November 20, 2021

Coming PERF Attractions and Interesting News Items


Dear PERF member,

As we look forward to Thanksgiving, I’m thankful that life seems to be returning to normal in many ways, and it looks like the COVID pandemic will continue to recede in our rear-view mirror in 2022.

At PERF, one sign of progress is that we’re wrapping up a lot of projects. Over the coming months, we’ll be releasing a series of final reports, including the following:

Survey of police chiefs about their jobs and salaries:  One PERF report that I know will generate a lot of interest is a survey we recently conducted of PERF police chiefs about their jobs. The survey, a follow-up to similar surveys we conducted in 2006 and 2014, includes data on how long PERF chief executives have served as head of their agency, their salary, retirement plans and other benefits, their previous experience, their hiring process, their education and training, their retirement plans, and other issues. We received 347 responses to our survey and are analyzing the results, which will be presented in a new PERF report.

New approaches to managing demonstrations and protests:  We’re also finalizing a report about the thousands of demonstrations that took place last year. These protests were unprecedented in number, in size, and in the challenges they posed to police agencies. Our report is based in part on more than two dozen after-action studies that police departments and other organizations conducted, detailing what went wrong, what went right, and new ways of thinking about protests.

PERF has already issued several major reports on demonstrations in recent years, but this report will break new ground, especially on how police should involve community leaders in the police response to demonstrations, both as a general matter and during protests.

Re-engineering police recruit training:  While most aspects of policing have changed dramatically in recent decades, one major element hasn’t evolved as much: how new recruits are trained. A PERF study is exploring the current state of police recruit training in the United States. We’ll present guiding principles on how to re-engineer recruit training in five critical areas:  police academy organization, operation, and philosophy; the recruit training curriculum; academy leadership and instructors; technology and the physical facility where training is conducted; and integration of academy training and field training.

This research is guided by a 2020 survey of more than 400 PERF members.

Women in police leadership:  Women represent only about 13% of all police officers in the United States, and an even lower percentage among leadership positions. PERF is examining the barriers and opportunities that women face in policing, both as officers and as professional staff members. To understand women’s experiences throughout their careers in law enforcement, especially regarding promotions and leadership positions, we surveyed 664 female leaders, both active and retired, and we conducted focus groups and interviews with several women police leaders.

Our report will present the results of the survey and recommendations on how agencies can support the development of women leaders through changes to hiring and promotional processes, training and career development, and internal “police culture” reforms.

Facial recognition technology:  One of the most promising – and challenging – innovations to emerge in policing is facial recognition technology, or FRT.

FRT is promising because it can provide detectives with leads in homicide cases and other investigations that otherwise may have no leads, no suspects, and no known motives.

It’s challenging because FRT must be used carefully, with clear protocols to ensure that it doesn’t result in false arrests or prosecutions, and that it doesn’t trample on people’s reasonable expectations of privacy. There also have been legitimate issues raised about racial bias that must be addressed. Without public support, FRT could be taken away from law enforcement agencies.  Some cities and states are already banning or restricting it.

PERF’s forthcoming report provides clear, specific guidance that will help police create FRT programs that can withstand public scrutiny, while providing leads to help solve cases. FRT also is useful in non-criminal situations, such as identifying unknown persons with dementia or other conditions who have wandered from their homes.

What we learned from the pandemic: The COVID-19 pandemic has been disrupting most aspects of police work for almost two years. PERF responded to the crisis by producing 250 Daily Reports about COVID and other issues, in which we talked to police chiefs and other experts about the challenges and what they were doing.

A forthcoming PERF report summarizes how police agencies changed their internal operations to protect officers and the public, how the pandemic changed the response to many calls for service, new initiatives that police launched to protect vulnerable populations, how police officer safety and wellness programs were modified to address pandemic-related issues, and how COVID impacted crime rates.

FirstNet in the field: It doesn’t seem that long ago, but way back in 2010, PERF held a conference in which police chiefs told Federal Communications Commission officials that the “D Block” of radio spectrum needed to be allocated to public safety agencies, to ensure that police, fire, and EMS workers’ cell phones and other devices would work during emergencies. Politically it was an uphill fight, but fortunately, the battle shifted in favor of the first responders, and the result is that today, we have FirstNet – the nationwide public safety broadband network that rolled out in 2018.

PERF has been studying FirstNet implementation since then, and we will soon release a report that answers questions such as these: How is FirstNet working today? How does it support first responders during both everyday operations and emergencies like hurricanes or forest fires? What have been the experiences of public safety agencies that have adopted FirstNet, and how can agencies determine whether FirstNet is an appropriate solution for them?

PERF is also working on reports about other issues, such as police K-9 programs,  “co-response” models in which police officers share responsibility with mental health care providers for responding to calls that involve mental illness or other conditions, and other matters.

Other issues in the news….

Here are a few other interesting policing matters that caught our attention this past week: 

When should officers be allowed to review body-worn camera footage?

This issue of whether officers should be allowed to review body-worn camera footage after critical incidents came up again this week in Portland, Oregon. The Oregonian reported that lawyers from the U.S. Department of Justice sent the city and Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell a letter with their recommended body-worn camera policy. A particular sticking point is whether officers should be allowed to review video footage before they make a statement about a critical incident, with the DOJ recommending that officers be required to complete reports and interviews associated with the incident before being allowed to view the footage.

This was one of the more challenging issues when PERF wrote our 2014 guide to implementing a body-worn camera program. After much deliberation, we recommended that officers be allowed to review footage prior to making statements. Our reasoning was that reviewing footage will lead to a more accurate documentation of events. When you think of it, if we are going to ask police officers to wear a BWC all day, and they are involved in an incident that is captured by the camera, it only seems fair to let them review the recording to get the facts correct when they write their report. It can be difficult to have perfect recall of what happened when, during a fast-changing, high-stress incident that may have had many moving parts. 

Sabbaticals for police officers?

The Providence, Rhode Island news site Go Local Prov made an interesting proposal in an editorial this week. Highlighting the stresses of police work, including the frequent exposure to “pain, suffering, and violence,” Go Local Prov suggests that officers should be offered a periodic sabbatical to recharge and gain a new perspective on their community. Specifically, they propose that “after five years of service and then every ten years thereafter, officers would be offered the opportunity to take a three-month sabbatical to work at a community-based not-for-profit.”

You might think that concept sounds great in theory, but wouldn’t be practical due to staffing and funding constraints. I understand that obstacle, but I think we need creative new ideas like this one to address officer burnout and improve retention. A department might be losing an officer for three months, but how much would they gain from having a more engaged officer, more committed to the profession?  And wouldn’t this be a great way to advance community policing?

New study about police shootings

Researchers Justin Nix and John Shjarback published a new study of fatal and nonfatal police shootings in the journal PLOS One last week. They gathered data on fatal and nonfatal injurious police shootings in four states that make detailed data on these incidents available – California, Colorado, Florida, and Texas. They found that 45% of police shooting victims did not die, and victims who were Black, younger, or unarmed were less likely to die.

Nix and Shjarback included a call for more states to collect the type of comprehensive data that allowed them to conduct this study. “Researchers, policy makers, and law enforcement professionals desperately need more comprehensive data on police shootings,” they wrote. “Rather than waiting on the federal government for such a system, which for decades criminologists have been clamoring for, more states should launch systems like those currently being used in Colorado, Texas, and California, each of which provide a more accurate count of deadly force incidents in their jurisdictions than older, federally operated systems ever did.”

Use of “ghost guns” on the rise

This week the New York Times published an extensive article about “ghost guns,” or firearms without serial numbers that are built from parts bought online. These weapons have been turning up at more and more crime scenes, particularly on the West Coast. Law enforcement officials from Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and Oakland told the Times that 25-50% of the guns recovered at crime scenes over the past 18 months were ghost guns. The San Diego Police Department had recovered nearly 400 ghost guns by the beginning of October, which was more than double the total recovered in all of 2020.

I fear that the rest of the country will soon see similar rates of criminals using ghost guns. Law enforcement needs the key components of ghost guns to be classified and regulated as firearms, lest offenders across the country see ghost guns as the easiest way to arm themselves.

Annual drug deaths top 100,000

The CDC announced this week that there were more than 100,000 drug overdose deaths in the 12-month period from May 2020–April 2021. Synthetic opioids, which are primarily fentanyl, made up 64% of those overdose deaths.

This Washington Post graphic shows how fentanyl has driven the increase in drug overdose deaths since 2015:

Source: Washington Post

And the Post compared the United States’ drug overdose death rate to the E.U., Turkey, and Norway:

Source: Washington Post

As you can see, this is unfortunately an area where the U.S. stands out.

This issue goes far beyond law enforcement, but police have a role in addressing it. PERF has discussed the police response to the opioid crisis at length in the reports below, and we will continue our work on the issue.

Best Thanksgiving wishes to you, your family, and the members of your agency.