This is the second in a four-part Hillard Heintze series on the top trends in 2017 we expect to see driving best practices and priorities across the U.S. and the world in four areas: security risk management; threat and violence risk management; investigations; and public safety and law enforcement. This post is focused on examples law enforcement and public safety issues today.

The Top 5 Current Public Safety and Law Enforcement Trends 2017

It has been a tumultuous period for law enforcement and communities throughout the nation. More than a few highly publicized encounters between officers and members of the public triggered many questions in communities across the country as well as protests. Like 2016, we expect to see many law enforcement agencies in 2017 working closely with community members to define and implement improved models of public safety and community policing. And yet we are well aware that 2017 presents a grave challenge not only to public safety but also to the trust Americans place in the officers who risk their lives to protect and serve. The challenges facing law enforcement agencies to ensure public safety, better train and develop their officers, hold officers accountable for misconduct and improve police-community relations have major implications for the priorities, challenges and issues that will drive adaptation in best practices in 2017 across law enforcement domains.

As we start the year, here is our perspective on the five top law enforcement and public safety trends that will impact police chiefs and departmental leaders, government agencies and the individuals we support every day.

Trend #1: The Growing Focus on Improving Police-Community Partnerships Will Intensify – Regardless of the Political Environment

Every presidential election tends to stir up political engagement, and the 2016 election and 2017 inauguration of our 45th president is no different. Therefore, we believe 2017 will mark a robust period of community engagement and activism, particularly as it affects law enforcement agencies. Moreover, we believe this trend is generally positive. As we often say when discussing crime and public safety, “Law enforcement cannot do this alone.” Public safety depends upon partnerships with the communities police officers serve. Even critical engagement can lead to improved trust and communication.

In particular, we believe police departments will redouble their efforts to connect with community organizations and that will be more open to listening to community members and creating new connections and partnerships. These collaborative partnerships will have such positive effects as:

  • Increasing awareness of the department’s public safety strategies.
  • Ensuring community members have a true voice in how their neighborhoods are policed.
  • Increasing officers’ cultural competencies.
  • Reducing fragmentation or duplication of efforts by social service agencies, police and other partners.
  • Improving police-community relationships by bringing individuals together in non-confrontational encounters.
  • Increasing transparency and organizational accountability (both the law enforcement agency and the community).
  • Engaging law enforcement officers in the spirit of service and the reasons why they elected a career in public service.

Trend #2: Agencies Will Pursue Policies and Practice That Ensure Transparency and Accountability, Especially Related to Use of Force

In the last year, significant discussion and review has been part of the professional and public debate on police use of force. The Police Executive Research Foundation (PERF) came out early with a proposed focus on de-escalation. More recently, eleven law enforcement leadership and labor organizations recently agreed upon a model use of force policy that they freely distributed, including:

  • Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA)
  • Fraternal Order of Police (FOP)
  • International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP)
  • Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association (HAPCOA)
  • International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training (IADLEST)
  • National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE)

As the high-profile nature of these contributing organizations suggest, we believe 2017 marks a year in which agencies across the nation will reconsider and redefine their use of force policies and practices, and to improve their department’s transparency and accountability to the communities they serve.

We expect a stronger focus on “non-escalation” – a methodology wherein officers are trained to avoid escalating a situation to a point where force is required. Consistent with Trend #4, agencies will re-center their focus on engagement with the public rather than the formulaic use of force escalation models. Greater examination of how officers engage in force incidents – and when – will allow for better policing models to help reduce use of force incidents, lessen their severity and result in greater officer safety. Training, community education and policy refinement will support this trend in 2017.

Clear policies on use of force and a myriad of other policing issues can help agencies not only hold themselves – as an organization – accountable for the services they deliver. Moreover, established communication and outreach protocols, coupled with community education and factual information in the wake of force incidents, can help agencies in 2017 improve how they communicate with communities, a need especially acute in the wake of critical incidents.

Trend #3: Police Officers and Department Leaders Will Make a Concerted Effort to Demonstrate That Police Are People Too

As a result of the developments we anticipate related to Trend #1, we also expect that law enforcement officers across the country will continue to make tangible adjustments in the tenor of their engagements with community members of all backgrounds. We anticipate that law enforcement officers, instead of becoming defensive or closing ranks in the face of criticism and distrust, will leverage social media and personal encounters to identify that they too are d part of the community fabric. The tenets of procedural justice – such as fairness, impartiality, giving voice and transparency – will shape the behaviors and tone of officers’ engagement with those they serve. While social media may have invited increased scrutiny of law enforcement, it can also enable law enforcement officers to hear and respond to the concerns of community members in real time. We further believe community members will respond positively to such active, constructive efforts to make connections.

Simply put, recent events have significant impact upon both community and law enforcement officers.  There is a human factor in all police and community interactions. As a result, there will be hurdles for officers and the public to clear, but we believe 2017 will mark the start of improved police-community relations.

Trend #4: Legislation and Civil Litigation Will Shape How Governments and Departments View Social Media and Other Open-Source Information

We expect lawmakers, litigators and community members to continue to shape federal, state and local law and departmental policy over what information law enforcement agencies access and what events and encounters they record. Numerous organizations have been working to create model policies and protocols governing police use of social media data or video technology in the line of duty but there is still much work left to do. The pull of transparency in police actions is contrasted against that of the privacy of people who rely upon police for assistance.

In the digital age, users of social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, regularly share information on their geographic location, among other data. However, watchdog groups express concern that this data can allow law enforcement agencies to conduct discriminatory surveillance, curtail free speech or violate privacy rights. In addition, many law enforcement agencies have adopted dash cams or body-worn cameras to help improve transparency and accountability. Like the data collected from social media, the footage captured from these cameras presents some unexpected challenges to law enforcement agencies. In 2017 we expect to see legislators in state and federal bodies continue to entertain debate on the extent of privacy and the limits of law enforcement professionals. As it stands now, there is significant variance among agencies, local and state governments. We also anticipate seeing more consistent and clear policy recommendations made on how data and footage captured by law enforcement agencies should be used and accessed and how it should be stored.

Trend #5: Law Enforcement Agencies Will Slow Down Adoption of New Technology but Speed Up Assessments of Their Quality and Benefits

Data-driven policing, which leverages data to predict crime, dramatically reshaped how we think about technology’s role in ensuring public safety. Today, a spate of new technologies such as ShotSpotter, body-worn cameras and Beware software are designed to help ensure public safety by providing critical information and documenting encounters. We believe 2017 will find law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve calling for a closer examination of the potential utilization, including specific gains – and risks – of such technologies.

Technology investment will be tempered with better evaluation of benefits. ShotSpotter, for example, has the reputation of effectively triangulating sound from gunfire to report incidents to local law enforcement, thereby helping departments allocate resources. In 2015, 62 cities implemented the technology, installing sensors on utility poles, light posts and buildings. However, ShotSpotter has its critics: some say the expensive technology alerts police to firecrackers and backfiring cars rather than gunfire. Others raise concern that the technology represents an invasion of privacy.

We do know that the implementation and use of body worn cameras (BWC) will continue to expand throughout the country. This technology will intersect with privacy and transparency (see Trend #1), and also how the technology will be used. Integration with reporting and computer-aided design (CAD) systems, public records use and investigative practices will be part of the discussion in 2017.

In 2017, we expect that a number of law enforcement agencies will dial back on their reliance upon and adoption of certain types of policing technology. Instead, we think agencies across the nation will take the time to engage in a more thorough review of the assumptions and limitations of technology, including welcoming public input early and often throughout the evaluation process.

View more of our Top Trends in 2017 Blogs

For more insights and perspectives on “Top Trends in 2017” we anticipate, click the following links: security risk management; threat and violence risk management, and investigations.