Calls for reform brought about by high-profile incidents have led to an unprecedented pace of legislation affecting law enforcement over the past two years. New laws and the change they’ve created have reshaped policing since 2020 and will undoubtedly continue to influence law enforcement trends in 2022. This article looks at some of the prominent themes we’re monitoring as the new year gets underway.
Change Management as a Constant
A prominent theme in law enforcement policy has been a rapid and profound legislative change in recent years. The pace of reform legislation has been swift, with 453 bills addressing law enforcement passed into law over the last two years. What this means for law enforcement leaders is an urgent need to create strategies to implement sweeping changes to their agencies’ policies and data-gathering practices.
Law enforcement agencies are often seen as organizations where changes come slowly, emphasizing tradition and continuity. This is, in part, due to the nature of the profession. When dealing with the safety of officers and the public they serve, leaders can be reluctant to make broad changes that could be perceived to threaten that stability. Legislative mandates, however, are compelling law enforcement leaders, in most cases, to enact policy changes on defined timelines.
Policing executives are increasingly looking towards the corporate world for guidance on change management strategies. Strategies like McKinsey’s 7-S Framework and Kotter’s Method are often used in the business world to introduce potentially problematic changes to an organization, and most importantly, create the buy-in needed to move towards change as a whole organization. While there is some variation in the methods to build the momentum for change, they both fundamentally rely on a bottom-up approach that increases buy-in and ultimately successful transition in policies.
Officer Wellness in 2022
The conditions that have been a primary driver of reform legislation have prompted policymakers, citizens, and law enforcement to step back and look at the bigger picture of policing. Individual actions, events, and policies are increasingly viewed in their context as part of larger systems. While much media attention is on aspects of reform measures aimed to add transparency to policing operations, many of those pieces of legislation also have substantial components that address the health and wellness of law enforcement officers.
At the federal level, the Department of Justice, in conjunction with Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), announced $7 million in grants late last year as a part of the Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act Program. A total of 65 grants were disbursed in the previous year to state, tribal, and local law enforcement agencies throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. These grants are a valuable first step in establishing and maintaining programs like peer support, suicide prevention, and family services to support officer wellness in 2022 and beyond.
Looking to the state level, many of the mandates and programs concerning mental health and wellness coming into effect in 2022 are a more direct result of recent policing reform legislation than federal programs. The state-level initiatives cover a broad range of topics pertaining to mental health and, in many cases, expand upon federally funded programs. A few notable examples include:
- New Hampshire created a new commission with SB142 to study post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in first responders. The commission’s findings will be delivered on or before November 1, 2022 and will be used to make further recommendations for programmatic funding.
- S24 in Texas authorized the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement to roll out a peer-support network for law enforcement officers in January of 2022. Peer support networks and associated programs are being formalized throughout the country and are considered to be among the most effective means to promote officer wellness.
- The Utah state legislature enacted H248, which opened up a half-million dollars in state-funded grants to be awarded before June 30, 2022. These grants will provide funding for mental health resources for law enforcement officers and other first responders.
- S703 was introduced and moved to committee in New Jersey in January of 2022. The New Jersey First Responders Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Protection Act addresses PTSD among law enforcement officers and first responders by guarding against retaliation or loss of benefits. Another bill introduced in New Jersey in 2022, A1622, seeks to create funding for a PTSD hotline administered jointly by the New Jersey Department of Health and behavioral healthcare specialists from Rutgers University.
Data Analysis and Management
Law enforcement researchers have long used policing data to understand everything from community/police interactions to health outcomes in the policing community. The insights that can be gained from this data can create positive change both for the law enforcement profession and their communities. Unfortunately, many agencies haven’t had the funding or workers to bring their recordkeeping and data management practices into the 21st century.
Much of the recent reform legislation frames data collection mandates as a move towards greater transparency. However, another beneficial effect of these measures is increasing the data researchers use to study law enforcement as well as creating new data sources for agencies to use to make smarter decisions around personnel and allocation of resources.
In North Carolina, SB300 mandated the creation of data capture systems used to inform early intervention systems and a critical incident database tracking use of force. The mandate took effect in December of 2021, and agencies in the state have either begun improving or establishing such systems. Maryland’s SB670 requires that certain officer misconduct records be available for public inspection. In practice, this means agencies must have the capacity to report incident data to publicly accessible portals or databases, requiring the agencies to have procedures to standardize and report this data.
A Busy Year Ahead
The pace of reform legislation and the changes it will create in law enforcement show no sign of slowing down. 2022 promises to be another active year in state legislatures. As new mandates pass, law enforcement leaders will be seeking new solutions to guide their agencies through this period of change for the profession.
Benchmark Analytics’ First Sign® is a first-of-its-kind, research-driven early intervention platform that is custom-tailored to agencies of any size. The Benchmark Management System® captures use-of-force, internal affairs, and other data to help agencies meet the requirements of reporting mandates while providing law enforcement leaders with an analytics-driven and holistic view of their agency.