We all know the cities. We’ve heard the stories. New York. Ferguson. Pasco. North Charleston. Baltimore. It’s no secret that law enforcement agencies and select cases of use of force have been thrown into the national spotlight in the last year. But what can we do – not just as law enforcement leaders, but as everyday citizens – to help address this issue?

Overcoming Challenges

With 18,000 law enforcement agencies, and more than 1.2 million officers, it’s hard to believe that one challenge we’re facing is recruiting and hiring quality police candidates. But when we think about cities all over the country that are experiencing heightened scrutiny not just of police practices, but also of police themselves, it’s not surprising.

After years of crime-fighting success, mostly through community policing concepts, many departments are experiencing a breakdown in police and community relations.

  • Consent Decrees are in place – in Seattle, New Orleans, Albuquerque, Oakland and Cincinnati.
  • Concerns are high among many about militarization of the police.
  • New challenges arise regularly with “de-policing” attitudes.
  • Departments struggle with the negative impacts of pension reform.

Five Key Drivers of the Current Environment

Many factors are driving this state of affairs.  Some of the important ones include the following:

  1. Dysfunction of legislative bodies and their seeming inability to engage in dialogue to collaborate and reach consensus.
  2. Failure to achieve consensus on immigration issues, which impacts police relations with the community.
  3. Lack of social services to address mental illness and homelessness.
  4. Breakdown of family units, especially in inner cities.
  5. A reduction in the level of professionalism in broadcast and print media as competition drives polarized discussions and “us versus them” storylines.

New Thinking, New Priorities, New Opportunities

Many initiatives have already started to create change – the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services’ (COPS) Collaborative Reform Initiative (CRI), the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, policy analyses and focused forums by organizations like PERF, and our own efforts on providing a roadmap forward for law enforcement agencies.

We’re all working to implement best practices in areas such as:

  • Re-engineering use-of-force policies
  • De-escalation training
  • Crisis intervention training
  • Less-lethal weapons
  • On-body cameras
  • Bias-free policing
  • Procedural justice

The Path Ahead Must Be a Collaborative Effort

I am deeply confident in the ability of American police departments to address this challenge – because the overwhelming majority of officers are professionals. Police officers pride themselves on their professionalism and are still the only local government agency on the streets 24 hours a day, every day of the year. However, solutions cannot come from law enforcement alone.

As communities, we need to take more ownership of social problems – collaboratively addressing the root causes of problems instead of expecting police officers to singlehandedly “solve” the resulting outcomes requiring a 9-1-1 police response. We need to focus our efforts on coming together as a nation of united communities and states and find common ground instead of constantly dividing ourselves over wedge-issue politics.