Report details progress of President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing recommendations

Recommendations still offer a worthy template for today’s law enforcement agencies seeking to improve the level of trust in their communities


This article originally appeared in the January 2022 Police1 Leadership Briefing. To read the full briefing, see 21st century policing in action; Be an 'Oz Principle' leader, and add the Leadership Briefing to your subscriptions

President Barack Obama launched The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing with the goal of addressing the apparent disconnect between police and the communities they serve. The task force issued a report in May 2015 that made five recommendations for each of the three categories of local government, law enforcement and the community:

1. Local government

  • Create listening opportunities with the community.
  • Allocate government resources to implementation.
  • Conduct community surveys on attitudes toward policing, and publish the results.
  • Define the terms of civilian oversight to meet the community’s needs.
  • Recognize and address holistically the root causes of crime.

2. Law enforcement

  • Review and update policies, training, and data collection on use of force, and engage community members and police labor unions in the process.
  • Increase transparency of data, policies and procedures.
  • Call on the POST Commission to implement all levels of training.
  • Examine hiring practices and ways to involve the community in recruiting.
  • Ensure officers have access to the tools they need to keep them safe.

3. Communities

  • Engage with local law enforcement; participate in meetings, surveys and other activities.
  • Participate in problem-solving efforts to reduce crime and improve quality of life.
  • Work with local law enforcement to ensure crime-reducing resources and tactics are being deployed that mitigate unintended consequences.
  • Call on state legislators to ensure that the legal framework does not impede accountability for law enforcement.
  • Review school policies and practices, and advocate for early intervention strategies that minimize the involvement of youth in the criminal justice system.

Like many reports before it, the task force recommendations were hardly revolutionary in its suggestions, but unlike most reports, there has been a follow-up to determine if the report’s recommendations survived over time.

Revisiting the task force recommendations 

A recently released report from the National Police Foundation (NPF) visits the task force recommendations around the six pillars of 21st century policing (Building Trust and Legitimacy, Policy and Oversight, Technology and Social Media, Community Policing and Crime Reduction, Training and Education and Officer Safety and Wellness) and how they have played out over the past five years.

With the caveat from the NPF that this “was not intended that a full, scientific evaluation of impact be conducted or that NPF offer recommendations for how the Report and its recommendations can or should be considered today,” the report is an in-depth scan of information and outcomes relative to the original task force report.

A summary of stakeholder survey findings includes a consistently high priority for trust and legitimacy, recruitment and retention, and officer wellness and safety. This NPF report notes that the task force report, still an active internet search topic, has been politicized and suffered some credibility and needs to be reframed as independent and objective. The shadow of Ferguson’s lingering false narratives and Obama’s lukewarm support for law enforcement continues to be a lens through which the task force report is often viewed.

Nevertheless, many police agencies have used the task force report, especially when undergirded by COPS office grants, to evaluate themselves. For example:

  • The Fresno (California) Police Department developed and surveyed the community to measure sentiment toward the police.
  • The Bend (Oregon) Police Department had committed to conducting regular surveys on community trust of the department, making departmental policies available to the public online, training a majority of officers in de-escalation and crisis intervention, and for placing a premium on strong officer wellness programs.
  • In Boston (Massachusetts), the police department engaged in active efforts to improve the diversity of its officers. The department also convened a Bureau of Community Engagement, formed a civilian oversight board, and implemented the use of body-worn cameras, all to increase accountability, transparency and oversight.
  • The Tucson (Arizona) Police Department has focused considerable effort on improving transparency and community engagement, they implemented a public dashboard that provides data on use of force incidents, arrests and traffic enforcement, all of which serve to keep the public informed, provide transparency and bolster community trust.
  • The Washtenaw County (Michigan) Sheriff’s Office created the 21st Century Policing Compliance Commission, organized by the pillars of the task force report and bringing together the community stakeholders and partners, posted policies publicly on its website, and made an effort to include the community in everything from scenario-based training exercises to the hiring of new deputies.

While celebrating the advancement of the recommendations of the 2015 report, the newly released NPF report concludes that “racial disparities, anti-police sentiment, lack of police-community trust, and deadly police-civilian interactions starkly underscore the ongoing need for additional police reform. It is clear that while significant work is still necessary to advance policing and to improve trust and legitimacy in communities, a measured, evidence-based and data-informed approach will best service all communities.”

Conclusion

The dramatic and dangerous slide of confidence in law enforcement and the corresponding rise of violent crime have not yet been resolved. The challenges in policing may seem overwhelming to police leaders. Finding a starting point for an improvement plan can be the hardest challenge. The NPF report points back to the task force report as a worthy template for today’s law enforcement agencies seeking to improve the level of trust and service in their communities.

NEXT: Creating a positive impact: Effective community policing strategies

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