How Government Can Tap Internal Resources to Boost Efficiency

Atlanta turned to cross-departmental metrics to craft a shared-services arrangement for transporting detainees.
November 15, 2017
According to data from the Atlanta Police Department, the average detainee pickup-time for someone within one of the city's police zones was 45 minutes, but out-of-jurisdiction pickups averaged 2.38 hours. (Flickr/Office of Public Affairs)
By Stephen Goldsmith  |  Contributor
Professor of practice at the Harvard Kennedy School and director of the Innovations in American Government Program

While many governments look outward for process-improvement ideas, promising projects often come about from looking inward and using resources already available. Many useful and creative efforts arise from government's own internal capabilities, driven by metrics that expose inefficiencies.

Atlanta is among cities that are leveraging internal resources to increase government efficiency. Informed through actionable metrics from Mayor Kasim Reed's office, for example, Atlanta's Police Department teamed up with the city's Department of Corrections to optimize resource use and enhance public safety across the city.

This collaboration between the two departments grew out of an existing initiative addressing the city's backlog of warrants for failure to appear in court. Under the Municipal Court Bench Warrant Program, created in 2014, when a defendant misses a scheduled court appearance a warrant is generated. The warrants are then logged into a statewide database that sends alerts to law enforcement agencies across Georgia. When an individual with an active Atlanta warrant was located and apprehended, the Atlanta Police Department would be responsible for transporting the individual back to the City Detention Center.

This system drained police resources as officers were dispatched all over Atlanta and into neighboring jurisdictions and spent hours bringing detainees to corrections facilities. According to data from the Atlanta Police Department, the average detainee pickup-time for someone within one of the city's police zones was 45 minutes, but out-of-jurisdiction pickups averaged 2.38 hours.

Police officers were diverted from their assigned zone-area posts for substantial time periods to transport detainees. "This became an issue for police zone commanders," said Robert Sakamaki, the budget and performance project manager in the mayor's office. "They had 10 officers out but really only eight with the program in place." Police time spent on transporting detainees also increased response time for more pressing alerts.

City administrators looked for ways to alleviate the officer resource drain. Through a review of 300 monthly metrics used to monitor performance across departments, the mayor's office identified available resources in the Department of Corrections (DOC), which had experienced a decline in the number of inmates and an increase in staff vacancies.

The mayor's office saw an opportunity to fill the funded vacancies in DOC and help the police department with detainee pickup. Police Chief Erika Shields and Corrections Chief Pat Labat partnered to address the issue: Under a combined effort to share services and streamline processes, corrections officers could not only pick up detainees within the city but also could pick up those with outstanding Atlanta warrants from outside city limits.

Since January 2016, the combined efforts of the departments have saved the Police Department more than 7,000 hours and, by keeping police officers within city limits, bolstered crime-prevention efforts. As of early this month there have been nearly 500 pickups this year and more than 3,600 transports since January 2016, with more than 2,100 of them from outside Atlanta's jurisdiction. This partnership has reduced the warrant backlog and the number of handoffs between departments, demonstrating a productive shared-services collaboration.

Atlanta's detainee transport collaboration makes a case for the use of internal metrics to bolster operational effectiveness. By turning inward to look for process improvements, Atlanta leveraged its own resources to improve efficiency within its public safety departments, setting a precedent for using metrics to generate targeted improvement efforts within other city departments.