Our top-trends blogs, which highlight what our experts foresee as driving best practices and priorities across the U.S. and the world, remain among our most popular posts. This year, in 2020, we present a multi-part series covering critical issues and advances in (1) security risk management, (2) threat and violence risk management, (3) emergency management and response planning, (4) investigations, (65 law enforcement consulting, and (6) private client and family office security.

Trend #1: More law enforcement agencies will develop policies on the use of drones.

In 2020, law enforcement will continue to increase its use of drones to provide policing services – a trend that will prove controversial to many members of the public. To mitigate growing public concerns about inappropriate use of drones by the police, including negative impacts to privacy, more agencies will draft and implement drone usage policies and procedures. We expect this will be done carefully and in collaboration with community members.

Police departments use drones for everything from surveillance to crime investigation, search and rescue, and infrastructure surveys. After losing its helicopter – a costly piece of equipment for any local agency – the Daytona Beach Police Department (DBPD) engaged a former officer to use five drones to map the city in preparation for hurricanes, assist in chases and even stop other illegal drones.

While drones are very useful, their use can entangle police departments and city governments in complex legal matters which vary widely by state. For example, 18 states require agencies to obtain a search warrant to use drones for surveillance and research, and three prohibit them from weaponizing drones. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) prohibits drone flight at night without a waiver.

Trend #2: Police agencies will continue to face scrutiny regarding use of force and other operations.

According to the Washington Post’s database, police shot and killed 933 people in 2019. Not every one of these instances became national headlines. However, these and other use of force instances continue to shape public perception of police and law enforcement in communities.

We expect the national discussion on police use of force to become even more heated as the U.S. presidential election approaches later in the year. Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg has already faced allegations of ignoring or suppressing complaints from South Bend black officers of rampant racism.

We expect that, among other things, community members will continue to demand some level of civilian oversight, rapid release of known information and videos, independent investigations and greater transparency as baseline expectations for police forces.

Trend #3: Legalized recreational and medical marijuana is likely to impact police operations.

Recreational marijuana use is now legal in 11 states and Washington, D.C., and 33 states have legalized medical marijuana. President Donald Trump’s 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp and cannabidiol (CBD), increasing access for millions.

With these updates, law enforcement agencies will need to direct limited resources to (1) work with local and state officials to create new regulations for the production, sales and consumption of marijuana; (2) conduct regulatory functions over marijuana growers and vendors; and (3) work with state officials to determine how to enforce laws against those who are driving under the influence of marijuana.

Trend #4: Recruiting and retention will be a challenge for law enforcement agencies.

Agencies will continue to struggle to recruit, hire and retain qualified, diverse personnel in part due to the economy, some communities’ public perception of police and the competition for talent. In our blog from 2019, we discussed how job applications for agencies have plummeted and how staffing analyses can help a law enforcement agency manage a budget better while meeting the staffing needs for a transitioning and dynamic community, and as a result, help improve recruitment and retention.

The Marshall Project highlighted the staffing analysis approach in a piece about how police agencies have consistently blamed a lack of police officers for upticks in crime over the last several decades – a trope that the raw data does not support. Instead, many operational approaches do not have patrol officers spending their time or resources wisely. For example, hiring more civilians for administrative duties and focusing less on (often accidental) burglar alarms would free up officers to work during the periods most susceptible to the crime.

While we cannot predict if law enforcement agencies will adopt staffing analyses as a way to counter recruiting and retention issues, they must do something to make the profession more attractive to the best-qualified applicants.

Trend #5: Law enforcement personnel will continue to see more resources diverted to the management of data and public requests for data and video production.

In 2020, law enforcement agencies will be forced to manage increased demand for record retention and organization across the data lifecycle, from capture and storage to release. In turn, they will need to focus on policies, budget, staffing and programs that support collection, storage, retrieval and delivery.

Trend #6: Privacy issues will continue to challenge law enforcement investigations.

In coordination with stakeholders, law enforcement will play a critical role in balancing the collection of data with privacy. Agencies will need to develop policies that reconcile their data retention and production with ever-evolving privacy expectations and legislation. Rebecca Wexler, an assistant professor of law at Berkeley, noted the perils of laws governing police data in the Los Angeles Times. She argued that even though well-intended legislation seeks to protect defendants’ privacy, it can actually lock them out of key information – ranging from FitBit tracking to Amazon Echo recordings – that could be key to their case, and in some cases, prove their innocence. Another “side effect” of privacy is how law enforcement often cannot access or read data that has been encrypted to protect it from cyber criminals. Examples of this includes the ongoing dilemmas local, state and federal officials face when attempting to gain access to legitimate digital evidence from tech companies, even when armed with valid search warrants, (e.g., the U.S. Department of Justice’s long-running effort to gain cooperation from Apple.)

Trend #7: The countdown to NIBRS’ January 1, 2021 deadline promises the availability of richer data.

As the January 1, 2021 deadline approaches to make the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program’s data standard, the FBI continues to assist state UCR Programs and law enforcement agencies in the transition, providing technical and programmatic resources. The move to the NIBRS-only data collection will offer law enforcement, government officials, and other data users richer details about crime victims, offenders and offenses; better context to help understand crime occurrences; and a more comprehensive view of crime in the United States.

According to Dale King, UCR Program Manager with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, “Data from the NIBRS is a game-changer in the future of law enforcement. Agencies are using the incident-based data for investigating, justifying the need for additional personnel, determining where to strategically place patrols, and much, much more.”

If you’re concerned about how these trends will affect your community or law enforcement agency, let us know. Our experts can help you navigate the challenges facing law enforcement in 2020 and beyond.