December 31, 2022

Issues to watch in 2023


PERF members,

On the last day of 2022, I want to look ahead to 2023. Here are a few questions I have as we enter the new year.

Is the gun violence wave beginning to recede?

According to the FBI, the number of murders increased nearly 30% from 2019 to 2020, then another 4% from 2020 to 2021. And the New York Times Magazine recently published a piece about gun deaths among children under 18, which have been increasing since 2014. In 2020, gun violence passed motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of death for children. Nearly two-thirds of those deaths were homicides, and almost 30% were suicides.

Fortunately, there is some good news. It will be some time before we have national crime data for 2022, but initial reports suggest that there was a drop in murders. Using the most recent available data from more than 90 cities, crime analyst Jeff Asher found that in 2022, murders in those cities appear to have decreased by about 5%. Similarly, the Major Cities Chiefs Association found that murders had decreased more than 4% in its 70 U.S. member agencies through the first nine months of the year. 

We still have a long way to go before gun violence gets back where it was in 2019, and many cities are seeing unfathomable levels of violence. Philadelphia recently passed 500 homicides this year, which is lower than the 562 homicides that occurred in the city in 2021, but well above the 356 homicides in 2019. And as of a week ago, Chicago had reached 687 murders this year. That was 14% below where they were in 2021, but still 39% above where they were in 2019.

Available information suggests we took a step in the right direction in 2022. In 2023, I’ll be looking to see if we continue down that path.

Can we reduce drug overdose deaths?

As I wrote two weeks ago, drug overdose deaths have spiked in the United States since 2019, and fentanyl is the primary cause. DEA Administrator Anne Milgram recently announced that her agency seized enough doses of fentanyl in 2022 to kill every American. I don’t think this development has received the attention it deserves, and I encourage you all to demonstrate your leadership here – raise  this topic and encourage local political leaders and members of your community to support programs that can make progress in this ongoing struggle. There are a number of evidence-based strategies that save lives (such as harm reduction programs that reduce the risks of opioid use becoming fatal) and then help people dealing with substance use issues in the long term (such as diversion or deflection programs to connect people to services).

And I hope the federal government will focus on this issue and chart a new course, because we need to do better. It won’t be easy to turn this trend around, but I think it’ll be a key issue to watch in 2023.

Will the recruiting and retention situation improve?

Over the past three years, agencies nationwide have struggled to recruit the next generation of officers and retain those currently serving. A PERF survey of workforce trends conducted earlier this year found that between 2019 and 2021, the number of hirings fell by nearly 4%, the number of resignations rose by over 40%, and the number of retirements rose by more than 20%. Overall, PERF found that officer staffing levels dropped nearly 3.5% during the two-year period of 2020-2021. This drop in officer numbers was particularly challenging because it coincided with a surge in violent crime.

In response, PERF held a conference last month on recruiting and retention. We heard about the staffing adjustments agencies have had to make to meet their service demands, such as requiring officers to work overtime. Attendees discussed strategies for retaining officers, such as bonuses and flexible scheduling. And police leaders told us about their strategies for recruiting new officers, including changes to physical fitness tests and other entry requirements. On Christmas Day the New York Times ran a front-page story on our meeting (“As Applications Fall, Police Departments Lure Recruits With Bonuses and Attention”), which recognized this as a national issue. This is the number-one challenge facing police departments of all sizes, so we will continue to look for ways to help you address it.

Next month, PERF will conduct a new survey of workforce trends to find out whether the staffing situation improved in 2022. And early next year PERF will publish a report based on the November recruiting and retention conference to help agencies address this challenge.

How are alternative response strategies working out?

Many of the 2020 protestors called for municipalities to rethink their response to some emergency calls that have traditionally been handled by the police, such as mental health calls with no weapon and no threat of violence. In response, cities and counties tried a variety of new programs, from alternative, non-law-enforcement responses to co-responder programs. It’s important to evaluate these programs as they’re implemented so we understand what’s working and what isn’t. Some municipalities are already reporting results, such as Denver’s updates about its Support Team Assisted Response (STAR) program. In 2023, I think we’ll get more information about the strengths and weaknesses of these various approaches, and I hope we’ll be able to refine these strategies to meet each community’s needs.

Will more law enforcement agencies make the transition to NIBRS?

In the item above on gun violence, I relied on independent statisticians for data on what’s happening in major cities because no official national resource now exists to tell the nation what the crime picture is. That’s not good! We need reliable information to understand national crime trends and inform policy decisions.

In 2021, the FBI moved to the National Incident-Based Reporting System, or NIBRS. NIBRS collects more details about crime incidents than the previous Summary Reporting System (SRS) and could therefore serve as a much more robust source of crime data. But not all agencies and states were prepared to report under the new system and, as a result, only 63% of agencies nationwide have reported 2021 crime statistics to the FBI.

I encourage any agencies not yet reporting to NIBRS to redouble your efforts to change to the new system. For example, agencies should take advantage of help offered by the federal government and could seek out funding assistance to support the change. This report from PERF and RTI International discusses various ways NIBRS data can improve policing and thus why it’s important for agencies to report to the system.

Will police be involved in enforcing abortion laws?

Finally, I think the enforcement of abortion laws may be an important issue for police in some parts of the country in 2023. “Nearly six months since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, triggering abortion bans in more than a dozen states, many antiabortion advocates fear that the growing availability of illegal abortion pills has undercut their landmark victory,” the Washington Post wrote two weeks ago. “Now they are grasping for new ways to crack down on those breaking the law.”

To be sure, enforcement of these laws will look very different in the 2020s than it did before Roe v. Wade. In 2000, the Food and Drug Administration approved a two-drug regimen for medication abortion. By 2021, medication abortion accounted for more than half of all U.S. abortions.

“Everyone who is trafficking these pills should be in jail for trafficking,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, told the Post. “It hasn’t happened, but that doesn’t mean it won’t.”

While this won’t affect police everywhere, I expect that lawmakers in some states will push law enforcement to use the expertise they’ve developed through years of drug trafficking investigations to pursue these cases.

Whatever issues come to the forefront in 2023, PERF will cover them in our conferences, reports, and emails like this one.

Happy New Year and thank you for all you do for your communities and for PERF!