How law enforcement technology can help during staffing shortages
Author: Michael Begonis
Law enforcement technology can be a panacea for agencies in the modern era that necessitates doing more with less. Proven interoperable technologies, designed specifically for the fast-paced and demanding world of public safety, can provide officers with reliable communication and enhanced situational awareness. These advanced solutions for first responders are a force multiplier to assist law enforcement's brave officers and help them execute their job safely, efficiently, and effectively. Embracing law enforcement technology can help compensate for chronic staffing shortages that are impacting virtually every agency in the country.
How recruitment and retention impact the nationwide shortage of police officers
Police recruitment and retention may be the most crucial challenge facing public safety organizations today. According to the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), 86% of law enforcement agencies nationwide report a personnel shortage. Recruitment challenges are acute, and some agencies are reporting 40% fewer applications in the 2020-2021 fiscal year than the previous year. The existing hiring pool for law enforcement has been described by Police1 as "small and competitive," likely driven by some combination of the following factors:
- The real and perceived critical national narrative about law enforcement
- High stress
- Physical danger
- Unpredictable schedules
- The possible poor cultural fit between many millennial and Generation Z police recruits and the traditional hierarchical structure of law enforcement organizations
Once hired, retaining quality personnel poses an equally daunting challenge for agencies across the United States. According to PERF, there were 23.6% more retirements in 2021 than in 2019. The shortage of police officers has a significant and tangible impact on police and sheriff departments regardless of size and geography.1
Law enforcement technology as a force multiplier
The following examples illustrate the positive impact technology has on policing as a force multiplier to overcome recruitment and retention challenges.
Body-worn camera integration
Research demonstrates that body-worn cameras (BWCs) exemplify a law enforcement technology that can protect your officers, your agency and build morale. According to a 2021 study from the University of Chicago, BWCs reduce police use of force by nearly 10% and reduce complaints against police wearing BWCs by almost 17%. Moreover, with integrated BWC digital evidence management, the video footage can be quickly archived and adapted for critical incident videos, public information requests, and as evidence for prosecutions. BWCs demonstrate the impact of technology on policing by making the job safer, enhancing community engagement, and creating a more efficient workflow for the management and storage of related evidence. Conceptually, these are not technology investments; they are investments in your people that will achieve many mission-critical goals, including improved retention.
Enhanced situational awareness
Using law enforcement technology to improve situational awareness can help overcome tactical challenges that result from the shortage of police officers. The better first responders understand the environment and location of their team, the better they can serve their mission. These insights can be sourced from fixed cameras, BWCs and even unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones. At least 1,500 public safety agencies are currently using drones, enhanced with video capabilities.
Technology can also help integrate the various video and other data feeds into a single-pane-of-glass view. This allows officers to more easily understand the situations where they are operating. By allowing those on the front lines to make better-informed decisions quicker and synchronize their response, law enforcement can get improved mission results with fewer officers because they are better deployed and better prepared.
Gunshot detection systems
Gun violence is one of society's most pressing challenges, exacerbated by the nationwide shortage of police officers. Gunshot detection systems once again demonstrate how law enforcement technology can help agencies overcome recruitment and retention challenges and effectively protect their communities. For example, in 2022 gunshot detection systems helped law enforcement in Albuquerque, New Mexico find 179 gunshot victims and identify 58 suspects.
Immersive tactical training
Ongoing high-impact training modalities are essential for the success of any law enforcement organization. However, for agencies already experiencing the host of challenges associated with the shortage of police officers, taking officers away from their current role and sending them to training can be extremely challenging. Once again, law enforcement technology can provide a solution. Augmented reality (AR) tactical training can provide quality immersive training experiences in an efficient, safe, and cost-effective way, reducing the burden on departments and individual officers.
The impact of technology on policing communication
As the profession struggles with a shortage of police officers, pooling resources and collaboration across agencies becomes more important. This is where reliable and robust communications technology can allow an efficient flow of information and decision-making, even in high-stress situations.
The summer of 2020 was a landmark period for contemporary law enforcement due to the confluence of a global health pandemic, the George Floyd incident, and use of force and defunding becoming prominent elements of the national narrative on policing. According to the 2020 Major Cities Chiefs Association, between May 25 and June 31, 2020, there were 8,700 mass demonstrations experienced by 68 large cities or counties across the United States; 51% were peaceful and lawful, 42% involved lawbreaking behavior, and 7% involved violence including assaults on law enforcement personnel.2 An after-action report from the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) made nine recommendations building on lessons learned during the unprecedented summer of 2020.3 Among these recommendations was an emphasis on collaboration, partnerships, and mutual aid across law enforcement organizations. Improving communications technology, including interoperability, can help information-sharing across multiple agencies.