On behalf of our Law Enforcement Consulting team, I take my hat off to police chiefs and sheriffs here in North America and worldwide. You are confronting and meeting operational challenges that require an unprecedented response during an equally unprecedented time. We cannot be prouder of the law enforcement personnel who have taken great risks during this pandemic, especially those who have given their lives to do so.
Aside from the threat to life and safety, law enforcement personnel face daunting challenges as we recover from this pandemic that will require innovative thinking and nimble responses. As we look to the future, I wanted to share what I believe some of these challenges will be and how police chiefs and sheriffs can plan for the months and years ahead.
1. COVID-19 is already reshaping common law enforcement practices
First and foremost, law enforcement may never return to “normal.” What we learn during the pandemic will inform and necessitate innovative ways of responding to policing operations in the future. For example, agencies are now conducting community policing activities via videoconferencing, given that public meetings are not an option.
In a similar manner, the crisis impacts the way agencies interact with the courts – from how investigative cases are presented to district attorneys’ offices to how hearings are held before sitting judges.
Perhaps one of the most difficult effects of the pandemic is the need to reorganize police staffing on the fly. Leadership must ensure enough personnel are on the streets to provide frontline services while still advancing the cases assigned to the investigative units – even as some personnel have been sidelined with COVID-19.
2. The next phase of COVID-19 will impact law enforcement budgets
The anticipated decline in funding to support policing services is the next critical item to consider. Agencies should expect to see their budgets slashed due to dramatically lower sales and income tax revenue that normally would support policing services. Our post-COVID-19 environment will require collaboration between police chiefs and other community stakeholders if policing leaders are to find a path through the fiscal challenges.
Law enforcement leaders will need to think outside the box as they face these challenges that, I believe, will build over the next three to five years. Fortunately, solutions are available and if there is any profession whose members know how to rise to confront challenges, law enforcement is it.
3. Knowing what went well and what can be improved promotes future resiliency
Law enforcement leaders should be planning now to conduct formal after-action reviews and reports. If you review successful and unsuccessful actions and responses to the current crisis, your department will be more resilient and better prepared for future outbreaks.
Even though we are in the middle of the pandemic, it is important to start this work now. There is critical data that you, as a police leader, need to gather in real time. Agencies will often conduct these reviews well after the fact, only to realize that they do not have access to certain key data points they need to form an effective assessment.
In fact, an after-action report should state that one of the positive things a department did during the COVID-19 response was gather data and formulate their after-action review plan during the response. Agencies that recognize the importance of doing this now will be a step ahead in maximizing their recovery from this crisis.
Forward-thinking police leaders recognize that difficult challenges confronted effectively can strengthen their ability to tackle unknowns in the future. For example, though budget cuts and other social impacts may require law enforcement agencies to provide policing services to growing communities with less funding than before, agencies have an opportunity to re-think how they are delivering services.
This may be the time to conduct a fresh organizational assessment to help produce a new strategic plan, which guides your agency’s operational priorities in our new environment. Such an assessment should include a new staffing study that helps reprioritize the work that limited personnel do, which could reflect a major change in your agency’s organizational chart. A staffing study might also determine that you can use civilian staff more effectively to free sworn staff to focus on patrol and investigative services.
As I noted previously, this may also be the right time to review the community policing component of your agency’s strategic plan. Looking at community policing now can position you to incorporate lessons learned from collaborative work done with outside agencies, business leaders and community stakeholders during the COVID-19 response into a new vision and operational plan for implementing the tenets of community policing in the future.
Better days are ahead; let’s get ready for them together
We have great faith in today’s law enforcement professionals. We’re at your wing here, ready to roll up our sleeves and figure out how to help you prepare for the days ahead.