While new government administrations always mean changes for public safety organizations, with the public eye closely watching policing, it is safe to say that law enforcement organizations will contend with more upheaval this time than is typical. The high-profile issue of police reform is likely to be a focus for President Biden and his administration, leading to increased governmental oversight as well as new policies and responsibilities centered on reducing police misconduct and use-of-force incidents.
1. A Return of the Task Force on 21st Century Policing
President Obama’s administration saw the formation of The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Police, a group focused on identifying best practices for policing with the goal of improving community trust. The task force was dissolved at the end of Obama’s presidency, but given the current poor relations between law enforcement and the public, it or a similar program is likely to be reinstated by Biden.
The task force previously collaborated closely with the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office, in which Biden’s administration already plans to reinvest. It would not be surprising to also see the task force return to researching how law enforcement agencies can better serve their communities.
2. More Consent Decrees
In the law enforcement context, consent decrees are enforced agreements between the Department of Justice and police agencies found to have systematic unconstitutional conduct. Consent decrees outline changes the agency must enact to improve.
Historically, investigations into conduct and consent decrees increase under Democratic administrations, as law enforcement faces increased scrutiny. However, during Trump’s presidency, no consent decrees occurred—low even for a Republican administration.
The Biden administration will likely reverse restrictions placed on DOJ around pursuing consent decrees, and law enforcement agencies will begin to see increased investigations. Enforced consent decrees—like the one faced by the Baltimore Police Department—will naturally rise, but it is also expected that the number of organizations entering voluntary arrangements will also rise as departments look to the DOJ for guidance through programs such as the Collaborative Reform Initiative.
And with guidance informed by the COPS Office and potentially the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, the DOJ will have a better understanding of the best practices it should be recommending.
3. Training and Policy Focus on Racial Equality and De-escalation
Among these best practices, training and policies connected to racial equality will be at the forefront. In particular, de-escalation training will likely become required for law enforcement. There might even be a national ban on the use of chokeholds.
However, these training and policy initiatives will likely meet resistance when it comes to funding. Training is often not seen as critical to operations and is typically the first place cuts are made to compensate for limited resources. While Biden has expressed that he will not “defund the police,” and we in fact expect increased funding, the amount of training required by these shifts will likely exceed policing’s already stretched budgets.
4. Increased Emphasis on Tracking Misconduct and Use of Force at the Federal Level
Training is not the only area where policing can expect to see new demands on resources. Lawmakers and law enforcers have both seen increased pressure to establish a federal reporting system for use of force, misconduct, and involuntary terminations for cause.
Some options already exist—IADLEST’s National Decertification Index (NDI) and the FBI’s National Use-of-Force Data Collection—but currently reporting to these databases is voluntary and usage remains largely inconsistent and dependent on state.
Law enforcement agencies may soon see a mandate requiring participation, which, if unfunded, would likely see significant pushback from states. Alternatively, use of force, misconduct, and termination reporting may become a condition of receiving federal funding, requiring police departments to increase spending around data tracking in order to receive sorely needed funds that hopefully outweigh those costs.
5. Increased Calls for Police Data
Currently, reporting on misconduct and use-of-force incidents is haphazard and the accuracy of police records is suspect. To understand the statistics surrounding these issues, law makers and the public will demand transparency and accurate data from law enforcement agencies. For agencies still operating on paper records, these calls will be almost impossible to answer. Even if the data has been recorded, these requests will place an intense strain on the human capital necessary to find and gather all of the relevant documentation. Departments with digital systems may fair better, but with legacy systems and siloed databases common, increased reporting will still cause challenges.
Additionally, to ensure follow-through on training and policy mandates as well as consent decrees, law enforcement organizations will be required to provide more detailed documentation to the DOJ and other governing bodies. Legally defensible training management systems (TMS) will become a necessity for responding to such information requests in a timely fashion.
How can Law Enforcement Respond?
The Biden administration may increase funding for law enforcement agencies, but that money comes with increased responsibilities. For agencies already struggling with current objectives, the budget increases will not be enough. As the demands on law enforcement increase and funding fails to keep pace, the readiness gap for departments will widen.
In order to address this discrepancy, agencies need to begin maturing their readiness to respond, especially around new training requirements and policy changes. Law enforcement agencies should have robust Training Management Systems (TMS) in place to collapse the time to competence for their officers as well as document their compliance and provide transparent reporting. And agencies need to begin implementing robust systems now in preparation for the increased demands for data.
The first step toward maturing readiness is assessing your current reality.
Ari Vidali is founder and CEO of Envisage Technologies, creators of the Acadis Readiness Suite. Acadis is a comprehensive, modular training management framework that is being used to modernize and streamline the complex operations of nearly 11,000 public safety agencies and serving more than 2 million first responders through the FirstForward online training network.