Vargas: Here are some of the major issues facing law enforcement in the New Year


As we mark the end of 2015 I wanted to share what I think are some of the major issues challenging law enforcement agencies in the New Year.

Police Use Of Force

The use of force and use of deadly force have been at the forefront over the past year and will remain so into the foreseeable future. As cases involving arrests of officers across the country begin to resolve themselves, public opinion will weigh heavily. In the most egregious cases, officers will be found guilty.

But prosecuting an officer is always difficult, as the first case in Baltimore will attest to. The result was a hung jury.

In cases involving the split-second decision making of officers, jurors historically have seemed reluctant to convict officers. Even the U.S. Supreme Court has stated the decisions of officers are not to be judged by “20/20 vision hindsight” or by “Monday-morning quarterbacking.”

Educating the public about police use of force will continue to be a priority. Citizen Academies and inviting journalists to go through shooting simulations are just two ways departments are being proactive. More departments need to make this type of outreach a priority.

Across the country, police agencies are examining their own procedures and training. This has included de-escalation and disengagement. But meeting public expectations for a politically correct way to apply force may be an impossible task.

Implementation of Body Cameras

Across the country, law enforcement agencies have rushed to implement the use of body cameras. Despite the economic and logistical challenges, departments are embracing the technology.

However, questions remain as to how much of what is being recorded should be available for public consumption. Public record laws in most states are inadequate to deal with today’s digital age, where personal privacy concerns can be superseded by the public’s insatiable desire for infotainment.

Some departments have been quick to release videos while others have been reticent — even in cases where video evidence would quickly put to rest public concerns.

Police agencies in most states are awaiting legislative guidance that so far has been slow in coming.

Adapting To Terror Within Our Borders

The Colorado Planned Parenthood and San Bernardino shootings have heightened our level of fear. Police departments’ response to shootings has been heroic and dynamic. Years of preparation responding to active shooters and potential terrorist acts have paid off in dividends.

The “See something, say something” initiative has been given new life and is being promoted by agencies across the country. Training the public how to respond to an active shooter is now part of many departments’ education efforts.

The greater challenge will be in attempting to instill a sense of safety and security with the public. Who doesn’t imagine “what if” as they go about their day-to-day lives? The number of telephoned threats and imagined threats police are responding to are reminiscent of post 9/11.

Law enforcement has to respect the fact the fear people are feeling is real. Calming that fear will be a challenge.

Perception of Racial Disparity

All the survey data shows there is a significant difference in the way police officers are perceived based upon race. Agencies have to be deliberate and strategic in reaching out and connecting with those communities that have a deeply instilled distrust of law enforcement.

Oftentimes these are the same communities where law enforcement is most needed.

Rooting out institutional racism or perceptions of it is critical. This involves departments being honest about what their “normal” is and making sure department culture is consistent with public expectations.

In the end, perception — right or wrong — is real in its consequences.

Police Officers Need To Be More Transparent In Their Humanity

Police agencies need to connect with their communities by facilitating accessibility and sharing their stories. This is not about communication, but connection.

Many agencies have implemented “Coffee with a Cop” and other neighborhood strategies where there is direct contact with the public and the officers who serve them.

Police departments are ever more present on social media platforms, sharing just how human they are.

It’s more important than ever that the public know behind every badge is the beating heart of a husband or wife, father or mother, or good neighbor.

Joe is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain. You can reach him at