Massive change is underway.
COVID, budget cuts, the opioid epidemic, rising violent crime, cyberattacks, and public anxiety about crime have left many agencies wondering, “Now what?”
With shifts in the definitions of public safety, many agencies are partnering with other government agencies and community organizations and restructuring traditional law enforcement functions to meet the public demand for change and oversight.
Shifting the scope of public safety, however, is tremendously complex.
Many agencies are implementing co-responder models to better support individuals in crisis. Other cities are using civilian employees to respond to traffic incidents or even ending traffic stops for minor violations.
Every agency has to decide how the shifting demands of public safety will impact their community. Data is absolutely critical in driving these changes and measuring their effectiveness. Agencies will use this data to embed a culture of diligence and innovation in the organization. This provides an enormous challenge for smaller and medium-sized agencies who do not have the same deep pool of resources as larger communities.
Regardless of the approach each agency ultimately takes, any public safety strategy will have to grapple with six key trends that are likely to dominate the conversation in 2022.
The Right Response
“Reimagining public safety” is no longer just a trend on social media. It is a critical next step.
In 2020, the U.S. saw the emergence of movements aimed at scaling back, ‘reimagining,’ or altogether eliminating the functions of law enforcement, particularly in the areas of crisis response and traffic stops.
In 2022, these calls are getting louder.
Public safety agencies must re-assess their role in community interactions that have historically served as the epicenter for police-community tensions – or risk having the changes forced on them by an increasingly vocal constituency. Mental health crises and traffic stops, in particular, are affected by this increased scrutiny.
A Transformed Workforce
Whether we like it or not, there is no doubt that the way agencies deliver public safety is changing. The last two decades have seen a drop in the recruitment and retention of public safety employees. We are having to do more with less, and data is critical to empower your agency to meet the needs of your community.
In 2022, leading agencies are marketing themselves as modern workplaces. They are adjusting their recruiting approach and methods to attract candidates who would be successful, capable agency members in this new environment. The candidates targeted for recruitment five years ago may no longer be the ideal candidates for what the job looks like now.
We recommend that agencies make an effort to recruit more women. Research shows women members use excessive force less often, are named in fewer complaints and lawsuits, appear more compassionate to community members, and make fewer discretionary arrests. We’re support 30×30, a national initiative to advance women in policing. We encourage agencies to take the 30×30 pledge and work “to increase the representation of women in police recruit classes to 30 percent by 2030 and ensure police policies and culture intentionally support the success of qualified women officers throughout their careers.”
Recruiting more women into the field only strengthens the public safety profession and our communities as a whole.
Wraparound Mobile Technology
The adoption of technologies that support first responder wellness and increase field efficiency has continued to grow at an accelerated pace. Some technologists estimate that the adoption of digital technologies sped up by 10 years between 2020 and 2022.
Mobile technology connects responders and enhances safety. It offers first responders vastly improved situational awareness, and emerging technologies’ capabilities to increase first responder support are only limited by the imagination.
The field of mobile technology is advancing rapidly. Placed in the right hands, data equips first responders in the field with the information necessary to take immediate and potentially life-saving action. Agencies should take advantage of and deploy technologies that help keep their workforce safe and allow first responders to spend more time in the field.
Technologies such as mobile access to records management systems (RMS) can allow users to collect data and create reports from the field. When identifying any new technology for purchase, we recommend agencies involve the community in the evaluation process. While this may seem unconventional, in our experience an inclusive approach to public safety increases trust and effectiveness.
Consent Decrees are Here for Good
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has been using consent decrees and settlement agreements to bring reforms to agencies where there is a practice and pattern of misconduct.
While a single event can trigger an investigation and subsequent consent decrees, they typically target allegations of systemic police misconduct. The agencies best positioned to avoid triggering a DOJ investigation are those who demonstrate a commitment to constitutional policing, practice policing by consent, and embrace a culture of reform and innovation.
Expanded Data Environment
In recent years, public confidence in law enforcement has plummeted, especially in traditionally underserved communities. Data will be the key to improving relationships with all stakeholders – in agencies and communities.
Leading agencies are expanding the use of data in their efforts to rebuild community trust. Citizens are taking an active role in public safety problem-solving, and agencies are rethinking their engagement through three tenets: availability, accessibility, and authenticity.
But collecting good data is just the beginning.
Data may help agencies cope with change across public safety, but each of the trends discussed above are complex issues in their own right.