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Charting the Future: The Essential Guide to Strategic Planning in Policing

February 18, 2024

Chief David Steffen (ret.)

In the current environment facing policing, the adoption of a strategic plan is not reserved for large police agencies. Effective planning and forecasting of agency needs is increasingly necessary to maintain and access resources. The development of an effective strategic plan provides police leaders with an opportunity to effect change, monitor, and assess existing programming while providing an essential tool to measure agency performance and outcomes.

There are many approaches to the development and implementation of a police agency strategic plan. The key to successful planning is to “make it your own”. It is an acceptable and even advisable practice for agency members to examine existing published strategic plans for police agencies available from a wide array of informational sources. Remember that when developing a strategic plan you will identify the desired future position of your agency in relation to the existing position your agency occupies. During the review and research phase of comparative strategic plans there is value in consideration of:

The strategic plan is the opportunity for police leadership to take the agency to the next level. A review of strategic plans from a wide array of sources provides insight and examples for unique programming considerations as well as identification of suitable measures of outcomes.  Remember that there has been a long legacy of policing in areas beyond our nation. High-value new approaches or other criminal justice and policing considerations can be applied from Commonwealth Nations (England, Canada, Scotland, New Zealand, and Australia), or other democratic nations in Western Europe that frequently fall within the scope of existing lawful federal and state practices.


 Progressive police leaders are keenly aware of the need to develop and monitor strategies to keep the agency moving forward in a positive direction, this can best be accomplished within the framework of the strategic plan. It should be emphasized that those agencies without an existing strategic plan should understand the benefits of embracing and adopting a plan to guide the agency into the future. View the lack of a plan as an opportunity to move beyond the constraints of the past by drafting and adopting your own plan for the organizational journey ahead.

For agencies developing their first strategic plan or those agencies updating their strategic plan, there must be a basic consideration of the following factors:

  • Internal agency members.

  • External community stakeholders.

  • Governing body leaders.

  • Budgetary constraint forecasting.

  • Community needs and demographics.

This analysis should include a basic SWOT  analysis. This is an effective technique for organizations to identify Strengths, Opportunities, Weaknesses, and Threats.

This can be accomplished by use of a variety of tools including community surveys, community meetings, internal agency staff meetings, internal agency member surveys, input from community groups, and leadership. The information gathered is then condensed into a list of viable goals and objectives. While input and suggestions are valued,  the ultimate responsibility for the adoption of these goals and objectives is always an executive function and at the discretion of the Chief of Police. The general best practice for structuring goals and objectives follows this suggested format.

This format can be enhanced by the addition of graphic depictions of key performance measures. This includes charts, graphs, and timelines. 


Goal #1 -   (Topic + Desired Position)

1.1       Objective (achievable benchmark or milestone + specified time frame)

Measure:  (measurable (numeric or other value) outcome supporting attaining objective within a specified time frame) 

This format should be applied to each of those areas identified for inclusion within the agency plan. The adoption of specific goals and measures is relative to the agency's size and structure. Effective planning requires a specific time frame for the plan and requires quarterly or semi-annual reporting. This adaptability and tasking can be as broad or specific as necessary to meet agency needs. Frequent areas of planning strategies evolve as they are evaluated for need or desirability.  This is the natural outgrowth of periodic monitoring and reporting performance metrics. Most police agencies focus on the application of goals and objectives to similar topics such as those listed below:

  • Community outreach

  • Patrol activities

  • Agency image

  • Recruitment

  • Training focal points

  • Professional development

  • Repression of crime

  • Investigation of crime

  • Enhancing victim advocacy

  • Enhancing community relationships

  • Juvenile crime

  • Mental health engagement

  • Inter-agency cooperation

  • Agency transparency and accountability

  • Social media platforms and engagement

  • Technology

  • Workforce

  • Infrastructure

  • Equipment or fleet

  • Traffic safety

  • School safety


The final structure of the completed strategic plan is at the discretion of the agency. In general, the final reporting work product includes the following elements.

While strategic planning appears complex, it is actually a vital practice to ensure the agency remains in a position to increase morale, professional image, community trust, and overall organizational effectiveness and sustainability.

Chief David Steffen, retiring in 2023, concluded a distinguished four-decade career in law enforcement. He led the Northern Lancaster County Regional Police Department for 12 years, following a 27-year tenure with the Northern York County Regional Police Department. Renowned for his expertise in advanced forensics and investigating major crimes, including a high-profile serial killer case, Chief Steffen played a crucial role in establishing and guiding the NLCRPD, emphasizing technological advancement and professional development. His extensive educational background includes studies in criminal justice and advanced police training. A respected leader, Chief Steffen held key positions in various police associations and contributed significantly to law enforcement policy and reform initiatives.



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