An Alternate Strategic Plan Format for Law Enforcement Agencies

An Alternate Strategic Plan Format for Law Enforcement Agencies
By Chief Rich Rosell


Today’s law enforcement executive faces complex challenges, both external and internal.  Years ago, a solid chief could plan his/her next fiscal year budget by copying the previous year’s budget and changing the dates, but not in today’s fast-paced world.

Strategic planning is not a new concept.  It has been used for decades, mostly in medium to large businesses.  Law enforcement executives have increasingly looked toward strategic planning to assist in creation of long-term goals.  Perhaps the most compelling reasons to plan strategically are, 1) allows (forces) an agency to look to the future and plan accordingly so they may be proactive in their LE initiatives, 2) puts the municipal or county governing bodies on notice that you need specific funding for specific reasons, 3) provides a mechanism for transparency, and 4) demonstrates to the rank and file that there is a plan behind the policies by which they are compelled to abide.

The internet is filled with countless formats for strategic planning.  Most, if not all, contain the absolute minimum needed to create a decent plan.  This article will take a different approach by recommending a format first introduced by the General Accounting Office (GAO) in 2004.  In a paper entitled “Combatting Terrorism: Evaluation of Selected Characteristics of National Strategies Related to Terrorism,” researched and written by former Undersecretary of Defense Randal Yim, he identified a set of characteristics which GAO recommended be present in any homeland security strategy.  These characteristics are ideal for a Law Enforcement Strategic Plan because they provide a much more detailed justification for much-needed budgetary items.  Those characteristics are:

(1) Purpose, scope, and methodology

(2) Problem definition and risk assessment

(3) Goals, subordinate objectives, activities and performance measures

(4) Resources, investments and risk management

(5) Organizational roles, responsibilities and coordination

Don’t get too wrapped up in the fact that Undersecretary Yim’s purpose was to improve homeland security strategies.  Read further in this article and you will understand why, in today’s operational tempo, it makes sense to use these characteristics as a template.

Purpose, Scope and Methodology

Any chief executive who has been around long enough has been bushwhacked by sharpshooting members of council who have yet to come to terms with the fact that the duties of a law enforcement officer are delineated by complex, well-researched policies and procedures.  By coming out strong stating why you need a strategic plan, to whom it applies, why, and how you came to develop such a comprehensive document, you are sure to get the attention of everyone in the room.  Three important parts of this (Purpose) paragraph are Mission, Vision and Values statements.  Mission tells the reader, in one or two sentences, the main focus of the agency: “The Mission of the Village of Rock Ridge Police Department is to provide professional and equitable service to its residents; properly funded and fiscally responsible.”   Be reasonable with your mission.  Don’t suggest something impossible, for example, “The Mission of the Village of Rock Ridge Police Department is to end all crime.”

The Vision Statement tells the reader what the leader envisions for his agency.  Don’t be afraid to be bold:  “The Vision of the Village of Rock Ridge Police Department is to become the leader in Community Policing in the State”.

The Values Statement shares with the reader the values of not only the agency, but those for whom it works: “Honor, Duty, Fidelity,” “To Protect and Serve.”

Scope will determine the reach of the document; who it affects. 

Methodology is as it implies; how did you happen to create such a masterpiece?  Don’t be afraid of being wordy.  List your references, key players, surveys, best practices, etc.

Problem Definition and Risk Assessment

We have been in a domestic battle to keep our citizens safe from terrorism for close to two decades.  Prior to 9/11, there were many problems with which law enforcement needed to be concerned.  Over the last 18 years, those problems have greatly increased every single year.  Here is your opportunity to tell the governing body, and the public who will read this strategy, what the problems are that require action and funding, and the bottom-line risk associated with these problems. 

While the Problem Definition should be self-evident, sometimes the Risk Assessment can be a bit tricky to verbalize.  Keep it simple by first describing the threat, then the vulnerabilities to the public and the agency.  Don’t list your threats and vulnerabilities without addressing how you (this plan) propose to mitigate them.

Goals, Subordinate Objectives, Activities and Performance Measures

These are the foundation of your strategic plan.  This is where you identify what you need in order to accomplish your mission up and above what would normally be presented in your budget.  Set out 4-7 important goals that are distinguishable from other items in your budget (such as paper clips, bullets and copy machines).  Then, identify 2-3 objectives designed to directly support each goal, followed by activities designed to meet those objectives. 

Use the SWOT analysis method for identifying your goals. SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) is the industry standard for creating actionable goals for a strategic plan.  Follow the link on the footnote for an easy to understand, in-depth description of SWOT.

When linking your goals, objectives, and activities, use the SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-based) method. SMART can be applied to the goal, objective or activity, depending on where you need it.  Again, follow the footnote link for an easy to understand, in-depth description of SMART. And don’t try to do it by yourself.  Strategic Planning is a team sport!

Performance measures can be as simple as requiring division heads to report their progress weekly, surveys or statistics indicating that crime has been reduced.  It also provides transparency to council and the public.

Resources, Investments and Risk Management

The Resource paragraph is where you list the many resources, internal and external, available to you which will contribute to the success of your plan.  List your stakeholders and partners liberally. 

Investments represent the budget you require to meet your goals.  I suggest an attached spreadsheet in a line-item format.  Once you start meeting some of these objectives, you are going to see that many of the activities are not going to cost the town any money, for example you may find grants, or federal surplus items.  You still need to list them in the resources section, so council will see your sense of responsibility and good faith. 

Risk management can take many forms, for example, purchasing software to assist with predictive policing may require the storage of intelligence, which may be subject to the rules promulgated in 28 CRF part 23.  (Anything related to intelligence collection contains inherent intelligence purge concerns).  Purchasing software that facilitates the entry of application information online may require the purchase of new hardware, or costly maintenance agreements. 

Organizational Roles, Responsibilities and Coordination

Don’t take this section too lightly, as it will keep your document healthy and moving in the right direction.  If done correctly, your entire command staff will own a piece of this plan, so list each member’s roles in detail.

Assign the right people to run the applicable part of the plan, delineate responsibilities and give them a realistic time frame to meet your expectations. 

You must coordinate this plan at every level of your agency.  It will be worthless if it is not actionable at every level.  Conduct a tabletop in order to test the feasibility of key components of the plan. It would not be a bad idea to have a public workshop so that your residents become stakeholders.

Integration and Implementation

Your new Strategic Plan must be fully interoperable with all departmental policies and procedures, as well as other municipal documents.  We’ve all seen a “Town Manual” which was written 30 years ago and is completely irrelevant to our purposes, and we are obligated to follow some of the items contained within.  A few minutes of your time could make that obsolete Town Manual interoperable with most of your plan.  You can accomplish this task quickly and effectively by convening a panel whose goal is to deconflict the document. 

Once you have determined that your plan is actionable, your next step is to publish an implementation plan.  Don’t panic, for an implementation plan can be as concise as an operations instruction or policy detailing how and when each division will implement the plan.  One common misconception with Strategic Planning is that since the plan encompasses a period of roughly 3 years, that you cannot change its content.  Don’t be afraid to amend it as needed!  Consider it a living document.  When you meet a goal, improve upon that goal and republish the plan.  Keep it vibrant.  The worst thing a chief executive can do is to let a Strategic Plan die of natural causes. 


Strategic Planning is not a new concept; rather it has been a cornerstone for businesses for decades.Experience dictates politicians are more apt to agree to a well-articulated written plan than a verbal one.A detailed written strategy document, utilizing Undersecretary Yim’s template, provides the ultimate in transparency.This article simply recommends a new approach to creating a Strategic Plan.The internet is a valuable resource for more in-depth training.By utilizing the format proposed in this article as a template, you will provide a much more detailed proposal which will explain to the policy makers and public alike exactly what you need and why you need it.When policy makers have the optimum amount of information, they are more inclined to approve a request.This format provides a mechanism for you as the chief executive to provide that optimum amount of information to them.