As we start the new year, I thought I would speak to what I believe are some of the challenges for law enforcement in 2023. In 2022, police departments throughout the nation experienced a period of transition. There was tremendous negative public sentiment and people taking a hard look at the law enforcement profession, how it operates and if prospective new officers should even join the ranks.
Some of the challenges I believe law enforcement will face not only locally, but nationwide in 2023 are:
Dealing with the public’s fear of lawlessness
What is driving this sense of lawlessness? Well, continued carjackings, smash and grabs, street takeovers by vehicles, armed home invasions, street robberies and shootings are driving the fear that lawlessness is ruling the streets. Additionally, oftentimes the people committing these crimes should have been in custody in the first place.
Recruitment and retention
Law enforcement is having a difficult time filling its ranks. These voids are being driven by retirements and a negative perception of the career of a police officer. Police departments need to respond by increasing their marketing through creative social media posts, expanding recruitment teams and offering incentives, which many states already are doing.
Every police survey that has been done says law enforcement needs to improve American’s view of law enforcement, and a major component of that is confidence and trust in police. This is not true for every neighborhood across America, as there are many neighborhoods that have great trust in their police, but certainly not all. The No. 1 component to this is transparency. Police agencies already are moving to the implementation of body cameras, new procedures and policies and restricting certain types of physical maneuvers when arresting individuals. What really needs to happen is transparency in every aspect of the law enforcement’s job function.
Throwing police under the bus for political reasons
There are many politicians out there who bash the police daily just to get headlines, soundbites or to pursue their own personal agendas and not an agenda for true public safety. While there are many state and national legislators who are staunch supporters of law enforcement, there are many who are not, and as of late, they are the loudest
Don’t be our worst enemy
Like any profession, law enforcement has some bad apples in the ranks. Even though there is an extensive pre-hiring background investigation in place, which sometimes takes six months, there are some individuals who get into the law enforcement profession for the wrong reasons.
Chiefs, sheriffs and other command-level personnel must act immediately upon any wrongdoing by police officers. This information must be broadcast to the community with transparency. I am certainly sensitive to privacy rights, but when it comes to law enforcement, officers who commit criminal acts, unethical acts or go far beyond their stated powers need to be eliminated from the ranks. I am not talking about minor indiscretions that all of us make in any chosen job profession. I am speaking of true corruption, betrayal and dishonoring the badge. After all, sometimes we are our own worst enemy. That must stop and stop immediately.
Tom Weitzel is the former chief of the Riverside Police Department. Follow him on Twitter @chiefweitzel