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.

Strategic Planning in Policing – Part II

Planning – The Process

Planning is by definition a future oriented activity.  If an organization is satisfied with what it is currently doing and how they are doing it there is no need to plan. It’s simply a matter of maintaining the status quo. A plan is only required in situations where the destination or outcome is at variance with the status quo.

There has been much discussion among academics and practitioners alike as to what comes first in terms of the strategic planning process.  Although there is general agreement that strategic plans should include a vision statement, mission statement and core values, there is less agreement as to how they should be arrived at.

Many instances of major organizational change involve change at the top in terms of leadership.  In such scenarios leaders are frequently chosen based on their vision of the future of the organization.  In such instances the leader’s vision becomes the organization’s vision.  In terms of policing organizations the hiring of a new leader (chief) generally signals such a change which is usually accompanied by the introduction of a 1oo day, 6 month and 1 year plan outlining the new direction of the organization.

In situations where a leader is chosen to essentially be a caretaker of an organization and there is no anticipation of major organizational change, the emphasis will shift from strategic planning to greater attention of operational issues designed to maintain the status quo.

The alternative approach is to develop the vision and mission from within the organization based on the collective will of the organization (employees).  This is a slow, time consuming process.  In many instances organizationally developed plans are watered down plans that attempt to please everyone and in the end please no one.  This committee style of approach often results in the production of a ‘camel’ (a horse designed by a committee) as various groups and individuals add on humps and lumps to the original design.

Environmental Scanning

Dr. Chun Wei Choo (University of Toronto) provides the following definition of environment scanning: Environmental scanning is the acquisition and use of information about events, trends and relationships in an organization’s external environment, the knowledge of which would assist management in planning the organization’s future course of action.

There is general agreement that conducting a complete in-depth environmental scan is essential as a first step in the strategic planning process.  Private industry has successfully used this technique for decades to gain a competitive advantage.  Police departments, although a monopoly, can use the approach to improve performance and seek and establish an advantage in relation to criminals and criminal activity.

Environmental scans can be undertaken using various approaches or formats but some of the most common approaches center on the SWOT approach.  SWOT is an acronym for strengths, weakness’, opportunities and threats.  The strengths and weakness aspect deals with issues internal to the organization and would look at things like the size, training and level of commitment of the workforce, status of leadership within the organization at all levels,  and adequacy of existing policy.  The opportunity and threats analysis would examine issues such as synergies, partnerships and working relationships that could be developed along with threats to the organization.  As indicated in the table below, a SWOT analysis concentrates on identifying internal and external factors that are either helpful or harmful to goal achievement.

SWOT ANALYSIS MATRIX Helpful to goal achievement Harmful to goal achievement
Internal Strengths Weakness
External Opportunities Threats

There are other environmental scanning models such as the PESTEL analysis which examines political, economic, technological, legal and socio-cultural factors.  The analytical needs of an organization best determine the choice of an analytical model.  The issue is not which model you use but rather that you perform a systematic in-depth environment scan.  Because the field of medicine has been a leader in terms of implementing the scientific approach, let me use a medical analogy here:  formulating a strategic plan with goals, objectives, strategies and tactics without first doing a complete environmental scan would be akin to a doctor prescribing a drug or course of treatment prior to obtaining a complete medical history and doing an examination and perhaps tests on a patient.  Medical examinations and environmental scans identify symptoms and causes and form the basis for ‘treatment’.

The Nuts and Bolts of a Strategic Plan

What follows is a list of the key components incorporated in most strategic plans prepared by police agencies:

Vision Statement – The vision statement incorporates the desired end state or destination visualized by leadership of the organization.  It expresses what the organization wants to be or where it wants to be. Vision statements are not intended to be prescriptive in terms of how the organization will achieve its desired end state.  Prescriptive vision statements tend to limit the strategic options either available to or considered by the organization.

The very best vision statements are brief and to the point.  Ideally every member of the organization should be able to tell you what the organizations vision is.  If they cannot, then how can they be said to be working toward the vision?  Brief but meaningful vision statements are easily remembered and easier for individual members of the organization to incorporate into their personal raison d’être.

Mission Statement – In a private sector context mission statements generally address three issues -what is it that the organization does, who are the stakeholders or target audience, and what distinguishes this particular organization from all others, i.e. what is it about this organization that creates a competitive advantage.  Because public sector organizations such as police departments are monopolies and provide services to the entire public at large, identifying stakeholders and creating a competitive advantage as such are not an issue.  Creating and delivering a high quality of service is incumbent on all monopolies.

Let’s turn then to the first aspect of the mission statement, that being, describing what the organization does. Why is this so important?  It is important to ensure that there is agreement between the organization and the stakeholders as to what the mission is. In a police setting if the organization sees its mission as something else than what the stakeholders expect, there will be unfulfilled expectations and friction between the police and the public. That is why it is so vitally important that a police department have a clear mission statement that reflects the wants and needs of the stakeholders which in this context includes the public, elected officials and the members of the organization.

Core Values- In Canada we have incorporated into our constitution a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Charter is the prime law of the land.  This means that any law that violates the charter can be challenged as being unconstitutional.  If a law is deemed unconstitutional the portions of the law that are unconstitutional are deemed null and void.

The core values of an organization essentially form its internal charter of rights and freedoms, it’s prime law.  Organizations that are truly committed to their core values will ensure that all its policies and procedures are in keeping with its core values.  It will ensure that the actions of its members, especially the leadership cadre reflect the core values.  It will ensure that policies that violate the core values are amended, and that members of the organization whose actions violate the core values are censured or disciplined in a meaningful manner.  Every violation of the core values that is not addressed weakens the core value.

Core values in both private and public organizations are largely universal and center on values such as honesty, integrity, openness, trust, respect and accountability.

The next post will deal with the remaining components of a strategic plan.


Strategic Planning in Policing – Part I

This is the first in a series of posts that will deal with the strategic planning process.

This post will briefly discuss the impetus that led to the emergence of strategic planning in the public sector.

Part II will discuss the strategic planning process and component parts of a good strategic plan.

Part III will examine current strategic plans from various Canadian police departments and highlight the strengths and weaknesses of some of their strategic plans.

Strategic Planning in the Public Sector

Strategic planning is not  a new concept.  Many police departments in both Canada and the United States engaged in strategic planning in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.  Many of these early attempts at strategic planning, albeit rudimentary in nature, served a useful purpose in terms of focusing police executives on their raison d’être.  The weakness of many early strategic plans was that they were stand alone plans that did not integrate the planning process with the budget process.

The Advent of New Public Management (NPM)

New public management, although difficult to define, centers on the notion of introducing aspects of private sector management ideas and methodologies in the public sector.  Moves in the 1980’s by politicians in England and the United states, namely by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, to privatize and deregulate key sectors of government and industry gave incentive to public sector administrators to look seriously at introducing private sector approaches in the public sector.

In terms of a movement, NPM received its biggest shot in the arm when Vice President Al Gore published Creating a Government That Works Better & Costs Less: Report of the National Performance Review.  This report and the subsequent approach taken by the Clinton/Gore  administration essentially turned public management on its ear.  The orignal report and subsequent departmental performance reports provided examples of government waste, outdated practices, lack of accountability and poor performance.  The move to NPM introduced to government and public administrators, private sector approaches in many areas of management such as human resource management, procurement and perhaps most importantly in the policing context, strategic planning. 

Private sector businesses and corporations which are driven by the free enterprise economy and competition have long understood that unless they are involved in a constant cycle of renewal, innovation and  reinvention the bottom line will suffer and they will become redundant.  In the private sector this resulted in significant downsizing during the 1980’s and 90’s and the creation of ‘lean mean’ companies that were nimble in terms of their ability to predict and respond to economic conditions,  market trends and consumer needs. 

Many publicly funded government sector organizations on the other hand maintained the status quo, labouring under ever-increasing regulation and self-imposed policies and procedures that stifled productivity, innovation and service delivery.  Flaws in the system were not addressed by stream lining  processes but rather by the addition of new restrictions by way of regulations or procedures that further bogged down the ability of the public sector entities to deliver services.  In the previously cited report, Vice President Gore described it as “good people trapped in bad systems”. 

The NPM movement introduced strategic planning to the public sector as one of the lynchpins of public sector reform that offered great promise in terms of revitalizing public sector entities and improving their performance. 

 A Process – Not An Event

Some police and other public sector executives do not fully comprehend that strategic planning is a process, not an event.  Some organizations develop a 3 or 5 year strategic plan and once they have completed the plan document they heave a sigh of relief, grateful that it is out-of-the-way.  They fail to comprehend that the initial development of a strategic plan is just the first step in a cyclical process that must at a minimum be revisited, assessed and in many cases modified on an annual basis and in some cases more frequently.