Police Methods | Section 6.5

Police Methods by Adam J. McKee

Section 6.5: Prescriptions for Change

Prescriptions for Change

The call for “procedural fairness” has been heard across police circles in the United States since the President’s Commission released its report.  These ideas may have been neglected, but they are nothing new. They were present in the Supreme Court cases of the Warren era Civil Rights Revolution, and they were baked into community policing from the beginning.  The excerpt below was published in a 1994 Monograph.


Equity is grounded firmly in the Constitution of the United States, which all police officers are sworn to uphold. A foremost tenet of community policing is equity; that is, all citizens should have a say in how they are governed. Officers may relate better to citizens as individuals because they cooperate closely with and are recognized as an integral part of the community. Community policing can thus become a force for enhancing democratic principles.

Community policing provides an opportunity to emphasize uncompromising integrity, unyielding standards of fairness, and unwavering equality because officers have to work closely with the community and will be increasingly confronted with ethical dilemmas.

Equity, as understood in community policing activities, has three dimensions: equal access to police services by all citizens, equal treatment of all individuals under the U.S. Constitution, and equal distribution of police services and resources among communities.

Equal access to police services. All citizens, regardless of race, religion, personal characteristics, or group affiliation, must have equal access to police services for a full and productive partnership with a community. The paramount commitment of community policing should be respect for all citizens and sensitivity to their needs. Neighborhood officers must not discriminate against any community members. Supervisors should help ensure that police services are readily available throughout the community.

In addition, lines of communication must be kept open with all partners in the community policing effort. Favoritism of one group over another will severely hamper future cooperative efforts. Groups who are more vocal than others cannot be permitted to use community policing to serve their own purposes. Police must prevent such behavior before it adversely affects the trust that has been established within and among communities.

Equal treatment under the constitution. Police must treat all individuals according to the constitutional rights that officers are sworn to protect and enforce. Careful attention to the constitutional rights of citizens, victims, or perpetrators will help to engender bonds of trust between the police and community. Police must treat all persons with respect and impartiality—including the homeless, the poor, and the mentally or physically handicapped. They must reject stereotypes, ignore skin color, and use reason and persuasion rather than coercion wherever possible because inequitable or harsh treatment can lead to frustration, hostility, and even violence within a community. Such unethical behavior will imperil the trust so necessary to community policing.

Some contemporary community activists and leaders have experienced past confrontations with the police which may present serious challenges to implementing community policing and involving the community in policing efforts.

Equal distribution of police services and resources among communities. Because community policing customizes policing services to the needs of each community, services should be distributed equitably among poor and minority communities. Care must be taken, however, to ensure that this is the case.

For equitable distribution of resources among communities, each community must articulate its needs and be willing to work with the police to ensure its share of police services. Each neighborhood officer must listen to the community members, and be willing to work with the community members to meet those needs. Poor and minority neighborhoods can present particular challenges for some patrol officers, who may have to bridge differences of race and class before a level of trust and cooperation can be established.

Some neighborhoods may appear unwilling to help police in their efforts to improve life in the community. Officers must realize that sometimes “the community seems so helpless because it feels abandoned and would discover new strengths if only the police could make an effective alliance with important community elements.  Departments that have taken early steps [into community policing] are full of stories of apparently lost neighborhoods that flowered under new police attention.”

One community must not be given preference over another; all communities must have equal access to police services. Equity, however, may not always mean equal distribution of police services and resources. Wealthier communities are often able to contribute more resources to the problem-solving process than can poorer communities. Crime rates will also be higher in some communities, requiring more police intervention and a larger share of police resources to decrease crime and transform neighborhoods from places of fear into city or county assets.

Source: Understanding Community Policing:  A Framework for Action.  p. 50 – 51.


President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing

Trust between law enforcement agencies and the people they protect and serve is essential in a democracy. It is key to the stability of our communities, the integrity of our criminal justice system, and the safe and effective delivery of policing services.

In light of recent events that have exposed rifts in the relationships between local police and the communities they protect and serve, on December 18, 2014, President Barack Obama signed an executive order establishing the Task Force on 21st Century Policing. The President charged the task force with identifying best practices and offering recommendations on how policing practices can promote effective crime reduction while building public trust. 

This executive summary provides an overview of the recommendations of the task force, which met seven times in January and February of 2015. These listening sessions, held in Washington, D.C.; Phoenix, Arizona; and Cincinnati, Ohio, brought the 11 members of the task force together with more than 100 individuals from diverse stakeholder groups—law enforcement officers and executives, community members, civic leaders, advocates, researchers, academics, and others—in addition to many others who submitted written testimony to study the problems from all perspectives.

The task force recommendations, each with action items, are organized around six main topic areas or “pillars:” Building Trust and Legitimacy, Policy and Oversight, Technology and Social Media, Community Policing and Crime Reduction, Officer Training and Education, and Officer Safety and Wellness. 

The task force also offered two overarching recommendations: the President should support the creation of a National Crime and Justice Task Force to examine all areas of criminal justice and propose reforms; as a corollary to this effort, the task force also recommends that the President support programs that take a comprehensive and inclusive look at community-based initiatives addressing core issues such as poverty, education, and health and safety.

Pillar One: Building Trust and Legitimacy 

Building trust and nurturing legitimacy on both sides of the police/citizen divide is the foundational principle underlying the nature of relations between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve. Decades of research and practice support the premise that people are more likely to obey the law when they believe that those who are enforcing it have authority that is perceived as legitimate by those subject to the authority. The public confers legitimacy only on those whom they believe are acting in procedurally just ways. In addition, law enforcement cannot build community trust if it is seen as an occupying force coming in from outside to impose control on the community. Pillar one seeks to provide focused recommendations on building this relationship.

Law enforcement culture should embrace a guardian—rather than a warrior—mindset to build trust and legitimacy both within agencies and with the public. Toward that end, law enforcement agencies should adopt procedural justice as the guiding principle for internal and external policies and practices to guide their interactions with rank and file officers and with the citizens they serve. Law enforcement agencies should also establish a culture of transparency and accountability to build public trust and legitimacy. This is critical to ensuring decision making is understood and in accord with stated policy.

Law enforcement agencies should also proactively promote public trust by initiating positive nonenforcement activities to engage communities that typically have high rates of investigative and enforcement involvement with government agencies. Law enforcement agencies should also track and analyze the level of trust communities have in police just as they measure changes in crime. This can be accomplished through consistent annual community surveys. Finally, law enforcement agencies should strive to create a workforce that encompasses a broad range of diversity including race, gender, language, life experience, and cultural background to improve understanding and effectiveness in dealing with all communities. 

Pillar Two: Policy and Oversight 

Pillar two emphasizes that if police are to carry out their responsibilities according to established policies, those policies must reflect community values. Law enforcement agencies should collaborate with community members, especially in communities and neighborhoods disproportionately affected by crime, to develop policies and strategies for deploying resources that aim to reduce crime by improving relationships, increasing community engagement, and fostering cooperation.

To achieve this end, law enforcement agencies should have clear and comprehensive policies on the use of force (including training on the importance of de-escalation), mass demonstrations (including the appropriate use of equipment, particularly rifles and armored personnel carriers), consent before searches, gender identification, racial profiling, and performance measures— among others such as external and independent investigations and prosecutions of officer-involved shootings and other use of force situations and in-custody deaths. These policies should also include provisions for the collection of demographic data on all parties involved. All policies and aggregate data should be made publicly available to ensure transparency. 

To ensure policies are maintained and current, law enforcement agencies are encouraged to periodically review policies and procedures, conduct nonpunitive peer reviews of critical incidents separate from criminal and administrative investigations, and establish civilian oversight mechanisms with their communities. 

Finally, to assist law enforcement and the community achieve the elements of pillar two, the U.S. Department of Justice, through the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) and Office of Justice Programs (OJP), should provide technical assistance and incentive funding to jurisdictions with small police agencies that take steps toward interagency collaboration, shared services, and regional training. They should also partner with the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training (IADLEST) to expand its National Decertification Index to serve as the National Register of Decertified Officers with the goal of covering all agencies within the United States and its territories.

Pillar Three: Technology & Social Media 

The use of technology can improve policing practices and build community trust and legitimacy, but its implementation must be built on a defined policy framework with its purposes and goals clearly delineated. Implementing new technologies can give police departments an opportunity to fully engage and educate communities in a dialogue about their expectations for transparency, accountability, and privacy. But technology changes quickly in terms of new hardware, software, and other options. Law enforcement agencies and leaders need to be able to identify, assess, and evaluate new technology for adoption and do so in ways that improve their effectiveness, efficiency, and evolution without infringing on individual rights.  

Pillar three guides the implementation, use, and evaluation of technology and social media by law enforcement agencies. To build a solid foundation for law enforcement agencies in this field, the U.S. Department of Justice, in consultation with the law enforcement field, should establish national standards for the research and development of new technology including auditory, visual, and biometric data, “less than lethal” technology, and the development of segregated radio spectrum such as FirstNet. These standards should also address compatibility, interoperability, and implementation needs both within local law enforcement agencies and across agencies and jurisdictions and should maintain civil and human rights protections. Law enforcement implementation of technology should be designed considering local needs and aligned with these national standards. Finally, law enforcement agencies should adopt model policies and best practices for technology-based community engagement that increases community trust and access. 

Pillar Four: Community Policing & Crime Reduction 

Pillar four focuses on the importance of community policing as a guiding philosophy for all stakeholders. Community policing emphasizes working with neighborhood residents to coproduce public safety. Law enforcement agencies should, therefore, work with community residents to identify problems and collaborate on implementing solutions that produce meaningful results for the community. Specifically, law enforcement agencies should develop and adopt policies and strategies that reinforce the importance of community engagement in managing public safety. Law enforcement agencies should also engage in multidisciplinary, community team approaches for planning, implementing, and responding to crisis situations with complex causal factors. 

Communities should support a culture and practice of policing that reflects the values of protection and promotion of the dignity of all— especially the most vulnerable, such as children and youth most at risk for crime or violence. Law enforcement agencies should avoid using law enforcement tactics that unnecessarily stigmatize youth and marginalize their participation in schools (where law enforcement officers should have limited involvement in discipline) and communities. In addition, communities need to affirm and recognize the voices of youth in community decision making, facilitate youth participation in research and problem solving, and develop and fund youth leadership training and life skills through positive youth/police collaboration and interactions.

Pillar Five: Training & Education 

As our nation becomes more pluralistic and the scope of law enforcement’s responsibilities expands, the need for expanded and more effective training has become critical. Today’s line officers and leaders must be trained and capable to address a wide variety of challenges including international terrorism, evolving technologies, rising immigration, changing laws, new cultural mores, and a growing mental health crisis. 

Pillar five focuses on the training and education needs of law enforcement. To ensure the high quality and effectiveness of training and education, law enforcement agencies should engage community members, particularly those with special expertise, in the training process and provide leadership training to all personnel throughout their careers. 

To further assist the training and educational needs of law enforcement, the Federal Government should support the development of partnerships with training facilities across the country to promote consistent standards for high quality training and establish training innovation hubs involving universities and police academies. A national postgraduate institute of policing for senior executives should be created with a standardized curriculum preparing participants to lead agencies in the 21st century. 

One specific method of increasing the quality of training would be to ensure that Peace Officer and Standards Training (POST) boards include mandatory Crisis Intervention Training (CIT), which equips officers to deal with individuals in crisis or living with mental disabilities, as part of both basic recruit and in-service officer training—as well as instruction in disease of addiction, implicit bias and cultural responsiveness, policing in a democratic society, procedural justice, and effective social interaction and tactical skills.

Pillar Six: Officer Wellness & Safety 

The wellness and safety of law enforcement officers is critical not only for the officers, their colleagues, and their agencies but also to public safety. Pillar six emphasizes the support and proper implementation of officer wellness and safety as a multi-partner effort. 

The U.S. Department of Justice should enhance and further promote its multi-faceted officer safety and wellness initiative. Two specific strategies recommended for the U.S. Department of Justice include (1) encouraging and assisting departments in the implementation of scientifically supported shift lengths by law enforcement and (2) expanding efforts to collect and analyze data not only on officer deaths but also on injuries and “near misses.” 

Law enforcement agencies should also promote wellness and safety at every level of the organization. For instance, every law enforcement officer should be provided with individual tactical first aid kits and training as well as anti-ballistic vests. In addition, law enforcement agencies should adopt policies that require officers to wear seat belts and bullet-proof vests and provide training to raise awareness of the consequences of failure to do so. Internal procedural justice principles should be adopted for all internal policies and interactions. The Federal Government should develop programs to provide financial support for law enforcement officers to continue to pursue educational opportunities. Finally, Congress should develop and enact peer review error management legislation.

Implementation Recommendations 

The administration, through policies and practices already in place, can start right now to move forward on the recommendations contained in this report. The President should direct all federal law enforcement agencies to implement the task force recommendations to the extent practicable, and the U.S. Department of Justice should explore public-private partnership opportunities with foundations to advance implementation of the recommendations. Finally, the COPS Office and OJP should take a series of targeted actions to assist the law enforcement field in addressing current and future challenges. 


The members of the Task Force on 21st Century Policing are convinced that the concrete recommendations contained in this publication will bring long-term improvements to the ways in which law enforcement agencies interact with and bring positive change to their communities.   


Source:  COPS Office.  President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing:  Final Report.



Modification History

File Created:  08/10/2019

Last Modified:  08/10/2019

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This work is licensed under an Open Educational Resource-Quality Master Source (OER-QMS) License.

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