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Jul 19

NNPD and Pastor Maxwell’s Trust-Building Initiative a Big Success

Posted on July 19, 2017 at 8:46 AM by Kelly King

Stay tuned for tourney finale on August 4.

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Jul 12

Staying Focused on the Mission and not the Battles.

Posted on July 12, 2017 at 1:55 PM by Kelly King

About 15 years ago, I took my middle daughter to a concert of a pretty famous band for her 16th birthday at an outdoor venue in the Upper Midwest.  After spreading out our large blanket on the grassy hillside, and diving into our KFC meal, she pointed out that the smell of marijuana was wafting around us, and then pretty soon, she pointed out that some folks near us were smoking it.   I was a good 100 miles or more outside of my jurisdiction.  My daughter, who is now an attorney, has always had a very strong “right and wrong” gene, and was wondering what I was going to do about this obvious violation of the law.  I replied, “nothing.”  She was incredulous.  I explained further, “what do you think I SHOULD do?  I’m one guy, amidst hundreds of folks who are here to have a good time and who are probably more tolerant of this activity than you or I, and I’m here as a concert-goer, not a police officer.  Do you SEE a police officer nearby?  No.  Clearly this isn’t troubling to the locals, they’re focused more on a bigger mission.  And what do you think would happen to your dad if I just marched over there and identified myself as an officer and demanded they put out their joints?  We don’t own this.  Until or unless it interferes with our ability to enjoy the concert, ignore it.”   It was a good lesson for her that the reason police officers have discretion in enforcing laws is that sometimes one has to stay focused on the overall mission, and that can mean limiting the reaction to a minor skirmish at hand.  

This week’s “Unity March” by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) group of the Hampton Roads provides another example where we chose to stay focused on the mission overall.  We’ve heard from some who want to know, “how can you just let folks take to the streets without just arresting all of them, or blocking their ability to enter the roadway?”   It’s a fair question.   Under local ordinance, a parade permit is required for anything that is going to interfere with the normal flow of traffic, and BLM certainly didn’t get a parade permit.  The instant the first marcher entered the roadway with the intention of marching up the street, it was technically a violation.  However, we had a traffic and safety plan in place, implemented the plan, and in under an hour, were able to peacefully manage a small group of impassioned marchers who brought children, babies, and the elderly and marched from Mercury Blvd. up to Police Headquarters and back to Mercury on Jefferson Ave.  Our mission is to preserve and protect the public peace, protect life, property, and ensure the safety of all persons.  All of that was accomplished.  I would add that we have sufficient video and photos that we could, if we chose, always try to identify anyone who violated the law and pursue charges, and we will always review such situations with our legal advisors to determine if it is the best reaction to the matter.  We believe that our planning and response was the right thing to do; it minimized risk to all involved, no one was hurt, no one acted in a violent manner, there was no direct conflict or battles between the police and the marchers. 

We train our officers to follow a powerful decision making model: What’s Important Now (WIN).  It puts our contemplated reactions and responses to the test, to measure up if the action is worth the consequences.  In policing, we all too often have to take steps that result in quite adverse consequences, for others and even for ourselves, and we’re prepared and trained to do that when necessary.  What’s Important Now?   In our estimation, drawing a line in the pavement for about 30 marchers, 1/3 of whom were children, who were peacefully assembling for a limited period of time, didn’t seem to be as important as ensuring that all persons whether on foot or in cars were safe.

Some confuse “doing the right thing” with “political correctness”. I don’t really like the term “political correctness” because I believe policing is an apolitical activity, if we are truly to be fair and impartial in our defense of justice, we can’t pick sides nor be political about anything.  Last week, the Charlottesville Police Department demonstrated that when they kept a hate-group safe just as they did those who came to counter their hate.  They simply didn’t take sides.

We apologize to anyone who may have been mildly inconvenienced on Monday night due to road closures.  Our mission was to keep everyone safe, and to reopen the roadway with expedience once it was safe to do.  I’m proud of the work of the planning team and the officers and police aides and cadets who carried out the plan.  We certainly reserve the right to respond differently under different circumstances when someone tries to disrupt normal traffic flow.  While our mission is steady, our tactics are fluid, and just as we practiced Monday night, our response can be varied and adaptable.  We always want to work with organizers of events like the BLM march, and while they ignored our efforts to better coordinate with them this time, we won’t stop trying…..let’s hope they submit for the parade permit if there’s a next time!

Jun 12

Living Within a Budget

Posted on June 12, 2017 at 8:51 AM by Office of the Chief

Chief Myers' blog
As adults, most of us figured out long ago how easy we had it as kids when it came to money. We didn’t think much about the future or planning for major life choices or necessities; and we certainly didn’t think about working within a financial budget. Even by the time we graduated from high school, the reality is that most of us learned these skills through a combination of mentoring and training at home, our formal school education, some life experiences and trial and error.

It is within that context that I’m always amazed when I hear how surprised people are about the fiscal limits of a police agency budget. It is sometimes difficult for people to understand that we also have to pay our light bill, have to pay for the gasoline that runs our patrol cars, have expenses related to uniforms or bullets, etc. All of these are necessary parts of our budget. To fully understand how tight budgets impact policing, it might be helpful for a short history lesson.

Police Departments, as publicly funded government agencies, operate under common accounting systems designed for tax supported entities. Municipal budgets typically have a Capital component (big-ticket items like buildings, major equipment, construction, etc.) and an Operating component. Our Operating budgets are typically divided into Personnel costs (salaries, benefits…everything that is directly tied to the cost of employing people) and Non-Personnel costs (everything else). This may be an over-simplification, but is pretty consistent across the country.

When I first became a police chief in 1984, the majority of police agencies nationally used about 80-85% of their budgets on Personnel, leaving only 10-15% for everything else. But, governments began to cut back and unfortunately, we were all asked to do more with less. Today, most police departments spend in excess of 90% of their budgets just on Personnel related costs; again, leaving very little for anything else.
It may be the perception that police agencies have too many officers or that they are paid too much, causing the high rate of personnel expense. However, it is actually the contrary. Local governments have been so focused on reducing municipal service budgets and cuts were necessary, forcing police chiefs across the USA to try hard to preserve the jobs of police officers. As a result, declining budgets saw less money spent on consumables, longer replacement schedules on critical equipment like patrol cars and police radios and uniform equipment, etc. The overall number of officers rarely increased and often decreased. In many agencies today, there are fewer police officers than there were in the days before 9/11. Pay raises in many cities were “frozen” for multiple years in the early 2000’s, putting municipal jobs in general, but especially police agency jobs further behind the recorded cost of living increases.

The result of all this is the tight margin on Personnel costs these days. If a police department is forced to make budget cuts today, it will most likely be done by reducing personnel. There is little money left to cut from the gasoline or uniform line items. We currently live in an era of “do more with less.”

Having provided this history, it is important to note that there is widespread variance as to the degree of budget reductions across the country. Fortunately, the Newport News Police Department has been able to restore most of the formerly cut positions and is fully budgeted for our authorized strength -but can’t fill all the vacancies! Those dollars must remain ear-marked for personnel in order to keep our officers and citizens safe and we still must live within the budget set forth by the municipality.

In addition, budgeting for Non-Personnel related items is difficult at best. For example, gasoline can swing wildly over the course of a year or two, making long-term planning very challenging. Utility bills and other contractual services can go up at rates faster than routine budget growth. When something like that goes up disproportionately, something else usually needs to be reduced.

Our new fiscal year begins July 1st. In the “good old days,” the common thinking was that government agencies like NNPD would rush to “spend down” our remaining funds this time of year….often referred to as the “use it or lose it” mentality. This is no longer the case and the reality about public management of funds today is that we take being good stewards of tax funded budgets as a serious responsibility. We do not “spend down” our dollars and in fact are more diligent about spending in order to stay within the city’s allotted annual budget.

To bring things back around, presuming we’re doing a professional job of “right-sizing” our workforce (the Personnel side of the budget), in effect, our leadership team is basically making decisions about how best to spend the 10% of the budget that is non-personnel. As you can imagine, this is why our agency, like several others around the country, is very grateful for the opportunity to pursue grants, and extremely grateful for the generosity of our local Police Foundation.

There will always be those who believe starting rookie police officers off at about $40,000 per year is too much, and that it is okay that critical-mission police support staff barely make over the government defined poverty level. I’m not one of those voices, and I don’t apologize for the wage we pay our employees, even though at times I’m chagrined that we can’t do better.

My hope is that when people hear of projects like the Police Foundation’s effort to help secure a new training facility and kennels for our K9 programs, that instead of saying…that’s what I pay taxes for… they now have a better understanding of the limited funds available to our department and therefore support the Department and Foundation in these efforts.

You can learn more about the Newport News Police Foundation on their website at http://www.nnpolicefoundation.org/

Chief Richard Myers