January 8, 2022

Issues to Watch in 2022


Dear PERF member,

Happy New Year to all.  I think most would agree that 2020 and 2021 were two of the most challenging years in our lifetimes, so we’re hoping the world will calm down a bit in 2022.

The Omicron variant seems to be sweeping through many U.S. cities. Earlier this week, for example, the Baltimore Police Department reported that more than 300 officers and other employees were quarantined because of COVID. That’s about 12% of the police force. Police departments in Dallas, New York City, and other jurisdictions are also facing substantial increases in cases.

We’re hoping that COVID may recede soon, and life might return to something approaching normal.  As I talk to police chiefs around the country, there’s a recognition that we have been here before, that we have learned so much from the past two years and are better equipped to deal with the latest COVID variant. We captured much of this in our recent report, Lessons Learned from the COVID-19 Pandemic.

The prognosis for 2022 is uncertain, but in today’s Trending, I’ll highlight some of the issues that police chiefs and sheriffs are facing, which we think will be major tests of police leadership in 2022.

The recruiting crisis will remain a major challenge.

Police agencies continue to tell us they’re finding it difficult to keep their staffing levels up. As PERF found in our workforce survey last year, retirements and resignations are up, and even though recruiters are trying new approaches, too few candidates are applying.

In an op-ed published on New Year’s Day, Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken expressed an interesting slant on the issue, noting that the laws of economics work against cities that have significant crime but low police budgets:

“The demand for police officers is at an all-time high, and supply is at an all-time low, [giving] a clear advantage to the communities that have the capacity to invest the most in their police departments…. We are seeing veteran police officers in the prime of their careers, with a wealth of competence and experience, going to other agencies that pay more and require less work. The irony in the economics of policing today is that the departments often paying the most have less crime and fewer calls for service….”

This week, Memphis Police Chief C.J. Davis came out strongly in favor of easing a residency requirement for police officers. “I need 300 new officers every year just to keep pace with natural attrition,” she said in an op-ed. “Our efforts reflect this reality with a dedicated team of recruiters who search for potential officers all day, every day. However, requiring potential police candidates to live in Shelby County to join MPD reduces our capacity to reach our public safety goals for the city.”

Chief Davis noted that well-qualified candidates may not be willing or able  to uproot their families in order to take a job with the Memphis Police Department. 

My own two cents is that residency requirements narrow the field of applicants. And what other profession requires its employees to live in the city where they work?  As a matter of fact, I know of a number of cities where the cost of living is so high that cops and teachers can’t afford to buy homes where they work. We need the best and the brightest from wherever they come.

PERF will be closely monitoring workforce trends in 2022, and will do an updated survey on what this evolving challenge looks like in your agencies.

Sharp increases in crime are not going away.

More than a year ago, in November 2020, PERF was hearing alarming reports about increases in violent crime. We conducted a survey, and found a 28% increase in homicides in reporting jurisdictions when they compared January-September 2020 to the same period in 2019.

Some people thought it might be a short-term trend, but unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. We’re starting a third year with homicides and some other violent crime heading upward in many cities. According to a new CNN report this week, more than two-thirds of the nation’s 40 biggest cities had increased homicides in 2021, and 10 of those cities recorded more murders in 2021 than in any other year on record. Those 10 cities are Philadelphia; Austin, TX; Columbus, OH; Indianapolis; Portland, OR; Memphis; Louisville; Milwaukee; Albuquerque; and Tucson. The Chicago Police Department reported 797 homicides in 2021, the highest number in 25 years.

We’re also hearing about various other types of crimes surging, such as thefts of catalytic converters from cars and increases in carjackings in places like Minneapolis, Oakland, and Washington, DC.

After 20 years of steady decreases in violent crime, the dramatic increases in homicides, shootings, and carjackings continue. The Biden Administration recently provided funding in this area, but the Administration also needs to use the bully pulpit to tackle this issue. From the President on down, we must embrace this challenge, as Senator Joe Biden did years ago. Importantly, we are not talking about mass incarceration. We’re talking about getting violent repeat offenders off the street by holding them accountable and preventing the next shooting or homicide.

We cannot accept this significant trend as the new normal.  The reality is that those who are dying and getting shot are mostly coming from the most impoverished areas of our cities. We have come too far to accept this. After all, this is about the sanctity of human life.

Across the country, reform efforts are continuing.

In 2020-21, we heard a lot about new laws and policy changes on various aspects of policing, and some of these reforms are helpful.  Fortunately, it appears that cuts in police budgets enacted in many cities in 2020 as part of the “defund policing” movement have been reversed in 2021.

In Rhode Island, the state POST Commission recently adopted a policy to require officers who leave one department to be recertified before taking a job in another department. Jamestown Police Chief Edward Mello, who chairs the POST Commission, said the goal was to “prevent police officers from moving from place to place without a check.”

Many departments are also adopting policies that require police officers to intervene if they see a fellow officer using excessive force. In Wisconsin, a new law took effect on January 1 requiring such a policy statewide.

In New Haven, CT, the Board of Police Commissioners recently approved a comprehensive new 20-page policy on Use of Force. Many of the provisions are ideas that PERF has been calling for since 2016 with our Guiding Principles on Use of Force, such as requiring that any use of force be proportionate to the threat encountered. The new policy also calls for de-escalation tactics, including “listening carefully and expressing empathy, slowing down the pace of the incident, waiting to take action until the threat subsides, placing additional space or barriers between the officer and a person, … tactical repositioning or seeking cover, and requesting additional resources.”

It will be interesting to see what new directions reform efforts take in 2022.

Continuing threat of extremism and a toxic political culture.

This past Thursday marked the one-year anniversary of the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger, who took office last August, deserves great credit for implementing changes to help prevent any future attack. But Chief Manger warned that he needs to increase staffing to investigate the thousands of threats against members of Congress, which have increased tenfold since 2016. He blamed “the lack of civility that a lot of folks have” and “the toxic culture” for these increased threats.

Homeland security experts are warning that the next attack may not involve a mob descending on the U.S. or State Capitol buildings, but rather a “lone wolf” style assault carried out by someone radicalized here at home. “We are probably in one of the most volatile, complex and dynamic threat environments that I have experienced in my career,” John Cohen, Undersecretary of Intelligence and Analysis at the Department of Homeland Security, recently told the Wall Street Journal. This is an issue that police leaders will need to stay on top of over the next year … and probably beyond.

Community engagement remains at the center of what police do.

On a more positive note, Newark, NJ Director of Public Safety Brian O’Hara wrote an op-ed this week describing the many ways in which his department makes connections with community members. In December, 24 Newark residents graduated from an eight-week course called the Public Safety Academy, where they received “an in-depth, behind-the-scenes view” of how police do their work, he said.

A major focus of Newark’s efforts has been to get newly hired officers out into the community to learn about the history of policing and police-community relations in Newark, and to engage directly with residents, community leaders, clergy, activists, and others. “Creating this kind of positive synergy with one another builds invaluable trust between police officers and residents who can work together to keep our communities safe,” Director O’Hara wrote.

It’s time for a new kind of leadership.

As I think about these past two years and all that we have gone through, it feels like this is a time for looking ahead and challenging ourselves to take policing to the next level. It won’t do any good to think about how things used to be. We are now in a different time that requires new thinking. While it’s true that policing is better in so many ways than in the past, we need a different kind of leadership for our uncharted future.  I encourage you to step up and be that kind of leader, who stands on the shoulders of the bold police leaders of the past and takes on today’s challenges.  It's time to rise up and lead, to be the change agent that all of us want to follow.

I send my best wishes to you and your agency for a safe, productive, rewarding 2022.