In the business world, poor efficiency equals lost profits and less chance at survival. As dire as that sounds, inefficiency among first responders can have even more serious consequences, especially with state and local police departments. Yet many local government agencies all over the country still grapple with the issue of asset management and inventory management. These agencies simply haven’t kept up with state-of-the-art supply chain management solutions commonly used in the private sector.
Take the case of one major police department in a western state, where inventory management sounds a little like the Wild West. According to documents, a points system that determines when 1,500 sworn officers can acquire new uniforms is still kept on a system of 5-by-8 index cards, and information is still manually entered into an antiquated and unreliable DOS-based system.
Some other details from that city’s recent request for proposals for inventory management system software:
The department has “no viable system in place that allows for the tracking of items assigned to officers as they move between assignments and up to separation from the department.”
The department’s crime lab does not use its inventory program. One reason: The system relies on manual updates to track items and monitor stock levels.
The official department inventory of trackable assets is kept in an Access database. Reconciliation requires that the database be compared – manually – with an Excel version of a PeopleSoft inventory report.
The department’s Firearms Bureau, responsible for maintaining an inventory of all weapons, uses a spreadsheet, “but must rely on each assignment to verify the weapon’s actual assigned location.” “This system is unreliable and open to potential errors in accountability of critical law enforcement inventory,” the RFP says. Effectively, the report says, guns are tracked on the honor system.
That last point is one reason that, in 2010, nearly two dozen department firearms –ranging from pistols to shotguns – went missing.
We’ve not named the city here because the intention is not to call anyone out. The point is that state and local departments all over the nation are struggling to overcome legacy technologies. Just recently, reports out of a Midwestern state said an agency had lost track of 23 guns assigned through the federal Law Enforcement Surplus Office program. These aren’t popguns we’re talking about but military-grade weapons: 17 .40-caliber handguns, three M-16s, two M-4 rifles and a shotgun. Where are they? State officials pointed to federal guidelines that required only annual inventories. They had no idea who had the weapons.
You can say this for that western city police department: It is owning its problem and doing something about it. The city is looking to acquire warehouse management and inventory management software that enables the tracking of hard assets through barcode scanners and real-time monitoring of stock levels and order needs. All staff will have the ability to order uniform stock, office supplies and other items without time-wasting command approval. The approval process will be baked right into the system. Under the system it seeks, all equipment will be tracked, officer-by-officer, from initial distribution, through any subsequent changes and to inventory check-in when an officer leaves the force.
It’s past time for local and state governments to achieve the same type of organizational transparency enjoyed through much of the business world. That is especially true in the case of police and fire agencies, where time is of the essence and good asset visibility could mean precious minutes in saving lives or property.
Asset management can help staff make more informed decisions on how and when to replace assets such as police car tires. It also tracks the location of life-saving assets such as bulletproof vests and Kevlar helmets so officers in the field never have to wonder who has the equipment when they need it. All the data will be at their fingertips through their laptop or connected mobile device. And, no more index cards will be needed to see if they have enough points for a new uniform.