Law Enforcement and Public Safety Leadership

The Top 5 Trends in Law Enforcement

Erik Fritsvold, PhD

Erik Fritsvold, PhD

Academic Director, M.S. Law Enforcement and Public Safety Leadership

Law enforcement in the 21st century is evolving rapidly, as police face new threats and challenges along with increased scrutiny from the public and the media. The law enforcement profession is responding with significant changes in the areas of leadership, structure, culture, policy and technology.

Today, the majority of departments and agencies are:

Here are 5 top trends currently shaping the law enforcement field:

Focus on Community Oriented Policing

Community oriented policing is, of course, not a new concept or practice. However, in the wake of recent high-profile fatalities and the resulting public outrage and distrust, it is considered by many in the field to be more relevant and necessary than ever before.

According to the Department of Justice, which launched its Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) back in 1994, “Community policing begins with a commitment to building trust and mutual respect between police and communities. It is critical to public safety, ensuring that all stakeholders work together to address our nation’s crime challenges. When police and communities collaborate, they more effectively address underlying issues, change negative behavioral patterns and allocate resources.”

With nationwide attention on the issue of community policing, most agencies have already begun implementing new tactics and strategies to work more harmoniously with their local communities. And it is predicted that this focus on community policing will continue for the foreseeable future, as it remains a top priority at the local, state and federal levels.

According to, community policing “involves three components: developing community partnerships, engaging in problem solving and implementing community policing organizational features.”

For law enforcement professionals, improving community relations is no small task. While multiple strategies are being employed and tested, the answer for many is education.

In a study titled “The Impact of a College-Educated Police Force,” academic researcher Rebecca L. Paynich, Ph.D., reports that college-educated police officers generally:

  • Have better communication skills
  • Are more tolerant in interactions with citizens
  • Display a deeper understanding of policing and the criminal justice system
  • Have better comprehension of civil rights issues from multiple perspectives
  • Are less likely to use deadly force.

[RELATED] Free eBook: Learn How a Master’s Degree Can Help You Be a More Effective Police Officer >>

Increasing Use of Technology & Tools

Technology is making it much easier for police professionals to ensure public safety and security — freeing up resources and enabling proactive policing, while at the same time creating a new level of transparency. Here is a closer look at some of the technological trends at the forefront of modern policing:

  • Social media – will be used more and more frequently and with greater sophistication and adoption to gather and disseminate information, as well as engage the community.
  • Body cameras – will be required at many agencies as they have been shown to decrease the number of complaints due to police force, offering greater transparency and making it less likely that citizens fabricate incidents. However, issues such as cost, privacy, data retention, public disclosure and overall effectiveness will be areas of contentious debate.
  • Facial recognition – has great potential and is being used more widely in surveillance as its accuracy and sophistication increases. Biometric privacy laws will be a hot topic as this type of technology becomes more mainstream.
  • Predictive policing – is a fundamental shift in how police operate, moving from reactive policing to proactive policing. This is made possible through advanced analytics and intervention models.
  • GPS applications – are being used by law enforcement to track and locate suspects and parolees faster. GPS bullets, for example, can be shot into a vehicle in order to remotely track its movements and GPS tracking devices can be used on repeat offenders to monitor their location.
  • Next generation 911 – future systems will be able to receive text messages, videos and photographs. The technology is currently available but the transition will take time as agencies work on implementation in an effort to better serve 21st century citizens who rely on wireless technology.
  • Robots – The use of robots in police work continues to expand. For example, small dumbbell- or tank-shaped robots equipped with sensors can be used to infiltrate spaces where it is not safe for officers to enter, and then send back audio and video. Increasingly sophisticated bomb disposal robots are also aiding officer safety by handling dangerous tasks involving explosives.
  • Drones – Similarly, the use of drone technology is also on the rise, especially for surveillance, as departments find new uses for unmanned aerial vehicles fitted with optical, zoom and/or thermal cameras. Search and rescue, active shooter situations and crowd monitoring are among notable examples.

Expanding Opportunities for Women in Law Enforcement

Women have traditionally made up a very small percentage of police officers, but those numbers are gradually growing (12.6% nationally, up from just 3% in the 1970s). In addition, the need to recruit, train and promote more female officers is receiving far more attention than ever before for several important reasons.

First, studies show that female officers are highly regarded for their skills in conflict resolution, communication, problem solving and cooperation with community members; and often receive better evaluations in these key areas than their male counterparts. Statistics show that they are also less likely to use excessive or deadly force.

Another critical area where women in law enforcement are making a major impact is in addressing violence against women and sex crimes. “For example, with sexual assault cases, the victim might want to talk to a woman. But that can’t always happen because there aren’t enough females in the department and it ends up affecting the mission,” said Jennifer Montoya, a criminal investigator with the Department of Defense and a graduate of University of San Diego’s M.S. in Law Enforcement & Public Safety Leadership program.

Women are being promoted to leadership roles in greater numbers than in past generations. Jennifer Tejada, a law enforcement veteran now serving as chief of police in Emeryville, Calif., emphasizes the role of advanced education in paving the way for promotion into leadership positions.

[RELATED] Women in Law Enforcement — Time of Expanding Opportunity >>

The Fast-Growing Threat of Cyber Crime

Municipal police departments across the nation are often not equipped with the specialized knowledge needed to address high-tech crime, which poses an increasing risk to individuals as well as corporations and government agencies.

Local police must now grapple with challenging questions about their role in combating cyber crime. In order for local law enforcement agencies to combat cybercrime, they need to know what resources are available. According to an article from Police Magazine, federal agencies like the FBI and Secret Service have the best tools and most reach to tackle cyber crimes, but those advantages come with their own share of disadvantages. “The problem is the feds can’t handle every cybercrime case and certainly not every criminal case with a cyber element, which means local law enforcement agencies have to shoulder much of the burden.”

One thing is certain, the threat of cyber crime is massive and growing. In the most recent annual report on internet crime from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), it was reported that in 2016 financial loss from cyber crime exceeded $1.3 billion in the U.S.

Promoting a New Generation into Leadership Roles

As baby boomers retire from police careers, many leadership positions are opening up. However, candidates who are promoted through the ranks may not always have the opportunity to develop the broad range of leadership and management skills required to effectively run a team or department.

Police leadership styles are also gradually changing, moving from the authoritative style that has largely dominated the field to a more inclusive approach that seeks to enable and empower rather than simply command.

Important 21st century police leadership competencies include: analytical and problem-solving skills, the ability to think critically and resolve conflict, an understanding of public safety law, awareness of budget/fiscal issues, and the ability to effectively communicate with a wide array of people, from subordinates to community leaders and the media.

Acquiring such skills can open up a world of opportunity for those currently working in law enforcement to position themselves for promotion into leadership roles in local, state and federal agencies. With tight budgets making it difficult for departments to offer structured leadership training, earning a master’s degree focused on law enforcement leadership can be crucial for current leaders looking to become more effective in their role, as well as those seeking promotion into command positions.

[RELATED] Comparing Programs: What Criminal Justice Master’s Degree is Right For You?

Programs like the online master’s degree in Law Enforcement and Public Safety Leadership offered by University of San Diego are preparing law enforcement professionals for advancement by emphasizing practical, contemporary skills such as organizational leadership, data analysis, community relations, fiscal management and more. USD’s program was developed in collaboration with law enforcement and all courses are taught by experienced police, criminal justice and military professionals, making the content and discussions especially relevant for anyone working in a law enforcement agency. Instructors engage each student using a highly interactive online format that is ideal for working law enforcement professionals because it offers flexibility to balance each student’s academic schedule around the demands of their law enforcement duties and family life.

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