The history of individuals organized into a group to advise local police departments is long and interesting. Some of the earliest attempts at involving persons outside police departments in decision and review activities came from major police departments in cities in the northeastern United States. Today many municipal and campus law enforcement agencies have some type of advisory boards.
The effort to improve local law enforcement operations through cooperative ventures with interested stakeholders is not new. College communities and their public safety agencies can benefit from developing advisory boards. This paper will discuss five topics for consideration and some practical tips for the development and implementation of an advisory board.
1. Have a Clear Purpose for Your Advisory Board
Everyone seems to agree having an advisory board for the chief of police or director of public safety is a great idea. A common approach is to declare you have a board and invite people to attend. This is based on assuming the value of the enterprise will overcome any problems related to the preparation and organization of the effort. This falls into the category of having an advisory board for the sake of saying you have an advisory board. Participation will initially be enthusiastic, but when people realize this board does not do anything tangible interest will wane.
Before you start you should determine what the board will do and how it will be organized. This includes determining when the board will meet. Having an organized structure before you begin encourages prospective participants you mean business and have given the process some serious thought. You should consider some simple bylaws the board members must agree to, especially related to confidentiality.
2. Identifying Stakeholder Groups
Providing public safety services means caring for the safety of everyone. When forming your board you will not be able to include everyone but you want a good cross section of the various groups in your campus community. This is especially important for any groups that are traditionally outspoken or critical of your department. Once you have identified these groups pick out key individuals.
You should consider doing a simple climate survey. The purpose of the survey is to introduce the idea of the advisory board and seek feedback on what topics the board should consider, and who should be involved. If the purpose of the advisory board is gather feedback and advice on important topics then begin with the topic of the advisory board. You should not feel bound to include every suggestion but include the best ideas in your initial plan.
As part of the process of identifying potential board members you should conduct a future challenge assessment. A future challenge assessment is identifying what challenges you think you will face in the future. Make a list of the top five challenges you think your department may face in the next two years. You should seek to leverage the expertise and interests of potential board members against the challenges that you anticipate.
2. Make the Tasks Real
To gain the value of having an advisory board you must demonstrate your interest and commitment to the process. This means designing the objectives of the board to include tasks of value to your department. I recently spoke to a member of a municipal police advisory board. I asked what they were working on. They said the Chief of Police wanted them to help design a new logo for the traffic bureau. If the board is not involved in providing advice on important issues the most qualified and valuable people will soon resign to be replaced by others who are less committed.
The board should be tasked with important issues that are suited for this type of committee. All decisions are not suited to advisory board review. Public safety executives can benefit when the board is tasked with important policy changes especially those involving a cultural change to the community. The policies and issues considered by the board should be a balance of immediate and longer term issues. If you only consider immediate issues your board is not part of crafting future solutions and if they are only involved in future problem solving they can appear detached and non-relevant to more immediate issues.
You may have conducted a traffic safety survey and determined that the traffic and parking patterns after major campus events require modification. The traffic patterns are part of campus life and represent long standing policies and traditions. These changes may mean that traditional parking locations and roadways may have to be temporarily closed. The process may be subject to stakeholder criticism. This type of policy change could be reviewed by the advisory board to get additional feedback and offer a forum for discussing the issues.
3. Advice and Advocacy
The purpose of the board is to provide the public safety leadership advice. The board can also serve as valuable advocates. Recently a police department in Southern California was accused of misconduct by an arrestee. It was very controversial until a video recording of the incident was released showing the officers had not committed any misconduct. Members of an advisory committee spoke to the media expressing their support for the officers.
By including advisory board members in meaningful advice and policy development they will feel part of the decision process. If a policy they were involved in is criticized they will be useful in explaining what factors were considered and how the decision was made. An advisory board involved in the process can be your best advocate in times of controversy.
4. Make the Advisory Board a Fixture
One bureaucratic phenomena is sometimes called “seasonal change.” The old conventional wisdom is the change process you are currently invested in is temporary. If you just wait a few months (or until next season) it will lose momentum and disappear. Opponents to developing an advisory board may hope it will eventually disappear.
You should make your advisory board a fixture. This means it meets on a regular basis. Too often an advisory board begins with strong participation by the chief. But after a few meetings the chief or public safety director gets busy with new projects and begins sending a subordinate to attend the meetings. People will recognize if you make it a priority.
The board should produce an annual report outlining its actions and deliberations. The chief should promote the work of the board. As your trust and comfort with the board grows you may want to include the board members in other public information contacts or deliberative opportunities. You should endeavor to get the board out front where they can speak for your department.
Once the board is established you may want to consider developing some limited subcommittees. They can be tasked with some lower level planning and decision making to support the efforts of the advisory board. This is a great way to introduce, train, and informally evaluate future/potential advisory board members.
5. Trust the Process and Keep Them in the Loop
There are two types of information you should consider sharing with your advisory board. The first are the policy decisions that you want their feedback about. You should also consider giving them information that may be considered somewhat sensitive. This does not mean telling them every operational and personnel secret but sharing some restricted information can help build your trust with the board.
If you have your board working on a traffic logo and do not tell them anything about the inner workings of the department expect a low commitment level. If they sense you do not trust them they will be reluctant to commit their support. As trusted advisors they should have access to some sensitive information and be expected to preserve the confidentially. This does not mean they need to know everything but they are certainly entitled to know more than the general public. If a person violates your trust your board regulations should include a process to deselect them as board members.
Having an active and useful advisory board takes work. The expectations for what the board will do must be established early in the process. The board should be given a balance of immediate and future tasks. These tasks must reflect important challenges and not busy work. The board should be asked to provide advice and also encouraged to serve as an advocate for your department. The board must be a permanent fixture and provided the highest level of department support. The board members must be trusted and informed.
Public safety advisory boards are not a new idea. The board offers a tremendous opportunity to involve key stakeholders in the future of your department. To get the greatest benefit a chief or public safety director must consistently support their efforts. They can become a trusted sounding board, source of advice and informed advocates for your campus police or public safety department.
© Roger Mason, 2014