Completing a survey: Why bother?

By Samantha Dorm

Back around FY2001, a survey from the FBI landed on my desk in the District Attorney’s Office asking for information on gangs operating in our area. My desk had become the catch-all for things that the attorneys and detectives didn’t have any interest in completing.

At that point, no one in our area was really talking about gang activity and certainly hadn’t expressed a need for funding to combat an unknown problem. Fortunately, I was able to help coordinate a county-wide response to the survey on behalf of over twenty law enforcement agencies. Their responses resulted in thousands of dollars for gang prevention, intervention and suppression activities.

Today, I was reading an audit report from the Department of Justice regarding the distribution of Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) funds for a regional initiative, to be managed by a designated agency. The report stated that not every police department within the region received funding from the regional grant.

Often this type of statement quickly turns into accusations of a conspiracy or something “political” when it seems as though only certain departments receive funding. I’ve been in many meetings in which the discussion leaned towards favoritism, and although I will acknowledge that such things may have happened in the past, the response to this statement was simple:

A survey was sent to each of the police departments within the designated region asking them to identify their needs for equipment, vehicles, ballistic vests, and training. Many departments did not respond to the survey.

A quick scan of the report shows that the departments that completed the survey benefitted greatly from this regional effort.

So where do the surveys land in your department? Is anyone taking them seriously, or are they simply going through the motions of typing something on the dotted line? How many surveys end up in the circular file (i.e. trash can)?

Surveys asking about issues and the needs of the department often provide a framework for budgetary planning. An informal survey could be something as simple as the Captain sending out an email to the Lieutenants asking for input on their divisions needs.

Don’t let your officers lose out. Take a moment to answer the questions because you might be surprised by the results.

Lessons learned
Every day serves as an opportunity to learn something new or to reinforce skills and habits that may be waning during “down time” in the grants cycle. Today I stumbled across the Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General’s webpage of external audit reports.

I draw attention to the documents not in an attempt to embarrass any of the departments listed, but instead to serve as an example for those assigned to the administration of approved grant funded projects.

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