Following up on Rob Davis’s blog post on Tuesday, I wanted to shine a brief spotlight on a few more Top Trends to Watch in 2014 with respect to program improvement priorities for state and local law enforcement agencies. In addition to the trends in law enforcement Rob outlined on our behalf  – there are four more we think are well worth tracking this year: (1) independent assessment of police department operations, (2) school violence prevention planning, (3) preparing law enforcement to understand behavior tied to a path to violence; and (4) ethics and integrity program development.

Trend #4: Let’s Not Wait for a Crisis. Turn the Lights on Now.

Most law enforcement agencies undergo intense public scrutiny and criticism at every turn. Sometimes this fuels an adversarial relationship with the media and oversight entities – and a reticence to divulge. Transparency can hurt. As a result, many state and local enforcement agencies wait for crises to unfold before they take a step back and assess the organization as a whole. This reluctance to “pull the curtain back and get things right” isn’t helped by the austerity of budgets and the obstacles in funding police department and law enforcement agencies in fiscally challenging times. So maybe Trend #4 should be “Sit tight. Wait for a crisis. Then spend years trying to earn back stakeholder trust.” We see a different pattern: elected and appointed leaders of city boards and municipal jurisdictions are more inclined than they have been, for a long time, to undertake an independent review of their policing operations. In fact, we support both sides of this spectrum – agencies in crisis and public leaders prepared and positioned to seek out proactive change. Which side of the fence do you stand on?

Trend #5: Protecting Our Children

Every mayor, city manager, police chief and elected official in this country will remember Newtown for the rest of their lives – as will we all. But some of them carry in their mind’s eye searing images from incidents even closer to home. This is a trend that will continue into 2014 and likely for years. In response, police departments across the country are taking a fresh look at their policies and procedures to make sure they are providing the best support possible to the schools in their jurisdictions We are advising some of them. The policing strategies most effective at reducing the risks and impacts of school violence include the following:

  1. Relentless preparation and collaboration among police, educators, students and parents;
  2. Renewing existing partnerships between schools and systems outside of the school including social services, mental health providers, community agencies, families and religious organizations;
  3. Establishing interoperable radio communications, video sharing between schools and the local police command center, and integrated emergency action plans;
  4. Planning and conducting all-agency, on-site training sessions with frequent, realistic and varied response exercises;
  5. Establishing a dedicated phone number for emergency response personnel to send and receive text messages with at-risk teachers and students in a school;
  6. Mapping all schools in the jurisdiction to a beat;
  7. Ensuring the agencies most likely to respond to a crisis have school floor plans and blueprints as well as “To Go Bags” with access control cards, grand master keys and emergency contact lists; and
  8. Initiating proactive training for school administrators, counselors and psychologists in the latest behavioral threat assessment protocols for students and school personnel.

Trend #6: Recognizing Behavior Tied to a Path to Violence

The last point above has even broader ramifications for police departments – and represents another trend we are tracking closely this year. We see early and hopeful signs of growing awareness among law enforcement leaders that preventing acts of targeted violence requires preparing law enforcement officers on the front lines to understand behavior that may be signs that a subject is on a path to violence. We are advising several entities on these measures as behavioral threat assessment does not fall within the boundaries of a traditional approach to policing.

Trend #7: Ethics and Integrity Program Development

As police departments at the state and local level continue to shift from a reactive approach to law enforcement to a proactive and prevention-oriented stance, many more in 2014 will increase their focus on ethics and integrity program development. This includes a wide number of models and mechanisms ranging from in-house departmental governance and internal affairs functions to independent oversight commissions, ombudsmen programs, and inspector general offices, as well as independent assessments by third-party experts and authorities.

What Are the Trends You Are Tracking This Year?

Do these areas I’ve outlined here align with your priorities? What are the issues that you see driving priorities this year in state and local law enforcement practices? (This blog completes a series that Hillard Heintze executives and experts have authored throughout January 2014 on the Top Trends to Watch in 2014 in three discrete areas: (1) security risk management, (2) investigations, and (3) ethics, integrity and law enforcement program improvement. Hillard Heintze publishes a blog on Tuesday and Friday of each week. Want an automatic alert when the next blog goes up? Take a moment and subscribe).