no idea about, and some even strongly debate where the money comes from. They think it comes from the “finance department” or the “finance guy”, or “the city council” or the “budget committee.” They foist that limited, misguided view off on their co-workers, the public and everyone else around them. (Recently, when I asked a group of Law Enforcement employees what they thought needed to be done to secure adequate, sustainable, dedicated funding, one of them answered in all sincerity, “Beg the city manager.” The prosecution rests.)

No, folks, the “budget” – your funding – comes from the taxpayers. It comes from those people in your community who work hard, pay their taxes and to whom we owe consistent and abiding proof that we are investing their money rather than simply spending it like a bunch of drunken soldiers on leave.

Perhaps this will help: when you purchased my novel, you exchanged your dollars for my novel. (You did purchase my novel didn’t you?) In that little, private-sector transaction, the book becomes yours and the dollars belong to me. That is as it should be. And, I am deeply appreciative.

However, in the public sector, anytime you take a taxpayer’s dollar, it is always the taxpayer’s dollar. It does not matter how many cash drawers, job titles, accounting books, or software programs it goes through, it is always the taxpayer’s dollar.

I believe when we take a taxpayer’s dollar, we incur an inescapable, personal obligation to turn that dollar into something of greater value to the taxpayer – a return-on-investment (ROI).

Waste. It is not always intentional – unless people have been through this firm’s training and persist in doing things in the same old wasteful manner. Some is human error; a little bit forgivable. Some is attributable to habitual ways of doing things that have outlived their utility. And some are glaring … just sitting there waiting to be discovered when you know what you are looking for.

To illustrate: I have a friend who happens to be a pilot. He noted my fondness for using the “Flight To Hawaii” to describe the relationship between “destinations” and “directions”.

“Do you know the three, most useless pieces of data to a pilot?” he asked me.

“I have no idea. I am usually cargo.”

“The three, most useless pieces of data to me, as a pilot, are:

  1. The distance between me and the airport I just left;
  2. The amount of fuel I have expended; and
  3. The amount of sky above me.

“What I really need to know, as a pilot, are:

  1. The distance between me and my destination;
  2. The amount of fuel it will take to get to the destination; and,
  3. It would be nice to know that we’re off the ground.”

And, so it goes with Law Enforcement agencies. I am appalled at the amount of information that is collected by government agencies simply because it is collected! By its very nature, much of it is meaningless and no one uses it for any meaningful purpose. It seems to me that we have some very highly-trained commissioned clerks out there on Patrol and in our Corrections facilities. The burden of paperwork, reports and data collection seems to increase each year.

So much of such paperwork, reports and data are doubly counterproductive.

First, we’re contributing to the recruiting and retention problem by having Patrol or Corrections personnel mired in tasks that have little to do with the job they thought they were hired to do.

Secondly, a fair portion of such busy-work goes nowhere. No one looks at the data again nor does anyone use it for any meaningful, constituent-centered purpose.

To wit: A few years ago, my firm conducted an Organizational Assessment for a Law Enforcement agency. When we scrutinized the work that their Records clerks were doing, we found that a significant portion of the data collected by Police Officers was simply cataloged and filed away, never to be seen or used again. When we related that amount of work to the number of employees in the Records section, we realized that somewhere in excess of 1.75 FTE’s (full-time equivalents) was wasted – people doing tasks that were unnecessary and of no utility to anyone. Folks, we could put more Patrol people on the street with that kind of money!

Join me in scrutinizing the way in which you do things. True leadership will not waste the People’s money nor will true leadership tolerate anyone else wasting The People’s money.

We owe them a high Return on Investment – or they’ll find someone who does.

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Article written by

Stephen L. Kent, founder and president of The Results Group, Ltd., has more than 35 years of leadership, training and facilitation experience. As a leadership & training consultant, he specializes in helping organizations design and implement programs to improve personal and organizational effectiveness. Steve is a dynamic speaker who is known for his straight talk that gets right to the heart of key issues.

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