Campus Safety Budgeting: Improving Efficiency and Measuring ROI

When budgets are tight, accountability is crucial. As evidenced by recent college closures and an ever-tightening post-recession financial squeeze on the majority of private universities, budgets are tight.

Now more than ever, it’s time to account for every dollar your university is spending and make sure it’s spent wisely. When it comes to campus safety, spending has traditionally been a murky area. You don’t want to underspend; leaving the department strapped for resources makes your campus vulnerable to threats, and creates a recipe for disaster. But how much does your campus safety department actually need? How will you know if you’re overspending?

ROI for Security Spending:
Putting a Price Tag on Prevention

It’s always been difficult to show ROI for security spending, since a conventional “return” can’t be provided. The benefit is in preventing loss of revenue: damaged property, lawsuits, damaged reputation leading to lower enrollment, or worse-injury or even death of students or staff.

Putting a price tag on prevention isn’t easy. Across a variety of industries, security spending has relied more on recommendations than hard numbers. With new technology, however, it’s becoming easier than ever for administrators to see exactly what their security expenditure is providing. Now, campus safety departments can use technology to effectively measure and record their efforts, justifying their budget requests and ensuring funds are spent responsibly.

Incident reporting software can help campus safety departments boost efficiency by automating the incident reporting process while keeping accurate records of campus safety incidents. Incident reporting software systems should offer a searchable database to make it easy to pull valuable information out of your reports, like the names of repeat offenders or a common location for criminal activity.

The best software programs don’t stop at incident reporting, but rather incorporate a variety of distinct tools to help campus safety work more efficiently and measure the impact of the service provided.

Doing More With Less

In the new economic climate facing many private universities, campus safety departments are challenged to do more with less, effectively demonstrate their value, and show what services are provided within the institution’s public safety budget. With the right technology and tracking tools, all the information a campus safety department needs to provide during the budget process should be readily available and easy to access.

What should your campus safety department be able to provide?

1. A breakdown of the services provided by the department

Without an accurate picture of the scope of services that the campus safety department provides, it’s nearly impossible to make knowledgeable budgeting decisions. How a department utilizes resources (how they spend time, money) and what they accomplish are crucial pieces of information that they must be able to provide.

Pay close attention to how much time is dedicated to clerical work. Things like completing paperwork, filing case reports, following up on unpaid citations, and creating departmental schedules are necessary tasks, but they also take campus safety staff members away from their primary duty of helping keep your campus safe.

The time spent on these types of tasks can easily be minimized by implementing software that helps automate reporting, organization, and managerial tasks. At Queens University of Charlotte, for example, the campus police department estimates freeing up an additional 40-80 hours per week simply by implementing the Report Exec incident management software suite.

Many campus safety departments perform duties that fall outside the traditional scope of campus safety-like training other staff on matters relating to safety. Make sure these other duties and accomplishments are included in a breakdown of the department’s activities.

When possible, campus safety directors should try to tie a dollar amount to activities-how much would it cost to hire an outside agency to provide the service that the department offers? This information can provide guidelines on budget and establish a frame of reference for the value of the department.

2. Justifications for budget requests and staffing increases

With an accurate breakdown of services, it becomes easier for campus safety departments to demonstrate where they need additional resources. Incident reporting software documents any increases in requests for service, and can help identify patterns in these increases. If resources are strained, the campus safety director can use the data from incident reporting software to accurately pinpoint the cause of the strain, and determine how to effectively alleviate it.

Realistically, there are far more universities looking over budgets and finding where to make cuts, not where to increase funding. With more specific data to examine, it becomes easier to come up with creative solutions to strained resources. For example, if calls for service increase on Friday night, the department could adjust schedules to have a full staff on Friday night and less staffing during other times, rather than adding another full-time campus safety officer to the staff.

3. Campus crime trends, analysis and predictions

Tracking every criminal incident that occurs on campus doesn’t just help with budgeting today, it can help build a safer campus community and plan for the future. The best incident reporting software won’t just make it faster and easier to compile reports and maintain Clery and Title IX compliance; it will also use the information from every incident to populate a live data dashboard.

Campus safety departments can use this dashboard to get a more accurate picture of everything what’s going on across the campus. Visualizing data with an interactive dashboard makes it easy to pinpoint campus crime hotspots, identify trends in incidents on your campus, and view which time periods see higher rates of criminal activity. With that information, your campus safety department can work more efficiently, and dedicate resources to preventing incidents rather than just responding to them.

Working proactively to prevent incidents based on data-driven intelligence not only helps create a safer campus; it also saves money for the university. More resources are required to investigate and respond to an incident than to prevent an incident from occurring in the first place, and preventing incidents also eliminates the possibility of damaging a university’s reputation in the wake of a campus crime.

4. Departmental audits and response times

A departmental audit is a supplement to a department’s complete breakdown of services provided. Where the breakdown of activities and services demonstrates how the campus safety department allocates resources, a system audit provides in-depth detail on exactly what the department does. With the right incident reporting software, generating a departmental audit is easy.

Furthermore, if the software suite incorporates everything a campus safety department needs to complete their duties, the software’s audit will be a nearly complete account of how each member of the department spends their time on the job. Detailed audits are a huge asset when it comes to identifying waste on a departmental level as well as an individual level.

Audits can come in handy for employee reviews and reward programs. Examining your campus safety department’s response times is also an important factor in budgeting. Response time refers to the time elapsed between when an incident was reported and when a campus safety officer arrived on the scene to respond to it. While differences in incident severity can play a factor here, in general, longer incident response times indicate a problem in the department’s operations. A closer look into response times and departmental audits can help pinpoint the root cause of the problem.

Campus Safety Must be a Top Priority

University administrators and budget planners have a difficult job, especially in the current economic climate. When it comes to campus safety, it can be even more difficult to accurately assess a budget without a security or law enforcement background. Fortunately, technology is making the budget process easier by helping campus safety directors to prove the value of their department.

In the end, creating a safe campus environment is the main goal and the reason for a campus safety department to exist in the first place. It’s easy to lose sight of this goal amidst the budget talks and politics, but a safe campus should always be the top priority for the campus safety department as well as the university administration.

About the Author
Jodi Hogerton holds a Master's Degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Hogerton is a writer and advocate for sexual violence prevention, and has over four years of experience working in the safety and security sector.