I’ve been eager to put the spotlight of our blog campaign this month, Top Trends to Watch in 2014, squarely on some of the critical issues we’ll see challenging leaders of state and local police departments this year – mayors, city managers and police chiefs as well as aldermen, boards and councils.  Our blogs over last two weeks have focused on this year’s trends in security risk management and investigations.

Today, we are highlighting three trends, among many, that will challenge state and local government and law enforcement leaders in the months ahead: (1) the collection and use of personal data, (2) officer retention as pensions decline and (3) recent actions on the part of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division.

Trend #1: Smile.  You’re On Camera.  All Shift Long.

Many police chiefs have taken advantage of new technologies that help departments gather and analyze data used to solve crimes, including the use of automated license plate readers (LPRs) and a variety of video resources.  The recent NSA controversy initiated by Snowden has raised concerns about the use of such data and the “collection” of personal data in general.

  • Improve Training and Update Your Policies: This year, police departments across the country will find themselves defending the use of such resources to vocal community groups and activists.  This concern will also play a role in the policies and procedures being established for the growing number of police agencies deciding to implement the use of on-officer cameras that will record both video and audio of nearly every interaction between officers and any other stakeholder.
  • Get Ready for 24/7 Audio and Video: One of the “hottest” and useful technology trends among police departments is the real-time, continuous video and audio capture of officer actions in the line of duty.  Accomplished through squad car and on-officer cameras – as well as the technical integration of components such as video, GPS, record management and CAD systems – every encounter between an officer and citizen is captured and reported.

Trend #2:  Where Are the Rest of Our Officers This Morning?

Many city and state governments are struggling to identify ways to resolve growing pension costs, and one avenue for some has been to reduce pension benefits for current employees.  This so-called pension “reform” is already causing major disruptions in the ways police agencies hire and retain the best police officers.  Officers are pursuing employment with other departments – and cities “willing to spend” are quickly attracting the best.  It’s not clear how this will play out, but what may be required are government subsidies to police agencies like those provided for teachers in urban areas. We have already seen the impact of such changes in California.  After San Jose passed a ballot measure reducing pension benefits for current employees, the city police department’s loss of officers to other agencies has skyrocketed from approximately 5 to 100.  The major legal and political battles that have ensued have left San Jose with a growing crime rate and a police department that is seriously understaffed.  Meanwhile, a statewide ballot initiative, if passed, will change the state constitution to make it easier for cities throughout California to do the same.  Millions of dollars will be spent in this bitter battle.

Trend #3: Looking for the Chief?  He’s on Line 2 with the DOJ.

The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice has taken on what many chiefs consider to be an activist role in responding to complaints about the policies and practices of numerous state and local law enforcement agencies.  The Division has been focusing on many agencies lately.  Many police chiefs are concerned about the role DOJ intends to play in this sensitive area of policing.  What should you do?  Be proactive.  Here are five actions that we know work.

  1. Commission an independent assessment of your police department.
  2. Evaluate your use-of-force protocols and implement any needed changes immediately.
  3. Strengthen your ethics and integrity program – or create it.
  4. Tighten up your internal affairs processes – and measure its outcomes.
  5. Take a fresh look at transparency and how your officers engage with the community.

As a Government Official, What Is on Your Law Enforcement Agenda This Year?

What is keeping you up at night?  Where are the greatest changes going to occur within your police department this year?  Let us know what is on your mind.  And check back with us on Thursday.  We’ll be posting another short overview of three additional law enforcement program improvement trends you’ll want to track this year. (This blog is part of a series that Hillard Heintze executives and experts are authoring 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.  These are published on Tuesday and Friday of each week in January.  Want an automatic alert when the next blog goes up?  Take a moment and subscribe to The Front Line).