Law enforcement leaders from around the country recently gathered to discuss major public safety issues facing cities, including violent crime, workforce shortages, COVID-19 and the lack of prosecution of criminals by district attorneys.
The diverse group of police chiefs met at this year’s annual conference hosted by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) and the Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCCA) in San Francisco to discuss problems and solutions, particularly in the wake of the mass shootings in Uvalde, Buffalo and Tulsa.
Baltimore Police Commissioner and PERF President Michael Harrison said that the pandemic has led to major changes in the law enforcement industry and new perspectives about policing going forward.
“I think over the two days … we went through a myriad of issues that we’ve all seen through COVID before. [C]oming out of COVID has affected how people look at our profession from the outside, how we as officers look at ourselves on the inside, and how we perform and deliver police services and what we’re up against — the obstacles that are in front of us,” Harrison told Fox News Digital.
In cities with increasing homicide rates, leaders look to officer morale and community trust as the key building blocks for public safety.
Louisville Police Chief Erika Shields said that her department has implemented several key reforms following the death of Breonna Taylor intended to enhance community trust and protect the mental and bodily health of its officers.
Shields said it is important to offer internal support programs to officers in communities shaken by distrust toward police and high violent crime. By offering PTSD and mental health care, as well as greater support and praise for officers, she is hopeful her agency will be more effective at combating violent crime.
Another element to stopping violent crime is building community trust and increasing cooperation between officers and the public. All of these strategies should boost officer morale and performance.
“Morale is something every police leader should be working on because … performance is always what we’re concerned about, and morale sometimes correlates to performance,” Harrison said.
Nashville Police Chief John Drake and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Johnny Jenkins also gave their perspective on the rise of violent crime, and said that they decided to restructure their departments to handle the crime wave.
The chiefs said that their new strategy included diverting officers responding to property crimes to focus instead on violent crimes in an effort to reduce shootings in their respective cities.
Law enforcement leaders also expressed another issue facing major cities — the unwillingness or inability of prosecutors to charge criminals following changes in judicial policy.
Chiefs from New York City, Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Milwaukee, Orlando and Philadelphia all shared concern that their court systems are failing the public by letting criminals off the hook.
Philadelphia Police Chief Danielle Outlaw said that cooperation between police and district attorneys is key to effective law enforcement. To maintain a good working relationship with prosecutors, her department meets weekly with District Attorney Larry Krasner’s office.
While police try to be politically neutral, the chiefs said that politics often gets in the way of their ability to enforce the law, citing the social justice agenda that their elected leaders adhere to.
The result is that officers have to deal with the dangerous consequences of more criminals on the streets.
Police chiefs at the conference said that certain policies in particular — such as eliminating cash bail and not prosecuting misdemeanors — have emboldened criminals and made them more confrontational toward police officers.
As proof of an ineffective criminal justice system, NYPD Chief Kenneth Corey noted the shocking statistic that 78% of individuals arrested in nonfatal shootings are walking free in New York City.
Harrison said that with better communication between prosecutors and police leaders, more effective solutions for enforcing laws can be reached.
“[W]hat we found that everybody’s dealing with the same issues at the same time, and if we put our minds together, we can help each other find solutions to those problems,” Harrison said. “And I think this is how we all come together to lean on each other and draw from each other’s expertise, each other’s experiences.”
Finally, police departments across the country are still hampered by staffing shortages — a problem that chiefs want to address with more funding for recruitment, retention and boosting public transparency.
“Everybody is sort of dealing with the same issue, and so there’s no one solution to it, but meetings like this make us come together to work to improve the profession so that people would want to join and people will want to come and make a difference, whether it’s in my town or in any other part of the country,” Harrison added.