Law enforcement encourages all aspects of life to flow smoothly if done effectively as a public service, by managing crime rates and providing a general sense of safety and wellbeing. In this sense, police officers have to constantly update their set of skills and training to find new, safer ways to protect and serve.
A combination of technology and innovation around the world can help US police departments in multiple ways; from ensuring personal safety, to improving relationships with the community. What can we learn from the most recent developments in policing?
Differences in training
Practical knowledge increases with years of experience on duty, learning from real-life situations and mistakes. But police officers are in a tough position, because preventing a mistake can save lives. That’s why exhaustive training can make a huge difference in outcomes.
Countries such as Germany recognize this, and police recruits go through up to four years of training before officially becoming an officer. This gives them a lot more time (compared to the 21-33 weeks of training in the US) to prepare for a wide variety of dangerous situations, as well as increasingly necessary instruction on de-escalation, crisis intervention, and social work.
Thorough training can make police officers more confident and self-assured, because they have all the skills and resources that they need to effectively face the most unexpected situations. Similarly, the public can rest assured that authorities are highly trustworthy and fully prepared to protect all citizens, achieving an overall sense of admiration and respect for policing as an occupation.
The last resort
In countries like Norway and Finland, the use of force, handcuffs and guns are a last resort. Senior officers have to evaluate the circumstances to give permission to shoot, something that only happens in rare, exceptional cases. And in the United Kingdom, officers work with the philosophy of “policing by consent”: the belief that the power of the police should come from public respect and approval, instead of fear.
This philosophy changes how law enforcement measures its successes: instead of a rising number of arrests and charges, real success is the prevention and absence of crime.
An important but rarely discussed part of policing is crisis intervention. In the US, police officers frequently encounter citizens with mental illness; a problem that requires specific background knowledge and expertise that police officers don’t always have. Which problems should fall into the hands of the police? Which cases should be handled by other specialized professionals?
In Norway and Finland, these questions are answered by professional collaboration. To deal with cases of mental illness, officers work alongside psychiatrists and medical professionals. This solution protects all citizens in an optimal way, effectively using both medical and law enforcement expertise.
US law enforcement innovation: Guardians, not warriors
According to this Bloomberg article, in 2018, Camden NJ saw its lowest murder rate since 1987, as well as the city’s lowest number of robberies, assaults, violent crimes and shootings. What happened?
Chief of Police J. Scott Thomson explains it this way: “For us to make the neighborhood look and feel the way everyone wanted it to, it wasn’t going to be achieved by having a police officer with a helmet and a shotgun standing on a corner.”
Put simply, he wanted police officers to identify with the Peace Corps more than the Special Forces, which have principles such as getting people on their side, building trust, and transparently explaining how their job works.
The philosophy of “guardians, not warriors” is very similar to the philosophy of policing by consent in Europe. But is it really that simple? It never is, and cultural and socioeconomic differences play a hugely important role. As Chief Thomson admits, Camden’s public safety improvements can be explained by multiple factors aside from a change in law enforcement philosophy, including an investment in the local economy, employment and education.
While a change of philosophy won’t solve all problems, it can help create a greater understanding between the police and their communities.
How new technology can help
5G communication and augmented reality can be used to help officers understand the situation they’re facing with more clarity. Instead of assessing the situation and reacting to it at the same time (increasing the probability of making a mistake), augmented reality glasses can show officers relevant information about the location: previous calls, recent crime history, cases related to mental illness, and even strategic ways to exit a building; anything that helps the officer prevent harm and ensure the safety of everyone involved.
The technology of smart sensors can help officers prepare for unexpected situations, allowing them to effectively adjust their approach (like de-escalation instead of use of force). As explained in this Deloitte article: “New capabilities can log locations, listen for gunshots, stream video, flag license plates, scan databases, and go on virtual patrol, allowing officers unprecedented awareness in their environments.”
Technological innovation is becoming increasingly helpful and necessary for law enforcement, but the human side of the job will always be more important. As long as technology plus other factors previously discussed can strengthen relationships and trust within communities that enjoy the absence of crime, the role of the police officer will be valued.