7 of the biggest issues facing law enforcement in 2016

Take a moment to reflect upon these challenges facing police in 2016 and analyze your agency's readiness


Paul Cappitelli tackles the biggest issues facing law enforcement in 2019 in his latest article here. Also check out PoliceOne's 19 on 2019: Expert predictions on the top police issues in 2019.  Read about the critical issues facing law enforcement in this slideshow, which you are welcome to download, print, or share on your social networks.

No one has to the ability to predict the future, and ancient soothsayers were not really magical, but you don’t have to be Nostradamus to identify the challenges that might lie ahead for law enforcement leaders this coming year. All we have to do is apply historical information and meld it with intuition and data to foresee likely trends ahead.

The year 2015 has been among the most challenging of times for law enforcement. Each year brings about a new set of triumphs and tragedies. The public scrutiny placed upon police will require leaders to be more focused and vigilant than ever before.

Here are seven critical issues likely to confront law enforcement leaders in 2016.

On November 13, 2015, several simultaneous terror attacks took place in Paris, killing at least 130 people and injuring 350. (Photo/AP)
On November 13, 2015, several simultaneous terror attacks took place in Paris, killing at least 130 people and injuring 350. (Photo/AP)

1. Anti-Terrorism

Now is a good time to dust off those action plans that followed the 9/11 terrorist attack. The recent carnage in Paris and San Bernardino has shown that the sleeping giant of urban terrorism has awakened. Local law enforcement will once again play a critical role in gathering intelligence and preparing for the possibility of an attack.

Traditional methods of policing are no match for the sophisticated urban terrorist who utilizes high-powered weaponry, explosives and guerilla warfare tactics. Enhanced specialized training will be required. Additionally, the challenge for law enforcement will be to strike a balance between the need for sophisticated military-type equipment against the public scrutiny about the “militarization of the police.”

This problem is compounded by the President’s 2015 decree that has led to the confiscation of such vital equipment. Clearly, there is work to be done politically to lobby for a reversal of course in the interest of local preparedness.

2. Body Worn Camera (BWC) Scrutiny

If your agency utilizes BWCs, be prepared to defend your policy for release or retention of recordings. There is little consistency between departments when it comes to the deployment of BWCs. The first two questions asked following a controversial incident will be:

  • Was the officer’s BWC activated?
  • When can we (the public, media, attorneys and family) see the footage?

The decision to retain or release BWC recordings is clearly up to each individual department. Whatever you choose to do, be consistent. Do not give in to the temptation to release the BWC videos showing officers doing good deeds (saving lives or helping homeless people) while withholding the controversial ones.

3. Civil Unrest

Protests and demonstrations for incidents and verdicts will likely continue in 2016. Unfortunately, they won’t be short-lived and several will come out of one incident. The first wave of unrest comes as a reaction to a particular incident. Then, there is a demand for termination, prosecution, resignation, etc. of those involved. Next, there is the reaction to a decision to prosecute or not.

Nationally organized groups will provide support for locals. In some cases, anarchist-type protestors will travel to your city. Once again, training will be the key to preparation for the line officers. Many lessons – positive and negative – can be gleaned from the unrest seen in Ferguson, Baltimore, Chicago and elsewhere.

If you have not already done so, designate a person within the department to ensure that action plans are in place and the troops are trained in effective crowd control methods. Equally as important is the need to maintain positive relationships with local faith-based groups and civic leaders. These relationships will prove invaluable in the wake of a controversy.

4. Criminal Prosecution of Officers

There appears to be a growing desire to induce criminal prosecution for officers whose actions result in injury or death. It is difficult to discern if there has always been a need for such prosecutions, but perhaps just not the political will. Regardless, this scrutiny is the new normal.

Little can be done to prepare for such situations other than to make sure the bar for professional conduct is raised high within police organizations. The most common activities whereby criminal prosecution could result are armed confrontations and vehicle collisions. Identifying potential problems before they manifest into criminal misconduct is essential.

Proper training in the use of force and safe vehicle operations are paramount to averting disaster in these critical areas. 

5. Federal Agency Involvement/Oversight

In the past few years, the Justice Department and other federal agencies have responded rapidly to intervene on local police matters. This is likely a result of political pressure from D.C. or a history of failures in various police and sheriff’s departments across the U.S.

Regardless of the reason, it is a trend that must be reckoned. Much can be learned from perusing existing published reports, consent decrees, monitors or other documents where federal agencies have been involved. As the saying goes, “the best defense is an offense.” Understand the federal process and the factors that lead to oversight. Develop strategies and put safeguards in place based upon this research.

6. Recruitment and Retention

Recruiting and retaining police officers is always a challenge. In 2016 and into the foreseeable future, it’s going to be even harder to keep the cops you have in the wake of public scrutiny. A recent article in USA Today indicates that open positions for California law enforcement officers has increased by 603 percent since 2010, according to the Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission (POST).

The last time this shortage occurred to this degree was back in the early-mid 2000s. The difficulty then stemmed from trying to lure the candidates away from higher-paying opportunities in the dotcom and other sectors. Nowadays, the reduced pension benefits, understaffing, and the fear of making a mistake that will bring scrutiny and perhaps criminal prosecution is difficult to overcome. It will require extra effort to keep the morale and enthusiasm for policing at high levels.

As always, strong, competent leadership and a healthy relationship with your community will offset negativity and maintain the esprit de corps that the profession so rightly deserves. 

7. Social Media

Police cases are being tried in the court of public opinion on the internet. The favorite media buzz phrase is, “officer caught on video” which immediately proscribes that an officer was doing something wrong.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys are utilizing social media to highly publicize cases in an effort to prejudice the pool of potential jurors. In some cases, law enforcement has taken to social media as a means to defend the actions of officers under scrutiny. This can be a double-edged sword. Here again, consistency is essential. If you comment on one case and not another, it suggests that there may be something nefarious to hide. Embrace social media, but don’t be too over-zealous in its use. Develop a sound, reasonable social media policy and stick to it regardless.

Conclusion

As we transition into 2016, we must recognize that these challenges will intensify and will require our undivided attention. Take a moment to reflect upon these and other trends that affect the policing profession, and give introspection as to your own agency’s readiness. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead – 2016 will no doubt be yet another year of rough seas.

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