Evaluating the State of American Law Enforcement

The truth is that the state of American law enforcement is a very fluid thing.

David Griffith 2017 Headshot

Some 12 months ago, the editorial staff of POLICE Magazine launched an ambitious—some would say foolhardy—project. We decided to dedicate much of our resources and time to a 12-part series of articles on the state of American law enforcement.

Our declared goal for this project was to paint a portrait of American law enforcement operations circa 2008. Here's a quick look at some of our conclusions:

  • There are not enough cops. Hardly anyone wants to pay for more. And nobody is quite sure how to add more men and women to the "Thin Blue Line." (READ the January chapter here)
  • The demographics of who serves in law enforcement are changing in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, and even age. (READ the February chapter here)
  • Training methods are rooted more in tradition and convention than in the realities of what you face on the street. Updating these methods elicits howls from some trainers. (March)
  • The public doesn't really hate you. Some of it doesn't love you that much either. (April)
  • You will likely gravitate toward a specialty such as K-9, SWAT, or investigations at some point in your career. This trend will be even more prevalent as we move deeper into this century. (May)
  • Women will play a greater role in law enforcement in this century. They won't find it easy to balance career and family. Neither will their male counterparts. (June)
  • Patrol is still one of the most critical operation in law enforcement. It is both the "protect" and the "serve" part of the job. (July)
  • SWAT's focus on physical strength and endurance is being challenged by politicians more interested in diversity than tactical performance. (August)
  • Since 9/11, you've actually done a damn fine job improving your ability to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks. On behalf of all American civilians, thank you for your vigilance and your service. Unfortunately, you still can't relax your guard. (September)
  • Policymakers make rules of engagement for the least common denominator of officers. This is true, even though the experience level and education level of the vast majority of American law enforcement officers far exceeds that common denominator. (October)
  • Regardless of where you work, no matter how affluent or remote, violent criminal gangs are going to be a big problem for you in the coming years. Gang investigators we have talked to say you can thank Hollywood and the music industry for making gang culture so attractive to kids. (November)
  • Using less-lethal force can be controversial. Not using less-lethal force can be even more controversial. Weapons technology will likely outpace policy and the political will of your local government. (This month, page 34)

We hope that you learned something from this feature series. We certainly did.

And one of the things we discovered very quickly was that we could have written hundreds of features on this topic and still barely scratched the surface.

The truth is that the state of American law enforcement is a very fluid thing. Because of the nature of our project, we pretty much had to commit to certain topics well in advance. This gave us time to round up authoritative sources and do our research.

But that advance time often worked against us. So while we were working on features on policy and gang enforcement, the world economy went down a rabbit hole and we are all now living in Recessionland. We would have liked to respond to that issue in this series, but we didn't have time. The economic meltdown snuck up on us like it did everyone else.

After spending 12 months trying to sum up the state of American law enforcement circa 2008, there are only two things I can guarantee about the state of American law enforcement in the coming year:

  • One, we can only guess what wonders and horrors the next 12 months will bring.
  • Two, the editors of POLICE will endeavor in each forthcoming issue—as we have in the past—to give you timely information on what is happening in American law enforcement and how it affects you.

Listen to a related podcast about the series.


Each of the 12 chapters in the 2008 "State of American Law Enforcement" series by POLICE is available by clicking on the links below. 

In January 2008, POLICE Magazine launched a year-long article series focusing on the “state of American law enforcement.” If you’d like to read the other chapters, click on the links below.

Chapter 1: The Thinning Blue Line.  Law enforcement agencies nationwide are competing for a dwindling population of recruits.

Chapter 2: The Blue Mosaic.  Policies meant to diversify law enforcement agencies have changed police demographics and will continue to do so in the future.

Chapter 3: Teaching to the Test.  Does law enforcement training focus too much on qualifying and not enough on skills that can help you win fights?

Chapter 4: A Love-Hate Relationship.  Most people only meet an officer when they are arrested, questioned, or cited. That makes it hard for them to like cops.

Chapter 5: Can the Average Cop Thrive in the Age of Specialization?  The generalist cop is part of a dying breed, which means many of today's officers will need to excel at a specialty.

Chapter 6: Women Warriors.  Female police officers must walk a fine line between fitting in and making their own way in law enforcement.

Chapter 7: Working on the Front Lines.  The patrol officer is the backbone of American policing, but a lot of agencies don’t want to admit it.

Chapter 8: SWAT: Breaking the Mold.  Agencies nationwide model their tactical teams on LAPD SWAT. So what does it mean if that unit changes its policies to be more politically correct?

Chapter 9: Stopping the Next 9/11.  Improvements in intelligence gathering, training, and equipment give you a good chance of preventing the next attack and saving lives if it happens.

Chapter 10: Rules of Engagement. Today’s law enforcement officer is the best trained and best equipped cop in history, so why do policy makers think you have the judgment and intellect of children?

Chapter 11: Gangster Nation.  Big city street gangs have taken root in small town  America, bringing mayhem to Main Street.


Chapter 12: Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't.  When a cop uses - or doesn't use - a less-lethal weapon in contemporary America, there can be hell to pay.

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