OnPolicing Blog

Welcome to the OnPolicing series.

PF On Policing logo final versionOnPolicing captures the thoughts of some of the country’s most important voices on contemporary policing. It is intended to stimulate debate about the state of policing and the myriad of challenges involved in controlling crime, disorder, and terrorism in a democracy like ours. The opinions are the authors’ own and may not represent the official position of the National Police Foundation. All comments are welcome—especially contrarian ones. We reserve the right to remove hateful or profane posts.

Please refer to the essay entitled “An Introduction to OnPolicing for an in-depth introduction to the series by the National Police Foundation’s former president and founder of the OnPolicing blog, Jim Bueermann. If you would like to contribute to the OnPolicing series, please send your 500-1000 word essay to info@policefoundation.org.

 

 

 

In Policing, ‘You Don’t Know Nothing’—Until You Ask Questions

By Sergeant Jeremiah Johnson, Ph.D.
Darien (CT) Police Department 

The late New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra is perhaps remembered more for his malapropistic quotes than what he achieved on the field. The irony about “yogi-isms” is that his words can actually be quite profound. One such statement, “In baseball, you don’t know nothing” likely speaks to the unpredictability of the game. It could, however, be read as an indictment of sorts. Yogi played during baseball’s golden age, long before the sports analytics revolution, when the game was guided more by tradition and conjecture than objective knowledge. The same critique could very well be made against our own vocation- “In policing, you don’t know nothing.”

How do we know what we know? The classic answer that cops use on the witness stand is “training and experience”. As much as training and experience can help officers on the street, we may overvalue these characteristics when it comes to running police organizations. Most police training is not evidence-based and years of experience is a poor proxy for occupational knowledge. Policing needs to look deeper.

Like modern baseball, the private sector of the 21st century runs on data. It is challenging to find a major corporation that does not track consumer behavior, measure employee sentiment, or solicit customer feedback. It is true that policing has made great strides toward becoming data driven in regards to crime. The Compstat revolution of the late 20th century along with the advent of crime analysis transformed police operations, particularly in large cities. As good as law enforcement is at tracking crime, blind spots remain when it comes to understanding community concerns and the needs of our own officers.

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When Strategies Cause Unintended Harms

By Ivonne Roman (Executive Fellow, National Police Foundation)

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.

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Policing, Quo Vadis?

By Chief Cameron S. McLay (Ret.)

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 persecutionDaily, 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.

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Ransomware and cyberattacks are not going away anytime soon—here is how to protect your agency

By Kevin Fray, Principal Solutions Architect, Mark43, kevin.fray@mark43.com

In 2019, government organizations were the intended targets of nearly two-thirds of all known ransomware attacks in the United States.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3] However, even when the financial demands were met, the hackers did not always remit control, and the integrity of the system remained compromised.[4]

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Police data behind the pandemic response: policing through COVID-19

By Andrew Vaught (Managing Director, Data Driven Strategies Division, Baltimore Police Department) and Joyce Iwashita (Project Associate, National Police Foundation)

Despite the challenges that exposures to the coronavirus (COVID-19) present to police operations, agencies around the nation continue to respond to public safety issues in our communities. According to the National Police Foundation’s (NPF’s) Law Enforcement Impact Dashboard, thousands of law enforcement officers across the country have been exposed to COVID-19. As members continue to respond to the call to serve and protect, data collection and analysis is helping the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) make informed decisions about staffing and resource allocation that ultimately affects the safety of our members and the level of service we provide to our community. At the same time, our agency has an eye on ways that this data could help us and our federal, state, and local partners plan and prepare for the next wave of COVID-19 or the next pandemic we are faced with.

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Confronting COVID-19: Strong Leadership, Honest Assessments, Utilizing Available Resources, Communication, and Education

By Sheriff Rich Stanek
Hennepin County (MN) Sheriff (Ret.)

No level of planning could have fully prepared us for the difficult news coming from our nation’s jails and correctional facilities.  Heightened levels of contagion, and the associated stress and anxiety are impacting our medical, security, and behavioral health staff that work in these facilities as well as those in custody.

What more can we do to address the crisis, reduce the risk, and provide much-needed support? If I were still on the job today, these six steps would be on my to-do list and I hope they’re on yours as well.

 

  1. Acknowledge the problems, risks, and fear. Transparency and communication help us to work through these challenges.  More information can provide a baseline for developing a realistic view of the problems and allow us to transition toward identifying solutions.  Open up and encourage news reports and information sharing to build confidence that important information is being shared on a timely basis, even if the news is difficult to hear.
  2. Walk through your facilities and ask your command staff to do the same. Observe and make an honest assessment about what you are seeing. Be a visible leader, listener, and an observer—your presence will demonstrate your commitment and support for your employees and line staff.  You may find there are problems with a quick or obvious solution, where you may easily prioritize your resources and next steps.
  3. Consider grant funding to meet unanticipated needs. The Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance currently has $850 million available for state and local public safety agencies for COVID-19 related expenses. Sterilizing equipment, supplies, trainings, medical care costs, and developing teleconferencing capabilities all qualify for these funds that are available through May 29, 2020, for use over a two-year period. For more information, click here.
  4. Be clear about what personal protective equipment, supplies and other equipment are or are not available. It’s important to have access masks, gloves, soap, disinfectant, and hand sanitizer. If the items are not available now, explain why and when they will be made available.
  5. Provide education about how to minimize infection (e.g., washing hands properly, avoid touching the face and hard surfaces, and keeping social distancing guidelines). Increase your cleaning budget, bring in additional cleaning staff if possible, provide liberal access to cleaning supplies, and schedule daily or more frequent cleaning protocols.
  6. Consider new strategies for easing the stress and anxiety associated with the virus along with the physical limitations and environment everyone in the facility must accept. This could be done by playing music, relaying positive messages, facilitating and encouraging physical activity, sharing reading materials, and teaching healthy coping skills and strategies. From breathing techniques to music therapy to physical stretching and meditation, there are no-cost ways to manage stress without compromising security. Get innovative with your solutions. For example, can you make more call-times available for inmates through use of discretionary funds or donations?

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COVID-19 is ‘taxing on police chiefs’ but policing profession’s ‘strong mindset’, ‘public cooperation’, and ‘communication’ is going ‘incredibly well’

By Chief John Perez
City of Pasadena (CA) Police Department

As Chief of Police in the City of Pasadena (CA), I, along with all of my other colleagues in law enforcement, am responsible for guiding our police agency in this difficult time, as well as provide public safety services during the COVID-19 pandemic. This national emergency is unlike any other emergency or crisis law enforcement has ever prepared for. As many of us experienced the ’92 civil unrest as well as managed the many challenges of the post 9/11 environment, the lessons learned from those experiences are quickly assisting us in striking the right balance between protecting the safety of our officers, their families, and providing essential public safety services to our community. The inability to ensure we have enough personal protective equipment (PPE) and essential supplies elevates the situation as well as the challenges of leading our workforces in these trying times.

Here is what we have experienced after nearly a month and I hope sharing this provides an understanding that we are in this together.

These are the worries all Police Chiefs and Sheriffs are confronting in our Departments:

  • Managing fears inside of our own Organizations and within the community is first on this list.
  • There is a high degree of public fear as we confront an enemy we cannot see nor hear and the future seems uncertain.
  • The public is fearful of civil unrest, rumors of military deployment, concerns for family members they cannot visit, as well as the real impact to our economy.
  • The news doesn’t make it easier with issues seen in other countries where bodies are placed in the streets for pickup. The level of fear is magnified with global events of how COVID 19 is being managed.
  • There are concerns and fears for police departments not being prepared as our officers want strong communication and leadership as we develop changes to our workforces and field procedures.
  • Our Officers want assurance they are being supported and that efforts are underway to protect them in the field and in our police stations.
  • This creates a feeling of a lack of control, low self-confidence, and concern for emotional well-being for first responders. These emotions derive from the same officer safety issues our profession has always encountered prior to COVID 19, but now includes our contact with everyone in the public and how we respond to calls for service and make arrests.
  • We also finish our longer workdays by cleansing thoroughly before or upon after arriving home with the lingering thought “Am I bringing it home to my family?”

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What Chiefs Can Do Today About Impending Officer Shortages

By Chief (Ret.) Rick Myers and Joseph A. Schafer (Professor of Criminology & Criminal Justice and Associate Dean of Research in the College for Public Health and Social Justice at Saint Louis University)

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, many leaders are coping with the impact of officers in their organization being on quarantine, hospitalized, or simply calling in sick. This is occurring against a backdrop in which many agencies are struggling to achieve full staffing. The forecast from many police futurists, however, is that this situation is only going to get worse, independent of the COVID-19 situation. Most agencies have a high proportion of personnel who are retirement-eligible or approaching eligibility. Exacerbating this are the ongoing recruitment struggles that have been well documented. Add to it now the suspension of many police academies and the cessation of recruitment and selection efforts, and the staffing forecast for 2021 and 2022 is challenging. If COVID-19 results in cycles of regional or national workforce disruption, as some medical experts are projecting for the next 18-24 months, police agencies might only be seeing the beginning of their challenges to provide core services and to care for their personnel.

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Facial Recognition Technology Deployment and Mass Surveillance in London

Facial Recognition Technology Deployment and Mass Surveillance in London

Photo by Jason Reed/The Daily Dot

By Jim Burch
President, National Police Foundation

Having the authority to do something doesn’t always mean that we should. That’s the thought that came to mind when reading the news of the London Metropolitan Police’s recent deployment of facial recognition technology in east London.

While some may say we should “mind our own business” and not worry about what the Met does in London, there are times when the decisions and actions of one agency impacts all of policing. I believe this is one of them and it’s regrettable and dangerous. Here’s why:

The ongoing debate here in the U.S. about the use of facial recognition by law enforcement has in many ways been substantially influenced by what-if’s that many in U.S. law enforcement have said they don’t want to see. Mass surveillance is one such example. To be fair, the Guardian’s reporting has included a response from the Met that the deployment is an “intelligence-driven operation” which suggests to us that there may be information that prompted the use of the tool in this area at this time, either for deterrence or enforcement or both. Despite this plausible explanation, and despite the Met’s attempts to be transparent and obvious about the use of the technology at that place and time doesn’t make it a better decision.

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“The End of Killing”: A Conversation with Axon CEO and Author, Rick Smith

By Burke Brownfeld
Criminal Justice Writer 

Rick Smith wants to put an end to sanctioned killing. This sounds like an ambitious goal, but the CEO of Axon (previously Taser) and author of the book, “The End of Killing,” has both a vision and a strategy to make this goal a reality. Ultimately, Rick wants police officers and soldiers to have more effective weapons so that they don’t have to kill others in the course of their duties.

Why is this topic so important? For starters, as Rick points out in his book, 40,000 people per year are killed with guns in the United States, and 250,000 are killed with guns worldwide. So the stakes in this subject are quite literally life and death, and it is Rick’s life passion to tackle the challenge.

“The End of Killing” is not an Axon sales pitch aimed at promoting Tasers among police departments. The book is also not a gun control book or a partisan political book. Instead, this book takes the reader down a path of intellectual exploration into the topic of killing and challenges the reader’s preconceived notions on these issues. Rick helps the reader to understand the origin story of the Taser, and explains why humans tend to resist change, even when the change is quite clearly better than the status quo.

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