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A look back at law enforcement in 2023: Politics and policy

Signs of backlash against increased crime associated with oppressive and punitive police reform measures are coming to light

Minneapolis Police Generic

January 2023: In Minneapolis, as officials struggle with “reimagining policing,” the city resists the state’s Supreme Court’s order to add more police officers.

Minneapolis Police Department

Criminal justice policy continues to be tainted by anti-police narratives, although signs of backlash against increased crime associated with oppressive and punitive police reform measures are coming to light.

Here’s my roundup of the top politics and policy news impacting law enforcement in 2023.

January

Recruitment and retention remained a top concern of police leaders and officers on the street as fear of crime and budget challenges continued.

Some examples of the recruitment challenges include a California Police Department disbanding a specialized response team due to staffing shortages, LAPD looking to rehire retired officers due to shrinking ranks and a Massachusetts Police Department ending night shift patrols despite new staffing grant.

In Minneapolis, as officials struggle with “reimagining policing,” the city resists the state’s Supreme Court’s order to add more police officers.

New York City Mayor Adams announced a federal grant allowing the city to replace many internal combustion engines with electric ones, including some police vehicles.

Police1 resource: Police1 guide to patrol vehicle electrification

February

The Washington legislature passed HB 1363, a rollback of previous police reform measures, which would restore police authority to pursue someone accused of a violent crime, a sexual crime, vehicular assault, escape, DUI and domestic violence calls.

Police1 resource: On-demand webinar: Pursuit response update

March

The Justice Department moved to end an Obama-era consent decree with the Seattle Police Department, bringing to a close more than a decade of federal supervision.

April

Brandon Johnson defeated Paul Vallas to become the newly elected mayor of Chicago. Johnson became the 57th mayor of Chicago after the incumbent, Lori Lightfoot, was eliminated from the race in February. Johnson, a former teacher in Chicago, said he plans to promote 200 new detectives from the existing pool of police officers.

A federal appeals court in Louisiana decided that an officer can sue a protest organizer for injuries caused by another person during a 2016 protest in Baton Rouge.

May

The family of slain El Monte, California, police officer Joseph Santana filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón, claiming that his disregard for California’s “three-strikes” law enabled a convicted felon to commit the 2022 double homicide that also claimed the life of another officer.

June

Ann Arbor, Michigan city council voted to cease most traffic stops for minor violations.

July

Governor Kathy Hochul approved a request from the New York State Police to raise the maximum age for trooper applicants from 29 to 34.

August

Multiple local law enforcement agencies in Minnesota are removing their school resource officers from schools because of a state law limiting how they are allowed to restrain students when needed.

September

NYPD added a robot to assist in patrolling the Times Square subway station.

Olympia School District Superintendent Patrick Murphy and school board President Darcy Huffman joined the increasing number of schools regretting their decision to rid schools of police officers when they announced that school resource officers will be returning to campuses after two students were arrested in the first days of school for bringing guns to Capital High School.

Mayor Brandon Johnson announces the move of nearly 1,600 migrants out of Chicago Police stations where they have been living. Johnson is planning a base camp of tents before winter.

Small towns across the U.S. are dissolving their police departments amid officer shortages.

Police1 resource: A case study in effective officer recruitment and retention

November

The parents of a slain Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputy have filed a lawsuit against the county, alleging that the sheriff’s department and other county officials knowingly endangered officers’ lives by forcing deputies to work excessive amounts of overtime.

Oregon’s first-in-the-nation law that decriminalized the possession of small amounts of heroin, cocaine, and other illicit drugs in favor of an emphasis on addiction treatment is facing strong demand for change after an explosion of public drug use fueled by the proliferation of fentanyl and a surge in deaths from opioids.

December

The Colorado Peace Officers Standards and Training board voted unanimously to remove the term “excited delirium” from all training documents starting in January, joining other groups in erasing the term.

Police1 resource: Excited delirium: Understanding the evolution away from a controversial term

The family of L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputy Arturo Atilano-Valdez, the fourth LASD employee to die by suicide in a 24-hour-period in early November, is reportedly planning to file a $20 million wrongful death lawsuit against the department and L.A. County. “This is literally a life and death situation,” said the family’s attorney. “Deputies are being forced to work overtime in an amount that is unsafe — unsafe to them and unsafe to others.”

A New York court ruled that officers have no privacy from the release of records of pending or unfounded allegations of wrongdoing. In another privacy blow, a Florida court ruled that a law protecting victims in police reports does not apply to revealing police officers’ identity.

Top takeaway: Lawsuits by officers and officers’ families could be an increasing means of gaining pro-police policy changes.

Joel Shults retired as Chief of Police in Colorado. Over his 30-year career in uniformed law enforcement and criminal justice education, Joel served in a variety of roles: academy instructor, police chaplain, deputy coroner, investigator, community relations officer, college professor and police chief, among others. Shults earned his doctorate in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis from the University of Missouri, with a graduate degree in Public Services Administration and a bachelor degree in Criminal Justice Administration from the University of Central Missouri. In addition to service with the U.S. Army military police and CID, Shults has done observational studies with over 50 police agencies across the country. He has served on a number of advisory and advocacy boards, including the Colorado POST curriculum committee, as a subject matter expert.
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