A Year In Mill Valley

Fixing America: Start with zero-based budgeting for police and social services.

Zero-based budgeting is the concept that one returns to basics each year(*) in order to justify the budget for a project, department or other entity.

I’d like to see us use this concept for justifying the social services and police and sheriff budgets for Mill Valley and Marin County.

In order to do this we must first define what the goals are of these systems. Then we define the SLIs (Service Level Indicators) and SLOs (Service Level Objectives) against which we plan to measure these systems.

In the case of a police department, one indicator (SLI) would be whether the level of staffing is appropriate to provide the expected delivery of service. Think of a bank, if there are too few tellers there’s a line, and if there are too many, you’re paying for unneeded staff sitting around doing nothing. Same for the police – it may be that Mill Valley needs 22 staffed positions, but it also may be that that’s too high, or too low. We should start by looking at staffing levels historically over the past 50 years, comparing that to the population growth, the budget growth, as well as the number and types of incidents being responded to. Only by looking at real numbers can we make informed decisions about staffing levels.

Another SLI would be how often officers are responding to situations for which they are a) not needed, or b) not trained. For example, if a large percentage of their callouts are responding to homelessness, young people being young people, drug addiction, or other “social ills”, then it may be that we should be funding alternative response methods which are geared towards responding to these types of incidents with a social service rather than law and order mindset.

The same goes for social services. What are their SLOs and SLIs, and are they properly staffed to serve the communities that need their attention?

I am not an expert in policing or social services, so I don’t know what all the SLIs are, and what the SLOs should be set at. But I am very interested in learning more, and hearing from those who are experts in these areas.

And it may be that we have the exact right budget split between policing and social services. But I doubt it. Which is why I think we need an open and honest conversation about where our priorities lie, our needs lie, and whether we are funding all of them appropriately.

(* It doesn’t have to be every year, it could be every two, or five years as agreed upon by the community. The most important thing is that it happen regularly, so that everyone can question why things are the way they are.)

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