Posted by Jim Raschella ● May 20, 2019
It’s time for the public sector to make the switch to digital detail billing & payments
Side jobs, extra duty, secondary employment, moonlighting, whatever your agency might call it, you’re probably aware that police officers often supplement their income working private security gigs in the community while they are off duty. Your agencies involvement in this process may range from none at all to complete control, but even in the most involved departments, it’s likely that paper invoices and checks are the method being used to facilitate payments from the organization requesting security, and the officers providing it. Regardless of where your agency falls on that spectrum, over the next several weeks I’m going to show you why you should digitalize those dollars in 2019 and never look back.
Part I: Time
There are really three phases of a detail, scheduling, the work itself, and the billing/payment. This blog we’re focusing on the billing and payment phase. Likely it happens one of three ways, officers get paid right there on the spot, the department pays the officers and sends an invoice, or a combination of the two. Getting paid is a necessary part of the detail process, a pretty important one at that, but the time spent getting paid can add up quick, and who’s time are we spending anyways?
Every agency handles their detail scheduling and billing differently, some have a detail office with one or more full-time employees to manage their detail scheduling process that manage scheduling, prepare invoices, and ensure officers are paid in a timely fashion. In other departments, officers might turn their time sheets into someone in the city or county business office who handles billing clients and getting the officer’s hours into the payroll system. This work takes time. If we estimate that in total it takes 15 minutes to create and send an invoice and receive and log a payment for each detail, a typical department with 150 officers would spend 24 hours a week on billing for off-duty security details. That’s roughly 1250 hours of public sector time spent each year as a result of private sector activities.
Don’t get me wrong, off-duty police work has an incredibly positive impact on the community. Officers are not only a crime deterrent for the businesses and venues that hire them for security, but they increase the overall police presence, are prepared and ready to assist officers that request it nearby, and they reduce call volumes since they are already on site in many areas where they are needed. That being said, departments (and therefore taxpayers) shouldn’t be on the hook for the labor it takes to ensure those officers are paid by Walmart, the music venue, or whoever might be hiring them.
Time is quite possibly the most important benefit any new technology or solution can provide us. Let’s take Uber for example,
Uber doesn’t sell car rides, they sell time. We can easily sit here and discuss how much time we save by requesting our ride right through the app as opposed to calling the local Yellow Cab and speaking to a dispatcher, or how much quicker your Uber arrives because the driver is right around the corner, but this blog is all about what happens after the work is performed, so we’ll focus on that. One of the perks of ride sharing is that your fare is paid automatically and you can just get out of the car, but what if I had cash in my pocket, or I could swipe my card in the back during my ride? Having my payment on file is handy for a bunch of different reasons, but I wouldn’t say it saves that much time when compared to the other perks mentioned. There is a reason you can’t pay your Uber driver with a check at the end of your ride, and it’s not because the company cares about how much time it takes for you to dig out your checkbook and find a pen, it’s because they care about the time it would take them to process a check. Automating your payment saves them time.
Let’s now look at a traditional cab company like Yellow Cab and skip straight to the part where you pay the driver and step out of the car. Whether you pay with cash, check, or credit, at the end of the driver’s shift they’ll turn in those payments or receipts to someone who calculates the drivers share, deposits cash and checks, files receipts, and logs it all away into their accounting system. The cost of this administrative labor is then passed on to riders in their fare.
More likely than not, the methods your department uses to manage and bill for security details lean more toward Yellow Cab than they do Uber, and I wouldn’t expect otherwise. But the problem is that Yellow Cab is a service company and they set out to be from the beginning, administrative labor associated with tracking revenue and paying drivers is anticipated and recovered in your fare. Meanwhile, you may serve the community, but your agency is not a service company, so unless your organization is one of the few collecting an appropriate fee to recover costs, any administrative labor associated with private security details is a drain on department time and an undue cost to the taxpayers.
To be clear, the point I’m trying to make has nothing to do with the emerging ride share market. I’m bringing light to the fact that Uber’s success is due largely in part by its ability to leverage current payment technology. This technology not only provides far more convenient transactions, but streamlines their own administrative and accounting processes. There’s no reason your agency shouldn’t do the same.
Now I realize how insane or downright foolish it sounds to tell a police department “yall should be more like Uber”, but realize the company I’m using for an example is irrelevant. This is just to point out that the recent boom of high-tech companies in general have spurred loads of innovative financial tools and services along with the blueprints needed to use them effectively. Now that the business world has spent the money to develop and perfect the tools, it is easier than ever for public safety organizations to take advantage of them.
Whether you have an entire detail office dedicated to handling this work, it’s being added to the pile of invoices in the business office, or it isn’t being handled at all. If you had a magic wand that would let you choose how to model your detail program, would you rather it ran like Uber or Yellow Cab?