In God we trust
So now that we’re “upside down” in our computers, what are we to do? Eureka! We can turn to the Government to bail us out …
The above title is an old axiom, humorously employed, but with a kernel of that truth, which is always necessary for effective humor. The problem is that money is tightening up, and yet, some folks still haven’t gotten the message.
Technology dollars for public safety have long flowed through a fairly unclogged stream. There have been some brief interruptions, small logjams and minor diversions, but overall, money has been available for the technical support of public safety.
The trouble is, two problems are starting to plague us. First, the diversity of demands is increasing. More technical ventures cry out, each asking for more money. Second, the technology is no longer comprised of plug-and-play black boxes — it requires continuing staff support.
Large police departments can see as much as 90%+ of their budgets go to human resources. This, combined with the evolving need to “refresh” technology over shorter cycles, leads to a growing demand for dollars.
Remember, government incentive programs were designed, sold and funded with the intent to get/keep/put more FTE (full-time equivalent) police officers on the street. Justification for technology grants was the freeing-up of manpower from clerical tasks to do what is most important for public safety: respond to calls and exercise good judgment.
Where will the money come from, then, as it’s unlikely we’ll step backward in technology or “un-employ” direct-contact staff? It’s actually simple. Public safety will either pay for technology with savings in other line items or create capital projects for procurement.
Let’s look at line items first. Is anyone out there buying gasoline cheaper this year than last? Is anyone seeing decreasing costs for natural gas, propane or electricity? (Rhetorical questions, no need to actually reply.)
Well, that leaves telecom expenses and for the curious, I’m sure Bob Schwaninger could probably point out the savings we’ve all enjoyed in this area since 1996. (As a benevolent act, my friend Grumpy suggests sending spare batteries to your friends in California.) I believe the budget line items are already being well “exercised,” so there isn’t too much leeway for fiscal expansion here.
That leaves capital funding. With public safety relying more heavily on capital purchasing for technology, we are in the unenviable position of financing equipment typically for periods in excess of its functional (or at least its technological) life. Many jurisdictions are approaching the practical limit of their bonded indebtedness (typically for infrastructure procurements such as streets, roads, bridges and buildings or, in the case of taxing districts, for fire apparatus and mandated facility upgrades). That leaves the financial juggler types with the difficult choice of demonstrable public good vs. improved staff efficiency. Does anyone care to project the outcome? Hint: The meeting may be loud, but it won’t last too long.
So now that we’re “upside down” in our computers, what are we to do? Eureka! We can turn to the Government (with a capital “G”) to bail us out and help fund these obviously critical needs. They’ve helped out police with LEEP and LEAA (that bought thousands of needed radios) in the ’60s and ’70s and with COPS in the ’90s. Well, maybe the Government could establish a blanket program to buy wireless technology for public safety in wholesale proportions, but the real problem is the evolved nature of this “new technology.” Simply, what we “need” now isn’t permanent like a Micor base station or durable like a high-powered Mastr II mobile. Our “new technology” is really more like a set of services, not a pallet of equipment, which means that technology has become a budgetary line item and is now similar to any of the other consumable “services” we pay for monthly.
Dunford, MRT’s public safety consultant, is technical services consultant for the Lenexa, KS, police department. He is a member of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International. You can email Dunford at [email protected].