The Top 2 Financial Problems Facing Public Safety Agencies

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series. Click here for the previous article.

Gordon Graham here and hello again. As I continue to write about Family Nine of the 10 Families of Risk, my brain goes back 15 years or so when our daughter was off to university. This was a new adventure for me and Mrs. G, and I was concerned about the risks involved.

In the late ’60s when I went off to college, it was not a substantial change in my life. I worked all the way through St. Ignatius High School (now a college preparatory school), living at home. While attending San Francisco State College (now a university, and if you are doing the math, yes those were the years of Samuel Ichiye Hayakawa—Google that name if you don’t recognize it) I still lived at home, so nothing really changed for me.

But having our daughter 400+ miles away and living in a dorm concerned me. So I went through my Rolodex and sent an email to everyone who had “college” or “university” on their business card—this included teachers, administrators, cops, firefighters and others. I asked them, “What are the top 10 risks an incoming student faces today in university?” A great many of them responded. As I read their thoughts, I saw many similarities in their lists, including drugs, drinking, not paying attention, the dangers of sororities, risks involved in pranks and initiations and many other things.

They told me things I had not considered, which cemented my thinking about knowledge—individually you know a lot; collectively we know everything. That led to a “College Contract” between Mrs. G and me as parents and our daughter as student: If we are paying the freight for this, we expect certain behaviors on your part. Here are some control measures to make sure you don’t go off the rails. (If you have a child headed off to college or university and you want a copy of this contract—redacted!—drop me an email and I will be happy to send it to you.)

All this brings us to the promise I made you in my last writing of this column : the top 10 financial problems facing public safety agencies. While I know a lot about this topic, I wanted to make sure I was not missing anything, so I sent an email to scores of my favorite chiefs of police around this great country and beyond. Once again, the replies were similar to my list, but there were a couple items that surprised me.

So without further ado, here is the promised top 10 financial issues facing public safety agencies:

1. Personnel who are financially illiterate. This one was a bit of a surprise to me. I was aware of it from my experiences as a divorce lawyer for 20 years, but I was taken aback when almost every chief I contacted mentioned this. I could spend the rest of this article talking about #1, but I will not. Suffice it to say you as a leader must think about educating your personnel early (perhaps at the Academy) about money. Too many have no clue about early planning for retirement, interest rates, leasing vs. buying, checking accounts, savings accounts, dollar cost averaging and other basic financial planning tools. Be careful to not bring in some financial advisor who is trying to drum up personal business but rather someone who can lay out a plan to help your personnel retire debt-free and live nicely until that time. Not to bore you, but one of my classmates (and still a good friend) at the CHP Academy back in 1973 took this seriously and is now worth north of $50 million. He has taught his approach to scores of other cops who have paid attention and are also doing very well.

The bottom line is many public safety personnel get way too dependent on overtime and when it dries up there are a whole bunch of consequences.

2. Overtime issues. This ties into #1. The bottom line is many public safety personnel get way too dependent on overtime and when it dries up there are a whole bunch of consequences. At the risk of boring you, let me illustrate what I mean. There is a law in California that employers must pay their employees at least once every two weeks, with an exception for state employees who get paid once a month on the last day of the month. This was a bit of a shock to me when I was new on the job because I got paid weekly in the various jobs I had in high school (now college preparatory) and college (now university). I had to adjust and organize my monthly payments to be due on the fifth of the month so I could get them paid in a timely manner.

BUT there was a second check on the 15th of the month for overtime. Many times, my OT check was larger than my monthly paycheck. There was the court overtime, some overtime at the end of my shift for late arrests or investigations and some special detail overtime. When the TV show CHiPs was being filmed in Central Los Angeles CHP (where I worked for my first 20 years on the job), the production company wisely contracted with the CHP and the CHP billed them for the OT and the cost of the CHP vehicles and then distributed it to the extras and advisors for the show—more overtime pay for me.

I mention this to you because back then we got a paper check for salary at the end of the month and for the overtime on the 15th of the month. In retrospect I am glad I got a paper check for so many years because it forced me to go to the bank once a month and make the deposit. There was this bank teller who always had a long line of customers because she was so darn pretty and nice and I got to talk to her once a month. Now I talk to her every day, as I have for the last 40 years (for the lieutenants reading this, that means she is my lovely bride).

But again, I digress. In the late 80s the state decided to do direct deposit rather than paper checks—and the divorces skyrocketed! Some officers kept the OT check to themselves and did not bring it home, only telling their spouses about the salary check. When the state went to direct deposit, that OT started showing up in the account, and many spouses (then mostly wives) said, “What is this deposit on the 15th?” and the involved officer said, “That is the overtime payment,” and then the question was, “What have you been doing with the overtime payments for the last 10 years?” And things went downhill for those officers rapidly (uphill for me personally as I was doing the divorces, but that is another story!)

I know this is a lot of rambling, but in the financial literacy class I suggested in #1 above, there has got to be some talk about the dangers of overtime and how getting dependent on it is a huge problem lying in wait. If you are overextended that leads to other issues including fraud, falsification, internal affairs investigations, and—you will not believe this but it is true—RICO investigations by the feds. How, you ask? There have been cases of idiot cops using the department email to send a message to another cop: “Hey Pat, I see you are working on Thursday and I am working on Friday. Why don’t you call in sick on Thursday and I will backfill you on overtime, and I will call in sick on Friday and you can backfill me?” And other similar criminal conspiracies designed to cheat the city out of resources. The consequences for this are significant indeed.

And speaking of consequences, I have already exceeded my word count and to garner the wrath of Madame Editor would not be a good thing, so I will save the remaining eight of the top 10 financial problems facing public safety agencies for my next article. And if by some chance said Editor has not caught and fixed all the run-on sentences in this article by the time you read it, remember I went to “college” not a “university.”

Timely TakeawayTimely Takeaway— In earlier articles in this now three-year series, I wrote about fatigue and how many tragedies are assigned a proximate cause of “X” when the real problem lying in wait was a grossly fatigued employee. Do you have some control measures in place in your agency to make sure your personnel are getting sufficient rest—and are not working too much overtime?

Gordon Graham

GORDON GRAHAM is a 33-year veteran of law enforcement and the co-founder of Lexipol, where he serves on the current board of directors. Graham is a risk management expert and a practicing attorney who has presented a commonsense risk management approach to hundreds of thousands of public safety professionals around the world. Graham holds a master’s degree in Safety and Systems Management from University of Southern California and a Juris Doctorate from Western State University.

More Posts

Share this post:

More from Gordon Graham
If Numbers Make Your Head Hurt, You Shouldn’t Be the CFO
Read More

Master Class from FireRescue1 Academy
The ONLY way to experience Gordon Graham’s
classroom instruction in an online format!

Related Posts

Back to Top