Sponsored by Mark43
By Laura Neitzel, Police1 BrandFocus Staff
The COVID-19 pandemic, historic crime levels, civil unrest, a shortage of new recruits choosing a career in law enforcement, a decline in goodwill toward first responders and other factors all converged to make the last few years some of the most challenging for public safety in recent history.
Agencies have been placed under a microscope as their mission, policies and actions have been questioned and scrutinized. How do forward-thinking public safety agencies move ahead, and what tools and strategies do they need to rebuild and reform from the inside out?
In a February 2022 presentation on Police1.com, a rare all-female panel of public safety experts discussed six key trends and best practices agencies should embrace to navigate the challenges they bring.
Ganesha Martin, vice president of public policy and community affairs at Mark43, moderated the conversation. Martin played a vital role in the Baltimore Police Department’s consent decree compliance and has developed and implemented many of the reform strategies discussed, bringing valuable insight to the conversation. The panel featured Kathleen O’Toole, who led police agencies in Seattle, Baltimore and the Republic of Ireland and Wendy Gilbert, who has more than 20 years of experience working with and building software for public safety agencies.
1. REIMAGINING PUBLIC SAFETY
The protests following the murder of George Floyd sparked a demand for police reform. Slogans like “Defund the police” contributed to a drop in morale. As many officers chose to retire early and fewer recruits stepped forward to replace them, agencies struggled to maintain a full force as calls for service increased.
Notably, many law enforcement agencies began looking at ways to reform from the inside and repair frayed relationships with the community. “Reimagining public safety” became more than a catchphrase — it became a critical first step.
“I get a bit cynical about all the slogans that have emerged, but I think that if we reimagine [public safety] in a thoughtful way, it can be advantageous to our police services and advantageous to our communities,” said O’Toole, a career police officer and lawyer.
Police agencies need to be proactive in assessing their role in the types of interactions most likely to create tension between law enforcement and the communities they serve. Panelists shared that many jurisdictions are actively “reimagining public safety” through alternate response models which dispatch specialty-trained responders to support individuals experiencing mental and behavioral crises.
To help guide agencies looking to research and implement a co-response model to meet evolving community needs, Mark43 created the first-of-its-kind Crisis Response Directory that lists mental and behavioral health crisis response models across five countries, including the U.S. Mark43 also created a corresponding resource that covers the seven types of alternate response models and success stories from several jurisdictions.
2. USING DATA TO IMPROVE RELATIONSHIPS WITH STAKEHOLDERS
Collecting crime statistics and sharing that data with the community helps agencies provide transparency and build trust. It also puts information in context and increases public understanding of the challenges that police officers face.
When O’Toole served as chief of police in Seattle, the department shared all crime data and use-of-force data with the public, even going so far as sharing the raw data so that the community could parse the data for themselves. Although some departments may shudder at the thought of sharing such data, O’Toole believes the benefits outweigh the risks.
“It builds trust, and it helps tell the police department’s story,” she said. “Those honest brokers who are in the community ─ who are your true supporters ─ those relationships will be enhanced by authenticity and honesty.”
Most agencies have some sort of analytics or reporting capabilities. Wendy Gilbert, vice president of product at Mark43, suggests that agencies use those to ─ at a minimum ─ create PDFs and post them to the department’s website.
“That next step is facilitating collaboration and allowing the community to see that information and to provide feedback,” said Gilbert. “Then fast-forward to a future where you also have online citizen reporting capabilities so they can see the status of a case, the investigator assigned to the case and potentially upload property images to support an investigation.”
3. CREATING MODERN, DIVERSE WORKPLACES
Communities thrive when they see themselves represented in local policies, practices and personnel, so one of the more direct ways that law enforcement agencies can address recruiting and retaining challenges is to diversify their pool of applicants. Specifically, by recruiting women into their agency.
Research shows that, among other strengths, women officers use excessive force less often, are named in fewer complaints and lawsuits, are perceived by communities as more compassionate and see better outcomes for crime victims, especially in sexual assault cases. Yet women currently comprise only 13 percent of sworn law enforcement officers and three percent of law enforcement leadership.
That’s why Martin, O’Toole and Gilbert advocate for 30x30, a national initiative to advance women in policing.
“The more we can have our police services reflect the communities they serve, the better off we’ll be. We’ll enhance trust, and we’ll increase potential recruitment,” said O’Toole, who, when working as chief inspector of the national police of the Republic of Ireland, saw firsthand the benefits of a force that was 30 percent women.
“I don’t think we can overstate the value of diversity of opinion and experience in both our sworn and non-sworn ranks,” she said.
4. USING MOBILE TECHNOLOGY TO CONNECT OFFICERS AND INCREASE SAFETY
Leading agencies provide officers with modern mobile technologies “that enable them to have a paperless office,” says O’Toole. This is a good way to keep officers in the field instead of behind a desk, which is especially important for agencies who are short-staffed.
Gilbert agrees, and throughout her 20-year career, she has seen police technology evolve to provide officers access to the capabilities and systems they need to conduct most of their work from their vehicles using their smartphone. This mobile-first strategy is more efficient, by enabling officers in the field to receive important alerts and notifications on their phones or even smartwatches. This enhances officer safety by providing them with critically-important situational awareness.
The next steps in this evolution toward a paperless, mobile office are apps that enable mobile report writing and collecting of traffic stop data, which is required in several states, such as California and Texas.
5. EVOLVING DEFENSES AGAINST CYBERATTACKS
As policing continues to move toward more mobile systems and computer-aided dispatch, and as records management and evidence management systems increasingly rely on the internet or 5G to provide real-time information, cybersecurity will become even more important. Public safety agencies need to proactively address vulnerabilities to protect mission-critical systems.
From ransomware attacks that tie up an agency’s critical systems until agencies pay a ransom to the need to protect personal information, agencies need to make sure they are up to date on the latest security measures.
Whether at a large agency with an IT staff that is highly trained or a small agency with less tech sophistication, keeping ahead of hackers and other cyber threats is challenging. That’s why many agencies are moving to a cloud-based, CJIS-compliant platform that comes with additional support to keep current on security updates and best practices.
6. GETTING COMFORTABLE WITH CONSENT DECREES
Martin and O’Toole have both held leadership positions in agencies under consent decrees. Both see consent decrees as here to stay — not just at the federal level, but increasingly at the state level. This is not necessarily a bad thing, they say.
A consent decree can be an opportunity to invest in additional policies and training so that each officer feels prepared and confident to make split-second decisions in the field that adhere to the agency’s policy.
“Every department I worked in that was under a consent decree came out of the other end much better off,” said O’Toole. “There never would have been the investment in training and technology but for the consent decree.”
The opportunity to see these three distinguished women in law enforcement speak to public safety trends and best practices for the future was, in itself, a model for the benefits that a more diverse, inclusive police force can bring to the field.