Policing the Future: Law Enforcement's New Challenges

By Stephens, Gene | The Futurist, March-April 2005 | Go to article overview

Policing the Future: Law Enforcement's New Challenges


Stephens, Gene, The Futurist


What role will the police play in the future: keepers of the peace, antiterrorism specialists, or community outreach agents? A noted criminal-justice futurist surveyed police experts to find out. They concluded that better-educated police officers with improved people skills and a stronger grasp on emerging technologies will be crucial to successful policing in the future.

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When public policing was first formally instituted in London in 1829, the emphasis was on preventing crime: The public and officers themselves regarded successful policing as the "absence of crime." The first U.S. police were also "peace officers"; however, a distinctly American style of policing began to emerge in the United States following the end of the Civil War. As settlers populated the West, they found there was no safety unless they provided it. This led to vigilante committees that would pass a set of town laws and often hire a "gunfighter" as town sheriff in hope of a modicum of protection. In time, the American system replaced preventing crime by keeping the peace with catching and punishing law violators, a "law enforcement" model that prevails and is emulated in many other countries to this day.

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Many credit the return to community-oriented policing for the downward trend in street crime that began in 1994. This approach has worked well where it has been implemented, especially when combined with modern research techniques, such as psychological profiling, and technologies, such as high-tech surveillance, to help anticipate and prevent crime.

The twenty-first century has put policing into a whole new milieu--one in which the causes of crime and disorder often lie outside the immediate community, demanding new and innovative approaches from police. Most ordinary street crime involves perpetrators and victims from the same or nearby communities; thus, prevention involves closely watching and analyzing activity in the immediate area and taking action to head off problems (leading to what some call "problem-solving policing"). As street crime has diminished, new and more insidious types of offenses, especially terrorism and Internet-assisted crimes, have replaced it. Here, offenders are often thousands of miles away while planning and even while committing these crimes. With a rudimentary mastery of modern technology, terrorists from anywhere in the world can bring chemical and biological mayhem to any place on earth. Hackers and crackers halfway around the globe can shut down a chosen community's Internet-dependent monetary or energy systems. Already, identity theft, often assisted by Internet scams, has become the most prevalent crime in the United States and other developed societies.

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Future policing in large part will depend on the type of society being policed--the social, economic, and political realities and, in more-developed countries, the technological sophistication of the populace. In countries such as Iraq, police are much like soldiers and will continue to use "combat policing" methods in some areas, while seeking to gain support and help from the public in more secured communities. In theocracies and dictatorships, policing likely will remain dedicated to protecting and serving the needs of those in power.

The Police Futurists International

If anyone in the policing profession has a handle on what lies ahead and how to cope, it is the members of the Society of Police Futurists International (PFI). Based on more than 30 years of experience researching, teaching, and training police, I believe that these indeed are the individuals on the cutting edge in policing.

"PFI brings together the finest minds in policing--practitioners and scholars--to focus on researching ways to better anticipate future issues through the use of scientific methods and application of high technology," says PFI founder William Tafoya. …

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