Strategic Planning in Policing Part III

Part I of this series looked at the history of strategic planning and how the New Public Management movement introduced the strategic planning process to the public sector.   Part II  looked at the actual strategic planning process including the need to conduct an environment scan and the formulation of vision and mission statements, and the establishment of core values.

This part will look at the formulation of goals, strategies, tactics, and performance  measures.

Although performing a meaningful environmental scan, and establishing a vision, mission and core values may seem daunting, the next steps are even more daunting. The formulation of goals, objectives, strategies and performance measures require the organization to put it ‘on the line’.  They are required to stipulate what their goals are, outline their strategy(s), list their objectives and most importantly, indicate how goal achievement will be measured.  Then, having said what they are going to do, they have to do what they said and report on their progress.   It is this aspect of strategic planning that leads to taking responsibility and ultimately being accountable not for outputs (activities) but rather outcomes (results).  Measurement of outcomes truly brings to bear Sir Robert Peel’s Ninth Principle which states:

 To recognize always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.

Goals, Strategies, Objectives and Tactics – linking the present to the future.

What are Goals 

Goals are directly related to the vision and express what an organization is attempting to achieve, the new state of being compared to the present state.  In policing terms, if a particular city is experiencing high rates of crime in particular communities or its downtown area a reasonable goal (dependent on the vision) might be ‘a safe downtown’ or in the case of other communities, ‘communities where residents feel safe’.  By intent, goals are broad in nature and like vision statements should not eliminate options in terms of how the goal will be achieved.

What are Objectives

Objectives describe what must be done in order to achieve goals.  In terms of the previous example regarding downtown safety one objective might be ‘to reduce violent crime in the downtown area by a specific percentage within a given time frame’.   Because the term safety is such a broad term, a stated goal of ‘a safe downtown’ might require a number of objectives, each addressing a different aspect of safety.   Other objectives might be ‘to reduce incidents of drunk and disorderly behaviour and panhandling by a specific percentage’ and  ‘to reduce thefts from vehicles by a given percentage’.  All these objectives, if achieved, would contribute to the goal which is  making the downtown safer for businesses, residents and visitors alike.

What are strategies

Strategy is a term with military origins.  The early writings by Niccolo Machiavelli (The Prince) and Sun Tzu (The Art of War) clearly indicate that the concept of strategy, that is, a strategic approach  toward goal achievement, is not a new idea.  It was, however, only in the last century that businesses started seriously looking at using strategy as an effective business tool.  As mentioned in a previous post it was not until the advent of New Public Management that strategic thinking and strategic planning became accepted in the public sector.

Strategies are approaches or means that will be used to achieve objectives.  Going back to the downtown safety example, there are many different strategies that could be applied to the situation.  One strategy might be to simply do more of the same.  So if the police department was currently deploying foot patrol in the downtown area one strategy might be to deploy more foot patrols, ie if ten are good then 20 must be better.   An increase in numbers might be an effective strategy to address one aspect of the downtown safety issue,  ie drunk and disorderly conduct.  Other aspects of the safety issue such as break-ins to cars might be better addressed by another strategy such as the use of closed circuit television.  This means that a number of different strategies might be selected to address different aspects of the safety issue.

What are Tactics

Tactics drill down further and address the issue of not what should be done,  but how it should be done. If  a strategic decision were made to deploy foot patrols the tactical decisions would address the manner in which they are deployed in terms of what functions  they should perform, what hours they should work, areas they actually patrol, and whether they should be one or two person patrols.  In relation to CCTV,  tactical decisions would include where cameras should be located, whether to advertise their presence or if they should be covert, and if they should be live monitored.

What is Performance Measurement

Lastly, there is the  thorny issue of accountability and  performance measurement.  Most policing organizations report to a civilian oversight body such as a Police Board or a Police Commission.  Boards and commissions work with police to determine what the goals should be and serve as the accountability watch dog that police report to in terms of goal achievement.  Winnipeg is different.  It is one of the few cities, if not the only city, in North America where the Chief of Police reports to the Chief Administrative Officer of the city, and the police department has a reporting relationship to a standing committee of council (Committee of Protection Parks and Culture) and not a commission or board.  In the Winnipeg example this committee has never truly embraced its oversight function leaving the police somewhat  adrift in terms of accountability.

Most strategic plans have a status report or follow-up feature, at least annually.  Some organizations treat this as a report card or progress report if you will.    This accountability feature  helps ensure everyone within the organization is keeping their eye on the ball.  The greater the stress on accountability, the better the plan and the greater the likelihood of positive results.  Creating specific areas of accountability within a plan (actually naming a particular person or position within the organization as being responsible and accountable) is another positive feature.

The last word on performance measurement and accountability is this:  make sure you are measuring results (outcomes), not activities (outputs).  The purpose of a strategic plan is to achieve results, not itemize the busy work the organization plans to engage in.  Plans that stress activities or list activities that will be engaged in without direct links to goals and anticipated outcomes are of little use.

The next post in this series will examine several strategic plans for Canadian police departments.

2 comments on “Strategic Planning in Policing Part III

  1. Randy Harris says:


    I found your explanation of the process very informative and well written.


  2. Jerry says:

    I never heard of the ninth principle before and don’t agree with it. Law enforcement is not crime avoidance necessarily although it does include an element of deterrence.

    Perhaps this is at the heart of policing planning. Defining the role and the split between crime avoidance and enforcement. These are public policy issues which unfortunately must be balanced with the need to generate revenue from traffic enforcement and budget limitations.


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