I have noticed some trends while watching media, the public, and fellow police officers react to events over the past 20+ years as a police officer. There are intersecting points which all share. They all converge on the idea that law enforcement’s purpose is to serve the public. In order for agencies and individual officers to be more effective in their service, some change is needed. The topic of instigating positive change within law enforcement has been very important to me for a long time. Want change in law enforcement? Start with understanding the system you are concerned with. The larger more visible issues that need change (which are being covered in the media) are nationwide issues, not isolated to certain areas. There are political avenues available for change and there are methods that can be used from within to create a change. Your local city/county/state government may have the ability to hire and fire people as well as influence standards. That positive influence is needed. Now let’s discuss some concepts associated with what we need.
In most instances, easy methods are fast and forgotten quickly or they lack the needed impact to resolve the core of an issue. The better methods, in most cases, take a lot more effort, will take time, funding, and will have longer lasting desired effects. Addressing issues and incorporating multilevel solutions simultaneously can result in more positive results. Just a policy change by itself can solve some issues, but also incorporating an accepted procedure reinforced by training can help cover more variables to limit the opportunity of problem behavior to slip through.
The most effective way to instigate positive change, in my opinion, is through cultural change within the department. Cultural, as in a department wide accepted mindset, method, and goal operating on the most basic level. If culturally, a department strives to serve and help the public- officers will seek out ways of serving the public on their own and it is kept as their focus throughout their career. This is influenced through the command staff, field training, dept meetings, training, and through example from the senior and influential officers of the department. Stopping the mindset that officers are in a class above the citizens they serve is a step towards changing a culture and starts to open up the idea of true service.
Accountability of officers by holding them responsible for unprofessional/unlawful behavior and not sweeping it under the rug helps stop malignant issues. When officers and the public see action taken against unprofessional/unlawful behavior, it helps establish lines that should not be crossed. This action can satisfy the public’s feelings of outrage due to unprofessional or even unlawful action. Law enforcement is not above the law and needs to be treated as such. Unchecked issues that do not get needed attention will grow to full blown problems. Those problems end up costing far more money to resolve after the fact than it would have taken to fix before it became a problem. Those behavior problems also have the ability to grow, if unchecked, though other officers also acting in the same unacceptable manner. The timeliness of the corrective action and resolution is paramount.
Overall competency at high risk tasks require investment in the officer. Firearms, for example, have a high risk/liability attached to them- yet do not have the needed attention or training to match their importance. Most firearms programs focus on maintaining a minimum standard and not much beyond that. Arrest control and combatives are neglected topics that are rarely addressed outside of the academy similar to firearms. Unless the officer takes it upon him/herself to spend their own time and money to maintain a needed skillset, their ability might not be developed to a needed level of proficiency.
Keep in mind, standards in most cases are a minimum of acceptable performance. If you want the baseline of ability to increase- either standards need to be raised or the culture of the agency needs to strive to go beyond the standard. Raising standards will cost money. That money comes from somewhere – taxes, grants, etc. Currently programs are being cut in some areas to allow additional spending in others. There is a lot of training and maintenance required in retaining a functional police officer even with maintaining low standards as it is. Additional funding will probably be needed to increase the standards you find to be lacking.
Police work is a somewhat low paying career that has health and safety risks which should have a larger budget to maintain higher standards. All of that falls on government to fund. Current wages may not be attracting the best candidates for the abilities, intelligence, and skill levels you want as a police officer serving in your community. Don’t lose all hope though, there are those of us who find police work as a calling, and we have a passion for it despite the lesser pay. On a scale of 1 to 10, in most cases, the public wants their officers to function at a 11 daily but are only willing to pay a 2. Want a model police department? It will take time, money, and effort. These large-scale changes do not occur overnight.