The Use of Consultants in Law Enforcement

Article excerpt

Police departments sometimes turn to outside consultants to treat specific departmental problems. There are valid reasons for hiring a consultant to obtain an organizational evaluation of a police department. The time and talents needed for this particular task often are not available internally. Additionally, the built-in biases and subjective beliefs held by officers within the department may make an outside evaluator necessary to assess the true state of the department's operations or to determine the true problem when a conflict exists among agency managers.

However, while private consultants can be extremely beneficial to law enforcement agencies, administrators should enter into such arrangements with caution. First, they must know how to choose a suitable consultant. Second, they must educate themselves in research methods so that they can analyze effectively the results of any study produced by the consultant.

This article discusses the experience of the Pasadena, Texas, Police Department, which hired a consulting firm to conduct a study of the department. It also discusses how to select a consulting firm, how to work cooperatively with the consultant, and how to interpret study results.

THE PASADENA EXPERIENCE

The Pasadena Police Department retained the services of a private management group to evaluate the department. This group produced a report that recommended a revamping of the management structure and operations of the department in order to improve its overall performance. The group maintained that implementing the recommendations would enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of departmental services. It further asserted that while service quality would be maintained or improved by implementing the recommendations, departmental costs would be reduced by some $1.4 million, a substantial savings to the department's $13 million annual budget.

Upon close review, however, the study appeared flawed. Department managers found the study data skewed and many of the suggestions to be unworkable. The managers' familiarity with the inner workings of the department enabled them to recognize these flaws immediately. Obviously, the consulting group's evaluation achieved desired cost reductions but failed to provide practical recommendations for improvement.

How, then, should police executives select a consultant in order to avoid such pitfalls? There are several critical considerations for administrators who decide to employ an outside consultant.

SELECTING A CONSULTANT

Reference Sources

Once administrators decide on the type of evaluation needed, they can contact several police professional associations, such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, the Police Executive Research Forum, and the Police Foundation, to request a list of potential consultants. Professional publications and journals and the National Criminal Justice Reference Service are also excellent sources for information on consultants. However, networking with other police executives may be the best way to find a consultant, because they most likely will refer one with whom they have worked and one familiar with the police subculture.

The next step is for administrators to contact prospective consultants to request a list of past clients. Administrators then should contact these clients for an assessment of the consultant's performance.

Expertise

Consultants who evaluate law enforcement agencies need to possess certain critical skills, including both substantive and methodology expertise. Methodology expertise includes knowledge of research design, data collection, and statistical analysis procedures. Substantive expertise includes knowledge of the problem and any law, rule, and regulation relating to it.

Consultants hired by law enforcement agencies also should have experience in working with law enforcement professionals. …