With IACP 2016 less than a week away, we reflect on some of the last 12 months and some of the key themes running through this year’s IACP Conference.
The last twelve months have been a torrid time for many in the world of public safety – on both sides of the Atlantic. Terrorist attacks in France and Belgium have taken innocent lives and caused those responding and witnessing the incidents to be exposed to enormous trauma. These threats are compounded by determined attacks on police. French, Belgian and German police are routinely subject to serious terror-related attack, just three of many examples from the last 12 months: ‘French police officer and wife stabbed to death, ‘Two Belgian police targeted in suspected terror attack’, ‘German police officer stabbed by IS teen’.
Meanwhile, the United States has also been subject to terrorist attack. The largest, with 49 lives lost at the Orlando nightclub and 14 killed in the San Bernadino shooting, are themselves set against a number of other attacks or suspected attacks. At the same time, the murderous ambush of police officers took five lives in Dallas and three in Baton Rouge, and left many more injured.
Of course, these events are all in addition to the daily challenges of providing public safety. Whether it is policing a protest or violent disorder, dealing with the latest homicide or gang shooting, car wreck, cybercrime, people trafficking or – no less importantly – engaging in essential community policing and patrol, the range of tasks with which police and law enforcement agencies are charged has never been broader.
In the words of retiring Dallas Police Department Chief David Brown at a press conference in July 2016:
We’re asking cops to do too much in this country. Every societal failure we put it on cops to solve. Not enough mental health funding, let the cops handle it. Not enough drug addiction funding, let’s give it to the cops… Schools fail, give it to the cops. 70% of the Afro-American community is being raised by single women. Let’s give it to the cops to solve as well. That’s too much to ask.
Perhaps, more succinctly, it chimes with the Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke’s observation in the wake of unrest:
We keep focussing on the police … Stop trying to fix the police, fix the ghetto [and] the urban pathologies that need to be addressed.
Meanwhile, the presence of an internet-connected social media-enabled video camera in the pocket of almost every citizen has fundamentally unsettled the equilibrium of trust between the police and the public they serve. Whether it’s a video of a spit guard being used in a busy London train station or of an officer drawing or using their firearm, the content of any such video can now be broadcast, without all the facts, to millions in just a few seconds.
Coupled with intense political interest, the climate in which many police officers find themselves operating has come to feel increasingly hostile. When you place all of these burdens upon the shoulders of police officers, the job – already, at times, herculean – can become unmanageable. It is, therefore, heartening to see so much of the IACP Conference tracks dedicated to the issue of officer wellness. In particular, it is reassuring to see discussion of the realities of providing critical incident stress management in the aftermath of a terrorist attack and to see Thomas Coghlan (NYPD), John Petrullo (POPPA) and Frank Dowling (POPPA) sharing their model of peer support for active and retired officers of the NYPD.
Whether or not you fully subscribe to Heather Mac Donald’s description of a ‘War on Cops’, it is a reality that police officers – like other public safety professionals, such as firefighters, paramedics, probation officers and prison officers – are all exposed to risks and traumas that can leave individuals or even entire agencies feeling under attack. It’s not just frontline professionals who can feel under attack – leaders too are having to learn to tackle crises in a new environment.
The session entitled ‘Addressing Crises in the Current Environment’ featuring Chiefs Edward A. Flynn (Milwaukee PD), Kathleen O’Toole (Seattle PD) and Bill Bratton (ex-NYPD) is almost certainly one that will be on everyone’s “must attend” list.
Looking to the future, agencies that fail to grasp the new reality and fail to put in place measures to help ensure their own well-being and that of their officers and staff will find they don’t just fail themselves, but the public too. The IACP Conference agenda speaks to a growing recognition of the need to have measures in place. It’s a message we will be reinforcing on our return to the UK.
The Conference also features a number of sessions relating to the impact of controlled drugs on communities (from marijuana through to heroin and fentanyl), building community understanding and tackling violent extremism and radicalisation – to name just a few of the issues covered.
What becomes clear, looking through the IACP 2016 programme is that no element of policing stands alone, independent of any other. Leadership styles impact upon culture and decision-making, culture and decision-making impact upon officer safety and use-of-force, use-of-force impacts upon public perception and public perception impacts upon leadership. Of course, the reality today is that even this is a gross over-simplification of the interconnectedness of issues facing today’s and tomorrow’s leaders in public safety across the globe.
Fortunately, looking forward to the IACP 2016 Conference seems also to somehow loosen the gordian knots we face. It’s a rare and very special thing for so many leaders, practitioners and interested parties – all facing such complex challenges – to assemble in one place, to learn and share, over several days. The Greek historian Herodotus of Halicarnassus might suggest:
if all mankind were to take their troubles to market with the idea of exchanging them, anyone seeing what his neighbour’s troubles were like would be glad to go home with his own
While many police leaders may feel the same by the end of IACP 2016, one can’t help but feel they’ll also be taking home with them a carry-on packed full of new connections, understanding and insight to help them and their agencies face the challenges ahead.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police 123rd Annual Conference and Exposition is being held in San Diego, California, from Saturday 15th October 2016 through to Tuesday 18th October 2016 at San Diego’s Convention Center. Use our simple form to connect with us at IACP 2016. Photo of San Diego’s skyline courtesy PesaP (CC).