How to Evaluate and Improve Your Agency in 5 Easy Steps (Part 1)

Here are the first two steps of a five-step process that will help you identify your campus public safety department’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as actions you can take to resolve challenges.

How to Evaluate and Improve Your Agency in 5 Easy Steps (Part 1)

Photo: Trueffelpix, Adobe Stock

As a head of an agency or unit commander, we have at least three major responsibilities: establish and maintain safe and secure jurisdictions; serve as an effective steward of the funding we receive; and ensure our agency has the flexibility to adapt to our changing political, social, cultural and economic environments. All of the things we do, whether it’s patrol operations, training, composition of general orders or community outreach, contribute to one or more of these responsibilities.

Any leader worth his or her salt will be aware of agency strengths and weaknesses by virtue of spending time with the troops, reading reports, conducting command staff meetings and receiving feedback from citizens as well as community leaders. The challenge is focusing on more than the episodic issue du jour. If you’re consumed by current issues and problems, it will be almost impossible to develop an integrated, long-term plan that accomplishes the above responsibilities.

What is needed is a mechanism that allows a leader to assess an agency’s ability to meet its key mission objectives (outputs), to develop a prioritized plan to improve weak areas, to provide a means of assessing the impact of the corrective actions and a means of explaining the rationale of selected courses of action to one’s political masters and department subordinates. The key to this methodology is identifying priorities so as to facilitate decisions that have the greatest impact. The following five-step process demonstrates this methodology and identifies resulting courses of action for a leader’s decision.

Step 1: Identify Your Department’s Priority Mission Objectives/Goals
Here is a list of 11 goals, listed in what I consider to be priority order for a campus police department.

  • 1. Keep campus(es) safe. This goal encompasses things like officer visibility, responses to calls for service, arrests and adjudication, etc. Safe campuses are our ultimate objective.
  • 2. Establish and maintain a good departmental reputation on campus. If citizens fear us or don’t respect us, they will not report crimes, attend our outreach training or view us as a key contributor who supports the academic mission. Ultimately, failure to establish and maintain a professional reputation on campus will have a negative effect on departmental funding, resulting in dire effects.
  • 3. Officer safety. We owe it to our officers on the front lines to keep them safe, with good equipment, good supervision, and appropriate training and support.
  • 4. Effective police operations. Closely tied to the first two goals, effective police operations include crime analysis, investigations, interviews and interrogations, evidence storage and documentation.
  • 5. Values. Instilling ethical behavior, integrity, dedication, proactivity, sacrifice and perseverance in officers’ interactions with each other and the campus community also contributes to a positive reputation on campus.
  • 6. Officer training and development. This objective goes beyond initial field training of new officers. We must be committed to training all officers to do their jobs in difficult and dynamic social, political and cultural environments. Additionally, we must train our officers as leaders who can accept greater responsibility within the department.
  • 7. Morale. Operating a law enforcement agency is a daunting task that can become even more daunting in the face of significant and regular personnel turnover. Departments that lose large numbers of officers will have a difficult time meeting other objectives. Having positive department morale includes more than providing pay and benefits. It also includes opportunities for personal and professional growth, effective supervision, responsive leadership and information flow within the department.
  • 8. Currency and adaptability. This goal addresses whether the department is keeping up with current laws and campus regulations. It also covers whether a department has a finger on the pulse of its environment and is able to adapt proactively and effectively to extant and anticipated trends.
  • 9. Avoid liability. Individual officers, the department, its commanders and the institution in general can be held liable for officer malfeasance, indifference, illegal behavior or failure to comply with myriad regulations (e.g., Clery, Title IX). Liability threatens morale, a department’s reputation on campus, its funding and police operations, to name just a few.
  • 10. Establish and maintain a good reputation with external entities, such as police, courts and civic organizations. Earning the respect of local agencies through close interaction contributes to effective police operations that maintain a safe campus, a positive reputation in the community, morale and adaptability.
  • 11. Improve the college brand. Ultimately, an institution’s support for its police or security department depends on enrollments. One means of enhancing buy-in from administrators for departmental initiatives and funding support is to demonstrate how the department contributes to supporting the college’s educational goals. In short, maintaining a safe and secure campus through visible patrols, responsiveness and community outreach help to bolster the college’s brand.

Obviously, different leaders may have additional goals and/or may prioritize them differently to reflect their experiences, their environments, unique departmental histories, special clientele, etc. However, this list of goals serves to illustrate Step 1 in the evaluation process.

Step 2: Identify The Assets and Tasks (i.e., inputs) Available to Accomplish the Priorities
There are scores of activities, tasks and resources in which a department engages in the course of daily operations. These include patrol, training, investigation, communications and more. There are many ways to list these, but the breakout used by the federal government to categorize activities connected to ensuring the safety, security and control of nuclear weapons is aptly suited for characterizing police activities.

The government categorizes all activities associated with nuclear weapons into one of five categories: personnel, procedures, facilities, equipment and communications. The “Activity Categories” below (click to enlarge) show us how various police activities, resources and assets group under these headings. Sixty-nine inputs are listed, with the recognition that the list likely omits other valid inputs.

Click to see the Activity Categories chart

Now check out steps 3-5!

Lt. John Weinstein is the commander of Northern Virginia Community College Public Safety District 3. He is certified by Virginia’s Department of Criminal Justice Services as a firearms instructor and is his department’s lead firearms instructor. He also conducts firearms training at two local police academies. Lt. Weinstein can be reached at [email protected] The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety magazine.

About the Author

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Dr. John Weinstein is an actively serving senior police officer and command staff member at one of the largest post-secondary academic institutions in the United States. He is a certified firearms, Verbal Judo, and CIT instructor and contributes frequently to Campus Safety and other publications.

The views expressed in his articles should not be construed as representing the official views of his present institution.

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