Column: Four challenges law enforcement will face in 2023


As we end 2022, police departments are experiencing a period of transition. After a tumultuous few years of negative public sentiment, people are taking a step back and coming to hard realization: 

We need the police.

Challenge No. 1: Dealing with the public’s growing fear of lawlessness

What is driving this? Just look at the evening news. Retail smash and grabs, package thefts, street take-overs, follow-home robberies, and gang shootings seem to be occurring at an ever more frightening rate.

Oftentimes the people committing these crimes should have been in custody.

Some will argue that crime is still lower than it was in the ’90s. That is true.

I was a cop in the late ’80s and ’90s on a street crime team. Criminal activity was overwhelming most every city in the country back then. Homicide rates reached an all-time high.

We don’t want to go back there and should be taking proactive steps to avoid it at all costs. For that, we will need the police and that brings us to a significant challenge for departments across the country: we need more cops.

Challenge No. 2: Recruitment

Recruitment has been dramatically impacted as departments seek to fill their depleted ranks. This is being driven by retirements and increased deployments of personnel.

You can’t discount the how the echoes of the last few years have impacted law enforcement as a career choice for young adults. Who wants to be a murderous, boot-jacketed thug?

Santa Ana Police Officer Kenneth Gray instructs possible future recruits on the next event during Santa Ana Police Department’s Practice Physical Agility Test at Centennial Park Training Center in Santa Ana.
File photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Police departments have responded by increasing their marketing through creative social media posts, expanding recruitment teams, and offering incentives such as signing bonuses.

Despite this, the number of applications they are receiving is down, the quality of some of the candidates is questionable, and everyone is fishing in the same pond competing for the same candidates.

Challenge No. 3: Issues related to homelessness

Departments have stepped up their response to homelessness, creating homeless outreach teams, community partnerships, and more in an attempt to find a solution. 

Progress has been slow, expensive, and the problem may, in fact, be getting worse. It’s not just a quality-of-life issue but a real danger to public safety that is concerning.

Milena Andreani of the Orange County Health Care Agency and Tustin Police Officer Val Villarreal talk to a homeless man on a bus bench.
File photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Violent crimes committed by mentally ill homeless people are often in the news. In Southern California alone, a father and daughter went shopping and were stabbed to death, a woman walking along the sidewalk was stabbed in the head with shears for no discernible reason, and in a vicious attack a 9-year-old with his mother was attacked by a homeless person and was critically injured. These unprovoked random attacks are happening with some frequency.

The number one issue is dealing with those who are mentally ill. This is a community problem and will require proactive holistic approaches. There are, however, limitations. You can’t make a person seek help. Aggressive attempts to treat the mentally ill in the state of New York have been met with backlash by civil rights activists. California may be the next state to allow more latitude for hospitalizing some of the more severely mentally ill in our population.

Just look at the number of mentally ill homeless people sleeping in doorways, ranting in intersections, and generally living a barely functional quality of life. The humane thing to do is to provide treatment, even if they don’t want it. This also makes our neighborhoods and communities safer.

Challenge No. 4: Community trust

Every survey has shown the large majority of Americans have confidence in and trust the police. But that isn’t true for every neighborhood. Police departments across the country have taken steps to increase transparency and listen to the concerns of their stakeholders. Implementation of body cameras and changes in policies and procedures have occurred at the majority departments in the last few years. These have been positive steps forward.  

Oftentimes, the communities that desperately need a law enforcement presence due to crime and disorder are also the ones that have deep concerns about how the police are doing their jobs. 

These are just some of the major issues that law enforcement will be tackling in 2023.