Public safety and security today is rapidly changing and evolving. It has been a tumultuous period for law enforcement and communities throughout the nation and there is a great deal of scrutiny on Law enforcement practices, departments, and officers in the United States. More than a few highly publicized encounters between officers and members of the public triggered many questions in communities across the country as well as protests. People are expecting changes, some of which have been in the works for years, while others are new ideas. We are slowly witnessing a massive shift in the law enforcement field in the areas of leadership, structure, culture, policy, and technology.
Here are some of the trends currently shaping the law enforcement field:
Improving Police-Community Partnerships – Regardless of the Political Environment
2017 marks a period of community engagement and activism, particularly as it affects law enforcement agencies. This trend is seen as generally positive because“Law enforcement cannot do it alone.” Public safety depends upon partnerships with the communities police officers serve. Even critical engagement can lead to improved trust and communication.
Police departments are redoubling their efforts to connect with community organizations and are more open to listening to community members while creating new connections and partnerships. These collaborative partnerships will have such positive effects as:
- Increasing transparency and organizational accountability (both the law enforcement agency and the community).
- Ensuring community members have a true voice in how their neighborhoods are policed.
- Increasing officers’ cultural competencies.
- Improving police-community relationships by bringing individuals together in non-confrontational encounters.
- Increasing awareness of the department’s public safety strategies.
Ensure Transparency and Accountability, Especially Related to Use of Force
Lately, significant discussion and review has been part of the professional and public debate on police use of force. Recently, several law enforcement leadership and labor organizations recently agreed upon a model use of force policy that they freely distributed, including:
- Fraternal Order of Police
- International Association of Chiefs of Police
- Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association
- National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives
Agencies across the nation now reconsider and redefine their use of force policies and practices, and are working to improve their department’s transparency and accountability to the communities they serve.
There is also a strong focus on “non-escalation” – a method where officers are trained to avoid escalating a situation to a point where force is required. Better policing models, through greater examination will help reduce use of force incidents, lessen their severity and result in greater officer safety.
Police are people too
People have been seeing more use of dialogue and engagement recently to help alleviate the general negative perceptions and distrust that law enforcement departments face. Officers have been making an effort to engage and encounter the community in such a way that will show that each officer is a person just like them. So as to remind community members that officers are doing their jobs to the best of their capabilities, and are limited by the fallibility of human nature—just like the rest of us.
While social media may have invited increased scrutiny of law enforcement, it also enabled law enforcement officers to hear and respond to the concerns of community members in real time. Recent events have had a significant impact upon both community and law enforcement officers. But there is a human factor in all police and community interactions and ultimately, this will lead to less hurdles for officers and the public to clear, this is the start of improved police-community relations.
Recently, body cameras have come into wider use, and they can have a positive impact for both officers and civilians. Body-worn cameras are designed to help ensure public safety by providing critical information and documenting encounters. These cameras can provide definitive evidence in situations where a police interaction is disputed. This contributes to the trend of transparency and accountability that departments are pursuing, especially when it comes to use of force.
The implementation and use of body worn cameras (BWC) will continue to expand throughout the country in the near future, as well as integration with reporting and computer-aided design (CAD) systems, public records use and investigative practices.
The rise of social media has vast implications for officers’ ability to find suspects, gather evidence, and perform their jobs as they provide a wealth of information. Most users regularly share their geographic location or plans, among other data. However, certain groups express concern that this data can allow law enforcement agencies to conduct discriminatory surveillance, curtail free speech or violate privacy rights.
On the other hand, the social media environment can also be detrimental to law enforcement when officers are caught on video and put online for everyone to see. Law enforcement agencies are now developing sound, reasonable social media policies to stay transparent and accountable.
Numerous organizations have been working to create model policies and protocols governing police use of social media data or video technology in the line of duty but there is still much work left to do. The pull of transparency in police actions is contrasted against that of the privacy of people who rely upon police for assistance.