Trending Topics

4 steps law enforcement can take to a safer 2022

We face complex public safety challenges, but law enforcement has proven solutions to meet them

190724 OCSD Homeless Outreach Team 03 SJG.jpg

By default, law enforcement has become the primary face of government responding to social issues like mental illness, drug addiction and homelessness.


Throughout the past year, many of our nation’s cities have seen spikes in violent crime. Multiple high-profile acts of lawlessness have occurred in too many places, eroding quality of life and a sense of security. No community is immune from threats.

Addressing the challenges of crime, the influx of fentanyl, behavioral health issues and multiple transnational threats are top priorities to ensure a safer 2022 for us all.

Here are some solutions law enforcement leaders should consider implementing.

1. Preventing crime with common sense

The “smash and grab” robberies seen over the holiday season are concerning. In California, this is a direct result of the decade-long effort to remove consequences for breaking the law. For our part, we have kept this type of crime out of Orange County with proactive patrols, making arrests when a violation of the law occurs and staying engaged with both residents and the business community. Throughout the Christmas shopping season, our deputies were in regular contact with retail workers and kept a high level of presence at malls.

While we will certainly continue a no-tolerance policy toward crime, law enforcement efforts are hindered when repeat offenders are not held fully accountable with a meaningful sentence.

I encourage the public to urge state legislators to end the era of criminal empowerment and restore balance to our justice system.

Police1 resource: Erica Sandberg on the increase in property crime and retail theft

2. Stopping the influx of fentanyl

In my view, the long-term public health crisis that most threatens our communities is the drug epidemic.

Recently released data shows that nationwide drug-related deaths exceeded 100,000 between April 2020 and April 2021. A significant contributing factor to these deaths is the illicit sale of fentanyl. I remain concerned about the ever-increasing number of deaths related to fentanyl.

In Orange County, our fentanyl-related deaths have increased 1067% from 37 in 2016 to 432 in 2020. This number continued to grow in 2021. Working to stop this tragic loss of life must be a top priority for all of us.

Police1 resource: Evolving strategies to win the war on opioids (eBook)

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department is continuing to bolster enforcement and public education efforts. In 2021, we began issuing advisements to all those arrested for selling narcotics. The advisement states that if a dealer sells, furnishes, or distributes drugs to someone, and that person dies because of using the drugs, the dealer can be charged with murder. This action makes clear that those engaged in furthering the drug epidemic will face consequences for their careless treatment of life.

Stopping the influx of fentanyl is not a battle fought solely through enforcement efforts, but also through proactive outreach and education focused on prevention. We will continue to build on our “Above the Influence” drug education curriculum that deputies began teaching to students in 2021. The lessons are contemporary and engaging. The department remains committed to providing this education to as many schools as possible.

3. Addressing behavioral health issues

By default, law enforcement has become the primary face of government responding to social issues like mental illness, drug addiction and homelessness. This is not the right way to solve these issues. Equally wrong is turning a blind eye. Allowing those suffering from mental illness and drug addiction to remain in crisis on our streets is a cruel mark on our society.

In Orange County, we have begun to move toward an integrated services approach that gets people the help they need. The Sheriff’s Department created a Behavioral Health Bureau in November 2020. Deputies assigned to this Bureau partner with healthcare workers and nonprofits to address these issues more effectively. We have utilized the new Be Well OC Campus as a more appropriate alternative option for those we encounter with behavioral health issues who need treatment. These partnerships and resources limit the likelihood these behavioral health issues will materialize into the types of crises that jeopardize safety and erode the quality of life in our neighborhoods. This approach also ensures patrol deputies can spend their time on proactive patrols that prevent crime.

There are times when a person with a behavioral health issue commits a violation of law resulting in a jail sentence. When this occurs, our goal is to use their time in custody to put them on the right path. In the past three years, we have worked to reconfigure housing units to better treat those in our jail who have a mental illness, we have created a Medication Assisted Treatment program for those who suffer from addiction, and we have worked with non-profits to expand our re-entry services. The collective result of these initiatives will be a reduction in recidivism and increased opportunity for mental health stability and sobriety.

Police1 resource: Creating a partnership between law enforcement and mental health practitioners

4. Assessing transnational threats

At the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, I warned that our nation has reverted to a September 10th mentality. Programs, practices and resources put in place after the attacks have eroded over the last 20 years. This does not serve us well as we work to address significant threats like terrorism (both foreign and domestic), drug and human trafficking, cyber threats, lack of security of our border, and foreign malign influence from countries like China.

To many, these may seem like abstract problems that do not impact our daily lives and are only seen from time to time in the news. Unfortunately, each is a very real threat. For example, California residents lost over $621 million dollars to cybercriminals in 2020. Orange County accounted for $98.5 million of that loss. The Orange County Sheriff’s Department has created a cybercrimes unit and a cyber-liaison officer program in which peace officers are trained to recognize and act on cybercrime. This is helping, but we cannot address cyber threats or any other transnational threats in a silo.

Communication among law enforcement to connect the dots on these shared threats is key to our success in preventing them from materializing. In June 2021, I became chair of the Major County Sheriffs of America’s Intelligence Committee. This role has provided the opportunity to communicate with the nation’s sheriffs and the leaders of federal law enforcement agencies. I am working with my colleagues at the local, state and federal level to break down bureaucratic barriers and spur action against the threats that most endanger Americans.

Police1 resource: We cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the emerging threat environment

While these public safety challenges are complex, I believe law enforcement has proven solutions to meet them. Let’s work together to stay safe in 2022.

Sheriff Don Barnes was elected the 13th Sheriff-Coroner for Orange County, California in November 2018. He began his law enforcement career with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) in 1989. Sheriff Barnes leads the 4,000 sworn and professional men and women who serve in areas as diverse as Patrol Operations, Criminal and Special Investigations, the County’s Crime Lab and Courts, Coroner’s Office, as well as those who serve in Orange County’s five jails that collectively comprise one of the nation’s largest jail systems.

The Sheriff serves as an executive officer with the California State Sheriffs’ Association (CSSA) and serves as the chair of CSSA’s Technology Committee. At the national level, he is chair of the Major County Sheriffs of America’s (MCSA) Intelligence Commander Committee. In that capacity, the Sheriff is working to ensure open communication amongst local, state and federal law enforcement regarding threats like terrorism, drug trafficking and cyberattacks.

Sheriff Barnes has a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and a Masters in Public Administration. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy, the FBI National Executive Institute, USC’s CREATE Program on Counter-Terrorism, the Senior Management Institute for Policing and IACP’s Leadership in Police Organizations. Sheriff Barnes has also been an instructor at the Orange County Sheriff’s Department’s Regional Training Academy and adjunct faculty for the Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) Management School through California State University, Long Beach.