The Future of Law Enforcement

Law enforcement has been in the spotlight of late, especially in North America, where a series of highly publicised police involved incidents with citizens sparked protests all over the United States, Canada, the UK, and the rest of Europe. The methods and tactics used by law enforcement agencies across the world have come into question, as a result. Therefore, the future of law enforcement is a very pertinent topic to today’s public discourse.

As the world changes, new forms of crime, new advanced technologies and evolving relationships with the communities police protect are all shifting the foundations of police work. Consequently, there are many challenges that law enforcement agencies are facing, and thus new tools and policing strategies will be at the forefront of changes with law enforcement in the future. In this post, we will discuss some of those challenges and the likely changes that law enforcement will be seeing in the future.

Challenges facing law enforcement

Significant rapid change in the world we inhabit is touching many aspects of policing in just about every ecosystem in which they operate. Everything from what law enforcement does, who they do it with, where they do it and how they do it, are all shifting as new technologies emerge and citizen’s expectations shift.

Challenge One: New Technology

New technology is perhaps the most visible sign of change and the source of one of the biggest challenges that law enforcement is navigating at the moment. Just about every person, rich or poor, carries around a mobile device with them at all times, that logs and transmits massive amounts of data, that just over a decade ago would have been unfathomable. This is something that has significantly impacted how police are doing their jobs. This is also where the challenge arises for law enforcement. They must adapt these new technologies into investigation and enforcement without discarding their proven traditional techniques or without losing confidence in investigative results that are imperative to presenting findings in courts of law.

Challenge Two: New Forms of Crime

With new technology, comes new forms of crime. While law enforcement struggles with juggling the adoption of new technologies with traditional policing methods, criminals are using new technology for new forms of crime. Some of the earliest adopters of new technologies are in fact criminals. Cybercrime, the use of encrypted messaging applications, and dark web marketplaces for selling all manner of illegal substances, animals and even people, are just some of the new forms of crime that police must deal with. Additionally, the rise of digital currencies to pay for wares on dark web marketplaces has led to new forms of cyber money laundering, which is forcing law enforcement to redefine how they track nefarious financial activity. Law enforcement and criminals are locked in a sort of technological arms race and police must not only implement new technologies, but also obtain the necessary know-how to use them to their advantage.

Challenge Three: A Changing Workforce

Recruiting law enforcement officers from newer generations is already a challenge; however, throw new technology into the equation, and it makes the job even harder. Demographic and technological shifts have changed what these younger officers expect from the profession. As notable criminologist Professor David Wiesburd observes, “Younger officers are having a different culture. One study in Minnesota found that younger officers are more likely to think about policing as a job versus a profession; do it for a few years and then move on to something else versus having 20 years and retiring. They do not necessarily see themselves as being in the police forever.”

This makes recruiting a challenge as there is a constant turnover that was not necessarily the case with past generations. That said, having younger generations and a constant turnover in the police force will likely help the diffusion of new technology adoption within law enforcement.

Challenge Four: Changing Communities

As demographics and technologies are reshaping how police forces do their work, so too are the communities that law enforcement is sworn to protect. These shifts in technology and demographics are changing where people live, who lives next to them, and how they interact among themselves. This has presented a challenge to law enforcement as it makes it more difficult to form meaningful relationships with those communities they must protect. It also means that communication between communities, the police and about the police is changing. Any incident, whether good or bad, can quickly reach an audience well beyond just one community. This technology is having a significant impact on how police work with communities. To make communities active partners in security, crime fighting and well-being, it may require new strategies in the future.

What does the future hold for law enforcement?

Having outlined the challenges above that are currently faced by law enforcement, we can focus our discussion on what the future looks like for police. This will likely involve new policing strategies and adapting new technologies to police work.

New Policing Strategies

Usually, discussions involving policing strategy will come down to a debate between “enforcement” versus “community policing.” Although there are significant differences between the two, research suggests that implementing these strategies doesn’t necessarily have to be one or the other. Research on enforcement-based policing strategies suggests that they do have a measurable impact on crime reduction; however, do not impact community positively, while community policing strategies do the opposite. Thus, as Professor Weisburd sums it up, “In my mind, the future of police is both crime control and positive impact on community.”

Mobilizing the tools of future work

As Deloitte puts it in their study on the Future of Law Enforcement, “The future of police work hinges on how technology and human judgement can be brought together and applied to foundational law enforcement tasks.”

New technologies are imperative to the future of law enforcement, but they do have limitations. As Professor Wiesburd describes, “[New technologies] can identify the places where crime is more likely, allowing police to apply presence in one form or another. But any department that uses the ‘machine’ without using their operational knowledge is nuts in my opinion. No one is going to solve all your problems with an algorithm.”

Thus, the future of law enforcement work with new technologies involves human-machine teaming. Technology should not replace human police, but augment humans, allowing each other to work to their strengths.

As Deloitte observes, “Digital technology can crunch massive volumes of data to pull out clues a human could never find, while the human can adapt it for context, understand circumstances, and interact with other human beings.”

Thus, the key is to allow machines to fill in reports and do other tedious, busy work tasks, which computers are good at, and drive human officers to do what humans are good at, interaction with other humans. This will free up officers to interact more with the community, making better human judgements, which in turn increases the accuracy of machines, a virtuous circle of collaboration.

The Bottom Line

The key themes of the future of law enforcement seem to be that enforcement and community engagement are paramount to new strategies, while human-machine teaming is imperative to implementing and getting the best out of new technologies in police work.
As police will likely be working with the community more in the future, the physical tools that police carry will also need to be top notch. Peli Products produces a range of tactical flashlights which are ideal for police and other law enforcement that are working in the field. With models that include USB rechargeable batteries, run times of up to 29 hours, light output of over 1000 lumens, and various selectable modes, there is a Peli tactical light for any law enforcement officer’s needs.

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