The Future: Part X

future 3Future of Policing Essays: American Policing in 2022

Part X

During the next few weeks I will be publishing excerpts from twenty or more of these essays with the hope of generating some discussion on what these police leaders and academics have to say about the future of our men and women in blue.

Enjoy and please comment!

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“To make policing safer in 2022, the process must begin with an understanding of the present problem. While the FBI’s Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted dataset and the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Foundation both have made attempts to evaluate and characterize officer fatalities, these deaths represent only a small fraction of officers seriously injured in the line of duty each year. Neither of these groups, nor any other out there today, can succinctly and accurately answer the question of how and, more important, why U.S. law enforcement officers are sustaining injuries—a critical first step in determining how to truly improve officer safety.

“More recently and moving toward beginning to correct this deficit in our present knowledge, the International Association of Chiefs of Police has published results from its Reducing Officer Injuries: Developing Policy Responses—a study that examined  18  U.S. law enforcement agencies employing 9,746 officers (approximately a 1% sample of officers). The study looked at more than 1,200 injuries sustained during the one-year period. The analysis of these injuries is the first step toward meaningful safety improvement.

“While many of the injuries studied were minor, two clear trends emerged. First, and most practical, law enforcement training in injury mitigation,  health, and wellness has lagged behind other topics. Second, and likely more important, law enforcement lacks a robust national capacity to capture all injuries, analyze trends, and rapidly make recommendations that can be broadcast nationwide. Until we take steps to correct this deficiency, not only will we remain behind other public safety professionals but also each solution will remain relatively isolated, ensuring that others may remain at risk to making the same mistake.

“In addition to studying outcomes and data, the second key component of the process by which medical safety and effectiveness continues to improve is that of peer review. The idea is simple—when bad things happen in medicine, a group of peer physicians take a look at the facts of the case; review the care provided and decisions made with a tough, introspective examination; and ultimately provide a proscription of some sort to avoid the bad outcome again (my emphasis). This process, critical to the recent profound improvements in medical care effectiveness and safety, is protected from legal discovery, allowing a frank discussion where all facts are laid bare and meaningful change and improvements can be made. Except in cases of egregious negligence, recommendations for improvement are rarely punitive. Instead, the focus is on improvement and avoidance of similar mistakes in the future. Interestingly, the legal protections afforded to this process do not interfere with malpractice claims—as negligent physicians still have to be held accountable—but it allows mistakes to be evaluated and corrected in real time and to be discussed and distributed to others so mistakes are not repeated.

“Law enforcement leaders should take steps to emulate this process, to create a way for us to truly analyze and discuss our mistakes without fear of repercussions and reprisal. Following an officer death in the line of duty, criminal and internal investigations occur in every agency. Too often, agencies hide behind these investigations as rationale for not disseminating crucial safety findings that have the potential for meaningful officer safety improvement. Imagine instead, given the above, a concurrent peer review, done by other law enforcement leaders with access to every important fact and detail that generated non-punitive, non- judgmental important lessons learned. These could each be distilled into a five-minute presentation and read at roll-calls all over the nation, providing our officers with the knowledge needed to avoid a similar situation in the future. Whatever format these could be disseminated in, the final product is critical for the future of law enforcement safety. We have to achieve this paradigm shift in the way we examine our tragedies and near-misses.”

[Alexander L. Eastman, MD, MPH, FACS, lieutenant and deputy medical director, Dallas (Texas) Police Department and lead medical officer for their SWAT team.]

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“One of the keys to building a bridge to the future (even with our internal communities in a state of turmoil) is having engaged leadership dedicated to collaborative problem solving. To be truly collaborative, both labor and management must be willing to forge long-term relationships, maintain open lines of communication, and invest in ways to negotiate for mutually agreeable outcomes. From a labor perspective, we are arguably far more likely to achieve our goals—such as improving the quality of life for our members—if we focus on working constructively with management.

“On the other hand, progress is likely to stagnate or evaporate entirely in the event union leadership adopts a less constructive mentality that boxes management into a defensive corner, for example, by getting caught up in petty squabbles that may benefit only a few members, by arbitrarily exerting its authority unnecessarily, or by obstructing management at every turn. Consequently, given the fragility of the economy, the impacts to internal communities within our law enforcement agencies, and the unique role unions have as the advocate for those internal communities, the stage is set for collaborative union leadership to take charge of shaping a positive trajectory for the future of our profession.

“Where we go as a profession from this point forward depends on us recognizing the value of community and collaboration. We need to focus not on blame, outrage, or finger-pointing; instead we need to work together to build the framework for our future, what­ ever it and the economy brings, by doing what we in law enforcement do: adapt, improvise, and overcome.

“Our future, our reputation, indeed our very legacy will be forged, in part, on whether we convince the public we are capable of taking care of each other.

“After all, why would anyone trust us to protect and serve if the law enforcement community cannot work together and take care of one another?”

[Christopher Tracy, police officer with the Tacoma (Washington) Police Department and vice president of Tacoma Police Union Local No. 6.]