Why projections – not predictions – are key to understanding how law enforcement is evolving

Regionalization, privatization, consolidation of agencies and outsourcing will all be part of policing in the future


Gordon Graham here and Happy New Year to you and all close to you! This is the time for “resolutions” and thinking about the future – another year has passed – what will happen not only this next year, but in the next decade?

I have always been fascinated with “predictions” – and the people who make them – and how rarely do any of their “predictions” actually occur. Here are some of my favorite “failures” over the decades:

“The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty ‒ a fad.” – President of the Michigan Savings Bank advising Henry Ford’s lawyer not to invest in the Ford Motor Co., 1903 

Where will American law enforcement be in 30 years? (Photo/PoliceOne)
Where will American law enforcement be in 30 years? (Photo/PoliceOne)

“You will be home before the leaves have fallen from the trees.” – Kaiser Wilhelm, 1914 

“A rocket will never be able to leave the Earth’s atmosphere.” – The New York Times, 1936 

“TV will never be a serious competitor for radio because people must sit and keep their eyes glued on a screen; the average American family hasn’t time for it.” – unknown, from The New York Times, 1939 

“No matter what happens, the U.S. Navy is not going to be caught napping.” – U.S. Secretary of Navy, December 4, 1941

“The Americans are good about making fancy cars and refrigerators, but that doesn’t mean they are any good at making aircraft. They are bluffing. They are excellent at bluffing.” – Hermann Göring, 1942 (On a personal note, I have done work over the years at Bramshill House – a beautiful country estate outside of London and for years the home of the National Police Academy. Goring told his bombers in WW2, “Do not bomb Bramshill House – that will be my country estate after this war is over.” So how did that work out for you, Hermann?)

“If excessive smoking actually plays a role in the production of lung cancer, it seems to be a minor one.” – W.C. Heuper, National Cancer Institute, 1954 

“We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.” – Decca Recording Co., rejecting The Beatles, 1962 

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” – Ken Olson, president, chairman, and founder of Digital Equipment Corp, 1977 

“You’ll never make any money out of children’s books” – Advice to JK Rowling from Barry Cunningham, editor at Bloomsbury Books, 1996 

Enough of the travel through history. Personally, I have made some serious mistakes in “predictions” I have made over the decades. When I got my first Kindle – I did not think that libraries would continue to exist – and I was wrong on that. When Airbus started making non-metal planes, I thought that would be a passing fancy. When my fellow car friends told me that someday there would be a 30+mpg Corvette on the road – I laughed aloud. Accurate predictions are tough to make.

But we must recognize the difference between “predictions” and “projections.” While it is difficult to predict something with precision, there are “trends” that we can see and see that things are changing.

RECOGNIZING HOW THE POLICING PROFESSION IS EVOLVING

My employment in law enforcement was with one agency – the California Highway Patrol – and when I hired on in 1973, I knew I was a “traffic officer.” I would be enforcing traffic laws – and that was what I wanted to do.

As the years passed, I saw that the job I signed on to was changing. There were many stories about autonomous cars while “The Jetsons” was a comedy cartoon, which made me think that someday the CHP would have different responsibilities. When I mentioned that at “staff meetings,” I was dismissed as a rambling psycho. Take a look at where the CHP is today, and it is an entirely different (and much better) agency than when I was a motor cop in the 70s.

One of the calls a lot of CHP officers hated was the “disabled vehicle” – people breaking down on the freeways of Los Angeles. Frankly, we did such a terrible job at handling these calls that a “Freeway Service Patrol” was put in place – tow truck drivers handled these calls. A lot of my fellow cops were elated that “We don’t have to do that *&^% anymore” – but I was wondering what other responsibilities of CHP officers could be privatized. Do you need a sworn officer and a gun with bullets and powers of arrest to investigate a traffic collision? Do you have to be a cop with a great salary and expensive defined pension benefits to direct traffic around a construction project on a freeway – or could this be done by someone else?

POLICING 30 YEARS FROM NOW

Where will American law enforcement be in 30 years? Here are some projections for you to consider:

  • How will our nation’s declining birthrate impact law enforcement? With this decline, our nation will become more and more dependent on immigration. How will that impact our operations?
  • How will technology and artificial intelligence impact police operations? Will officers be “writing” police reports in 30 years, or will everything be captured via body-worn cameras and other recording devices and instantly sent in print and via video to the courts, to internal affairs, to our public?
  • Will there be 18,000 law enforcement agencies around our nation in 30 years? With our applicant pool becoming a puddle, how will that impact us? Will we have “brain scans” as part of the hiring process to detect potential problems in an applicant’s behavior?
  • With the increasing costs of public sector pensions, will we be “outsourcing” more of our responsibilities to private sector companies? What will be the relationship between private-sector police (security) and sworn law enforcement officers?
  • Will cops have firearms in 30 years? Will there be some workable “less lethal” option that is dependable and practical?
  • How will cops handle people with mental health issues in 30 years?
  • How will we handle the severe drug problems our nation faces?
  • Will more senior citizens with no family to take care of them resort to “silver crime” like robbing a bank so they can go to a low-level federal prison and get food and shelter and companionship?
  • Will we see an increase in “public safety” agencies that handle law enforcement, fire and EMS operations and other “risks” our public faces?

Society of pOLICE FUTURISTS INTERNATIONAL (PFI)

I am probably starting to bore you with “projections,” but I think that regionalization, privatization, technology (including AI), consolidation of agencies and outsourcing will all be in our future. I do not have the brainpower to think of everything that is going on and how it will change our operations. But the good news is there is a group of people already in place doing fantastic work in this regard. I encourage you to take a look at the Society of Police Futurists International (PFI) column on Police1.

I have been a member (mostly a reader) of what this brilliant group of law enforcement leaders and thinkers for over a decade – and I can tell you with certainty that the things I read on their site 10 years ago are now a reality in our world. Do me a favor and click on this link to some of the recent articles written by some very smart people. I think you will be impressed with their work.

I have been honored to be part of law enforcement for 47 years. I am long retired from active service, but still, am honored to be associated with great women and men who are the current generation of “cops.” It is a noble profession and an important component in keeping America safe. Thanks to all of you for your great work – and I look forward to seeing where we will be in the future.

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