3 Takeaways from the COPS 2016 State of Policing Report

Law enforcement agencies across the country are still trying to understand and implement the recommendations from the Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. One of those recommendations was to provide an annual report on the state of policing. Earlier this month, COPS released the inaugural report.

State of Policing Report - LexipolThe report’s findings will not be a huge surprise to most law enforcement leaders, but the resources compiled within and the succinct but broad-reaching analysis make it a great reference. “We expect this to be the first in a long-running series that will identify contemporary issues in the field and provide discussion and examples of community policing programs that have shown positive results,” Ronald Davis, COPS Director, writes in the introduction. “It seeks to capture the national dialogue and expound on it with links to the latest research and resources for the implementation of innovative law enforcement strategies that emphasize prevention and evidence-based solutions.”

Following are three points that jumped out at us during an initial review of the State of Policing Report.

We are far from resolving the debate over police use of force.
Not surprisingly, the report focuses many pages on various aspects of the complex issue of police use of force, including the lack of uniform use of force data, the push to rewrite use of force policy, best practices when dealing with vulnerable populations, and response to mass demonstrations. The impression the COPS report leaves is just how unsettled these issues are.

When it comes to data, for example, the authors note that in the face of a lack of comprehensive federally collected data on police use of force, other data-collecting outlets will find a way to fill the gap, and possibly pursue their own agendas. Examples include bloggers and websites that rely to some extent on crowdsourcing, such as Fatal Encounters, Killed By Police and Mapping Police Violence, as well as the Washington Post’s Fatal Force and The Guardian’s The Counted. While these efforts cast some light on use of force incidents, they also add to the confusion. “Each database has different criteria for inclusion, mechanisms for research, and validation of the information collected,” the report notes. Although the FBI recently announced its intention to expand federal use of force tracking, many details of that effort remain unknown. Such tracking could help to keep the narrative factual and out of the control of crowdsourced media sites.

Similarly, the report summarizes the heated debate created by the release of the Police Executive Research Forum’s Guiding Principles on Use of Force. “The 30 Principles sparked a continuing debate within policing about the standard to which law enforcement agencies should hold themselves and their officers when using force,” the authors note. (Check out Chief Mike Ranalli’s series responding to the PERF report.)

While it could be tempting for readers to criticize the COPS report for not providing answers, remember, this is a report intended to describe the current state of the industry. Pretending there is broad consensus on these issues would have been inaccurate.

Effective crime prevention and response is not just about doing the right thing; it’s also about understanding how your actions appear to others.
The second part of the COPS report “recognizes the everyday efforts from law enforcement agencies and officers in 2015 to keep the peace and fight crime in the communities they serve.” This section highlights five strategies:
1. Community policing
2. Incorporating concepts of procedural justice into police actions, both internally and externally
3. Implicit bias training
4. Cultural competency training
5. Increasing transparency and accountability

While these five strategies cover a huge range of issues, they share a commonality: They focus not only on what police officers do, but also on how such actions are perceived. The concept of police legitimacy has been around for a long time now, but the COPS report underscores just how central it is becoming to departments across the country. If the report is accurate, we will continue to see departments combining traditional community outreach with a more inward-focused examination on the attitudes, beliefs and values that drive behavior—and how enhanced training and release of information can improve the rapport departments have with their communities.

Law enforcement is exhibiting a new focus on officer wellness and wellbeing.
Although it’s cliché to say that police officers are expected to be the strong ones and not ask for help, it’s also an attitude that still permeates much of American law enforcement. The COPS report focuses on key factors needed to improve officer wellbeing, including:
• Effective staffing
• Training to prevent ambushes and other felonious killings
• Programs that focus on the causes of preventable line-of-duty deaths, such as Below 100
• Mental health resources
• Officer physical fitness

This is a trend that’s been building across all public safety for many years now, and it’s a welcome one. The first part of the COPS report details “the many ways in which the field was tested” in the past year—from increased opiate overdoses to interactions with mentally ill individuals to mass killings to anti-police demonstrations. It’s simply not fair or realistic to pretend that officers can continue to respond to these complex incidents without the preparation, training and post-incident support needed to help them succeed.

In his introduction to the State of Policing Report, COPS Director Ronald Davis indicates that the report is “must-read not just for agency leaders but also for every officer and civilian who serves in our nation’s nearly 18,000 law enforcement agencies.” You be the judge—read the full report here.

Lexipol’s Law Enforcement Policy Manual and Daily Training Bulletin Service provides support for the Pillars of 21st Century Policing to help keep your officers safe and reduce the risk your agency can face from litigation. Contact us today to find out more.

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