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The future of policing in a presidential administration under Joe Biden and Kamala Harris is unclear at best.
Definitively predicting the future is not exactly my skill-set, but proposing some possibilities is not at all unfamiliar to me. I'm generally more often right than wrong, so let's get into it for a minute.
Unlike some Democratic presidential candidates who campaigned for the highest office in the land—and were outwardly and blatantly hostile toward the police—Biden was nebulous in his discussions on the topic of American law enforcement.
Biden's answers to debate questions and media inquiries were vague and often contradictory—something not at all unusual for a career politician who has worked in DC for nearly 50 years.
Complicating matters is the fact that his running mate Kamala Harris is a former prosecutor and attorney general of California, as well as former district attorney of San Francisco.
Famously during the campaign on the debate stage Tulsi Gabbard squared Harris' record as a prosecutor saying, "She put over fifteen-hundred people in jail for marijuana violations and then laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana."
To say that these two people have a complicated past with regard to law enforcement matters is an understatement of tremendous magnitude.
Biden has worked in Washington for nearly a half century. Some would say he's accomplished a lot during that period of time—others would argue otherwise.
That discussion could last for the next four years.
One thing is certain: Biden was a significant proponent of the legislation that in 1994 created the grant program under the Justice Department called Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS).
For good or ill, the COPS program has led to grants that have enabled police agencies to purchase equipment, hire officers, establish "community policing" initiatives, and whatnot.
Both Biden and Harris have been taken to task for their past political actions and activities. Both have backed legislation that has since been called into question. Both were pretty darned mean to each other during the campaigns and the debates.
And now, both appear on the cover of Time Magazine as "Person of the Year." This is unsurprising because the victor of every presidential election has held that tile for the past 20-30 years or more. It's just what Time Magazine editors have determined to be what to do.
All that preamble now done, I've set the stage for a the question: "What do police commanders need to know about possible consequences for their agencies following the impending inauguration?"
The administration could quite conceivably issue executive orders demanding that every police officer in America drastically change policies and procedures, but offer no way in which to subsidize the training and administrative costs to implement such reforms.
They could decree that every cop in the country have an activated body-worn camera on their person at all times on duty. Okay, sure, that's nice—studies have shown that BWCs actually increase the possibility of compliance by suspects being detained, and have in countless cases exonerated officers in instances of false use-of-force or sexual misconduct allegations. They're wonderful in securing prosecutions in the courtroom.
However, if every one of the 18,000 agencies in the United States are federally mandated to purchase this equipment—and the associated storage services—and then train their officers how to correctly use it, the question becomes, "Where does that money come from?"
What if they issue an executive order for universal "implicit bias" training? What about an order to commandeer all armored vehicles obtained under the 1033 Program?
The list is quite frankly long and a little scary. So police commanders need to brace for the worst while hoping for the best. Here are just two possibilities among myriad others.
Command staff at every police department in the land should brace for the possibility of DOJ investigation, interference, and the possibility of a vast increase in the issuance of consent decrees during a Biden/Harris administration.
The onus of responsibility will be on chiefs, captains, lieutenants, and patrol sergeants to ensure that every cop in the ranks is well-versed in the agency's policies and procedures, well trained in how to conduct their jobs as patrol officers, and brace for the prospect that one little mistake could put your entire department in the jaws of the DOJ.
In the event that just one officer makes a critical error in decision-making or action, command staff will be at the podium surrounded by television cameras, and then sometime after that, surrounded by federal authorities investigating the incident.
Start preparing your troops now to be "left of bang," because once you're "right of bang" your control over your agency can be seriously compromised.
I'm not saying that either of these two nightmare scenarios WILL happen—I'm merely saying that they can happen
Many police leaders are already planning for these and other Biden-Harris contingencies. You should do the same.