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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
On May 25, 2022, President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., signed the Executive Order (EO) on Advancing Effective, Accountable Policing and Criminal Justice Practices to Enhance Public Trust and Public Safety. The EO mandates measures for all federal law enforcement agencies and requires the use of federal tools such as guidance on best practices, training and technical assistance, and grant-making to support reforms at state, tribal, and local law enforcement agencies that will strengthen public trust and improve public safety across the nation.
Since early 2021, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has been developing, consolidating, and enhancing resources with a laser focus on supporting Constitutional policing and public safety. Every day, hundreds of thousands of law enforcement officers report to duty, responsible for conscientiously protecting the public and their communities. They work to sustain a just equilibrium of accountable crime reduction outcomes. The resources will serve to inform the reforms outlined in the EO and assist local law enforcement as they take steps to implement best practices.
In April 2022, Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta announced a tremendous resource from the DOJ for law enforcement officers: the National Law Enforcement Knowledge Lab. Serving and protecting—doing both effectively, at the same time—has never been harder. Because American law enforcement is primarily the responsibility of local and state governments, it is highly decentralized. We have more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies—each of which establishes its own rules and procedures—and almost 700,000 law enforcement officers, each of whom translates these rules into practice every day. Most, if not all, of these organizations are being called on to address common issues that are exceptionally complex and national in scope. Many agencies are relatively small and have limited resources. So, it’s not surprising that they turn to the DOJ and ask, “Where is the playbook that tells us what works and what doesn’t work? How can we learn from and build on others’ experiences?”
The somewhat surprising answer: There is no playbook. The National Law Enforcement Knowledge Lab aims to fill that void.
With the Knowledge Lab, the DOJ answers that call. The Knowledge Lab is a first-of-its-kind resource that will give law enforcement agencies around the country access to the information, expertise, and tools they need to get this right. The goal is ambitious but straightforward: to identify and define the best practices in 21st century policing and make them available to anyone, anywhere, at no cost. The Knowledge Lab will serve as DOJ’s one-stop shop for trusted guidance, modern policy, and best practices for fair and impartial policing.
The need for this resource could not be more clear. With distressing regularity in recent years, daily interactions between police officers and the public have gone tragically wrong, and a litany of much-too-familiar names—George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner—has entered our national consciousness. The result has been a crisis of confidence, not only in the way many communities view the police, but also in the way many police officers view their role in their communities.
The Knowledge Lab will make available principles and procedures that law enforcement experts refer to collectively as “Constitutional policing.” It will focus not on theory but on practice, providing guidance on the safest and most effective ways to conduct many of the common exchanges between police officers and the public. Eventually, the Knowledge Lab will offer training and technical assistance that adapts this base of information to the needs of individual agencies. And its services will be free.
The Knowledge Lab holds the promise of providing critical tools and technical assistance to help law enforcement and the communities they serve work within these core, universal American principles.
The Knowledge Lab will draw upon the DOJ’s collaborative, collective expertise and commitment to fair and just policing. The National Law Enforcement Knowledge Lab will do the following:
The Knowledge Lab will serve as a highly visible and trusted national resource for law enforcement agencies, communities, and researchers to improve public safety through effective crime reduction strategies, robust constitutional policing, and stronger community relationships.
One of the Knowledge Lab’s first priorities will be sharing lessons that were learned through “pattern or practice” investigations into local law enforcement agencies around the country. The DOJ steps in when evidence shows that organizations have developed a pattern of improper or illegal conduct. These investigations often end with legally binding consent decrees, in which the agency agrees to make sweeping and detailed changes to its operations. As you can imagine, these investigations can be highly contentious and adversarial. But some have transformed deeply troubled organizations into national models. One example is the New Orleans Police Department, which was overhauled in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Another is the Los Angeles Police Department, which made widespread changes after its infamous “Rampart” scandal in the 1990s.
The lessons these departments learned are profound, and the reforms they instituted are carefully documented. But until now, there has been no formal mechanism for sharing them. The Knowledge Lab will allow law enforcement agencies to learn from and avoid mistakes that other agencies have already made. And it enables the DOJ to be proactive, pointing out successful processes and initiatives, rather than reactively intervening only in the most difficult situations.
Most important, the Knowledge Lab will enable law enforcement agencies to build on a foundation supported by evidence and experience. Experience has taught us, and evidence shows, that unbiased policing invites respect for the law, and neighborhoods are safer when law enforcement discharges its duties fairly and honors the rights and dignity of every person.
1. "The Law Enforcement Knowledge Lab," National Policing Institute, accessed June 21, 2022, "https://leknowledgelab.org/about/".
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