In our conflict-resolution skills training, Insight Policing: Conflict Resolution for Law Enforcement, we start off with an activity called Love — Hope — Worry. We ask participants to come up with one thing they love about their work in law enforcement, one thing they hope for and one thing they worry about. This gets the conversation going and helps participants frame why adding conflict-resolution skills to their toolbelts is important to the job they do every day.
Naturally, themes emerge. They tend to shift slightly from year to year depending on what’s happening in the world and how it impacts the profession, but the core themes remain remarkably stable. In an analysis of 2021–2022 responses from roughly 250 officers from a variety of places and a variety of roles, including patrol, investigations, campus police and crisis response, among others, here is what we found.
By far, most officers in our sample report love the chance to interact with the community and help solve problems.
What officers love
It would be easy to assume that law enforcement officers are in it for the thrill of the job. As one participant put it, “I get to drive fast cars!” And certainly there is adrenaline on the front line. But by far, most officers in our sample report love the chance to interact with the community and help solve problems. “I love interacting with people.” “Getting out into the neighborhood and meeting new people along the way.” “Building community.” “Interacting with the community.” “Working with the community.” “Getting to know and interact with new individuals.” Law enforcement is a people profession. Being able to work with the community is one of the pieces that officers love most.
Connected to that, and something that comes up just as often, is the love of helping the community. Officers find meaning and reward in “making an impact.” “Helping others get through difficult times.” “Making a difference in people’s lives.” “Working with people who have barriers and helping them pursue change in their lives.” “Helping people do the right thing.” “Resolving complicated problems.” “Solving problems.” “Positively affecting lives of individuals at the most critical point.” “Helping people even if the contact wasn’t easy.” Officers overwhelmingly report that helping the community is what drives them.
We also heard that teamwork and comradery within the department motivates officers, as well as the diversity and challenge inherent in the work. No two calls are the same. That not only keeps the job interesting, but also lets officers use critical thinking and creativity on a regular basis to get the job done.
What officers hope for
Three themes top the list of officers’ hopes: improving relationships with the community, taking the opportunity to reflect and improve as a profession, and making sure the job is something that future generations want to step into.
Given how important it is to officers to connect with the community, it is not surprising that improving community–police relations is a strong hope. One participant noted that they hope to be “seen not just as an authority but as a member of community. I want people to know that I’m there to make things better.” Another officer hopes for a “better view from the community about how we do our jobs.” Others hope for “support from the public,” to “rebuild trust” and “get back to working with and partnering with the community.” They hope “that trust between the community and police gets stronger,” “that we’re able to reconnect with the community,” “bridge the gap between community and officers” and “leave people with a positive image of law enforcement.”
Part of this hope for improved relations hinges on a shift in organizational culture, where agencies “take responsibility,” “not shift blame when we’re wrong, but to stand up when we’re right,” and get to a “place where we can adapt and change so we can grow and meet the needs of the community.”
There is a realization that change comes with improved training and tactics, so officers will be better equipped to continue to serve and protect communities. There is hope for “more training” so that the work is “proactive rather than reactive,” that “we can value things like communication” and “make sure that we’re equipped with the skills we need.”
This vision extends to the next generation of officers coming up, so that “our younger officers can create bridges to meet the changes and the challenges,” that “police and community start listening better to one another” and “continue to grow and progress to provide the services that each community needs.”
What officers worry about
Worries are the flip side of hopes. We tend to worry that what we hope for won’t happen, and as a result we’ll have to face the consequences. Officers reported that they worry most that “things won’t change,” that “change doesn’t happen,” that “there will be a total disconnect between community and police,” that “we’ve lost trust with the community, and it will be very difficult to get it back.”
There is worry that recruitment will be hard and that young officers won’t want to join the profession. There is worry that there isn’t enough support and that resources are being cut. There is concern about “burnout,” because “too much is being asked of police officers.” “There is too much expectation for us to be perfect.” There is worry that “our profession is being ground down,” that “things are getting dumped on us,” that “we’re under a microscope. “There’s just so much judgment.”
And as a result, there is a worry of being less safe. “I worry about getting home safely,” “officer safety, “violent situations,” “danger,” “walking into the wrong situation that will get me hurt.”
While a widespread survey of officers across the country would illuminate this small sample and certainly give us more generalizable results, this peek into what officers love, hope and worry about tells us a few important things. First and foremost, the vast majority of officers are in it to help and be a part of the community. That is what they love. They worry that the gap between law enforcement and the community is growing and that the rift will get too big to repair. But they hope that, with effort and support, they can build trust and pave the way to a future where law enforcement and community can work together to achieve safety and security for everyone.