Creating a nexus between workload and costs: A case study from Ocean View PD
By analyzing the type and frequency of calls for service, chiefs can ensure they are using resources effectively and efficiently while maintaining officer well-being
Being a police chief requires a combination of leadership, management and technical skills. Key responsibilities include setting the strategic direction for the department, developing long-term plans, managing the department’s budget and allocating resources effectively to meet the department’s needs. Most, if not all, of this work is intended to build positive relationships with the community and ensure the department is responsive to the community’s needs and concerns.
Achieving this outcome requires the chief to navigate complex political and social dynamics, particularly since police departments are often subject to public scrutiny and criticism. Since police chiefs typically operate in an ever-changing environment that presents numerous challenges, planning is an essential and ongoing function. Managing a police department effectively requires the chief to adapt to these changes and make strategic decisions that balance the needs of the community with the resources available to the department.
Two ongoing issues that chiefs face are workload and budgeting, which have serious implications for service delivery. For example, the job description for Chief of Police defined by the New Jersey Civil Service Commission states, in part: “Plans police work so as to make the best use of available funds, personnel, equipment, and supplies.”  This describes the workload and budget planning process. At some point in a chief’s career, he or she will be required to develop a budget, which is merely a plan described in financial terms. By adopting a newly developed planning tool known as activity-base budgeting (ABB), police chiefs can develop a comprehensive model that accounts for all of these elements in a single plan. The ABB model accounts for how staff members allocate their effort among activities (i.e., service demands, proactive time, and administrative time). Once the full cost of each activity has been calculated, drivers can be established that link support activities to the primary activities of the organization – in a law enforcement environment the primary activities are the direct costs of program delivery  (e.g., patrol services, investigations, communications, traffic control, etc.).
This article describes the utility of the ABB through a case study in Ocean View, Delaware, led by Police Chief Kenneth McLaughlin, who applied the ABB model to answer a complex question: If the Ocean View Police Department (OVPD) increases proactive time for police officers from 67% to 75%, then how many officers will the department need, and what is the projected cost? The ABB provided the answer by estimating growth projections that provided a realistic view of the demands and associated costs. By using actual workload and budget data, Chief McLaughlin was able to hire additional officers to increase the department’s commitment to community policing.
A recurring yet basic question pervades the policing industry: How many police officers do we need? This is inevitably followed by: What is the anticipated cost? Answering these questions is essential to any planning discussion about staffing.
Police agencies often report that they “feel” understaffed but may have a hard time quantifying the shortage with empirical data.  Lack of empirical data can directly affect department efficiency and recruiting efforts. Perceived understaffing may also undercut community policing, and adversely impact officer morale, productivity and community support.  Even if a police agency can reasonably estimate its workload, they often do not have a rational method for linking the work to the costs. This presents an “either-or” conundrum for elected and appointed officials: solve the workload or the budget issue, but not both.
The ABB relies on activities that arise from the tasks related to the police function that are objectively quantified based on the number of instances per activity (e.g., arrests, sick days, motor vehicle accidents, directed patrols and community meetings). This quantitative appraisal is grounded in relevant activities that relate to the things the police do, and is coupled with actual budget data, which results in a complete picture of input (cost) and output (workload).
Previous research suggests that workload is one of the primary contributing factors to increasing staffing  and responding to service demands.  Recent research notes that “Bureaucratic units, like departments or divisions, are useful for day-to-day management, but have limitations as the unit of analysis for budgeting. One limitation is that they are too large and encompass too many activities to make thoughtful decisions about how to reallocate resources.” 
Conventional budgeting may work well for those activities where there are well-defined input-output relationships insofar as the consumption of resources usually varies proportionately with the volume of final output of services. Flexible budgets can be used to control the costs of these activities. However, budgets that are not based on well-understood relationships between activities and costs are poor indicators of performance, and performance reporting normally implies little more than checking whether the budget has been exceeded (e.g., line-item budget). Therefore, conventional budgets provide little relevant information for managing the costs of activities (e.g., patrol, investigations, communications, traffic, etc.), and the appropriate staffing levels to meet the demands. The ABB overcomes this perennial problem.
The new approach is to quantify work through a more discrete unit of analysis (i.e., hours of work based on specific activities) instead of the traditional larger unit of analysis (organizational divisions), and then assign costs from the adopted budget. Linking activities to costs creates a clear nexus between the cost of service and resource allocation. This model comports with the rational-technical theory of organizations,  which implies that organizations behave and are structured  in a manner designed to optimize efficiency and effectiveness while concurrently synthesizing the interests of powerful actors who hold sway over the organization.  Since the model relies on actual workload and budget data, it is more rational than other staffing models, such as officer: population ratio, officer: crime ratio and minimum staffing based on labor agreements.
The research site
Ocean View, Delaware is a small town located just inland from the Atlantic Ocean, about three hours southeast of Washington, D.C. The police department is led by Chief Kenneth McLaughlin. Chief McLaughlin is committed to community policing, so much so that he and the town council had extensive discussions about expanding the size of the department to engage in more proactive policing. Since Ocean View did not suffer from major crime and disorder problems, there was a tremendous opportunity to further develop the department’s community policing program.
In many respects, the OVPD exemplified the community policing philosophy, where police officers had the time and discretion to initiate problem-solving. Chief McLaughlin’s focus was to estimate the future growth of the OVPD and identify opportunities for improvement. The OVPD already enjoyed a strong relationship with its community and had a substantial amount of uncommitted patrol time, which patrol officers used to engage the community in other activities. The OVPD operated with a flattened organizational structure and placed a great deal of discretion in the hands of patrol officers to conduct follow-up investigations and initiate community contacts and problem-solving efforts.
To answer Chief McLaughlin’s research question, the analysis began with a workload assessment.
A police workload assessment is the process of examining the actual and anticipated workload the police department will encounter to determine effectiveness, efficiency and areas for improvement.  Workload assessments are a critical part of the police management planning process to ensure the agency is adequately staffed, equipped and trained to meet the community’s needs, and to ensure that officers are not overwhelmed by the demands of their job, which can lead to burnout, stress and reduced performance.
The workload analysis began with collecting calls for service data from the computer-aided dispatch system for two years; two years of data accounted for seasonal fluctuations, personnel trends and other anomalies that may have occurred.  The data included the following elements
1. Type of call
2. Average number of hours spent handling the call, 
3. Number of calls of that type for the year
4. Number of officers required to handle the call
5. Total employee hours per modality. 
The activities are the cost drivers,  which are the activities of patrol officers in OVPD. The workload assessment revealed the OVPD handled 4,985 units, which consumed 2,123 hours of work. 
The next step was to distribute the officers’ time across three categories: reactive service demands, proactive activities and administrative time.
Distributing the officers’ time
How time is distributed directly affects the budget. The first category, service demands, also known as committed time, is critical since the other categories receive their allotted time based on what is allotted in this category. The sum of employee hours per modality represents 100% of the workload. However, Ocean View police officers were tasked with other activities including administrative assignments (i.e., submitting reports, attending meetings) and proactive assignments also known as uncommitted time (i.e., community policing, directed patrols and self-initiated activities). It is not realistic to formulate a budget around 100% of the total employee hours per modality without accounting for a police officer’s other responsibilities. This required a value judgment based on prudent management about how much of the officers’ time Chief McLaughlin was willing to distribute across these categories. Stated differently, the lower the percentage of time that was allocated for service demands, the more police officers the department would need. This was reflected in a comparison between committed and uncommitted time as a management principle.
Differentiating committed and uncommitted patrol time
Committed and uncommitted patrol time refers to the proportion of an officer’s shift that is devoted to answering calls for service (committed patrol time) and engaging in proactive, or preplanned activities at specific locations, such as directed patrols (uncommitted patrol time).  Managing uncommitted patrol time is the key to a successful community policing program. Uncommitted time provided police officers with time throughout their shift to engage in self-initiated activities that were important to OVPD, the community and elected officials. Community policing activities such as meeting with community members, following up with crime victims, directed patrols and problem identification  are aspects of initiative, judgment and discretion that improve the quality of police-citizen interactions.  Previous focus-group research with police officers revealed that police departments with a large proportion of committed patrol time have a difficult time engaging in proactive community policing. Officers believe, rightfully so, that a high degree of committed patrol time substantially limits their ability to engage in community policing and problem-solving.
When uncommitted patrol time represents a larger proportion of an officer’s shift, there is a tendency for officers to identify specific locations or properties they believe generate more calls for service (i.e., areas prone to high levels of disorder, crime or traffic conditions) and target those areas with intervention strategies. For example, researchers using observational data collected as part of a one-year preventive patrol study in Minneapolis found that optimal time for a directed patrol to reduce disorder (i.e., greater residual deterrence) was between 11 and 15 minutes; after that point, continued police presence brought diminishing returns. 
As Chief McLaughlin dedicated more uncommitted patrol time, there was a corresponding increase in proactive problem-solving. Solutions to disorder, crime and traffic conditions involve not only increased police presence but the ability to apply a wide array of government, non-profit and corporate resources to reduce or eliminate conditions that can become entrenched problems, not merely invoke formal criminal justice action (e.g., arrest, investigate, prosecute).
Chief McLaughlin capitalized on the officers’ uncommitted patrol time by having supervisors and administrators issue detailed directives, based on sound data analysis to ensure their officers were as productive as possible and citizen satisfaction remained as high as possible.  More uncommitted patrol time also helped Chief McLaughlin establish a standard by which to evaluate an officer’s competence to utilize multiple sources of information to initiate proactive patrol activity in accordance with the department's expectations. Uncommitted patrol time also provided a standard by which to evaluate an officer’s ability to stay productive when not answering calls for service. This reorientation of a police officer’s time from committed to uncommitted patrol time is the essence of proactive community problem-solving, which builds a reservoir of trust and legitimacy between the police and the community.
Based on the OVPD’s current patrol posture at the time, committed patrol time was approximately 17.7%, meaning average annual service demands consumed 17.7% of total time (committed time). This was just over 1.5 hours per workday answering calls for service, which left approximately 15% (approximately 1.3 hours per workday) allocated for administrative activities and 67% (approximately 5.9 hours per workday) allocated for proactive activities (i.e., uncommitted time).
The next step was to account for supervisory, management and staff.
Supervisory, management and staff
The supervisory staff at OVPD consisted of two sergeants and two corporals,  which were fixed and not by ratio. The supervisory complement was four officers, two corporals and two sergeants.  The management staff at OVPD consisted of one chief of police and one captain, which were also fixed positions. The support staff at OVPD consisted of one civilian administrative assistant and one administrative officer, which were also fixed positions. Once the supervisory and support staff were accounted for the relief factor was developed.
Nonproductive FTE (relief factor)
Non-productive FTE, known as relief factoring, is the amount of time away from work granted to personnel. The shift relief factor is the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) personnel required to staff a relieved position (i.e., one that is covered on a continuous basis) for a single shift. The relief factor typically varies according to job specification and the post schedule and is required for developing and managing staffing plans and employee schedules. The relief factor usually varies according to job title or other classification and the position schedule. When calculating the relief factor, most police agencies use their leave policies and training requirements to determine the amount of time an employee is unavailable to work. That method is not precise and leads to error because an employee’s actual record of absence may differ from what expected absences that are based on policy. The more precise method is to calculate the number of days an average employee is available to work by reviewing attendance records from the previous several years to develop the actual use of all forms of leave. Using averages derived from actual leave categories, the OVPD was better able to account for approved policy leave, and absences above the leave normally taken (e.g., light duty, long-term medical disability, leave without pay and unexcused absence). The preferred method for determining relief factoring is hours instead of days, which is a more discreet and flexible and precise work unit.
The next step was to develop the FTE complement, including the relief factor.
FTE complement (including relief factor)
Table 4 reflects the actual strength, which includes the relief factor. With the current workload parameters, the patrol division required 8 personnel to handle approximately 11,996 hours of work each year in the OVPD.  The total complement for OVPD was 12 personnel.
The next step was to develop the salary calculations.
Table 5 presents the salary calculations, including the relief factor. Applying actual salary calculations, which includes benefits and pension contribution, to current job classifications yields the cost of staffing. The patrol officer and sergeant job title reflects an average across the positions for planning purposes. The total estimated personnel budget was $1,279,538. The rate per employee hour was estimated at $602.64.
The next step was to develop the costs for materials and equipment.
Materials and equipment
Materials and equipment are related but distinct budget categories that reflect the tangible apparatus and supplies (other than land and buildings) required for an organization to achieve its stated purpose.  Materials and consumable supplies in the OVPD include:
1. Office supplies, printing, copies;
3. Non-capital equipment;
4. Other supplies;
5. Gas and diesel fuel;
7. Canine supplies;
8) Ammunition. 
Costs were estimated at $4,315 per employee ($63,000.00) with a unit cost of $12.64.
Equipment costs include non-capital items that generally have a useful life greater than three years. Since having to incur the full cost of the equipment will not come until it must be fully replaced, the cost is predicated upon its useful life. Table 7 shows an estimated equipment budget of $165,009.00 with a unit cost of $33.10. The total cost to replace all the equipment when its useful life expires was $165,009; each year, approximately $32,016 was required for budgeting to ensure 100% of the equipment was replaced when its useful life expired.
The next step was to assemble the activity-base budget.
Activity-base budget (present level of service) 
The workload demand at the OVPD cost approximately $1,507,547. The OVPD spent approximately $302.42 to service one unit (efficiency measure), serviced 3.31 units per $1,000 expended (productivity measure) and had a rate per employee hour of $602.64.
- Goal: 75% proactive time for police officers.
- Workload: +10%.
- Staffing: 10 police officers (+2).
- Relief factor: remains the same for police officers (1.52).
- Scheduled hours: remains the same for police officers (2,280 hours).
- Personnel availability: remains the same for police officers (1,498).
- Supervisory, management and support staff: remains the same.
- Material costs: +2% (to account for increases in consumable supplies).
- Equipment: purchase two marked police cars and two portable police radios for the two new officers.
- Total FTE: 14 personnel.
Using these assumptions, committed patrol time would account for 15.6% of an officer’s time (1.36 hours per day), administrative time would account for 9.0% (.79 hours, about 45 minutes per day) and proactive time would account for 75% (6.56 hours per day). This yielded an effective strength of 6.57 officers and an actual strength of 14 officers, including the relief factor.
The projected model also accounted for additional material and equipment costs. Given that some material costs were shared, the model assumed a 2% increase to account for consumable supplies, which yielded a unit cost of $11.72.
Equipment costs accounted for two additional marked police cars and two portable police radios for the new officers. The new projected budget was $1,734,661, a 15% projected increase.
Advantages of the ABB model
Overall, the ABB model enables chiefs to ensure they are providing efficient and effective services to their communities while ensuring officer safety. Some of the distinct advantages of the model are:
- The ABB is suitable for any size law enforcement organization, or public safety answering point (PSAP).
- Workload insights allow better decision-making and resource allocation to support agency priorities. The ABB model permits balancing operational requirements. Since the ABB generates a budget from actual workload and resources, it can highlight sources of imbalances, inefficiencies and other areas for improvements. This enables the chief and supervisors to correct inefficiencies.
- Justifies operations with actual workload and financial data.
- Supervisors and employees can discuss workload in operational terms instead of financial terms. Since the ABB model provides a clearer picture of how resources and workload are related, it can help supervisors and employees understand and communicate budget information in more tangible non-financial terms to help them understand better what needs to be done to improve processes, and how to best perform their job. By improving the flow of workload and resources, the ABB makes it easier to evaluate performance by being able to specify who is accountable for certain activities that may overlap in different divisions. The ABB allows supervisors to be more agile in terms of contingency planning, decision-making, performance measurement, and evaluation.
- The chief can exercise control in several ways: 1) assign personnel based upon a demonstrated need; 2) expand or contract personnel proportionately as needs change; 3) uncover waste and hidden costs; 4) view which activities are most and least expensive; 5) assess the full efficiency of the organization; 6) identify places to cut spending; 7) establish a cost baseline that may be influenced through process or technology changes that reduce effort for the activity; and 8) argue from an informed, objective position in favor of the organization’s budget.
- Excellent as a planning tool for determining costs associated with law enforcement contracting services, and consolidation efforts.
- Ideal as a presentation tool and conversation starter for a police executive (chief, commissioner, sheriff, superintendent, directors, command staff members), elected and appointed officials (mayors, county executives, business administrators, legislative bodies) and those responsible for workload analysis, organizational planning, resource allocation and budgeting.
- As a more sophisticated model, the ABB enables a richer set of tools for balancing capacity and increasing traceability and transparency. It becomes easier to adjust demands or changes in the resources that are allocated, and it is easier to adjust the workload or resource consumption rate because of capacity analysis. This increased transparency and traceability of resource consumption can enable the chief to identify capacity issues and make adjustments in a timely manner.
- Create an ABB for each organizational element to produce an enterprise-wide model.
- Smaller unit of analysis (activity level) is most flexible. Activities can be aggregated to a higher unit (program level), and it is easier to identify consumption patterns (Pareto Analysis).
- Incorporate as part of the police agency’s business plan, performance management framework or strategic plan to document workload and costs.
One of the challenges of police workload assessment is the changing nature of crime and the demands on law enforcement. As communities grow and change, the types of crimes and calls for service also change, requiring police departments to adjust their staffing and resources to meet these new demands. Police workload assessment is an ongoing process, with chiefs regularly reviewing and adjusting their staffing and resources to meet new service demands. By analyzing the type and frequency of calls for service, resource allocation, and the training and skill level of officers, chiefs can ensure they are using resources effectively and efficiently while maintaining the officers’ well-being. Chief McLaughlin successfully applied the ABB model and the town council approved hiring additional police officers to fulfill their community policing mandate.
To learn more about the ABB model, and how it can be integrated into the police planning process, visit jmshane.com/learn. Watch a short video preview and learn more about the complete preformatted ABB model used by OVPD. Use promotion code Police12023 to save 20% off the model. The author can be reached at email@example.com.
Dr. Shane wishes to thank Chief Kenneth McLaughlin, and the command staff members of OVPD, for their support, insight and leadership as this project was developed. Chief McLaughlin provided outstanding support, guidance and access to personnel and research materials, making this project possible.
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12. The workload assessment that was conducted comports with standard enunciated by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (Standard 21.2.4, Workload Assessments, formerly CALEA standard 16.1.2, 2006, p. 16-2).
13. Any portion of an hour was calculated as such. For example, 20 minutes was captured as .33 hours; 47 minutes was captured as .783 hours.
14. In budgeting, “modalities” are the attributes (i.e., major activities) that are being examined. In this case the attributes are the types of calls for service.
15. An activity cost driver affects the expenses of certain business operations. In activity-based costing (ABC), an activity cost driver influences the costs of labor, maintenance, equipment, supplies or other variable costs.
16. In the interest of space and brevity, the full workload assessment is not shown here.
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22. Corporals are not a distinct position; rather, corporal is a designation within the police officer rank.
23. Although OVPD does have supervisory staff in the form of sergeants and corporals, they are counted as operational personnel and not as supervisory staff for relief factoring and for total complement.
24. In this model, the sergeants are reflected as part of operational staff handling calls for service, and are not exclusively part of the supervisory staff. Sergeants routinely handle calls for service as their first priority; supervision is a secondary function.
25. Materials and equipment are distinguished from personnel.
26. This section is estimated since some of the materials are shared with other elements of city government. The data are derived from the adopted budget of Ocean View, MD.
27. In the interest of space and brevity, the full activity-base budget is not shown here.
28. The staffing projection relied on reasonable estimates provided by OVPD based on their collective police experience.
29. It is likely that capital expenditures may increase as the workforce expands, such as the need for more physical space (e.g., building, locker rooms, showers, bathroom facilities). Capital expenditures are not accounted for in this model.