Earlier this year, as part of IACP President De Lucca’s Task Force to Address Global Violence Against Law Enforcement, IACP hosted a focus group with mid-rank officers from agencies around the Washington DC metropolitan area to get their perspectives on this important topic. This meeting was a follow-on to an earlier focus group with line officers.
During the forum, participants expressed a belief that violence against police has increased recently. All participants stated that their departments have experienced at least one incident of violence against their personnel within the past six months. Officer hesitancy, de-policing, and an erosion of respect for police were central themes of the forum – all serving to increase the likelihood officers will be challenged, sometimes violently.
Other themes raised by officers include
Departmental Support: Participants expressed frustration with departmental senior leadership across the U.S. who they perceived to be overly politicized and seemingly eager to prioritize public opinion over officer support following a justified used of force incident. Participants stated this perceived lack of support has resulted in increased hesitancy to engage in proactive policing, or to act decisively and authoritatively when confronting criminal behavior.
Legal/Judicial System: Participants voiced concern with the judicial system and its perceived inability to keep repeat and violent offenders incarcerated. Participants also perceive a lack of determination by prosecutors to file and litigate cases to maximize penalties for these offenders. Participants voiced concern that, as a result, criminals perceive few consequences for engaging in criminal behavior, even if they are apprehended, and are thus emboldened to challenge authority.
Media: Participants noted what they perceive is a lack of understanding by the media about the role of law enforcement in safeguarding the public and the challenges they face in doing so. Negative, premature, and often false narratives associated with police amplified by the media further erodes respect for police and threatens officer safety.
Training: Participants expressed a need for departments to invest in more scenario-based training delivered on a frequent basis. Participants also stated officers would benefit from debriefs after critical incidents to assist in learning from past experience. Participants also suggested reviewing officer safety incidents at roll call as a way to maintain safety awareness among personnel.
Investment in the Patrol Function of Policing: Participants noted concern that patrol divisions are not supported in a manner commensurate with the critical role they serve. Participants noted the difficulty changing police culture, where patrol is viewed as the first rung of an officer’s career ladder. Increasing incentives to remain on patrol as a career path, investing in training, and providing tools and resources for officers on patrol were noted as potential solutions.
Conclusion: The mid-rank level focus group on violence against the police provided a unique perspective of experienced officers who may be the future leaders of departments. Their observations, insight and concerns are of significant value to the Task Force members – and police leaders at large – as they consider potential solutions to combat violence against law enforcement.