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.


Honesty and Trust No Longer Winnipeg Police Core Values

Commitment to Excellence also eliminated as  a core value

Although the changes may not  be readily obvious to the public in terms of how the Winnipeg Police Service operates, the Service made the decision to alter its Vision and Mission statements  a few months ago.  At the same time, the core values of the organization were changed.

The core values of an organization are intended to be fundamental values that serve as reference points for operational decision making on the street and administrative decision making at the executive level.

The following core values have been eliminated:

  • Honesty – Being truthful and open in our interactions with each other and the citizens we serve
  • Trust – Being honourable and maintaining a high level of trust with each other and the members of our community
  • Commitment to Excellence – Adhering to a strict standard of conduct and performance in everything we do

The core values that were nominally retained are integrity, respect and accountability although the definitions applied to the terms have been altered.

Added as  core values are:

  • Citizen Focus – Conducting ourselves in a professional manner at all times, showing pride in service and commitment to serve the greater good.
  • Courage – Serving on the street and in leadership roles, being ready to make tough decisions to valiantly protect people and their property

The mission statement has also changed.  The new Mission Statement for the Winnipeg Police Service is as follows:

As members of the Winnipeg Police Service , we are committed to making Winnipeg safer by:

  • Performing our duties with integrity, compassion and respect,
  • Building strong, trusting relationships with the community because we can’t do it all alone,
  • Enhancing our effectiveness so we can be there when we’re needed the most, and
  • Finding innovative ways of delivering our services.

Lastly the Service’s vision statement has been changed.  The vision now is:

A safer community, built on strong, trusting relationships

Reactions from within the Service are mixed and varied ranging from indifference to complaints that the process used to establish the new vision,  mission and values was exclusionary and did not allow for street level input (constables and sergeants).  Some within the Service also suggest that the `building relationships` phrase is getting a little tired.  Poorly defined terms, especially when overused, risk losing their meaning and credibility.  There is a difference between a slogan and a philosophy and in this case that difference has never been convincingly established.

Changes to an organization`s vision, mission and values are usually a precursor to the development and unveiling of a comprehensive strategic plan.  Such a plan would generally include goals, strategies and measurable performance indicators.  It is not known if the Winnipeg Police Service  developed strategies and performance indicators.  If they have not, then the vision and mission statements are essentially meaningless.

For an example of a well developed strategic plan visit the Vancouver Police website at :

Click to access vpd-strategic-plan-2008-2012.pdf