In February 2017, as part of IACP President De Lucca’s Task Force to Address Global Violence Against Law Enforcement, IACP hosted a focus group with line officers to get their perspectives. The group consisted of 21 officers and first-line supervisors, varying in age and experience, from large, midsize, and smaller agencies around the Washington, DC metropolitan area.
Participants identified several themes they believe contribute to what they perceive is an increased threat environment.
Lack of Respect: A perceived erosion of respect for law enforcement authority was identified by participants as a primary reason officers feel their jobs are more dangerous today. Participants cited emboldened offenders who lack respect for police authority and are quick to challenge an officer’s legitimacy to enforce the law.
Policy: Some participants expressed frustration that policies and procedures – particularly those related to use of force – seem to change in response to incidents that have occurred around the United States, thereby creating confusion among officers.
Departmental Support: Participants noted variability in support officers receive from department leadership following critical incidents. Participants cited a perceived conflict of interest between a chief’s desire to simultaneously calm the community and support the officers involved. As a result, officers may be more hesitant to engage in proactive enforcement for fear of not only suffering bodily harm, but fear of lack of departmental support and/or being held civilly liable.
Legal/Judicial System: Participants expressed frustration with the system’s inability to keep violent offenders incarcerated. Equally frustrating was the perception of local prosecutors’ unwillingness to litigate cases, opting instead for plea deals resulting in the early release of often violent offenders.
Technology: Some participants stated that an increased reliance on technology, including body cameras, can have a distracting effect on officers in the field. Officers voiced concern that smartphones, in-car computers, and other technology can serve as a distraction, diminishing their situational awareness and thus increasing the danger to them.
Media: Officers expressed frustration with both social and traditional mass media, perceiving these media as often overly critical of law enforcement. Officers indicated they fear being second-guessed in the media (and ultimately the community) for performing their jobs, particularly if it results in a recorded physical confrontation.
Training: Officers stated that some training they and their peers receive does not have immediate applicability to the daily challenges they face. As an example, officers stated that since 9/11, training on mass casualty events has increased, while training on day-to-day challenges like felony car stops, standard traffic stops, and non-compliant individuals is rare.
This line officers’ focus group on violence against the police provided an essential frontline perspective for the Task Force. Discussion was candid, forthright, and provides insight into the officer’s point of view. While the group was limited to the local region, many of the sentiments echo those heard during last year’s Listening Tour sessions around the U.S.