What’s a better time to take stock of the past and make plans for the future than a new year? In the trenches of law enforcement, especially, it seems there’s always some way to improve—or maybe it’s just nice to commiserate. LET checked in with a couple of officers from different sides of the country to see how they weathered in 2011.
Here’s what they said:
How would you describe current economic times for policing?
Det. Roger Knight: [The] current economy has caused criminals to adapt and change their tactics and techniques. Law enforcement and laws have not changed. Theft of metals, identity theft [and] cyber crimes result in damage that is difficult to measure, yet the punishment is ridiculously inadequate for the crimes. Identity theft can cause thousands in damage yet the criminal receives little or no punishment.
Can you give an example of how budget cuts have affected your department?
Ofc. Thomas Doggett: In addition to the three patrol officers [we were hit hardest in] the specialty assignment positions; such as the loss of a DARE officer, middle school resource officer and detective assigned to narcotics investigation. We are now relying more heavily on the schools themselves, patrol officers, internal investigators and outside mutual aid task forces to complete appropriate investigative follow-ups.
Knight: We have not hired a new deputy for several years, we are not filling vacancies of personnel who retire.
What innovative or exciting products crossed your radar this year?
Doggett: Automated License Plate Recognition (ALPR). We have been approved for the purchase of a new squad car that will be equipped with two of the cameras.
What problems would you like to see addressed in terms of equipment, training or personal protection?
Doggett: At a time when assaults on LEOs are on the rise, I would like to see continued growth in the area a self-aid/buddy aid (tactical emergency medicine) equipment and training. As a result of the recent wars, this area has been experiencing rapid growth; however many agencies still fear implementation due to cost, liability issues and the perceived threat of “stepping on the toes” of fire departments and EMS.
Knight: [I would like to see agencies issue equipment]and then maintain it. We have PPE and masks, but filters are all expired. [I think we should also] start training officers in advanced first aid and issue equipment to allow them to save themselves should they suffer injuries; make communication devices more appropriate for patrol and make them easier to use; [and] incorporate biometrics into easy-to-use devices.
Where would you like to see more technological improvement?
Doggett: I would like to see the development of self-contained trauma kits that can be worn by rank and file patrol officers without having that “military” look. Many of the kits available are too big for daily wear and are left in the squads.
How does the law enforcement job continue to change?
Doggett: With budgetary cutbacks and reduced spending on training, officers now more than ever need to seek training on their own time and expense. The good news is that with the growth of social media ... and a large amount of reading material available for free on the Internet, this is becoming easier as well.
Knight: Use-of-force issues are going to continue to haunt law enforcement. The introduction of the Taser is a great step forward, however with its issue, I see officers reaching for the Taser way too quickly. We have lost our ability to communicate with people and instead have come to rely on being able to force them to submit with the use of the Taser. The Taser is a great tool when properly used, however I think it is being used far to often.
On the flip side, in what ways does it stay the same?
Knight: It’s still the patrol officer that makes some of the most amazing arrests based on [his or her] instincts, training and years of experience.
Have there been any changes to the threats officers are facing?
Knight: Officers today are more likely to be assaulted violently by the people they are arresting. There is no longer the almost certain death penalty for assaulting or killing a law enforcement officer. Suspect are better armed and not afraid to kill an officer, then claim childhood trauma caused them to act the way they did. Officers are better equipped, trained and armed now than ever before. Any action the officer takes, he realizes he will be second guessed and sued, and possibly face criminal or federal charges.
Doggett: The biggest threat being perceived by officers would not be physical but financial. The increased expense of health insurance, forgone annual pay increases and the attack on pensions.
As far as being addressed; these are complicated issues being handled by our FOP union, elected union representatives, pension board representatives and outside my area of my expertise to fully elaborate.
In the coming years, what do you see as the biggest obstacles or barriers to the industry?
Doggett: Coping with social media (Facebook, Twitter and YouTube). The public now is able to immediately share information about police contacts with potentially millions of people. Officers must conduct themselves under the pretense that they are likely being video recorded, and that interaction may make its way to the Internet for “Monday morning quarterbacking.”
What were the biggest challenges law enforcement faced throughout the past year?
Knight: Funding. I realize money is tight but law enforcement must be a priority.
Doggett: Budgetary cutbacks ... resulted in reduced manpower. Although my agency did not lay off any personnel, we also did not replace six sworn officers (from 45 to 39) and two civilians that separated on their own.
Do you see better or worse economic times ahead?
Knight: It is going to take years for law enforcement to recover from these economic times. Even if we were told to hire tomorrow it will take years to replace officers and build back up to our pre-2007, 2008 times.