Policing in the United States and across the world is changing faster than ever. As we kick off 2019, we want to highlight the five future trends in law enforcement we believe will drive best practices this year and beyond.

2019 Law Enforcement Trends

Trend #1 – More City Leaders Will Pursue a Proactive Approach to Police Reform – Rather Than Wait for a Crisis

Wondering where is law enforcement headed in the next 5 years? The greatest change in 21st century policing is a new emphasis on police transparency and accountability. In 2019, we expect this to continue – but with a new “edge”: more police and city leaders will put aside any reluctance to institute change until a crisis develops, choosing instead to initiate more proactive approaches to setting their organizations’ direction and focus up front.

  • We anticipate that more city managers and police chiefs will drive local partnerships, engaging communities and stakeholders to develop professional service-focused police departments with shared awareness and responsibilities for both police and community.
  • A positive partnership that is “out in front” on any emerging crisis will help cities frame responses based on issues and awareness.
  • We will see more of this in 2019 as city and police leaders work hand-in-hand with the community to develop the agency’s policing strategy, policies and practices in a manner consistent with community expectations.

An additional factor driving these trends in policing is that, given the decrease in the federal focus on consent decrees, state and local governments have begun to collaborate with local law enforcement agencies.

  • A number of influential law enforcement associations, including the Majors Cities Chiefs of Police Association, have been vocal about the value they saw in opportunities to work with federal agencies to leverage resources that could assist law enforcement in proactively working to make improvements to police department nationwide, and they would like to see some level of collaboration continue.
  • Two current examples of such collaboration include the Illinois Attorney General working with the City of Chicago and the current collaborative effort between the City of San Francisco and the California Department of Justice.
  • Moreover, more cities are exploring ways to institute some degree of civilian oversight of their local law enforcement departments, as we have seen them evaluating what model of oversight would work best for their local community. These models include Internal Affairs Monitors, Civilian Review Boards and Inspector Generals’ offices. Some of the cities currently exploring these models include Nashville, Chattanooga, Charlotte and Phoenix, as well as Santa Clara County in California.

Trend #2 – Community Engagement Will Be Critical to Local Police Strategies

In a closely related trend, law enforcement agencies across the country have adopted community policing and problem-oriented policing models for decades. However, these efforts often fail to adequately or strategically engage the community and struggle to remain viable. For example, some law enforcement agencies have used Community Advisory Boards whose membership draws representatives from various groups, such as those representing diverse ethnicities and religions, in the jurisdiction. These types of boards often fail to expand community participation, and many communities question whether such boards truly are representative of the public served by their local police.

Many Community Advisory Boards go dormant or lack real community engagement, in part because most are led and informed by police rather than driven in partnership with the community. Co-Produced Policing seeks something different: police agencies working hand-in-hand with the community to develop policing strategies up front, including policies and practices that provide for community-focused policing that is consistent with community expectations of police service.

Providing effective and progressive professional policing services is predicated heavily not only on adherence to strong policies, procedures and protocols, but also on the willingness of the partners – from the top of the organizations to the ground level – to embrace forward-thinking change. This means proactively embracing a mindset that embodies open-mindedness, flexibility, progressiveness and long-term vision in concert with the community.

Trend #3 – New Service Modalities Will Evolve as the Result of Increasing Reliance Upon Law Enforcement for Initial Crisis Intervention

The role of policing in our communities continues to evolve and police leadership will need to plan staffing and strategy to meet these new and growing demands upon law enforcement. The national trend of decreasing crime rates leaves agencies in an interesting position, as the traditional models of police staffing focus on the bread and butter of policing – crime and arrest.

However, as the growing body of computer-aided dispatch (CAD) data identifies, officers are being dispatched to a greater number of service demands often rooted in complex social issues. These growing service requests often require nuanced and distinct skills as compared to a more cut-and-dry response. Handling persons in a multitude of crises – from mental health to drug induced – and overcoming volatility in situations encountered by police will continue to be a source of challenge for law enforcement. But these types of events are not as easily captured or measured when evaluating the overall resource needs for departments. Chiefs and their cities will need to engage in ongoing review and understanding of the communities’ demands for services and how agency resources prioritize and fulfill those demands.

Trend #4 – Managing Complexity and Community Expectations Will Continue to Present Challenges for Law Enforcement

In our increasingly digital world, chiefs and law enforcement agencies will need to become nimbler in how they respond to and manage information. The traditional police leader’s reliance on a “let-the-facts-speak-to-the-truth” approach is simply ineffective when video or commentary on evolving events are posted in real-time and a multitude of parties have already formed their opinion.

Recently, the Chief of the New York City Police Department (NYPD) was vocal in his criticism of both the District Attorney and the actions of an arrestee – a rarity for law enforcement. Officers attempting to arrest an individual for a disturbance were punched in the face and a physical struggle ensued to effect the arrest. Social media posts lit up the Internet, including the Chief’s media comments, the arrestee’s post on social media and posts from many bystanders.

Physical engagement by law enforcement personnel with members of the public bring risks – to officer safety, to subjects and to the organization. People are quick to make judgments based upon images in their feeds – without regard to the authenticity of the content, the agenda of the source and the broader context of the incident. Effectively managing information in a timely, impartial and professional manner is a continuing challenge for law enforcement and is a trend that will continue this year and well into the next.

Trend #5 – External Investigation and Oversight Will Continue to Grow

We continue to see significant growth in the establishment of and the appetite for independence in law enforcement internal investigations – from civilian oversight through independent external investigators.  Communities are seeking a greater voice in how they are policed. They also want assurance of fair and impartial investigations – an issue that is also a priority for officers. Consistent with this trend, we see Chiefs and City Managers increasingly relying, this year, upon external support for investigations to provide the assurance of independence and integrity when investigating civilian complaints. We also anticipate that how civilian oversight is engaged and defined will continue to evolve in 2019 as local governments, police agencies and communities seek ways to better engage one another.

Independent police department assessments are the first step in a strategy that addresses each of these major trends head-on. Download our Executive Primer ‘Erasing the Stigma: 5 Benefits of a Police Department Assessment for City Managers and Police Chiefs’ to learn more.