Mark A. Marshall, Chief of Police, Smithfield Police Department, Smithfield, Virginia
ne of my top priorities as IACP president is the Policing in the 21st Century Initiative. My goal is to use the reach and the breadth of the IACP to bring together law enforcement leaders from state, local, and tribal departments; employ our collective wisdom to discuss the challenges we all are facing; and identify solutions. One issue that we all are facing is budget cuts coupled with increased demands that have left law enforcement struggling to protect public safety.
These deep cuts have left law enforcement executives struggling to protect their communities effectively, and many have been forced to revert to a reactive policing environment and abandon the great strides we have made in the community policing era. For the past decade, communities throughout the United States have enjoyed lower crime rates and an improved standard of living because of the investment they have made in the men and women of law enforcement.
In response to these widespread concerns, over the past several months, through the Division of State Associations of Chiefs of Police, the Division of State and Provincial Police, the Mid-Sized Cities Section, the Indian Country Law Enforcement Section, and the Executive Committee, the IACP has conducted surveys and
roundtables with more than 400 law enforcement leaders about the impact the new economy is having on the field.
A few key findings from the surveys: More than 55 percent of respondents said that the new economy presented a “serious” or “severe” problem to their agencies. More than half of respondents reported that they had to reduce their budgets in the prior year by 5 percent or more; a quarter had to reduce their budgets by more than 10 percent. These reductions, as many of you are well aware, are on top of the cuts that many agencies have had to endure over the past several years.
Most of those surveyed did not anticipate the reductions or the seriousness of the problem to end soon. More than 40 percent said the coming year presented a serious or severe problem to their agency, and more than one-third said they would have to further reduce their budgets by 10 percent or more in the coming year.
While we are being asked to reduce our budgets, many of you are also being asked to take on additional responsibilities. Seventy-seven percent of those surveyed reported that they were asked to increase their support of other agencies and asked to shoulder additional duties last year. They indicated that they were asked to take over criminal investigations and general patrol responsibilities, respond to 9-1-1 calls for service, and increase their crime lab support to augment the service demands that could not be met by other agencies.
Unfortunately, the very programs and policing philosophies that spearheaded this decline in crime are now under grave threat. The negative effect of reducing services to our communities cannot be overstated—the economic slowdown has forced state, local, and tribal governments to adopt massive cutbacks. And, most troubling, many communities that have faced the most severe cuts are also experiencing the most violence.
Given all of this, many of us believe we are witnessing a fundamental change in American law enforcement. Ninety-four percent of those we surveyed believed that we are seeing a “new reality” in American policing developing.
To address some of our members’ immediate concerns, the IACP has developed a set of comprehensive resources for law enforcement. Last month, in cooperation with SAS, the IACP hosted its first nationwide law enforcement webinar that allowed police chiefs throughout the country to meet and discuss the challenges they are facing and the solutions they have identified. We hope to hold more of these webinars. In addition, the IACP is developing an online resource to assist police chiefs as they strive to identify new solutions to meet the array of challenges confronting them. The web portal will include an e-library of resources addressing contemporary policing issues and challenges, as well as a technical assistance center.
In addition, there is another essential aspect to this initiative. As you will note, this month’s issue of Police Chief magazine is dedicated to officer safety. As we adjust to our new reality, we must remain ever vigilant that the staffing and funding decisions we make in this new economy always take officer safety into careful consideration.
I do believe we are on the right path, but I want to hear more from you. We have learned a lot over the past couple of months and are ahead of the curve in many ways, but we need to more fully understand what is going on in the field and we need to know the best ideas that you are practicing every day. Never has this been a more important undertaking. Our communities face many challenges and ever-evolving threats.
We must use the breadth of our membership—the expertise we have from all of the outstanding leaders from local, state, and tribal departments of all sizes—to develop and refine new thinking on these issues. And, we must use the reach of the IACP to disseminate the knowledge gained to advance and institutionalize these best practices. We are the largest membership organization of police chiefs in the world. Let’s not forget that we are the global leaders in policing. ■
Please cite as:
Mark A. Marshall, "A Fundamental Change and a Call to Action," President's Message, The Police Chief 78 (May 2011): 6.