Current Issues in Law Enforcement: What Will Departments Face in 2022?
In recent years, police departments across the country have been facing intense public scrutiny. The spotlight continues to shine on the actions of law enforcement officers, and departments are reacting to demands for immediate changes at multiple levels.
Criminal justice professionals are in the difficult position of doing important work serving their communities while also considering public opinion. In this article, we explore four current issues in law enforcement and the impact they’re having on police departments across the country.
1. Police Recruitment and Retention
One of the biggest challenges facing law enforcement is retention and recruitment within police departments. In a 2021 survey by the Police Executive Research Forum, law enforcement agencies reported an 18% increase in resignations and a 45% increase in retirements compared to the previous year. Respondents reported that numerous factors contributed to officers leaving, including, but not limited to:
- Officers seeking jobs outside of law enforcement.
- Negativity surrounding law enforcement in general.
- Pandemic fatigue.
- Pressure from family to change careers.
Many of these issues started before the COVID-19 pandemic and the protests of 2020. Consider these results from a 2019 report published by the International Association of Chiefs of Police in which agencies from federal, state, local and tribal levels were surveyed:
- 78% of agencies reported having difficulty recruiting eligible candidates.
- 65% of agencies reported having too few candidates applying for positions.
- 75% of agencies reported that recruiting was more difficult than in the past.
- 50% of agencies reported having to change their policies to increase the number of qualified candidates.
- 25% of agencies reported having to reduce or eliminate services, units or positions due to staffing difficulties.
Police departments are left with many questions. What are their officers’ needs? What issues are reported at exit interviews? Do departments need to offer better compensation packages? Should they focus on recruiting candidates with more education? Are they offering enough incentives to stay with the force? Police recruitment and retention is a complicated issue, and it’s one that leaders in criminal justice will be working on for years to come.
2. Police Accountability
Another significant concern in recent years is accountability for police departments. A common question that is raised is “Who should police the police?” New laws have been passed in numerous states across the country, addressing topics such as body cameras, use of force, no-knock warrants, disciplinary systems, civilian oversight and more.
Every law enforcement agency seeks to build trust between their officers and the community. In addition to policies enforced by state governments and other external agencies, leaders within police departments also have a large role to play. In an article published by Police1, law enforcement leaders shared how they strive to develop cultures of accountability within their agencies, including:
- Aligning agency values with community values.
- Leading by example.
- Training first-line supervisors to hold their colleagues accountable.
3. Embracing Technological Advancements in Law Enforcement
When considering where law enforcement is headed in the next five years and beyond, embracing technology is another key challenge. Innovations can happen quickly, and some of the new technologies include:
- Biometrics: Handheld scanners and facial recognition tools that can improve the accuracy of identifying individuals.
- Gunshot Detectors: Sensors and mapping technologies that can detect gunshots within specific high-crime areas.
- Police Drones: Drones that can take photos of crime scenes and survey search areas.
- Vehicle Pursuit Darts: Foam darts that can be released by police vehicles and attach to a vehicle, allowing officers to track their movements with GPS.
For police chiefs, budgeting for these technological advances would be a significant concern, and some personnel may resist adopting new devices or software and feel stress about learning how to use the tech quickly.
4. Data-Driven Crime Prevention
The concept of using data in law enforcement is not a new one, but ongoing advancements in computing power can help this strategy become more viable for police departments. Predictive policing can use data to anticipate where and when crimes will occur, allowing agencies to strategically place their officers and potentially prevent crimes from happening. Intelligence-led policing takes the idea a step further, using data in attempts to identify potential victims and repeat offenders.
Departments do have some case studies available to review when considering predictive or intelligence-led strategies. In 2014, a study found that predictive software utilized by multiple police departments in the United States and United Kingdom reduced crime by 7.4%. Additionally, the High Point Police Department in North Carolina found that interventions with gangs were deterrents to future acts.
Using data in this way is not without its concerns. Opponents of these tactics raise points such as:
- The data used to make these decisions can be flawed due to the information originating from subjective input.
- Assigning more officers to patrol neighborhoods with high crime rates in the past can naturally lead to more arrests in that area, perpetuating the notion that such neighborhoods have more crime than others.
- Tracking individuals who are considered potential perpetrators – or potential victims – can border on an invasion of privacy.
As the power of big data and its potential applications in law enforcement grow every year, criminal justice decision-makers will continue to face the challenge of balancing citizen concerns with deploying new crime prevention strategies.
The challenges facing law enforcement leaders can change quickly. Whether it’s developing ways to retain officers or implementing crime prevention strategies without intruding upon the public’s trust, each day can come with new and complicated issues to address.
If you’re looking to move up in the ranks and stay connected with current trends in criminal justice, investing in education can be a wise decision. Police officers with college degrees are more likely to hold leadership positions, relate to their communities and identify best practices in the field.
Here at Columbia Southern University, we offer online criminal justice degrees at the associate, bachelor’s and master’s degree levels, as well as multiple continuing education options. To learn more about our online education options in criminal justice, visit our website.