21st Century Policing

The Six Pillars of 21st Century Policing 

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

For a complete report, visit https://cops.usdoj.gov/pdf/taskforce/taskforce_finalreport.pdf

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.

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. 

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. 

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.

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. Two specific strategies recommended 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.