Craig T. Steckler, Chief of Police, Fremont, California, Police Department
he International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) is truly a remarkable organization. For the past 119 years, the IACP has blazed a trail for professional law enforcement leaders around the globe. It has aided thousands of law enforcement executives throughout their careers and has helped to define the policing profession as well as to shape it into what it is today.
However, as the IACP begins its 120th year, it is clear that our association—and our profession—is at a critical juncture in its history. Policing in the 21st century presents challenges that were simply unimaginable just a short time ago. Agencies are being asked to provide levels of service that are simply unsustainable in our current economic climate. This does not appear to be a temporary situation but rather the “new normal.”
It is not just the lack of resources that is impacting our agencies, but the tasks we are being asked to accomplish. We are dealing with more diverse communities; have taken on the burden of domestic terrorism; are investigating sophisticated computer crimes and cyber attacks; are dealing with the impact of social media; are directed to conduct immigration enforcement in some parts of the United States; and, unbelievably, are having to combat a rising tide of drug legalization and abuse.
In short, we are dealing with a new reality—a reality that requires new ways of thinking and new ways of doing business.
It is no different for the IACP. Our members rightly expect—no, demand—that we become more efficient and responsive to their needs and concerns. They want us to more quickly anticipate emerging issues in policing and provide them with the necessary information, analysis, guidelines, and model policies much faster than we have done historically. It is our responsibility to meet these expectations and make sure that our members have the information they need to succeed.
Ensuring that this occurs requires commitment, vision, determination, and hard work.
Our vision is clear. The IACP has been and continues to be the premier law enforcement association in the world. We are committed to our vision of Serving the Leaders of Today, Developing the Leaders of Tomorrow.
Transforming this vision into reality will take hard work. It is up to all of us—the IACP Board of Officers, the Executive Committee, our Executive Director Bart Johnson, the IACP staff, and all IACP members—to ensure that the changes that need to be made actually occur.
Over the coming year, your association will be moving forward in a number of areas. New methods of outreach, enhanced membership communication, model policy responses, and membership recruitment will strengthen our organization and allow us to better serve our members. One of the first and most obvious changes our members will see is a revitalized website. This is long overdue, as our existing website is difficult to navigate. We have entered into a partnership with Microsoft to revise, update, and maintain our website at http://www.theiacp.org.
We also will be conducting a comprehensive review of the IACP Constitution and the IACP Rules and Regulations to ensure that they reflect the modern realities we face. We will remove existing bureaucratic roadblocks to become a lean and highly responsive association while balancing and protecting the IACP and its members.
I am confident that we will succeed, and I look forward to Philadelphia next year when we are able to report to you that we have made significant progress toward achieving our goals. I look forward to reporting that we have streamlined our operations, increased our efficiency, developed new private sector partnerships, grown our membership by 10 percent, and made good on our promise to efficiently provide our members with information and diligently analyze trends so that we all can better serve the communities we are sworn to protect.
Of course, the IACP will remain committed to its long-standing efforts to prevent violence against the police. No effort of the IACP is more important and no mission has more meaning to our membership.
Leading this effort will be the IACP’s newly created IACP Center for Officer Safety and Wellness. Building upon the work of the SACOP SafeShield Program, the center will work to protect law enforcement officers from the threats and the dangers inherent in policing. We will continue to foster a culture of safety and wellness within our profession that will allow law enforcement leaders to demonstrate that officer safety and wellness is the number one priority for all of us.
This center will not duplicate but will rather complement the work of others. Other organizations do fine work of honoring and supporting our profession, but much more attention needs to be given to looking at the prevention of violence and injury to law enforcement officers, and this is what this center will be designed to accomplish. The center also will continue to closely examine issues related to traffic and highway safety that pose dangers to our officers and the citizens they serve.
A critical part of this effort will be the IACP’s continuing research and study of officer suicide. According to statistics collected by the IACP as a result of Immediate Past President Walter A. McNeil’s initiative, approximately 150 officers commit suicide every year in the United States. This is a higher number than any other single violent act that leads to officer deaths. This appalling figure certainly increases when we count the number of suicides committed by officers in other countries. This is a tragedy that can be prevented, and these horrific numbers must be reduced.
The heartbreak of an officer suicide can be alleviated if we know what to look for and recognize that often, an officer will send signals—sometimes subtle and sometimes not so subtle—of distress. The IACP’s studies will help chiefs and command officers to identify when an officer is having difficulties and what they can do to help that officer. It is not acceptable to tell an officer to ignore mental health issues or that psychological challenges are simply part of the policing profession.
We will continue to work closely with the Psychological Services Section, the Police Physicians Section, and the Research Advisory Committee in continuing to conduct a thorough study of and research on this focus area. We also will seek assistance from other IACP committees and our international partners. Our executive director already has started this effort through contacts and interactions with the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. I am confident that these relationships will contribute to our efforts within the IACP.
There is another important initiative that we will accomplish this year. There is an urgent need for us, as a profession of police officers, to review and update our strategies for officer-involved shootings.
Fortunately the vast majority of officers will never fire their duty weapons in defense of themselves or the defense of others. The same is true for police organizations: Many will go years between an officer-involved shooting, if ever they have one. But if it should happen, we all need to be prepared.
Our members need guidelines and sample policies that do not conflict on how to handle the investigation. Our members should be given a menu of options, all of which lead to a complete, fair, and unbiased investigation. This is an expectation every chief has and is certainly the expectation of the communities we serve.
It also is critical that we be cognizant of the mental health of the officer involved in the shooting. If we don’t deal with the matter of mental health appropriately, we have the potential to needlessly lose an otherwise good officer. As a companion issue to an officer-involved shooting, we need to be cognizant that other department members are also affected—other officers at the scene as well as the often overlooked dispatchers. We must not overlook their mental health.
In order to accomplish this initiative, I have asked a number of IACP committees and sections to work together to develop a set of comprehensive guidelines to reconcile different opinions already issued by committees. At the end of the day, a chief should understand the dynamics of an officer-involved shooting and the options available to proceed.
Finally, we all are working with diminished resources. Every minute of an officer’s time must be dedicated to productive and proactive policing. We must take a critical and unbiased look at false burglar alarms and determine whether in the “new normal” this type of call is truly a prudent use of severely limited police resources.
According to studies, last year there were more than 38 million false burglary alarm calls to which police responded. In many agencies, alarm calls are the number one call for service and, statistically, these calls will often account for nearly 10 percent of all the calls for service the agency handles annually. Additionally, every study of this issue continually finds that 95 percent to 99 percent of all alarm activations are false.
The question we need to ask ourselves today is, in the 21st century policing world where we are consistently doing less with less, is this a wise use of scarce police resources? Is the only strategy for law enforcement to reduce the number of times they respond to a false alarm to continue to apply a 15-year-old failed strategy of fining the alarm owner?
Unfortunately, this troubling trend is likely to grow. According to alarm industry reports, more than one million new alarms are being installed each year.
From an officer safety standpoint, this is the type of call that can get an officer injured or killed. Officer safety and caution are often thrown to the wind after officers respond to literally hundreds of false alarms each year. Officers naturally become complacent, feeling that the call will be another false alarm.
So what is the answer? What options do police chiefs have today when it comes to dealing with millions of false alarm calls across the country?
It is my belief that there are multiple options available to every police leader. They range from “change nothing” and “business as usual” to refusing to respond to an alarm until it is independently verified by the alarm company. There also are many options in between.
I believe the IACP should provide its members with a list of choices and response models as well as the pros and cons of each. Additionally, our members should be made aware of how to implement each response model identified. It is our goal that by the end of my term, a well-researched white paper will be published by the IACP that will examine all of the identified best practices in an unbiased and straightforward way. The study also should include what historical impact there is on crime in general and burglaries in particular when a chief chooses a specific response model.
Recall that, as Albert Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
These are just a few of my goals for my term as your president. As you can see, they are bold, they are contemporary, and they are aggressive, but I believe they all are attainable.
But they cannot be accomplished without you.
It is imperative that we have your help and your support throughout the year. You, the IACP membership, are the ones we turn to for ideas and feedback. You are the ones who must become involved and lend your experience and expertise to our joint efforts to aid police leaders and enhance the law enforcement profession.
And it is only through your support and involvement that we will succeed in our vision of Serving the Leaders of Today, Developing the Leaders of Tomorrow.
Please cite as:
Craig T. Steckler, "The Year Ahead: Serving the Leaders of Today, Developing the Leaders of Tomorrow," President’s Message, The Police Chief 79 (November 2012): 6–7.