FEATURED IN LEADERSHIP
Have you ever taken a whitewater rafting trip? Usually, they're a mixture of some degree of nature's beauty mixed with a high level of exhilarating speed and danger. They always involve a journey, depend on a cooperative effort of those involved to survive the event and sometimes take unexpected turns.
How does this connect with law enforcement? Well, we are setting off on an expedition not unlike some of the most challenging waters ever navigated.
For the past 10 years, we've had some comparatively easy riding. If you've been in the business for 10 years or less, you probably question that statement, and I understand. Police work is not an easy job, and human nature tends to convince us we're dealing with struggles that are tougher than those that came before. But if you take a big-picture look at where we've come from, you'll find that the past 10 years have featured a combination of plummeting crime rates, improved salary and benefit packages, better training standards and new technology that makes identifying the bad guys quicker and easier.
It's time to cinch up your safety equipment and hold on because we're about to hit some rough water. Across the country we are seeing early warning indicators that the rate of violent crime is creeping upward. The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) recently released an extensive report based on data submitted by 56 agencies across the country. The data focuses on violent crime and covers 2004 2006. The sampling of agencies is cross sectional and provides a pretty good indicator of trends, and does it earlier than the Uniformed Crime Report numbers compiled by the FBI. In a nutshell, the analysis by PERF indicates violent crimes are all trending upward. While there were some exceptions, the pattern is clear.
Other factors will add to the challenge. Experience levels within agencies are dropping, fueled by improved retirement packages. Meanwhile, the pool of quality applicants has shrunk at the same time that the demand (because of retirements and age demographics) has increased. And if that s not enough to concern you, remember that sentencing reforms resulting in longer sentences are just old enough that the hard-core crooks are now being released back to society. Think about this for a moment: Crime is going up, experience levels are dropping, recruitment is growing increasingly difficult and large numbers of hard-core crooks are hitting the streets.
Law enforcement administrators across the country have been taking credit for declining crime rates, patting themselves on the back and touting different strategies for their success. Well, those same administrators will have some serious explaining to do if they don t start developing some action plans to get through the tough waters ahead.
We can navigate our way through these challenges, but it will take a multi-faceted effort. Specifically, we must:
1. Continue to closely monitor early warning indicators such as the PERF studies and use this information to address trends before they overwhelm us. We must look far enough down the river to plan our actions and get the crew ready.
2. Recruit aggressively and effectively. For more on this see my Editor s Note in the April issue (p. 10). And check out a great how-to on this subject written by an expert in next month s Law Officer.
3. Develop retention plans that transition the best of our experienced personnel into critical thinking, planning and training/development positions.
4. Work smarter by focusing critical resources effectively. Squeeze every ounce of effectiveness out of available technology to identify hot spots and squelch them as early as possible. Crime analysis tools can help identify trouble spots.
5. Actively monitor and track probationers and parolees. The basic logic of this tactic remains inescapable these people have demonstrated a willingness to commit crime and a propensity for being caught. What more could a cop want?
6. Partner with other agencies to form regional task forces to target violent offenders. Criminals are increasingly mobile, and we must share resources and information to target the worst.
7. Take care of the little things. If we do, almost all of the big things will fall in place. Many of the worst offenders have been caught because of minor traffic violations, but only when an officer made the effort. Bottom line: You will find something if you look.
Stay safe and wear your safety equipment. Rough waters lie ahead.
Dale Stockton, Editor