Creating A Campus Police Advisory Board Part II: Developing the Function and Role of the Advisory Board
Roger Mason Ph.D.
Note: This article is a follow up to the first article titled Creating a Campus Police Advisory Board.
Introduction: Once a campus has established their campus police/public safety advisory board the next step is developing the function and role of the board. This involves how the board will operate and how it will work. Developing the function and role of the board is a combination of practical organizational efforts combined with building the conceptual framework for the board. Conceptual meaning what will the board seek to accomplish. When considering these objectives there are five areas which should be considered: laws and regulations, schedules and agendas, confidentiality, policy development, and advice and advocacy.
I: Laws and Regulations: The extent of the laws and regulations for any public safety advisory board should reflect the organizational culture of the sponsoring institution. The one thing that is important to all board regulations is the requirement for active and regular participation. Colleges and universities often have boards that are staffed with persons who only attend periodically and use their connection to the board to keep them informed of something that may be of only tangential interest to them.
This type of person tends to drop in and out of the board. They do not support the growth and maturation process of the board and certainly do not share the weight of the workload. They tend to be under informed by their absence and often slow the decision process when they drop back into the mix and want to be updated before making up their minds. Any rule set should establish a minimum level for participation.
One issue that is sometimes difficult to quantify but critical to the effective development and operations of the advisory board is keeping the focus of the board on issues that can be effectively addressed by the board. I have advised boards that were considering practical public safety issues. The community they were representing were looking to board to help develop solutions to real world problems impacting their daily lives. The boards became sidetracked on issues that were in the distant future and beyond the ability of the board to impact in a meaningful way.
Sometimes board members see themselves as grand strategic problem solvers and futurists who are considering problems in the distant future. Considering the cultural impact of global climate change on public safety operations in 2025 does not help when the students are concerned about the bicycle thefts from the resident halls. Becoming sidetracked by intellectual rabbit trails can undermine the ability of the board to solve problems that make a difference in the lives of the campus community.
(One of the most important rules or regulations involves the need for confidentiality. This will be discussed in Section III.)
II: Schedule and Agenda: Having a regular schedule and agenda keeps the board growing in capability, knowledge, and influence. There is nothing worse than the executive who establishes an advisory board, proclaims the importance of the board, and then allows it to gradual lapse into irrelevancy as the meetings become more infrequent. The agenda can be used to further several developmental objectives for the board.
The agenda should be standardized just like the schedule of meetings. This allows for the development of familiarity with the process and encourages rapid engagement each meeting. The members of an effective advisory board should reflect a wide variety of campus community stakeholders. Because they are not involved with public safety during their normal duties and responsibilities they will need to reengage the topic each time they attend the advisory board meeting. Have a standardized agenda helps to facilitate this process. The board members know what to expect and can focus on the issues and not trying to sort out the organization or agenda format for each meeting. I recommend a regular agenda format with three levels of objectives: strategic, operational and tactical.
Strategic objectives are the “big picture” issues which represent where you want your public safety program or institution in the next few years. This level of planning should be addressed because some important objectives take that long to develop.
Operational objectives are important and can be accomplished in twelve months or less. While not the long term view of the strategic objectives they involve looking toward the horizon and developing solutions for those challenges. Tactical items involve things that involve smaller safety or community life issues impacting the campus today. They are very important. While a strategic issue is critical for the long term well being of the campus it is sometimes hard for those less engaged to see the value of something they have not even considered.
A tactical issue can serve as a “win” for the advisory board and give the community the feeling that public safety issues are being addressed. The agenda should include these three levels of problem solving and a round table discussion. The round table allows board members to bring immediate issues or share feedback with the entire board. It should be limited to problems that are of immediate impact and can be effectively addressed by the board. Round table information can help to identify emerging problems and lead to rapid solutions that reinforce the image of the board as effective problem solvers.
A useful addition to every meeting agenda is a short training session. Even five minutes can be used to introduce the board to terms and acronyms common to public safety. This training will help the board members to be better informed. Agendas are important. An effective agenda can keep the board on track and focused on effective problem solving.
III. Confidentiality: The advisory board can provide a wealth of expertise and advice from a cross section of the campus community. As the board develops in experience and expertise they can become more involved in the public safety process. It is possible through intentioned actions or spontaneous unintentional comments the board may become aware of confidential information.
A good example is the round table discussion. A board member may bring up a sensitive or confidential incident involving an investigation by the police. The chief may not be at liberty to discuss investigation details and needs to know anything that is revealed will remain confidential for the protection of the community, the persons involved and the institution. Confidentiality is a foundational principle for police/public safety advisory board.
IV. Policy Development: The advisory board can be critical in the development and review of new and existing policies. This is one of the most important functions of the board but it should not be the overriding mission of the board. This is a role that the board must grow into. Allow the board to vote on a policy representing months of design and development when they have just read it for the first time is not a recipe for success.
A way to grow into this role is the gradual introduction of increasingly complex and important policies for consideration. This allows the board to gain experience and expertise about the development and limitations of policy formation. The concept of walking before running applies to the involvement of the advisory board in policy development. As the board becomes more experienced with the problem solving process of board advocacy they can take on greater and greater issues.
V: Advice/Advocacy: Advice and advocacy is the heart of the advisory board process. This is where an experienced board can have the greatest impact on improving public safety. This issue is similar to the issue of topical focus. Just as board members can become focused on issues beyond their practical ability the advice and advocacy contribution can be frustrated in several ways. Board members should understand they represent the interests of two distinct constituencies: their stakeholder group and the campus community at large. The second interest is particularly important because not every stakeholder group can be directly represented.
Some people will volunteer for an advisory board as means to get a result narrowly focused on their preferences or to gain an advantage on peer groups. An example are the people who volunteer to insure their department gets “a fair share” of the new parking structure or to insure nobody interferes with their department. It is understandable that board members come to the board with their own interests and ideas. This is valuable but it must be balanced against the understanding each individual’s ideas and preferences are not the only issues the board must consider.
Summary: An advisory board does not automatically develop into a thoughtful and effective group capable of considering a variety of policies and issues while developing short and long term solutions. There are practical and conceptual issues which should be considered. The board should have a simple set of rules and regulations which include the requirement of regular participation. The board meetings must be on a regular basis and have a common agenda that encourages rapid engagement for each meeting. The agenda items should be divided into short, intermediate and long term issues. The agenda should include a round table discussion and a short training session if possible.
The board must enforce a rule of confidentiality related to some of their more sensitive deliberations. The involvement of policy development will involve the growth of the board in knowledge and experience with the policy development process. Advice and advocacy must always be balanced between the preference of the represented stakeholders and the campus community at large. All of this involves hard work but the opportunity to impact public safety on your campus is a unique and valuable experience.