In business, in the military, in politics, in everyday life, it has been proven that individuals or organizations guided by a plan succeed.

Sure, it can be done without a plan. But you'll take detours on roads that go nowhere, often winding up in dead ends. Most professionals recognize this essential truth: A verbal plan is better than no plan and a written plan is better yet. However, in law enforcement planning often takes a second seat to responding.

Prioritizing Planning

For many years, this strategy worked. But today, police and sheriffs' departments are being run more like businesses with public safety as their product. Like other businesses, law enforcement leaders have been looking around the last decade, asking "How can we provide public safety with more efficiency? Better customer service? More effectiveness?"

The answer, more often than not, has been the same for IBM, Ford Motor Co. or any other Fortune 500 company -- seek out and utilize new technologies. But that answer provides also new challenges.

"In a high-tech world, the challenges are sometimes overwhelming," said Dep. Bob Moccio of the El Dorado County Sheriff's Department in Northern California. "The sheer number of technologies that we have available can create confusion and we need them all. But most departments can't have it all, at least not all at once."

But the truth is that with effective planning, you can have it all -- even if it means taking it one step at a time. "It is not just one department that needs IT planning, nor is it just one department that suffers from a lack of it," said Helen Gandara-Zavala, administrative services director for the Scottsdale Police Department in Arizona.

Gandara-Zavala recently left the El Paso Police Department for the Scottsdale job and immediately recognized the similarities. "El Paso was larger but it doesn't make that much difference. When we hold our planning meetings here, I see the same problems, just different faces."

"Law enforcement agencies are used to responding to calls, being on the scene quickly in emergencies. It's not easy to shift that way of thinking; to developing long-term plans and making time to update them," explained SPDs Chief Douglas Bartosh, who oversees one of the few departments to develop a long-term strategic plan for information technology.

"Strategic IT planning should encompass a three- to five-year window, and someone should always be thinking, 'What is our next step?'" Bartosh said. "Someone in the department needs to always be aware of which direction you are running in."

The planning process should be thought of on two levels, something that business professionals often refer to as "planning the plan." First, an agency needs to have a long-term strategic plan. Second, each primary goal of that plan, such as acquiring an automated records management system (RMS), needs to be accompanied by a detailed plan of its own.

Be Careful What You Ask For

Scottsdale had one of the country's first police departments to aggressively pursue an automated agency. Because of this, it was also first to try to manage numerous IT acquisitions over relatively short periods of time.

Even department representatives admit that sometimes, even with a plan, the process can become confused. But without it, they insist, it would be impossible to create an automated department.

"You have to have a plan and the plan should detail your overall goal; a mission statement; a five-year action plan and time lines for every technology product you are bringing on," advised Will Davis, SPD's police planning manager.

"Our problem early on was in making sure people stuck to the plan," Davis said. "We ran into a problem of there being so much grant money available that everyone in