The Future of Policing

The Future of Policing

October 14th, 2016 | Posted in Art & Society

As the summer of 2016 drew to a close, I was working with Scout, on the issue of the future of policing. We have recently been though a searing chapter in the story of the relationship between American citizens and American police officers.

In our new communications age, ubiquitous video from fixed cameras, police cameras and citizen phones illustrated the ongoing story and brought it home so that we could not look away.

The Scout writers, given their focus on technology, take an excellent look at the upside and downside possibilities of several future policing technologies and strategies using them. Read about the pros and cons here, of techs like surveillance, predictive policing, artificial intelligence, and robotics. To the Scout list I might add, interestingly, driverless cars. If you consider how many recent police shootings in the news began with a traffic stop that escalates to violence, you have to wonder if reducing the number of such stops would help. As shared vehicle programs like Uber and Lyft continue to proliferate and are, perhaps, soon joined by autonomous vehicles at least in certain areas, one can imagine a future where police are basically no longer involved in traffic enforcement. Driverless vehicles will obey the law – they will not speed or blow through red lights. Camera and sensor enforcement systems can do the rest of watching the traffic. Police could be relieved of the fear of walking up to a car to confront a speeder, because they would not longer be on the road. Not to mention that driving drunk will be a thing of the past. This is actually potentially quite a huge development.

My contribution to the Scout piece was a conversation I had with Sohail Inayatullah, a long time futurist friend from Australia but really from planet Earth as he has become a leading global futurist. It happens that Sohail has worked quite often with police agencies in several countries and thus has learned a great deal about police culture. You can read at Scout his take on the future of policing, (as captured in our simple email conversation I hasten to add, thus it is not his whole perspective by any means). But I will also quote in full the Scout piece here…

A Vision of Community Policing
By Glen Hiemstra
There are few people in the world with both an accurate temperature of global police culture and the distance and independence to critique it. Dr. Sohail Inayatullah is one of them. A Pakistani-born Australian futurist, Inayatullah works with police departments around the globe to revolutionize outdated cultural narratives in policing and apply technology smartly.

I asked Inayatullah via email about his experiences with current police culture, his vision of the future of policing, and what needs to change to make that happen.

According to Dr. Inayatullah, there are several factors that keep problematic police culture relatively stagnant — a strong tendency toward fear and reactivity, the insularity of police, and the expectation that local police departments discipline themselves.

“Having worked for the last ten years with hundreds of policing executives, I no longer accept the ‘bad apple’ hypothesis,” he writes. “Instead, most officers know who are the ones who have real issues.”

“However, the ‘blue brotherhood’ ensures that, instead of being weeded out, they grow. It is not just one, but a supportive group. And their chief would know them.”

Therefore, Inayatullah says, “Even as strategies are created, culture eats them for breakfast.”

That stagnancy, Inayatullah says, is acting not just against the interests of the citizens that police are meant to protect, but against the future of police themselves.

“As the march of the right continues, a national police commissioner told me that his biggest fear was that his force had many Neo-nazi sympathizers,” Inayatullah recounts. “If legitimacy and public trust is lost, then private policing will take over.”

The key to turning things around, he says, is to foster a feeling of safety, both for police and the community. “Police need to find better ways to feel protected and safe, beyond the blue brotherhood.”

Here are Inayatullah’s recommendations for creating a new future for police culture.

1. Radical Community Leadership. Creating a new policing culture, Inayatullah believes, will require a radical new community policing narrative — a narrative that flips the script from that ‘thin blue line’ of separation to actively creating and maintaining community cohesiveness.

Inayatullah would like to see officers trained to act as radical leaders in their community — an idea he compares to conducting an orchestra. In this model, police would go well beyond what we have traditionally called community policing to “lead the way in the move towards prevention – upstream innovations. They [would] work with other co-producers of safety (teachers, community centers, etc.) to improve the community.”

2. National Police Oversight. Local police, he believes, need national oversight to create accountability for bad behavior within their own ranks. “Local police are unable to police themselves,” he writes. “Holland has recently done this.” (In the U.S. we count on the Justice Department to investigate abuses, and they actually do a decent job of this oversight, at least in recent years, but are infrequently called on to do such oversight.)

3. Diversity. Creating increased trust in police forces and cultural change from within will require, as Inayatullah puts it, “diversity, diversity, diversity and a strong HR director.” “Police must be better than their communities,” he writes. “More diverse, more progressive.”

4. Better Ways to Deal With Fear. Inayatullah recommends regular meditation courses that would help police unwind from fear and panic-based responses. “Police need to have training in meditation and mindfulness, to be able to take that deep breath,” he writes.

In addition to his own recommendations about what should change within departments, Inayatullah [has] been given a front seat into officers’ own desire for change. He has spoken with them about their futures and what they’d like to see emerge from within their own ranks.

“What comes out clearly,” he writes, “is policing that is about strategies that use new technologies; policing that continues to rapidly globalize, just as organized crime and terrorist groups are doing; and policing that is deeply ethical.”

“Their purpose is consistent,” Inayatullah said. “‘I wanted to make a difference, to be like Superman — not enter Alice in Wonderland.’”

A Layer Down: History and Culture

Scout does not in their piece directly delve into the historic and cultural roots that have led to issues with the future of policing, as I did briefly in an earlier post here at Futurist.com.

Ultimately the future of policing may come down to changing the story, changing the internal narrative.

The narrative Sohail recommends as an alternative to the “thin blue line” he calls “the conductor.” In this story or narrative, police would go well beyond what we have called “community policing” for decades, and they would go beyond adapting to a changing world. Police in our communities would “lead the way in the move towards prevention – upstream innovations. They work with other co-producers of safety (teachers, community centers, etc.) to improve the community. Instead of the “thin blue line” police have become “the conductor of the band.”

A couple of weeks ago I was in Arlington Texas, a large city west of Dallas, and with an “entertainment district” that is home to the Dallas Cowboys, Texas Rangers, and the original Six Flags amusement park. I learned that the Arlington Police have a special force and program that proactively works with the entertainment district stakeholders to plan carefully for each major event, and for the safety of the district as a whole. That is, prior to any problems, they sit down with stakeholders, plan for potential problems, and devise programming to prevent such problems. This, it seemed to me is the kind of orchestrating that Sohail was referring to.

[Scout is a new publication focusing on deeper dives into future issues and I am one of their informal advisors.]

About Glen Hiemstra

Glen Hiemstra is the founder and owner of Futurist.com. An internationally respected expert on future trends, long-range planning and creating the preferred future, Glen has advised professional, business, and governmental organizations for two decades.