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  The orignal report and subsequent departmental performance reports provided examples of government waste, outdated practices, lack of accountability and poor performance.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.