When people in this country call the police, they are likely contacting a “small” department, one with fewer than 100 sworn officers. Law enforcement agencies of this size are responsible for serving the majority of the nation’s communities and conduct the lion’s share of policing in America. That is a tall order even in the best of times, and few would characterize these as “the best of times” for the policing profession. Law enforcement entities of all sizes, from the smallest departments to those serving the nation’s major cities, are struggling to cope with the increasing demands placed upon them to, for example, respond to the opioid epidemic or address mental illness. All the while, they face tightening budgets and degraded public trust.
These challenges can be particularly acute for small police departments and sheriff’s offices, agencies that typically face substantial resource and funding limitations. Nevertheless, departments increasingly are expected to equip officers with new technologies like body-worn cameras, smartphones, and even drones. New forms of criminal activity, such as cybercrime, are growing in scale. Meeting these new threats—and improving the process for addressing more traditional criminal activities—requires ongoing training that agencies often struggle, both financially and logistically, to provide.
At the same time, small departments are facing personnel problems. As older and more experienced officers retire, many agencies are having difficulty integrating young “millennial” replacements, whose career preferences and workplace expectations often create culture clashes within departments. Meanwhile, ongoing anti-police narratives erode public trust and encourage antipathy toward law enforcement officials, accelerating the exodus and making it harder to recruit talented and diverse young prospects. Public backlash against policing has also contributed to worsening morale among existing officers, who may be encouraged to pull back from discretionary and proactive law enforcement activities. Many officers refrain from using force in clearly life-threatening scenarios for fear of adverse publicity and becoming the subject of national scrutiny. In such a complex environment, it is unsurprising—but certainly worrying—that few of today’s officers want their children to follow in their footsteps.
For small agencies in particular, navigating these shifting dynamics requires committed and creative leadership. Fortunately, law enforcement leaders at the head of small departments are developing innovative solutions to the many challenges they face. Police chiefs and sheriffs are finding new ways to engage with the communities they serve, build trust, and practice community policing. They are pushing back against unfair narratives by leveraging the power of social media to communicate directly with the public. Many are employing cost-effective strategies to improve their responsiveness and ability to clear cases by bringing in retired officers, part-time staff, civilians, and volunteers to alleviate department workloads, thus freeing officers to address more significant public safety concerns. Departments are also finding new ways to conduct training, hone officers’ leadership skills, and equip them with useful new technologies—including by leveraging private-sector partnerships.
Despite these innovations, many challenges remain for America’s small law enforcement agencies. With this in mind, The Heritage Foundation convened its third Policing Strategy Summit in September 2018. While the two previous summits concentrated on the issues confronting America’s major cities’ and mid-size police departments, respectively, this summit brought together a diverse group of leaders from small law enforcement agencies across the country, along with representatives from national law enforcement organizations, police unions, the U.S. Department of Justice, and professionals with extensive federal, state, and local experience. As was the case with the first two Policing Strategy Summits, this meeting had three principal objectives:
- Identify the most pressing problems that law enforcement agencies face today, including the breakdown in trust, adequacy of training, proper use of new technologies, media and community relations, and the gathering and sharing of data;
- Identify the best practices and most innovative approaches that law enforcement authorities are employing to address these problems and combat crime; and
- Identify the most effective means of communicating with the public and political leaders, building trust and improving police–community relations, and bringing the needs and concerns of police agencies to the attention of federal officials.
The following represents the proceedings of the Policing Strategy Summit. It does not necessarily reflect the views of specific attendees or organizations, but seeks to capture the wide-ranging discussion that took place at the summit.
- Attendees agreed that the poly-drug epidemic remains a significant issue confronting communities and law enforcement organizations. The degree to which the epidemic has impacted smaller communities is shocking, and it is spreading to areas of the country like Texas, which had previously been relatively unaffected.
- Fentanyl, which is primarily arriving from China, is the main driver of drug epidemic deaths. Consequently, fentanyl should be the prime area of focus for law enforcement agencies. Doing so has helped to produce positive changes in communities. Police need to distinguish fentanyl dealers from dealers of other illegal substances and from users.
- The drug issue is further complicated by the fact that an increasing number of states are moving to expand medical marijuana and decriminalize or legalize recreational marijuana—a development criticized by several attendees as creating a gateway to more serious drug problems in communities. Abuse of marijuana may lead to the consumption of hard drugs, which are sometimes laced with fentanyl, directly contributing to increased drug abuse, overdoses, and deaths.
- Some attendees noted that a “broken windows” approach to drug abuse may be needed. Small drug infractions should be targeted before they can develop into larger issues. These participants also encouraged federal policymakers not to back down on the position that marijuana remains an illegal drug under federal law.
- Combating drug abuse requires departments to make inroads with younger members of the community, with the goal of encouraging them to stay away from marijuana and other drugs. Community outreach programs, such as “Coffee with a Cop” or after-school programs, have proven successful at youth influence and impact.
- Attendees noted that the response to the current epidemic differs from the cocaine epidemic of the 1980s. Police officers are expected to carry and regularly administer naloxone to overdose victims, putting further strain on law enforcement agencies’ staffing and resources. States are experimenting with various methods of drug treatment, but in the context of fentanyl and heroin, participants cautioned that treatment is not always an effective solution.
Culture of Policing
- Culture is the most important aspect of policing. Today, police culture faces a number of challenges, and it is undergoing a number of changes—especially with regards to training, leadership, and approaches to interacting with members of the community. The discussion touched on both internal and external aspects of today’s changing police culture.
- Accountability was a subject of significant discussion. Some participants described feeling a sense of duty to protect the profession by rooting out “bad apples” within their agencies: The police must police themselves, even when it is unpopular with the rank and file to do so.
- Attendees noted that departments often have good policies but do not adhere to them. Departments should follow established procedures for two main reasons. First, doing so ensures that police departments do what they should be doing to be effective law enforcement organizations, provides clear guidelines to personnel, and encourages agencies to plan and prepare for future situations. Second, written policies insulate departments against criticism arising from its law enforcement activities.
- The new thinking is, “Wait a minute. Let’s see what we have; let’s slow things down and use time and distance.”
- Incentivizing people within departments to come forward with new ideas is key to improving policing, and it is incumbent upon police leaders to foster an internal culture that invites and expects officers to bring forward new ideas.
- Participants also discussed the accreditation process, noting it is important but presently not mandatory. One attendee called accreditation the most important development in policing in the past decade, noting the professional and public-safety improvements the process can deliver.
- Police departments need to shift focus to how to provide services to the citizens. They should not be foregoing responding to criminal incidents such as petty thefts, car break-ins, and other instances because they are deemed “low-level crimes.”
- When police fail to respond to criminal incidents that directly affect community members because a given case is too “low-level,” the community’s view of law enforcement is negatively impacted. Attendees discussed the need for law enforcement officials to adopt a customer-service mindset and recognize the ramifications of their failure to satisfactorily address community concerns.
- Attendees considered whether the national consensus use-of-force policy, which was controversial at the time that it was adopted, has provided any meaningful guidance for officers in the field. Some attendees noted that adoption of national use-of-force policies might help to improve relations with some individuals who fear that there are no rules for police conduct or that there are “rogue agencies” that operate outside established rules.
- Other attendees noted that, because the national use-of-force policy is a consensus document crafted with broad involvement (including the Fraternal Order of Police), the policies earned buy-in at the rank-and-file level and are not necessarily viewed as a “top-down solution.”
- Still other attendees emphasized partnerships with various law enforcement professional organizations that maintain resources for law enforcement agencies, as well as the public, to better understand how to implement best practices for use of force.
- Attendees shared their experience that every community wants to be policed, understands the value of law enforcement, and appreciates law and order and the ability to call 9-1-1. Yet many communities want to know how to better engage with their law enforcement departments. Police departments must do a better job educating the public about what police resources are available to them, as well as the difficult steps police sometimes have to take to do their jobs.
- Law enforcement professionals must recognize their role in the community and give taxpayers what they pay for. Consider a person driving down a highway who sees a well-known brand hotel on one side and an unknown entity on the other. Which one will he choose? He knows what he will get at the known entity, but not at the unknown. Police departments should also be known entities to the public. People should know what kind of service they will get from the police. The onus is on police officers to make citizens feel comfortable and understand the support they will receive from law enforcement officers in their communities.
- Attendees agreed, however, that it takes a lot of hard work to build trust within their communities. Several of them discussed their understanding of how the police profession has changed over the years, why, and how those changes have improved community relations. Attendees noted lessons from major riots in the 1980s that resulted from police actions, including that the profession is accountable for every police–citizen interaction. Police officers do a million things right every year but do not do a good job of promoting that—thereby risking negative incidents dominating narratives about policing.
- Improving community relations can be especially difficult with immigrant communities that have developed a mistrust of police due to experiences in their home countries. The job of a police officer in these neighborhoods is incredibly challenging—even more so when fellow officers are being assassinated, assaulted, or harassed. Attendees stressed that the police cannot wait for the community to take the first step to initiate a productive relationship. The police must be professionals in the community, and department leadership must instill that belief in their officers.
Police and Race
- Attendees noted that the need to improve police interactions with individuals who are mentally ill is becoming increasingly evident. But attendees also focused on improving race relations.
- Attendees noted that those alleging racial bias in policing are often not accusing a particular police chief or department of racism, but are conveying their concerns about certain police practices and asking how they can get the service they need. Given the few high-profile instances of tragic abuses or misjudgments in the use of force, it is of paramount importance that police leadership not only know their department’s use-of-force policy, but are also able to effectively communicate that to the public. That requires agencies to have a ready mechanism to provide their communities with timely and accurate information. It also requires that police officers behave in a manner that changes the perception of people who distrust them, in part through education and outreach about the positive force that police professionals are.
Changing the Narrative
- Attendees noted that police officers are responsible for changing negative narratives about their noble profession. Unfortunately, they typically do not emphasize or excel at telling positive stories about themselves and their colleagues. The lack of positive messaging from police officers is all the more important in an era when the line has blurred between political commentary and news, and the public and media do not typically go to police chiefs to learn what is happening in their department.
- Attendees also noted that police departments should make better use of social media as a tool for public education, outreach, and engagement, in addition to improving relationships with community leaders.
- Some attendees expressed reluctance to use social media—but also appreciation for its ability to easily and quickly spread information. Police executives should use social media to address important topics whether they are good, bad, or indifferent. That is one opportunity for them to write their own narrative and to directly share their narrative with members of the media, who may be inclined to construct their own narratives based on other sources of information—but who typically appreciate communication from the police.
- Police officers could also execute social media campaigns to recognize the positive things they do on a daily basis.
- In addition to improving narratives about policing, social media outreach may help officers control an issue, as well as a crime scene, and not become distracted by media contacts or false reports. Having employees trained to use social media 24 hours a day helps with media and public relations because it enables the department to communicate emergencies (e.g., a car crash or road closure) at any time of the day or night.
- If police officers forego social media for positive messaging, others will dominate those fora with negative messages. That, in turn, can hurt recruitment. If young people see more stories of officers harming citizens than helping citizens, they will be unlikely to want to join the police profession.
- Likewise, when a negative incident does occur, such as a shooting, police leadership should quickly contact community leaders with whom they have positive relationships so that they can help disperse true information in a timely manner and prevent the spread of false information.
Outreach and Community Engagement
- Attendees also shared examples of specific programs that have helped to improve relationships within the community.
- Several attendees stressed the importance of investing in youth-engagement programs, even if the benefits are only long term. Some simply involve playing games or having lunch with at-risk youths in middle schools to generate more friendly police–citizen interactions with children, as well as their parents. Those efforts are also an investment in the future of the policing profession because, hopefully, they will inspire some young people to become officers.
- While it is important to teach young police officers how to interact with kids, it is just as important to teach kids how to interact with officers. Some attendees discussed their efforts to accomplish that goal through more formal mentorship programs in elementary schools. Attendees also discussed going to churches and other community centers to educate people about the police and build trusting relationships by answering questions such as, “My child just got a license. What should I be telling my kids to do when they talk to an officer or in case an officer stops them while driving?”
- Attendees also noted that community engagement can begin in the police academy, which can, for example, require every new officer to do some form of community service beyond their police activities.
- Still, several attendees suggested that it is not incumbent on the officers alone to save their community: Police are a part of the puzzle, but not the entire thing, and if people in the community are not cooperating or are mistreating police, then community policing is not working. Police officers have to work to make inroads with everyone, but much, if not all, of the community must be united to address community problems.
- One type of potential partnership is between police departments and private businesses that have no role in enforcement—but may invest in it. Businesses have a vested interest in the success of police agencies because their employees live in the community and are aware of social problems—even if they are confined to “pockets” of a community—and they may wish to invest in improving those pockets.
- It is important to have police officers living in the neighborhoods they serve, so that they can better understand and connect with their neighbors, but this is often a challenge because officers cannot afford to do so. Here, too, private partnerships can be beneficial. Some attendees referred to agreements with certain apartments for officers to get reduced rent or with city agencies to provide stipends for rent or a home purchase. Another program that effectively addresses this problem is the town providing down-payment money, which the officer pays down with a payroll deduction—or repays in the event that he or she leaves the department. This ensures that the town does not lose money while building additional buy-in to the organization.
- Attendees broadly agreed that officers are pulling back from their duties, a phenomenon referred to as the “Ferguson Effect.” Officers’ reasons for doing so vary: Some fear that their chiefs will not support their actions if they attract negative publicity; others do not want to be the subject of public scorn; some departments are told to pull back; and some officers use sour community relations as an excuse not to engage with the community and do the difficult but necessary work of policing. Regardless of the motivation, attendees agreed that police leaders must address the issue.
- Attendees discussed the importance of recognizing that communities give law enforcement officers the right to police them and that they will not tolerate police misconduct indefinitely. It is important for departments and police leaders to maintain close and positive relations with the communities they serve. Situations like Ferguson, Missouri, occur when departments allow those ties to fray.
- There was broad consensus that, if police departments pull back too far, the consequences for both communities and officers can be disastrous. For example, violent crime spiked in the community of North Charleston after the police force pulled back following an officer-involved shooting that drew national attention. Police officers, meanwhile, are sometimes hesitant to use lethal force even when their lives are in immediate jeopardy. One attendee relayed an incident in which an officer was nearly beaten to death—but refused to defend herself for fear of the public response. It is important for leaders to remind officers to remain vigilant and to reassure them that they will have the support of the department.
- The effect is impacting officer retention, prompting experienced officers to retire early, while others leave because of morale problems or concern at being unable to effectively police their communities.
Staffing, Retention, and Recruitment
- Small departments face many unique challenges, including extremely tight budgets. Resource constraints pose difficulties, particularly during economic recessions, but they also create opportunities to think outside the box, innovate, and adapt. When forced not to rely on the old adage, “how we always do things,” small departments often excel at finding creative solutions to novel challenges. That is particularly true for employee recruitment, staffing, and retention.
- Attendees noted that most people who become police officers do so to help people. And, on an inspiring note, a recent survey shows more boys are wanting to become police officers. Many of today’s officers, however, do not seem to want their own children to follow in their footsteps. This has brought policing to a critical point, and thought must be given to who will be the next generation of officers and what changes to the profession are needed to mollify those officers who do not want their children to join the force.
- Attendees suggested that police leadership ought to show more support to their rank-and-file officers in moments where they are forced to make a “split-second decision.” Police officers, like all professionals, are often involved in situations that, had they been handled in a slightly different manner, could have had a very different result. These situations are especially harrowing for police officers, regardless of whether the media chooses to vilify them. It is important to ask, therefore, is leadership more worried about their “brand” or the politics of a situation—or standing behind an officer?
- Police leadership must also counter the unfortunate false narrative that has spread over the past several years that all police officers are abusive and racist. If leaders in police departments allow that narrative to spread, people who might otherwise consider joining a police department may look elsewhere for a career. Perhaps worse, police departments might start receiving applications from those who want to abuse their positions.
- Attendees also expressed the difficulty of competing with departments in other jurisdictions that have similar, and, in some cases, better pay and benefits. In addition, police departments are competing for candidates with the private sector, where pay is typically higher.
- Attendees also noted that state and local lawmakers need to reconsider regulations that restrict the pool of potential police department staff. Some jurisdictions, for instance, have regulations that reduce or eliminate the pension benefits of retired officers who rejoin the police department on a part-time basis, thus deterring them from returning to the department to work. Several attendees noted creative ways to utilize retired officers that would be precluded without specific legislative reforms in their jurisdictions. Using retired officers to staff schools, for example, may require special legislative amendments if those individuals are to keep their retirement benefits.
- Attendees noted that while they put a lot of effort into the hiring process, they are not necessarily focused on recruitment. Several attendees noted that they partner with other local institutions, such as their local community colleges, to recruit young officers by sending an officer into a community college to do face-to-face recruitment or administering tests to students and soliciting resumés from those who achieve a certain score.
- Attendees stated that hiring may be the most important part of a police chief’s job. Yet some jurisdictions are experiencing major problems with hiring and retention.
- Attendees asserted that even short-staffed departments should not hire candidates they believe will not perform well, but should remain short-staffed until the role can be filled by a fit candidate. Attendees suggested that larger departments may be unable to make that trade-off because they need to have officers on the street.
- Some attendees expressed interest in a decertification process for terminated officers after finding that officers fired in one jurisdiction may be hired into another department elsewhere—creating the perception that other departments “just need a warm body” and do not make credible hiring decisions. Attendees noted that, fortunately, small departments have the advantage of being able to be pickier about their hiring decisions.
- When making hiring decisions, police chiefs have to look past basic qualifications, (e.g., qualification to carry a weapon) and consider character, personability, and communication skills as important hiring metrics to determine whether a candidate will be able to make positive connections within their communities.
- Attendees noted that different classes of candidates come with unique challenges in that regard. Millennials, for instance, tend to change jobs frequently and seek specialized units and promotions—but police civil service rules do not foster frequent changes. Military officers lack the level of dissent that other millennials exhibit, but their character traits may lean toward the warrior qualities of an officer, at the expense of the statesman qualities. Police departments must also hire engaged people and promote good leaders within the department to keep officers engaged throughout their careers. Chiefs should not hire officers who will not advance a professional culture at their agency—and should fire employees who do not foster a professional culture.
- Attendees noted that writing ability is another important attribute for a police officer, and that should be tested as a part of the hiring process just as departments test physical standards. Neither the physical nor mental standards should be relaxed (including character, leadership, personability, and writing ability).
- Attendees also stressed the importance of hiring leaders and incorporating leadership training into the academy, starting on day one. That way, new officers can develop those skills by the time they become supervisors. But even non-supervisors need those skills because the police are leading others every day, whether it is drivers at an accident, protestors, or kids in school.
- Attendees noted that the hiring process at their departments has become “extreme” by comparison to what it was just a few decades ago. In the past, a candidate might interview for an hour and have a job. Today, the hiring process can take a long time, but departments will have better officers as a result. Some attendees said that the lesson from having bad officers as a result of bad hiring practices is that departments today must ensure that their hiring process leads to quality officers.
- Attendees also noted that police departments should call a candidate’s last employer to ensure that they have no serious issues that would indicate potential problems in the field.
- Some attendees expressed their frustration that, in their jurisdictions, the hiring and promotion process is riddled with a cumbersome bureaucracy that restricts input and flexibility. And in some cases, civil service rules, other procedures, and stakeholders outside the department might prevent police executives from hiring the person they think is the best candidate.
- Attendees who have members of their community involved in their hiring process may face additional challenges, but they also benefit from additional perspective. While citizens may not know much, if anything, about law enforcement, police executives can ask them for useful information that only they can provide, such as whether a candidate is someone they would want to come into their homes to deal with intimate problems. In addition to providing candid answers to such important questions, having citizens on hiring boards also reminds officers that they serve citizens, and it provides valuable marketing to citizens who get to see some of the functions of, and have some input into, their police department.
- Attendees had an extensive debate about the value of the civil service system and the need for reform.
- The civil service system was created to level the playing field, but many attendees noted that civil service rules and requirements have grown archaic—and now prevent them from making the staffing decisions they want to make. Concerns about disparate impact, politics, and other issues also prevent law enforcement leaders from hiring and promoting preferred candidates.
- Other attendees argued that civil service rules can make it difficult to remove “bad apples” from the police force. Others countered that if executives handle terminations well, they will be upheld, and that the more important issue is to not hire “bad apples” in the first place—especially because officer morale suffers when a department is forced to keep an employee the department sought to have terminated for cause.
- Several attendees described the civil service system as archaic and inflexible. But they stated that the path for reform is typically through union negotiation. Attendees briefly discussed other ways to unwind the civil service system and suggested that state legislative reform is a potential path that has not been entertained.
- That leaves a separate issue of whether unions do, or should, maintain as vital a role today as they had in the 1930s and 1940s. Attendees stated that there are major differences in compulsory and non-compulsory union states and officers can be surprised by the differences when they move away from cities such as Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Boston, which have a heavy union presence and do not allow much flexibility and innovation.
- Officer retention can be a challenge for many departments, particularly given the difficulties of the profession and the often low pay. Police leaders can take steps to mitigate this by building a rapport within the department, ensuring they are engaged with rank-and-file officers and listening to their feedback, and investing time and resources in mentoring young officers and helping to advance their careers. Unofficial leaders within departments can be immensely helpful in maintaining a positive atmosphere within the rank and file. Sergeants, who are often the most important link in the chain of command, can be especially critical for communicating with line officers and keeping them motivated.
- Police executives can and should do more to help young officers throughout their careers to grow from the unique challenges of their profession, particularly the exposure to violence, which can be difficult to adjust to. Such assistance may involve more ongoing training or resources for officers, such as mental health officers.
- Technology, such as a body-worn cameras, can play a major role in officer retention. Once, officers were wary of cameras, fearing they would be used against them: In fact, the opposite often turns out to be true, and officers are being protected from false claims made against them. Attendees noted that officers’ views of the technology have shifted accordingly. At the same time, these cameras are important tools to promote accountability within departments.
- A new trend is emerging towards the use of part-time officers. This is partly driven by cost concerns among departments, but in many cases officers themselves are electing to go part time for personal reasons, e.g., they are stay-at-home parents or want to pursue other opportunities beyond law enforcement. Part-time officers are often limited to transport, foot patrol, or station duties, but as a result, their training requirements are often correspondingly reduced compared to a full-time officer. These positions also present the chance to tap into the pool of talent that exists among retired officers or military personnel.
- Civilians who work in police departments are integral to the functioning of a department, but in many cases, departments lost civilian personnel in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Communities were forced to choose between street cops and civilians and tended to prefer hiring uniformed police officers. The loss of civilians has forced departments to pull cops off other assignments to perform functions that could otherwise be done by the civilian workforce.
- Attendees agreed that police departments should take steps to civilianize their departments, particularly in light of the changing nature of crime in the 21st century. Cybercrime is becoming more commonplace, and departments will need competent civilian employees with expertise in this new and emerging area in order to adapt. Departments will need to compete with the private sector to attract talent.
- Retired officers can also be recruited to work as civilians, performing functions such as parking enforcement, patrol work, and background investigations, thus freeing up uniformed officers and allowing these officers’ time to be best utilized.
- Departments should take advantage of opportunities to utilize volunteers whenever possible. One attendee described a highly successful Citizen Police Academy, which helps to recruit more than 200 volunteers working more than 40,000 man-hours each year. Another described a local tax abatement program designed to encourage citizens to volunteer for their local departments in exchange for property tax abatements. One participant encouraged departments situated near university campuses to explore partnerships that would allow students to do analysis work for departments as part of class credit (e.g., economic analysis to determine the optimum cycle for police vehicle trade-ins and conducting a job task analysis survey of department staff positions).
- Generational shifts are creating new problems for departments, as millennial officers join the ranks and bring with them different preferences, attitudes, and expectations. In many cases, departments are struggling to attract and retain millennials, whose preferences for upward mobility and rapid advancement often conflict with rigid hiring and promotion rules, and whose desire for creative and challenging work is at odds with the often-tedious nature of police work. Police leaders need to be willing to engage with millennials and seek new ways to utilize their talents—or risk losing them to other potential employers.
- Several attendees have had success attracting millennials to the profession by finding ways to compromise on certain aspects of the job to cater to new hires. For example, several departments relaxed their policies on tattoos and beards out of recognition that millennials are generally a more informal group. Moves like this can improve morale without compromising the high standards of professionalism necessary for a police force.
- Attendees disagreed about the work ethic of millennial officers. Some characterized them as less interested in working than prior generations. Others pushed back, arguing that millennials are immensely talented, particularly with regard to technology. Realizing this potential, however, requires engagement on the part of police leaders.
- There was broad agreement that millennials have different career preferences than their predecessors. For example, previous generations of officers were willing to work overtime for the additional income, but millennial officers place greater value on time off, creating challenges for departments. As a result, some attendees advocated hiring additional officers to make up the deficit, while others experimented with alternatives to overtime pay to incentivize millennials to work extra hours. One successful program allowed officers to save up to 40 hours of flexible leave, which could be used over a 90-day period.
- Millennials, perhaps more than past generations, want to know not only what their assignments are, but why they are assigned to do a particular task in a particular way. Some attendees expressed displeasure with this constant questioning of authority and the chain of command. Police departments are hierarchical in structure, and every officer must follow orders, particularly during critical-incident scenarios. However, several participants explained that the root of the impulse to ask “why” stems from millennials’ desire for meaningful work, and that they had reaped significant rewards in terms of improved work ethic and dedication when they took the time to engage with millennials and answer their questions. Training should take this change in attitude into account and teach officers both why they should take particular actions and what their leaders will expect of them in the field.
- Some millennials seem to lack interpersonal communications skills, a deficit many attendees attributed to being raised in an era of text messaging and social media. Some departments have had great success employing millennials in more technology-heavy roles, but most agreed that police leaders need to be aware of, and take steps to mitigate, the communications deficits apparent in younger officers.
- It is incumbent on chiefs and other law enforcement leaders to set an example and to play the role of “moral quarterback” for a department. Police leadership matters, and its impact is measurable. Attendees discussed several examples of cities where police departments have made tremendous advances under competent, reform-minded chiefs. In New York City, officer-involved shootings fell from 950 in 1972 to 23 in 2017. Miami, however, served as a cautionary tale regarding the need to maintain reforms. After a Justice Department investigation, the Miami police chief implemented policy reforms and new training requirements. After two years without a single officer-involved shooting, a new chief of the Miami Police Department reversed his predecessor’s policies, and officer-involved shootings spiked. Police chiefs can keep their officers out of trouble by implementing—and adhering to—good policy.
- The position of police chief is one of high pressure. Accepting the position means subjecting oneself to tremendous scrutiny and facing swift, sometimes severe, judgment from the public. Chiefs are getting younger and feel immense personal pressure and job insecurity. As one participant put it, “Chiefs are one bad car stop away from getting fired.” In spite of this, there is a dearth of good leadership training, and chiefs seldom seek advice from their peers. Several chiefs noted that, consequently, dialogues and forums like these summits are vital; others recommended that chiefs reach out to fellow leaders in the middle of difficult situations if they might be able to offer helpful and constructive advice.
- Chiefs need to be aware of the mental states of their officers and encourage peer accountability at all levels. Officers involved in incidents frequently exhibit warning signs of which fellow officers are aware. Chiefs should make it clear that officers are expected to voice these concerns if they see red flags.
Hiring Police Chiefs
- Chiefs of police are the most important hire a city government makes, with a critical role to play in maintaining public safety and order. The hiring process itself is rigorous. Police chiefs who are hired should take pride in the fact that they emerged as the top candidate in a highly competitive selection process—one frequently more intense even than the process of hiring a city manager.
- City governments and communities are playing an increasing role in selecting police chiefs, and participants noted that the hiring criteria and expectations are not always clear. Further, mayors and city managers often lack a clear understanding themselves of the qualities needed in good chiefs. Some participants called for education on this point from an outside group with credibility, possibility the U.S. Department of Justice.
- Chiefs are often hired from within their own departments, and some states legally require departments to hire chiefs from within. Participants noted that this condition on hiring likely originated with unions—but has since become a barrier to hiring the best candidates. Some departments have been forced to come up with creative hiring strategies to get around these restrictions.
Property and Evidence
- Participants agreed that chiefs of police should make their property and evidence room a priority. Recently hired chiefs should audit the room at the outset of their tenure in order to establish its contents and to ensure they are not held liable for evidence lost or misplaced by their predecessors. Chiefs should further establish clear and explicit rules for their evidence rooms.
- Participants noted that evidence control is becoming a significant issue, and incidents of lost evidence and property are prompting state legislatures to step in with audit and other requirements. If law enforcements groups wish to avoid this, they must focus on the issue themselves.
- Attendees uniformly noted the importance of training for their departments and officers—but routinely struggle to meet those needs given the costs of training. Some programs, such as scenario-based use-of-force training, are prohibitively expensive for small departments; others, like taser training—which requires both an initial certification and regular refresher trainings—are financially unsustainable. Often, the real cost driver for training programs is not the up-front price tag for the training itself, significant as that is. Secondary expenses prove to be the largest challenge for departments—e.g., travel costs and the salary and overtime commitments for officers in training and for those asked to cover their shifts. Attendees noted repeatedly that training programs are needed that bring the training to them, rather than require officers to travel at great expense. Financial and logistical struggles can be exacerbated by state governments that impose unnecessary or frivolous training requirements on departments.
- Departments have been forced to seek creative solutions to provide their officers with necessary training. Many attendees noted that their departments had begun offering in-house training, seeking out private-sector support, and taking advantage of free training resources that are available to them, such as roll-call training created by state chiefs’ associations. The International Association of Chiefs of Police also operates a free program called CRI-TAC, the Collaborative Reform Initiative and Technical Assistance Center, which offers training in 27 separate areas.
- Departments should take advantage of training to bolster their relationship with the community. For example, posting announcements to social media about officers completing additional training can reinforce a department’s professional bona fides.
- Several indicated that either state or federal assistance may be necessary for small departments to meet their training needs. In the past, police departments have turned to funds derived from civil asset forfeiture cases to pay for training, but this source of revenue is on the decline, particularly at the state level, where reforms have limited the use and retention of forfeiture-derived revenues. Federal Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grants have been critical to covering training costs, but attendees noted that COPS funding is also on the decline.
- There was some disagreement over whether larger or smaller agencies were better positioned with regard to training. On the one hand, larger agencies generally have larger budgets with which to pay for officer training. On the other hand, it was noted that larger agencies often do not spend those funds on training, and, as a result, their officers are comparatively less well trained than their peers in small and mid-size departments, which frequently invest more in training.
- Sergeants play a key leadership role in small departments as first-line supervisors, and they are critical to continuity and to mission execution within departments. Nevertheless, the attendees noted that federal authorities and the National Academy do not recognize sergeants as playing supervisory roles, and so it is difficult for small departments to get leadership training for these officers.
- It may be time to reevaluate and reform academy training. Several attendees noted that academy curriculums have not been substantially modified in decades and focus on the “warrior” aspect of policing—for example, driving or firearms training. This risks perpetuating a sense of hyper-vigilance within police officers, which can lead to officers misjudging a potential threat or overreacting to a situation. Academy training should develop officer skill sets in other aspects of policing that focus on community engagement and personal interactions.
Dealing with New Technologies
- New technologies hold great promise to enhance police activities. For example, drones can reduce substantially crime scene–mapping times and can be used by officers protecting major public events or engaged in manhunts or search-and-rescue missions. Smartphones similarly allow officers to more easily and quickly send and receive information relevant to a case. As a result, attendees noted that departments frequently feel pressure to adopt technological solutions merely because they are prominent nationally or because other similarly situated departments are doing so. They cautioned that decisions about whether to purchase and deploy new technologies should hinge on the particular needs and priorities of the department and the community. For example, though drones may be nice to have, some attendees noted that their departments have no present need to own any.
- Departments are increasingly equipping every officer with a smartphone and making it a policy to provide their phone numbers to the community to facilitate quicker and easier police–community communication. Smartphones allow officers to send and receive critical information quickly, provide tools to overcome language barriers, and allow for the quick dissemination of public safety information to the public via social media, among other things.
- Small departments in particular must confront the challenges of rolling out new technologies with limited budgets, and attendees noted that priorities often must shift when unexpected incidents occur. For example, one participant noted that agency plans to roll out body-worn cameras had to be postponed when the funds were instead needed to replace station interview cameras.
- When departments roll out new tools, such as license plate readers, camera-equipped drones, or other technologies that are perceived as “surveillance,” there can be a negative public backlash. Attendees recommended early and candid engagement with the community to secure their trust and buy-in.
- Many departments are adopting body-worn cameras as a step beyond traditional dashboard cameras. Initially, many officers were skeptical about using the technology. Participants noted that this sentiment has changed, and that officers by and large embrace body-worn cameras because they protect officers against false claims or complaints and gather evidence that can be used to hold officers accountable for improper conduct. Body-worn camera footage is also valuable in assessing officers’ performance and improving their interactions with members of the community.
- One of the most significant issues involves who can see body-worn camera footage and when that footage may be released. In some cases, department policy governs the release of camera footage; in others, state law prohibits release absent, for example, a court order. This can create significant tension between a department and a community in the aftermath of an officer-involved incident. Good relationships between chiefs of police and community leaders, as well as candid conversations about the release process, can help to allay concerns and resolve these tensions. To be maximally effective, this should be done before an incident develops.
Unique Challenges and Opportunities for Smaller Agencies
- Attendees agreed that they all face funding and staffing challenges. But more specific challenges, such as providing excellent training, are not due to a lack of resources—but to a lack of leadership. Good leadership at a small department requires focus to overcome funding and staffing challenges and to ensure that officers are providing the best quality of service to their community.
- Thus, policing at small agencies is often much harder than it is at larger agencies. In a use-of-force situation, for example, small departments do not always have the resources to have a second officer respond. That may take up to 20 to 30 minutes, whereas larger departments have adequate resources to provide a faster response.
- Several attendees stated that handling protests is becoming an increasingly significant issue for small departments. When larger jurisdictions chase protestors into smaller ones, it forces small departments to spend their precious resources assembling a crisis negotiations team, although they may not be trained to deal with a significant level of protestors. A lack of specialized training for protests is exacerbated by the fact that protestors do not always live in the communities where they hold demonstrations, but come into a community, engage in potentially harmful protest—and then leave.
- Several attendees express a particular concern for cybercrimes and fraud. While violent crime is down, and some small departments are experiencing a decline in calls for service, there has been a significant increase in the number of people who are being financially victimized. Major problems include the following:
- Crimes that disproportionately affect the elderly;
- Interstate and international fraud schemes (e.g., credit card theft);
- Crimes that did not occur within the jurisdiction of the victim’s residency; and
- Victims being “shuffled” between agencies and wondering to whom they can go for a definitive response.
- While much of the training for cybercrime is intuitive, and involves long-standing police practices, the jurisdictional issue is often a major challenge. The boundaries of cybercrime, or lack thereof, create unique challenges, particularly with cross-jurisdictional charging (e.g., where people are sending money across states). More advanced cases (“spoofing” and child pornography), however, often do require some specialized training. Still, most offices can follow up doing traditional police work.
- Adopting new technologies can also be especially taxing for a small department—to the point that what might be desirable for larger agencies is unaffordable at smaller ones. Several attendees noted that body-worn cameras—while they are extremely valuable for a variety of reasons, as discussed elsewhere in this report—are a good example. The cameras are relatively inexpensive, but the costs of storage, editing, and sharing the video files becomes astronomical. Smaller departments must find creative ways to get around resource constraints.
- Small departments also have many benefits that their larger counterparts lack. While large agencies are often slow to amend their policies and practices, small departments can turn on a dime if and when necessary. Many attendees agreed that the best quality of a small agency is the ability to be more flexible and adaptive and, as long as a change is not cost-prohibitive, to make organizational changes quickly.
- The leadership at smaller police departments also has a greater ability to influence professional culture than they might at larger departments, where management is often removed from the sergeants and line officers and the day-to-day work of the department.
- Public reporting, for instance, can change quickly at small departments, both in terms of the subject matter and the methodology of these reports, as public concerns shift. When tracking the use of force, for example, small departments can repackage their reports as a “response-to-resistance report” to characterize when and why force is being used. And these reports can be distributed to the community on a regular basis, with press support from local municipal management.
- There is a wide variety of resource levels and needs among smaller agencies. Those in affluent jurisdictions may have the financial support to obtain cameras and other equipment that other jurisdictions may not. Resource disparity is not, however, a matter of community mistrust or a measure of police misconduct. Attendees noted that there are some affluent communities, based on assessed property values, that demand a high quality of service, yet offer only a low level of investment in the police.
- Faced with tight resource constraints, smaller departments may have to use individual officers for a wide variety of tasks. Small departments can provide officers with diverse training and certification to enable them to cover more versatile jobs, e.g., they can double as divers, motorcycle drivers, and handle investigations. For smaller agencies, this can be a morale builder because it keeps officers engaged and performing at the top of their profession.
- Attendees asserted that one way for smaller agencies to cope with resource constraints is to share resources. Police departments of all sizes are often very reactive when it comes to buying technology because some issue is in the national press or larger departments are buying certain equipment, and there is immense pressure on other agencies to address national issues and use the latest gear. But if something is not practical or helpful for an agency, it should not follow along just for the sake of it. Smaller agencies should focus instead on joining together with other small municipalities and buying the equipment that they truly need and can share with others.
- Attendees noted that they have memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with other departments for the purpose of sharing all kinds of resources, from riot response teams and SWAT teams to drones. This allows them to provide a high level of service without overextending themselves—creating a win-win for the police and the community.
- What attendees described as the “regionalization of resources”—sharing resources between agencies through an MOU—can also allow officers to work outside their jurisdiction. This can be particularly good for detectives who no longer need permission from a supervisor to work across county lines.
- Attendees also noted that other public agencies within their jurisdictions can help pay for some policing equipment and services out of their budgets. Smaller departments can share some resources with their fire or other departments and avoid some budgetary and political issues of purchasing equipment themselves or acquiring it through military programs. And the school district, for instance, can pay a fixed rate for officers if they request a police presence in their facilities—the rate being commensurate with the level of services that the entity demands and the cost of the officer to the city.
- Smaller departments also improve their relationships with other departments—particularly with assistant district attorneys (ADAs)—through cross-department training exercises and community-based justice meetings among ADAs, social services agencies, school department officials, police officers, and other agencies.
- Another way for small departments to manage resource constraints is to participate in federal programs and partnerships, including the military surplus program, as well as the Department of Justice’s Office of Law Enforcement Liaison, Community Resource Services, and the National Institute for Justice.
- The military surplus program (also known as the “1033 program”) was recognized as a great benefit, allowing departments to acquire anything from firearms to computers, buses, and even a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle. Attendees voiced some frustration at the program’s inconsistency, in part owing to presidential administrations changing the program’s rules.
- The 1033 program brings with it particular strains for departments: The cost of maintaining and servicing equipment after it is acquired can be considerable. It can be time consuming to exercise continued oversight of the property that departments receive, and the equipment can be difficult to get rid of. Navigating the process to find equipment can be arduous, prompting some attendees to call for the 1033 process to be streamlined.
- Other attendees raised concerns about efforts by state and local legislatures to limit the types of equipment departments can obtain out of concern over the “militarization” of the police. While that issue can be addressed at the federal level, it is just as important to address at the local level.
- Departments need proper oversight, and equipment must be accounted for.
- In many cases, the types of equipment obtainable through the 1033 program have been used by police for decades. Attendees noted that the optics have changed in recent years, and using military-grade equipment is now more problematic from a public-relations perspective. To mitigate this problem, the public should be educated on the purpose and usefulness of the program. Several attendees noted the importance of public transparency regarding equipment acquisitions.
- Attendees can also work with Office of Law Enforcement Liaison, which serves three primary purposes: being out in the field to learn what the pressing issues are; getting resources into the hands of those who need them; and lending much-needed political support to law enforcement professionals.
- The office solicits concerns from state and local law enforcement professionals and provides those to the relevant components of the U.S. Department of Justice, providing access to all resources in the department and resolving any issues within department components with oversight of any particular issue.
- The office supports state and local law enforcement departments through funding and training that addresses their contemporary challenges and issues. There is a wealth of training resources available to state and local agencies. The law enforcement coordinator in the U.S. attorney’s office is always available. They can provide tons of trainings, for instance, on search-and-seizure and other constitutional issues. As a part of these efforts, the office is committed to providing an atmosphere in which state and local police agencies are not afraid that if they ask for assistance, they will end up being audited.
- The Trump Justice Department is committed to helping state and local police departments and to lending the necessary political support that drives positive narratives about policing and facilitates successful police–community relations.
- Few attendees were aware of another program, the Justice Department’s Community Relations Service, which was created in the 1960s as part of the Civil Rights Act. It is designed to provide an external sounding board for police chiefs and the leaders in a police department during a critical incident. It has always been a tangential part of the Justice Department, which tried to make it a stronger force in the 1980s to help respond to and reduce the number of critical incidents such as riots.
- The value of the office varies according to its personnel who, if they are doing their job right, will be talking to people and advising chiefs. When these persons are qualified, they are an added value.
- Finally, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) helps local law enforcement through research. Although the NIJ shifted its focus to more academic pursuits during the Obama Administration, the Trump Administration returned its focus to producing rigorous and timely research for practitioners.
- While it is centered on tactics that help reduce crime, the NIJ performs a variety of other functions, including certifying body armor. Since its implementation during the Reagan Administration, the body armor program has saved more than 3,000 officers’ lives. In the wake of recent school shootings, however, people are taking NIJ-certified plates and putting them in backpacks and calling them “certified.” The NIJ is working to address this unfortunate trend, since it certifies only body armor.
- Attendees offered several suggestions for NIJ research. One suggested area of research that affects the 18,000 departments across the country is how the IC3.gov program (designed to submit Internet crime complaints to the Federal Bureau of Investigation) is helping citizens and prioritizing resources. Given the increase in victims of financial crimes that smaller departments do not have the resources to serve, attendees wanted to know if there is something they could do to help these victims.
- Another research area that would benefit the entire police community is how to improve the safety, health, and wellness of officers.
- The Law Enforcement Advancing Data and Science Scholars Programs by the NIJ is a joint 30-year program between the NIJ and the International Association of Chiefs of Police, which brings practitioners and scholars together to share their ideas and further their research. The goal is to have them become police chiefs across the country.
The Honorable Edwin Meese III was the 75th Attorney General of the United States and is the Ronald Reagan Distinguished Fellow Emeritus at The Heritage Foundation. John G. Malcolm is Vice President for the Institute for Constitutional Government, Director of the Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, and Ed Gilbertson and Sherry Lindberg Gilbertson Senior Legal Fellow at The Heritage Foundation.
Best Practices and Innovative Approaches to Address Current Crime Trends
While the first American police departments modeled themselves after the London Metropolitan Police, they borrowed selectively rather than exactly. The most notable carryover was the adoption of the preventive patrol idea. A police presence would alter the behavior of individuals and would be available to maintain order in an efficient manner. Differences, however, between the London and American police abounded. The London Metropolitan Police was a highly centralized agency. An extension of the national government, the police department was purposely removed from the direct political influence of the people. Unlike the London police, American police systems followed the style of local and municipal governments. City governments, created in the era of the “common man” and democratic participation, were highly decentralized. The police departments shared this style of participation and decentralization. As a result of the democratic nature of government, legal intervention by the police was limited, unlike the London police which relied on formal control or individual authority. The personal, informal police officer could win the respect of the citizenry by knowing local standards and expectations. This meant that different police behavior would occur in different neighborhoods. In New York, for example, the cop was free to act as he chose within the context of broad public expectations. He was less limited by institutional and legal restraints than was his London counterpart, entrusted with less formal power, but given broader personal discretion.
Municipal policing is much like religion in the United States: Every department is a little different in execution, but all serve the same purpose. Each town has a different amount of resources, a different set of needs and obstacles, and different ways the community wants things done. Police departments all interpret what they are to do differently, but in the end, it is “policing.”
Gadgetry and Policing
Police officers are just like everyone else. They love every new gadget and idea that promises to make their lives easier or make them more productive. Vendors are aware of this and often present their newest devices as must-haves for all departments. Understandably, departments can come to feel they will be ineffective and archaic if they do not embrace the latest thing. But what may be a best practice for one agency may not be best for another.
At the moment, there is a strong sentiment at the national level that police ought to record every encounter with the best body-worn and in-car cameras available. Additionally, all police interviews must be recorded, and so too must the comings and goings in police stations. Law enforcement executives certainly understand the public’s desire for transparency and accountability, and at the same time truly want to provide to officers the level of protection that camera recordings can afford. But small police departments do not have the luxury of large budgets; they must continually weigh their options and balance the requirements and expectations of their communities with the department’s often limited resources.
By way of example, as chief of the Mexico, Missouri, Department of Public Safety, I had to drop plans to roll out body-worn cameras (BWCs) when it became clear that our in-house cameras were failing and in need of replacement. The Department could not do both, but choosing between the two was simple: The in-house cameras are necessary and required, while the decision to purchase BWCs had less to do with a specific community demand for them and more to do with criticism from the national media directed at policing in general.
No one in Mexico, Missouri, had ever called for us to have them, and there were no public allegations of negligence and lack of transparency. We were falling into the trap of national clamor, and that nearly cost the department not only the up-front cost of the BWCs, but also the burdensome ancillary costs for storage, too. So when the department’s interview room cameras died, we dropped the plan for BWCs and replaced the in-house cameras as our budget allowed. We did what was most effective for us and was within our budget. This was our “best practice.”
As with BWCs, many departments are eager to acquire unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or what are more generally known as “drones.” The Missouri State Highway Patrol currently has eight UAVs used for major crash scene mapping. They are proving very beneficial to officer safety and allow crash scenes to be opened up sooner. Based on their use thus far, the UAVs have reduced average on-scene mapping time from about 40 minutes to just over nine minutes. This not only clears roadways sooner, it reduces exposure of first responders to dangerous traffic conditions.
The Kansas City Police Department also has a fleet of drones. They are used to monitor crowds at special events, for manhunts, and for searching for lost people. UAVs are clearly a very useful tool, but the Mexico Department of Public Safety has no reason to invest in them. I applaud the advancement of drones and see their value, but this technology simply would not benefit our particular jurisdiction in a cost-effective manner. Should we ever need one, Mexico, Missouri, would happily borrow from Kansas City.
Real Time Crime Center
The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department is using their Real Time Crime Center (RTCC) to enhance their crime-fighting efforts. Kansas City also has a similar center. Both agencies utilize a network of license-plate readers and cameras to monitor various areas and to combat the crime issues experienced in those areas. Mexico, Missouri, does not have a real time crime center—and likely does not need one. Crime analysis comes from officer awareness of particular, and granular, information, such as knowing who just got out of prison, who has developed a penchant for burglary, or who is having a turf war with whom. Despite not having the sophisticated technology of the RTCC, the department’s clearance rate is many times higher than the national crime clearance rate.
Small-Town Policing Technologies
As a small to medium-size police department in a rural community, the Mexico Department of Public Safety must do its research and examine what is truly the best and most cost-effective way to serve its citizens and do the work of “policing.” Though the department has chosen not to invest in the aforementioned technologies, it has found several technologies that work for us. These are:
- Cellebrite (Universal Forensic Extraction Device). This device allows the department to obtain information from cell phones. It is very helpful for investigations, but the upkeep and updates are costly.
- Live Scan (digital fingerprinting technology). This wonderful technology allows us to take fingerprints electronically and quickly search digital fingerprint records. The technology is expensive, however, because it is moving so fast.
- Mobile ID (mobile fingerprint identification). This technology allows officers to obtain fingerprints electronically, remotely from the car.
- Social Media. Social networking platforms can be crucial criminal justice tools, allowing officers to gather intelligence, locate clues, and even screen candidates for employment.
The world of law enforcement is very different now than it was for Sir Robert Peel. In just a few years, policing has undergone a monumental evolution. New processes, like Crisis Intervention Training, and many new technologies are changing the way police do just about everything. From drones in the sky to microcomputers in our eyeglasses, progress and change are everywhere. Maybe one day, Mexico officers will have augmented reality technology like HoloLens.
We anxiously anticipate all that the future holds. However, it is crucial that small police departments like Mexico continue to cautiously and judiciously make decisions as to what is a best practice for the city, the department, and the officers.
Susan Rockett is Chief of the Department of Public Safety in Mexico, Missouri.
Small-Town Police Officers Build Trust Through Close Relationships to Their Communities
David L. Kurz
Small-town police agencies, by their nature, are oriented toward building community trust. Officers routinely engage with residents in many facets of life and often live and take active roles in the community, which create strong relationships and legitimacy for the organization. Smaller communities often have close relationships with their police departments, which allows police to provide procedural justice and understand the manner in which the community desires to be policed and served. As such, small communities often take for granted that their police departments are comprised of dedicated public servants and do not have to deal with challenges to their police departments’ legitimacy, as do the departments in some larger communities.
It is important, however, that police departments strive constantly to reinforce and improve their relationships to their communities. This is even truer in light of the ongoing national dialogue about policing and the emphasis often placed by the media on abuses of police authority.
The Guardian Philosophy
In Durham, our police department considers itself the guardian of the people. Rather than allow the community to make assumptions about policing services, we regularly reiterate and recommit to that guardian philosophy through a town-wide Internet newsletter called Friday Updates. We believe that creating strong connections and community engagement will lead to improved public safety and more effective delivery of policing services. As guardians, our officers are committed to functioning as part of the community, demonstrating compassion, and employing consistency in our police work. We acknowledge that we cannot eliminate mistakes or misunderstandings, but we are committed to doing the right thing at the right time—and continuously trying to do it better.
Transparency and Cooperation
Transparency is a pillar of our commitment to the Durham community. We provide the community with an annual report that highlights, in great detail, when force was used by officers and under what circumstances. This transparency serves to ensure that the public trust bestowed upon us is warranted.
In addition to transparency, cooperation between the police and the public is essential to maintaining a close and trusting relationship. Take the police chief, for instance. In many smaller communities, police chiefs are well-known members of their communities, and it is not uncommon for the public to know them by their first names. This level of intimacy requires the chief to have his or her fingers on the pulse of the community and ensures that the police cooperatively engage with the public through community policing. Familiarity and cooperation build trust, and that trust is essential for police to meet the always expanding expectations of the community.
No longer are police expected simply to fight crime. Especially in small towns, the police’s mission has expanded considerably and now includes focusing on quality of life issues and community services. The police cannot fulfill these goals without the trust of their communities.
For these reasons, smaller agencies must also form and strengthen relationships with social agencies that provide services to the community, such as churches and other faith-based organizations. School resource officers (SROs) are a prime example of how the police can engage with their communities’ needs. SROs placed within the local schools can provide coaching, mentoring, and other non–law enforcement initiatives that serve community needs and build trust.
Hiring Board Criteria
But perhaps above all else, the hiring of new police officers has a tremendous impact on a department’s effectiveness and its relationship with the community. Each police officer is an ambassador to the community, responsible in no small way for maintaining the reputation and trust of the entire department. Accordingly, selecting the most appropriate officers is critical to the success of the agency.
Consequently, the Durham Police Department has instituted a rigorous system to ensure that each officer we hire is the right person for the Durham community. We have instituted an oral board composed of unique participants, each looking for different characteristics based on their personal and professional viewpoints.
In addition to a command-level officer, a shift supervisor, a patrol officer, and two members of the community sit on the board. Each of these members serves a different role. The command-level administrator determines whether the candidate will follow directions and assesses whether he is more likely to solve problems or to create them. The first-line supervisor determines whether the candidate will accept constructive criticism and be easy to supervise. The patrol officer considers whether the candidate has a good temperament and character for working alongside other officers on the force, while also gaining firsthand management experience that may be useful later in his career. Finally, the addition of two citizens on the board not only instills in the officers the value of asking the community what it wants and expects from its police force, but it also shows the townspeople that the department values their opinions. Citizens may be anxious about their personal qualifications to determine who should be a police officer, but often their insight as to whether they trust a candidate with their safety is extremely valuable. Combined, the opinions and perceptions gathered from this diverse oral board offer a unique insight into the candidate and serve to highlight the qualities the department is seeking in a police officer.
All of these measures serve to maintain and enhance the agency’s image in the community. The goal of law enforcement is to continuously elevate the professionalism of their agencies, while mentoring and coaching their staff on appropriate protocols and standards. As chiefs of police, we should begin the professional enhancement process with ourselves.
David L. Kurz is Chief of Police of the Durham Police Department in Durham, New Hampshire.
Building Trust: Community Crime Reduction Strategies
Since its founding in 1976, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) has been a forerunner in identifying strategies to address police–community relations, challenging matters of justice in the black community, and issues related to hiring and promoting black police officers and executives. The organization is currently positioned to create a pool of “tailor-made” resource strategies in response to the need for building community trust in law enforcement. This paper is intended to raise a deeper awareness of policing and its interconnectedness with the ever-changing features of human society. As such, it focuses on the relationship between law enforcement and the community, and on crime reduction.
The traditional role of police has been peacekeeping. However, today, policing is often seen as undesirable, as reactive rather than proactive, and external rather than internal to the community. Recent incidents publicized by the national media involving law enforcement personnel have heightened distrust of law enforcement in certain communities.
These views are among the factors that resulted in an organized movement to try to address negative images of law enforcement, including the work of the Task Force on 21st Century Policing. In response to this growing negative perception of law enforcement, an organized movement has sprouted—with the goal of rehabilitating the image of police officers as trusted peacekeepers. This paper is part of that effort and aims to help both law enforcers and the community to build a more cohesive, accountable, and caring relationship.
Creating Safe Environments
Key to building a trusting and caring relationship is understanding the factors that affect the relationship between law enforcement and the community.
At the core of this relationship is the people’s interest in being safe. Law enforcement and the communities they police, therefore, have a shared interest in creating safe environments. Acknowledging that shared interest is the first step toward reducing the negative perception that some individuals have of law enforcement.
With that shared interest as a foundation, we can begin to build a closer, trusting, and cooperative relationship between law enforcement and the community, based on three pillars: (1) trust and legitimacy; (2) oversight; and (3) technology.
The Three Pillars
These three pillars come from the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which President Barack Obama assembled in 2014.
Build Trust and Legitimacy. Police must make an effort to create a positive and engaging rapport with their communities. These efforts should focus especially on bridging the divide between police and African American males, and rebuilding the trust that has been damaged by questionable police-involved shootings. In too many instances, each side misjudges the motives and intentions of the other.
Especially between some African American males and the police there is significant distrust. To ameliorate that distrust, police must engage with their communities in ways beyond their traditional peacekeeping role. They should, for example, participate in community sports activities, engage in dialogue with citizens in non-confrontational exchanges, and support and participate in school functions. Community organizations such as local Boys and Girls Clubs of America present excellent opportunities for relationship building.
Maintain Transparency and Oversight. Police departments should ensure that their policies reflect the values of their communities. They should also remain transparent and open to external review when officers use deadly force. Numerous examples from around the country highlight the need for transparency when officers use force—and the importance of disciplining officers who inappropriately and unreasonably use force, or otherwise questionable conduct, while on duty.
Social media, too, exacerbates the public outcry that surrounds these incidents. Videos of officers utilizing excessive force or engaging in other questionable behavior are prevalent, emphasizing the need to regularly review and update policies addressing use of force and de-escalation. Lastly, departments should solicit external oversight and review of use-of-force incidents to showcase and maintain their commitment to public accountability.
Adopt Technology and Social Media. Local police departments should make use of technology and social media to increase transparency and maintain close connections to their communities. Body-worn cameras, for example, ensure transparency in all police interactions. Social media allows police departments to be continuously visible in communities. Social media posts soliciting comments and tips have replaced the traditional wanted posters and allow real-time engagement between police and the community.
Police departments can also use social media to communicate when suspects are captured, when community events are scheduled, or simply to share its participation in community events, such as Christmas parades or toy giveaways. Last, social media serves as a recruitment tool to attract citizens to police academies. In short, whole-heartedly adopting technologies and social media allows police forces to be transparent and more closely engaged with their communities.
Law enforcement and the people they serve share a common interest in having safe communities. That shared interest can serve as a foundation for a close, trusting relationship, but law enforcement must take steps to develop and maintain that trust. From participating in community events, to adopting transparent policies and maintaining open channels of communication, law enforcement personnel must step out of their traditional role as peacekeepers to build trust by engaging closely with their communities.
The next time you go through your community, take a peek at law enforcers playing ball with young men, mowing the lawn for elderly or disabled individuals, mentoring young children, or rescuing a stranded driver. That’s relationship building!
Vera Bumpers is President of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and Chief of Police of the Houston Metro Police Department in Houston, Texas.