Law Enforcement and Public Safety Leadership

The Top 5 Trends in Law Enforcement

Public safety and security in the 21st century is a rapidly changing and evolving space. Technological advances are not only helping law enforcement professionals do their jobs, they are also changing the way police officers and community members interact. Today’s police department has a new level of transparency that a decade ago was non-existent. In 2015, we are witnessing a massive shift in the law enforcement field in the areas of leadership, structure, culture, policy and technology.

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

Community Oriented Policing

It should come as no surprise that today’s law enforcement professionals are deeply concerned about community relations. In the wake of Freddie Gray, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, community and police relations are strained to say the least. Not since Rodney King has there been so much public distrust and discord with law enforcement.

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 both the 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.

William Terrill, a Michigan State University criminologist and co-author of a recent study on police attitudes appearing in the Journal of Criminal Justice Education stated in a MSUtoday article, “college educated officers are less likely to use force on citizens. Officers with a 4-year degree result in significantly less physical force and encounters involving officers with greater experience result in less verbal and physical force.” And in a paper titled, The Impact of a College Educated Police Force: A review of the Literature, Dr. Rebecca Paynich remarked,

“In summary, a better educated police force has been a primary component of every reform movement since key activists such as Sir Robert Peel in England in the 1800s, and August Vollmer in America in the 1900s began studying and writing about law enforcement. Having college educated officers has also been a strong recommendation of nearly every national commission and is of such importance, many agencies nationwide offer a variety of incentives to its officers to pursue higher education.”

Technology Use

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. In 2015, there are a number of new technologies taking the forefront in the police community.

  • 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 incidences. Issues such as cost, privacy, data retention and public disclosure are currently being tackled and will be areas of contentious debate in the coming year.
  • 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 in the current and coming years 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 or 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.

Leadership and Organizational Structure Changes

A new generation is moving into law enforcement. As baby boomers retire, many leadership positions are opening up. Yet, there is no one to fill these leadership positions, either because the current force does not have the skills or training necessary or because the positions are unwanted by millennials who would prefer to avoid the responsibility captains and higher ups have.

Furthermore, many departments today are functioning in antiquated organizational structures with layers upon layers of management. The next generation of officers is turned off by this bureaucratic structure believing that it stifles innovation and growth. In response, departments are beginning to re-examine the way they are structured. In the coming years, substantial policy and structure change is expected within the law enforcement community.

Increased Accountability and Oversight of Police Departments

In light of recent events across the nation, the law enforcement community is under extreme scrutiny. In the coming years, police oversight is expected to increase as the nation watches closely for any sign that police officers are infringing on citizens constitutional rights, using inappropriate and undue force or acting biased towards particular groups.

Thanks to new technology such as body cameras and mobile video combined with a hungry media and citizen journalists, police today are much more likely to be held accountable for their actions.

Police Response to Minor Crimes

In an effort to reduce costs and improve the effectiveness of the police force, many departments have begun using online crime reporting and altering the way they respond to minor crimes. In a report Future Trends in Policing, Dr. George Kelling remarked, “The more time that police officers spend responding to minor theft calls, the less time they have available for effective, pro-active initiatives such as problem solving, he explained. And rushing to crime scenes when a fast response is not needed is wasteful.”

As society moves more and more online, so to it seems will police reporting and response, at least for minor crimes where immediacy is not of paramount importance, such as a theft that likely occurred hours before it was reported.

The University of San Diego offers a Master of Science in Law Enforcement and Public Safety Leadership that is conducted completely online. This multifaceted law enforcement degree examines leadership, management, organizational theory, critical issues, community assessment, budget and finance, public safety law, conflict resolution and additional criminal justice topics in a format that allows for collaboration with other law enforcement professionals from agencies around the country. If you are ready to take the next step in your public safety career, contact us to speak with a University of San Diego admissions advisor today.


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