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If you're not strategically planning, are you devaluing your department?

24 Jul 2017 3:12 PM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

By John Kapinos, IPSA Mentoring Committee

The following is my best recollection of a conversation between me and a command-level officer in an agency I used to work for. This conversation occurred sometime in 2001:

“John, I don’t know why you are always pushing this strategic planning thing. We are a ‘put out the fire’ type of organization – we don’t have time for that kind of stuff.”

“Maybe if we did better strategic planning, we wouldn’t have so many fires to put out.”

“But we are really good at putting out the fires.”

This reflects what seems to be the typical mindset within much of the public safety profession when somebody mentions the idea of strategic planning. 

Today versus tomorrow

In fact, the emergency response community makes a professional point of pride at being able to respond and handle any form of catastrophic event that occurs on their watch; and our first responders do indeed uniformly excel at this.

The drawback to this, however, is that police officers, firefighters and EMS personnel tend to function on a day-to-day, shift-to-shift, call-to-call basis. They respond, put out the proverbial fire, write up the needed report and then move on to the next event.

What is missing from this equation is the process of stopping, reflecting, evaluating organizational performance and looking toward the future of the profession.

Public safety agencies are understandably focused on the needs of today, but must be careful not to neglect to think about the needs of tomorrow – or five years from now. A comprehensive ongoing process of strategic planning and evaluation is essential to help agencies close this gap. Failure to do so will find agencies stuck on the wrong side of a historical power curve.

Implementing change

Strategic planning is simply the organizational mechanism to plan for and to implement change. Although frequently dreaded by public safety professionals, change is inevitable and must be anticipated and proactively addressed.

Many of us who have served in the public safety profession over the past thirty years know the impacts of change on how we do our jobs. We can recall many struggles of adapting to the introduction of new technologies. Over the past decade, the law enforcement profession has been dealing with changing demands and expectations regarding the use-of-force and with interacting with increasingly diverse populations.

Fire departments have transitioned within a two-generation period from a primary focus on fire suppression to one of emergency medical response. These are broad strategic changes that have not always been implemented smoothly.

Not planning is devaluing

Smart organizations stay focused and relevant through a process of continual re-evaluation and evolution. Strategic planning is the cornerstone of that process. I describe strategic planning as a way to identify, describe and plan for future change. The process must include constant self-evaluation to ensure fidelity to the mission and values of the organization. And the organizational vision is continually re-focused in accordance with identified future trends and changing circumstances.

A current police chief, an acquaintance, previously said, “I love strategic planning, but I hate the process involved.”

Strategic planning does not have to be onerous or complicated. Agencies have full authority to scale and tailor the process to their particular needs and capacity. The most important thing is not to follow some prescribed, elaborate planning model, but to develop and institutionalize a process that works for the agency and the constituents it represents.

“In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable.” --Dwight D. Eisenhower.

About the Author

John Kapinos is a founding partner of LEAP21 Consulting LLC. Previously, he served in Fairfax County Police Department as a strategic planner and Montgomery County Police Department as a lieutenant. John is a member of IPSA’s Mentoring Committee and if you have any questions for him, you can contact him through us at

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