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Doing More With Less

Doing more with less

Posted 06/04/2014 1:32 pm

 

By Chief Edward Medrano, Gardena Police Department

“Doing more with less” is a common mantra heard among both public and private organizations since the recent economic downturn. I have increasingly noticed chiefs of police being asked to assume more responsibility across a wide variety of disciplines. Chiefs are generally the first to be called upon to assume additional city departments, and often are appointed as interim city managers. Why does this occur? Police chiefs are generally well-rounded enough to assume any responsibility with minimal direction and oversight.

In October 2009 after two years of being chief of police, I was asked to take on the role of assistant director of the Community Development Department. This additional responsibility was due to a lack of leadership in community development and community complaints from the lack of customer service provided by this department. The merging of police culture and community development did not occur without its challenges, but has overtime proven to be extremely beneficial in improving public safety, and at the same time, improving the Community Development Department’s level of service to the community.

Many non-police employees struggled with having a “cop” as their boss, and resisted the implementation of structure and increased accountability. As most embraced the change, some personnel decided they couldn't make the adjustment and voluntarily separated from service, while others were unfortunately let go due to performance and conduct. It was also a complex transition within the police department. At various times during the transition different lieutenants, sergeants and administrative analysts were assigned to the project. The positive effect of this was that our police managers, supervisors, and professional staff developed a greater understanding and appreciation for the need to work cooperatively with other departments. Also evident during this process was fact that police managers and supervisors have the ability to manage and lead an organization across any disciplinary boundary. The skills that police officers learn through the academy, experiences in our line of work, and the professional development we provide them are transferable skills to any profession, such as customer service, accountability, timeliness, and the ability to make reasonable and fair decisions.

To ensure that we could really do more with less, in July 2012, I became the director of a new “Super Department” called the Police, Streets, and Development Services Department which included the Police Department, Community Development, Economic Development, the Streets Division of Public Works, and the Gardena One Stop Employment and Business Center. The creation of a Super Department was the result of retiring directors, lack of a citywide succession plan and funding as well as our success with the community development merger. It was also seen as another opportunity to develop our personnel.
Despite lessons I learned from the past experience, this transition still had its struggles. This was primarily due to city departments not having the necessary organizational structure and a lack of both sophisticated managers and succession plans. I also quickly discovered that there was an almost complete lack of professional development in contemporary management practices.

In addition, I knew that I could not ask more of my police sworn or professional staff. I made a commitment to my police employees that police managers or supervisors would not be pulled to support this endeavor. I slowly recruited and added professional managers to the Super Department each new manager would be required to report directly to me. It was imperative that I be updated daily on the operations of all departments, and that all lines of communication left open. My physical pretense was also key in the success of this Super Department therefore, I try to visit each department every day to be a visible leader but more importantly, one that they feel comfortable approaching with either good or bad news.

The result of this Super Department has been beneficial for the city, citizens, and employees. With the primary focus always being public safety, I have learned to leverage many resources to solve crime and quality of life issues. In one department we can remove the criminal element, improve the livability of the area by making public works improvements, use code enforcement for negligent property owners, and help residents and businesses with job placement and economic incentives.

The city has temporarily also benefited by saving money and not hiring new directors for each department, and we are developing our personnel to be future leaders. We are proud to be a very fiscally solvent city that uses our public resources prudently. The citizens have benefited because they are receiving improved service delivery through the increased collaboration and communication among departments. No longer does a citizen get bounced around receiving assistance from multiple departments; now most visible and utilized public services are centralized in one department.  Finally, the employees have benefited greatly because it has allowed them to learn more about their own role in city government and improved their understanding of city operations. Our employees have grown to understand service and responsibility from a more global level as they perform their duties for our organization.

This experience has also allowed me to grow as a person, manager, chief, and leader. As a result of the Super Department experience, I now have a greater understanding for how important the interdependence of departments are to the success of the city as a whole. I have also learned how to leverage our city’s resources to improve public safety. While I wouldn't recommend this structure for every city, we have found it to be a positive experience in our city and the dividends are clear with a more professional work force and the increased level of service to our community.


 

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