I am not going to be the harbinger of doom and despair. No, I am not a pessimist but somewhat of a realist. There are some realities of life that need to be discussed while there is still calm. The challenge that American law enforcement is facing is like the perennial 800-pound gorilla in the room; it is there and nobody wants to talk about it. Now is a good time to ponder these while there is still an opportunity for civilized discourse and solutions.
The national issues of economy will have adverse effects on law enforcement. First of all, the grants for everything will dry up. There are so many departments and cities that use grants creatively to fill the income voids. The old Irish saying of living on the dole is what many departments have been doing. Not saying that some are cooking the books to make it but let’s be honest. Grants to put cops on the streets have been political rewards to larger cities for years. However, the time comes to pay the piper, as the grant funding descends inversely does the city’s obligations. Most of the time normal attrition of personnel takes smoothes this out. However recently you are hearing about layoffs and lesser services. We can’t afford to pay them, so lay them off is one remedy. The special services or community outreaches are going to go away. Putting these cops that were performing social service functions back on patrol is one way to fill the personnel voids and balance the books. Face it, so many places have used community cops for other voids of social support it has been a saver for some and overreliance on this ideal will haunt some communities. The battle cry will be who is going to do this now will resound throughout council meetings.
As the economy falters so will the tax base that supports the general funds for law enforcement. Departments that had lucrative retirements with generous benefits will feel the crunch. These retirement funds are fueled on financial investments. As the economy slows, more money will be required to support retiree benefit funds; which equates to less for the cops on the street. If the courts allow guaranteed benefits that have been granted to retirees (and families) to be tampered with, the unions will caterwaul and rightfully so. What are the answers to this? I feel you will see more departments close their doors and be absorbed by larger, county agencies. This will create lack of police coverage that the residents and businesses have enjoyed. Lack of services, lack of presence and reduced patrols and the safe feeling you had in this community will be gone or compromised beyond belief. All of these will equate to a loss of confidence in law enforcement by its customer base. This also will place many law enforcement officers in a quandary, they are here to protect and serve; this is their calling. Now, they will be offering less than satisfactory services and knowing that they will be the face of the lie, we are here to help you.
Legalization of marijuana, lessening of current drug laws, mental health issues and firearms are going to be the hot buttons of the upcoming years. As there are many who debate the marijuana laws whether legal or lessened penalties is going to a problem any way you view it. We do not have the impaired testing for driving while high as we do for alcohol. This should increase street crimes, for every block with medicinal marijuana storefronts has had increased street crimes. Brace yourself, here this issue comes again, like it or not.
Mental health issues have resurfaced again from the investigations of recent mass homicides. Who is going to diagnose, care and fund these programs without getting into criminal justice’s pockets is beyond me. I do not wish to be insensitive to this, but it seems that nearly every month we are reading about a new rare condition that emergency services should be aware of. Several mental health professionals have treated the patient for years and now they have made the diagnosis. It could be very serious and rare. Now, cops are suppose to be able to make snap decisions on this, fair this is not but here come more training mandates on recognition and response to mental health issues.
Recent mass homicides (I don’t use the word shooter, they are violent homicidal perpetrators) have once again questioned how we respond to a school or mass murder event. Every department will be overwhelmed with traveling experts; it will be déjà vu all over again! One thing we must do is vet out all of the tactical gurus, ‘swatologist’ and other specialist trying to make a dollar on your training budget. My recommendation is share with other departments, regional tasks force, consortiums or whatever you may have any information on the various systems of response. Work with your school district, for they often have their own policies and ideals that do not mesh well with your ideas of response, work closely with them for a common goal. One thing a chief/sheriff must do is make the response training you select conducive to your department and school situation. It is pointless to train for a response that is built around a large urban staff department if you only have a small department with limited regional resources, you must rethink and adapt. Old suggestion if weighing in on a trainer or company is to request a list of their most recent contracts and call those past customers, get their feelings. No generic comments off their website, fully appraise them for your training dollar has to be stretched.
Are these all of the new challenges facing today’s administrators? NO! There are more that we know are applicable to you and maybe no one else. There are some threats we have not fathomed yet. The problems we face today cannot be solved with yesteryears’ thinking and solutions. Tomorrow’s issues will be solved by thinkers with an eye to the future, not entrenched in the past. It is going to be a challenge for us all, but we are the ones who shoulder this great responsibility, let’s do it!