The Community Policing Dispatch’s Esteban Hernandez recently interviewed Debra McCullough and Deborah Spence of the COPS Office about the new book published by the COPS Office, American Policing in 2022: Essays on the Future of a Profession. For the book, they asked preeminent leaders in the field of policing to project 10 years into the future and submit essays on the world they envisioned. Debra and Deborah sat with Esteban to talk about the project, what they learned, and what they expected for the future of policing. To order your copy of American Policing in 2022, contact the COPS Office Response Center.
CP Dispatch – What were you looking for in these essays?
Debra – Inspiration...creativity. We looked for ideas from police practitioners with a variety of experiences and viewpoints that could give us a glimpse into what the future of policing might look like. What should we or could we prepare for? We suspected that some of the writers might have had ideas brewing for some time, but perhaps never had a forum in which to share them. We wanted to give them as much latitude as possible to write on any number of aspects of policing. We asked them to write about the future of policing and explicitly stated in our guidelines “There is no wrong answer.” Given that creative space, we surprisingly wound up with essays that seemed to pool into three themes, and those themes have become sections in the book.
Deborah – I think it is really interesting that we wound up with people who clearly spoke about staffing and leadership, people who clearly spoke about tools of the job—the way people do the job, and people who talked about the philosophy of policing, because we didn’t set them up for any of those things. We spent a lot of time creating guidelines to make it clear that we had very few guidelines.
CP Dispatch – What was the biggest surprise to you when you were compiling these essays?
Debra –The writers talked about people and leadership as being the most influential factors for the future of policing, rather than focusing on technology. They talked about technology, but talked about it as a tool, rather than panaceas. I think people who read this book are going to see a side of policing that we don’t get to see very often.
Deborah – It’s very optimistic—it would have been easier to see future problems, in light of current economic conditions. Generally, I think policing is a very reactive profession. What’s interesting about this is that we’re showing that police leadership does think with a long-term vision and a long-term strategy, even if they’re day-to-day responding to the thing that’s right in front of them. What’s very clear here is that these ideas have been knocking around in these people’s heads for years. They’re all too well thought out to be something that was thought about and written in just the couple of weeks they had.
CP Dispatch – So this may end up being more of a learning experience for the COPS Office?
Deborah – I think, in some ways, it validates the work that we do and what we try to share with the field. It helps make us feel good about what the COPS Office vision of policing is and where we’re trying to encourage agencies to go. These are well-respected leaders in the field who work for well-respected agencies, and they’re speaking about a common vision that we recognize and advocate. It helps let us know that we’re moving in the right direction.
Debra – Yes, it’s validating to know that the work supported by our office in the past, and for the upcoming year, is on track with the vision proposed by the essayists.
Deborah – If you could create a single department from the ideas in the book, I think it would be a department that you’d want to work in, and you’d want to live in the area that it policed. It would be incredibly citizen-focused in terms of outreach, engagement, and respect for the people it served. It would see its staff as customers as well as servers. It would be a place that valued individual ideas and skills and putting the right people in the right jobs. It would be the sort of environment that we’re trying to see in policing.
Debra – In fact, if you took each element of community policing, described in Community Policing Defined, it’s fascinating to see how each essay addresses problem-solving, partnerships, organizational transformation, or combinations of those elements.
CP Dispatch – What do you think American policing will look like in 2022?
Deborah – Since so many people mentioned challenges with crime statistics and the basic measures of good policing, I think by 2022 we’ll have moved beyond UCR and NIBRS to something that is much more inclusive and measures what police do on a daily basis, which is not just respond to major crime.
Debra – I think there will be a continued focus on professionalism, education and training, and developing relationships between the police and community. Policing is getting smarter, and that will be reflected in its operations.
CP Dispatch – When you observe something, you fundamentally change it. Did you hope this book would change the future of American policing?
Deborah – That absolutely was a goal. We really wanted to have a forward-thinking piece acknowledging that the field is going to change, so what might it look like? We wanted to have it be inspirational and also aspirational. We would like to see police leaders, city and county managers, and people who work in leadership outside of policing read this. We really wanted to put some ideas out there and hope that people will read this and think, “I want to try that.”
CP Dispatch – Any final words?
Deborah – I think we’re really proud of this project and hope that people will look at the book!
Debra – Yes, we’re happy with the way it has turned out. I’m excited to hear the reactions of the writers and readers when it’s released!