Reflection on 2017 – Good and Bad
Entering the new year of 2018 will host a variety of challenges for all of us at the Sheriff’s Office. Working together is the only way we are going to be able to accomplish them. Day after day, law enforcement officers are highlighted in the headlines for encounters ending fatally or unfavorably. For example, an officer in Georgia was recently lambasted in the media for having shot and killed a Georgia Tech student instead of using other, less lethal means to manage the situation. Of course, such stories don’t tell you all the details of what occurred or provide context to the procedures involved. Unfortunately, in a time of intense scrutiny of law enforcement, this negative press has become commonplace.
There is a large issue that links these unflattering narratives: The need for budgeting and funding law enforcement training and recruitment programs.
The expectations placed on law enforcement by politicians, the media and the public are high — and almost impossible to meet due to understaffing and the lack of resources available for officers to address all those demands. Take a look at staffing at the Sheriff’s Department. A band-aid on a wound needing stitches. Patrol division is running low, detective units are running low, dispatch is at critical levels, Crime Scene Techs are now having to backfill their own. We continue to operate by placing that band aid on a wound needing stitches.
We utilize great equipment at the Sheriff’s Office. Our fleet is top of the line with all new vehicles and very little old equipment. This is a result of a few long years of never purchasing cars and trucks to fulfill that need. This a welcome sign. Our firearms are up to date, we are working on a new CAD and report writing system that should be more efficient that what we currently operate. Dispatch has been overhauled and provided newer and better equipment. The quarters are still cramped, but that will come with time as well. So there is some silver lining in regards to the equipment give to each of you in the specific job assignment you are in.
Professional development is needed to advance in any career. Training is necessary to keep up with changes in technology and the latest proven leadership techniques. Law enforcement officers, like all other professionals, need to remain up to date in an ever-evolving world. They need training on the tools, strategies and procedures that will help them perform better, avoid negative outcomes and be more adept at handling their greatly expanded role in today’s society.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Relations Services’ Guide to Critical Issues in Policing lists use of force, management of mass demonstrations and encounters with persons with mental illness as the prevalent issues in the field — all issues that the press has criticized law enforcement for handling inefficiently. For example, an Arizona officer was recently heavily criticized for tackling an autistic teenager, not recognizing the boy’s condition prior to the takedown. According to the DOJ’s recommendations, in order to prevent such mishaps, departments need crisis intervention teams (CITs) with officers trained extensively in crisis-intervention techniques working alongside mental health workers. While an ideal solution, this is simply not realistic, as not all law enforcement agencies have the budgets and manpower to create and maintain these teams. All law enforcement agencies are struggling to hire and retain cops to provide front line service.
So, with all the studies and statistics showing a need for training, not to mention law enforcement’s own advocacy for it, how are states and local governments responding? Here in California, the answer is more rules imposed on law enforcement, rather than budgeting for resources.
Earlier this year, the Los Angeles Police Commission re-introduced de-escalation into the LAPD’s lexicon in its “solution” to prevent the rise in shootings and suicide by cop.
The Commission’s decision came after analyzing use-of-force incidents throughout 2016, in which they found that in 50% of the 46 cases reviewed, tactical errors such as forgetting a Taser or lack of communication between partners were the cause of uses of force. As seen in the Arizona and Georgia cases, such unintentional mistakes can result in huge consequences for the officer.
Tactical errors can be rectified with ongoing training and assessing which strategies are most effective. Communication from the agency to its personnel is critical in effecting these strategies to carry out what the expectation is. This expectation has to be something attainable and not thought of and thrown out to fill in the blank.
What politicians, policymakers and the media need to understand is that dealing with offenders in the heat of the moment is often dangerous and unpredictable, and may not allow for calm, gradual de-escalation tactics. Unrealistic expectations place officers in a precarious situation if their decision-making is impacted by concerns about the potential consequences of applying force. Even if it’s absolutely necessary, they know they could be demonized in the press, punished by their departments or targeted by the public. Support from your agency is critical to getting the message across. The support shown by our brothers/sisters across the street at the Fresno Police Department from their leadership is a prime example.
Lawmakers also need to address recruitment to keep up with the influx of criminals being released under realignment and Props 47 and 57. Prison reform legislation in California has resulted in the release or resentencing of nearly 5,000 people from state prisons to cut costs. With most released prematurely due to decriminalized offenses, law enforcement is faced with the burden of dealing with abundant repeat offenders. The 1994 Crime Bill, which funded the recruitment of 100,000 new officers nationwide, demonstrated that recruiting more officers can contribute to a decrease in crime nationally. Not surprisingly, other studies also show that increased recruitment efforts and effective management of those recruits can reduce crime rates overall.
Effective policing begins with well-managed, well-funded departments. The Trump administration’s lifting of Obama-era restrictions in the federal 1033 Program was a recent, welcome show of support for law enforcement, but we need the same amount of political and financial support for the training and recruitment of the officers who will be using that equipment.
New research from the Heritage Foundation, in its report Policing in America: Lessons from the Past, Opportunities for the Future, champions the need for more political backup of law enforcement. For the study, the foundation worked alongside federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to identify policing issues and proactively find solutions, including combating allegations of racism within departments and false narratives crafted by the media, as well as the need for improving police–community relations and SMART policing.
Everyone has a part to play in advancing the police profession and reducing uses of force.
State and local government need to use this data to inform themselves on the issues that we’re facing. The bottom line is that all of this pressure is coming from people who are simultaneously telling us how to do our jobs and taking away our resources to do so effectively. Without proper training or proactive recruitment efforts, they are setting officers up to fail.
There is a lot going on in the world of law enforcement. Having the leadership to lead us through all of this is imperative. We need to lean on those leaders, connected with the media and to get our message across loud and clear with the public. The public wants to feel safe. Making sure they understand that is the same mindset law enforcement has is crucial to cohesiveness.
PORAC Scholarship Filing Period
2018 PORAC Scholarship
The 2018 PORAC Scholarship Application is available now to download at porac.org.
PORAC provides scholarships for applicants who are currently attending or will be registering for college. Children or dependents of active PORAC members, Retired Associate members and in-the-line-of-duty dependents or spouses, as well as medically retired members,are eligible.
Application Deadline Ends March 30th
I hope all of you had a safe and happy holiday season with friends and family. I look forward to continuing moving this organization forward, focused and in continuing on the right track.