Policing is a fast-paced environment as departments are consistently responding to community demands for service and chiefs are consistently responding to crime trends. As strategies are implemented though, too often, its impacts are assessed based on weekly or monthly comparisons for crime, yet little thought is given to possible blow-back effects, or to the unintended outcomes of strategies—the type of effects that damage relationships with those we serve. Although a strategy may appear to work at first glance, we must ask ourselves, “Does the strategy cause unintended harms?” and “How can we best measure those harms?”
Misapplication can be malpractice
In February 2015, I was at a police executive meeting where former New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton was speaking to a room full of law enforcement officers and college students gathered at Rutgers–Newark. Bratton was the featured speaker for the Police Institute’s Distinguished Lecture Series. During his address, he detailed how he used disorder policing strategies, better known as the broken windows theory, to reduce crime in New York City and Los Angeles. He also warned against the theory’s misapplication, a topic rarely discussed in policing circles.
It is said that St. Peter was fleeing the City of Rome to escape persecution by the government when he met the resurrected Jesus walking the other way, toward the City. “Quo Vadis Domine?”—Where are you going, Lord? asked Peter. In reply, Jesus explained he was returning to Rome to be crucified again. His work was not yet done. Jesus’ selfless commitment gave Peter the courage to continue his ministry—his service to humanity. He too ultimately sacrificed himself in the name of service to others.
American policing, Quo Vadis—where are you going?
I understand. You, the police, have become subject of criticism boarding on persecution. Daily, you engage in tens of thousands of acts of service, courage and kindness with little recognition. But, let one of your 900,000 members engage in misconduct, in any one of the tens of thousands of police contacts that occur nationwide and your entire profession is once again subjected to virulent criticism.
In 2019, government organizations were the intended targets of nearly two-thirds of all known ransomware attacks in the United States. While many of these events go unreported, at least 70 state and local governments are known to have been attacked last year alone, representing a notable uptick from prior years. Ransomware attacks generally take the form of hackers obtaining access to a network and deploying malware to encrypt the victim’s data; they then charge a ransom in order for the victim to regain access to their data.
These attacks can bring government operations to a standstill, and result in costs to the municipality that range from tens of thousands to tens of millions of dollars to return to full capacity. It is estimated that between April and June of 2019, government victims of ransomware attacks paid an average ransom of over $300,000. However, even when the financial demands were met, the hackers did not always remit control, and the integrity of the system remained compromised.
To support the efforts of the City of Baltimore and BPD, in implementation of its consent decree through funding from the Ford Foundation, NPF facilitated focus groups and disseminated an online feedback form to gather perspectives from BPD personnel on the department’s challenges and areas of change needed for enhanced community policing and engagement between November 2018 and January 2019. NPF also partnered with Loyola University Maryland and No Boundaries Coalition to facilitate focus groups and interview sessions and administer an open feedback form to gather community member perceptions of BPD. They also elicited input on their expectations for police service between June 2019 and October 2019.
June 16, 2020—As we struggle to process our thoughts and emotions after viewing yet another video involving a deadly police encounter, we try to understand why this happened again. Without regard to perspectives, our skin color, or whether we are wearing a uniform or not, we must agree that none of us want to see another tragic and painful loss of life and acknowledge that our communities and our country can’t afford another.
We must come together and work together for change. While there are many changes that can and should be made, such a list requires more than a statement such as this can afford, however important the statement is. Instead, we urge all involved to consider what we view as essential for effective and sustainable change:
Tamara Martin joined the National Police Foundation (NPF) in May 2020. Tamara previously worked at the University of Maryland, where she directed the Membership and Marketing department and led a complete department revamp and eCRM conversion. She achieved this while simultaneously executing award-winning revenue generating campaigns. She has over 15 years of non-profit management expertise, both nationally and internationally, having worked in and/or overseen development, events, business development, member services and communications functions in a variety of large and small organizations.
June 12, 2020—The National Police Foundation (NPF) is pleased to announce a new Science and Innovation online livestream broadcast series.
The series is designed to reflect NPF’s mission as an organization—advancing policing through innovation and science. The goal is to actively bring research into the conversation and apply it to everyday management and reform conversations. These conversations will feature perspectives from practitioners and academics and will dive deeper into scientific or technical findings or innovations that may help police leaders in guiding and managing the agency, including the development of new policies and procedures, help elected officials and community members gain a deeper insight into police organizations and policing overall, and to expand our knowledge collectively.
As we work with law enforcement officers and leaders across the U.S. and beyond, we have the privilege of witnessing the dedication and commitment to service, integrity, fairness and respect that countless officers have and demonstrate each and every day, even in the face of adversity and, at times, confrontation. This video and the behaviors observed do not represent them well. Instead, these actions (and inaction) jeopardize the gains that have been made through the sacrifices and courage of many.
While the full investigation may reveal additional details and facts that are unknown to most of us today, we should all come together in agreement that the glimpse we have into this encounter is not consistent with the oath that officers take or the courage and integrity that the vast majority display each and every day.