When I talk about the future of policing I don’t mean trends or what probably will happen; instead, I am talking about a “preferred” future, how police should be and act in a nation such as ours — how we want it to happen.
It’s easy to talk about trends – especially technological trends. But policing is more than just machines (however sophisticated they may be). Policing is about people and how the state reacts to, manages, and interacts with them.
Policing needs to become a thinking profession as much as one that acts. That is why I tended to lambast in my book that tendency police have to act anti-intellectually (See “Arrested Development”).
While it is nice that the Police Executive Research Forum (of which I actively participated for two decades) brings police leaders together and asks them about trends, what the Forum needs to do, however, is to engage in some deep philosophical thinking about the nature of police and what they should be and model in our society. (CLICK HERE to view their report.)
That is why I want to devoted a number of blogpost to the preferred future of policing.
Let me quote from their report:
“Police executives have just begun to discuss how changes in the new generations of young people will affect how police departments are organized and managed. There seems to be broad agreement that today’s young people are bright, ambitious, impatient to achieve things, and less inclined than past generations to stick with a single job, or even a single career, over a lifetime. Some of the wisest police chiefs today are saying they can’t expect the younger generation to accept the hierarchical, paramilitary structures of most police departments. Rather, they say, police departments must do the adapting, or they will miss out on hiring and retaining many of the brightest young people. [The message: Hire the best and the brightest! (Step 2 in "Arrested Development."]
“Today’s police leaders also are paying more attention to the question of how they develop the leaders of tomorrow. It’s not enough for a chief to reduce crime and develop model policies and practices. Police chiefs increasingly are focusing on building the leadership skills of everyone in the organization, and ensuring that there is a strong bench of second-tier and mid-level leaders. These are the people who help to achieve today’s successes, and who must be ready to step up and continue the advances when the current chief retires or moves to a new job. [The message: Train and lead. (Step 4 in "Arrested Development.")]
“There is little doubt that police departments and police chiefs will take on and manage all of these new challenges, if for no other reason than that the public will demand it. For 20 years or more, police departments across the country have been recognizing the importance of community policing, public trust, accountability, and transparency in nearly everything they do. Today, these concepts have become ingrained in most police departments; community policing and public trust are part of the DNA of policing.” [The message: Continuous improvement and sustain what has been accomplised. (Steps 5 and 7 in "Arrested Development.")]
– It is precisely that kind of DNA I want police leaders to think about and, in the future, to make happen.
The report continues:
“In the last few years, police chiefs have been discussing the ideas of ‘legitimacy’ and ‘procedural justice’ in policing. These concepts have to do with the judgments that members of the public make about their local police, and whether citizens believe they are being treated fairly and respectfully by the police. Legitimacy and procedural justice sometimes are seen as a new, high-powered version of community policing.
“There is no turning back from these principles of public trust, community policing, and legitimacy in policing. Today’s police executives understand that they must earn the trust of their community every day… [The message: Move your organizational values into a strong and bold vision, listen to your community,continuously improve and sustain your accomplishments. (Steps 1 and 3 in "Arrested Development.")]
“A key challenge for the future may be to ensure that we identify which approaches are working best, and disseminate information about promising practices and policies, so they can be replicated elsewhere. Partnerships with research institutions and private-sector organizations, and advances in technology—such as Next Generation 911 systems—are among the emerging promising practices discussed in this report… [The message: Intellectualize policing -- anti-intellectualism is the first of the four obstacles which arrest the development of our nation's police.]
I sense the PERF report on future trends in policing will enable police leader drift and not highlight what police SHOULD become. Technology should not drive policing values. What needs to be paramount are the unique values of policing a free society. To select, train and lead the kind of police that will create communities respecting and trusting their police. In short, the kind of police I recommend – men and women who are educated, well-trained, controlled in their use of force, impeccably honest, protectors of our Constitution, and courteous to everyone.
That is what policing a democracy is all about.
Police leaders today must have a sharp vision of that kind of officer; a bold and future vision that will positively influence the direction of policing in the coming years.
And, most importantly, today’s police leader must be able to begin now to lead and implement that future.
p.s. I am still hoping to get visions of the future from police leaders around the country. What’s yours?