Coping with cut$

An LET roundtable discussing the economy's impact on equipment dollars


     Perhaps in no other industry is it tougher to discern where to scale back in hard times. In law enforcement, a troubled economy breeds budget cuts … which in turn lead to the discontinuing of services and in some cases, a leaner force. Do you settle for less? Go without? If so, it can come at a cost to both the community and the officers themselves. It is crucial that, once a budget lay on the table, departments find ways to cut carefully and spend wisely. If successful, everyday operations are less likely to suffer.

     One way to stretch dollars and collect additional revenue is by embracing technology. Agencies who find it tedious and costly to hold auctions now have the ability to go online and let someone else do the work. Sites like PropertyRoom.com are designed to take the hassle out of police auctions, cut out middle men and deliver maximum returns. PropertyRoom.com, founded by former Long Beach, New York Police Department detective Tom Lane, does business with a number of agencies around the country. "The way I see it, we haul away problems and send back money," says PropertyRoom.com CEO P.J. Bellomo.

     The consignment service trucks show up, pick up any property and evidence room items, sell them and return the check. They make monthly calls to inquire whether a department has anything to get rid of, and when PropertyRoom.com reps may arrive for pick-up.

     Agencies can also turn to the Web for smarter purchasing at places like CopBids.com, an eBay-style site that lets members buy and sell equipment in a "law enforcement-only" setting. And the more users who sign on, the better the deals.

     "During my 10 years as an officer I'd realized I'd accumulated a substantial amount of equipment that was still usable and in good condition," say CopBids.com founder Joe Fleres. "I was wondering what would be a great way to help others." The site launched on September 3, 2008, and since then, has accumulated about 330 more users.

     "The timing couldn't be better, with police facing cuts due to the economy," says Fleres. He encourages vets to post their used equipment and help the "new guys" who are faced with having to buy their own. "Salaries are low, so it helps them and it helps the other guy put some money in their pockets as well."

     Traversing cyber markets is one way to quell price-tag shock and get rid of goods. But agencies are also seeking out grants, using existing resources smarter, turning to the community and finding other ways to keep operations strong — even as the duty belt tightens.

     Here, six high-ranking officials respond to the state of the economy, and describe how they are staying vigilant in order to uphold their highest standards.

The roundtable participants…

     LET: How are current economic conditions impacting your operations, in terms of budget cuts and purchasing equipment?

     CHIEF JIM HYDE: We were asked by our city manager to prepare 2-percent and 5-percent non-personnel budget reductions for our department. So we are under a hiring freeze, except for police officers, and we're currently planning for a 12- to 18-month recessionary period.

     CAPTAIN DAVID KIDDLE: [Cuts] obviously make it difficult as you go throughout the year and you've got a chunk of money set aside for various things. Not purchasing doesn't always work; we put things out to bid and hope to get a low price, but at the same time we're either deciding not to purchase certain things now or wait.

     CHIEF DEPUTY HILMAN POPILLION: It's true you can't cut too many corners in law enforcement; you can only go so far. We're shopping with different vendors to find out where we can get the best equipment for the lower price.

     DEPUTY CHIEF VINCE GORTNER: Some of it just ends up being a reduction in discretionary spending ... things that are just nice to have. Things we really need to have, like Kevlar vests and vehicles, we're going to keep buying to make sure we continue to provide the level of service we need to provide to the community and to keep our officers safe.

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