Literature Review

The President’s 21st Century Policing Task Force Final Report (hereafter “the 21CP Task Force Report”) brought attention to pertinent aspects of policing that are beyond its traditional crime control function, advocating for the need to build and maintain the public’s trust, legitimacy, and cooperation in order to effectively function in the 21st Century. The 21CP Task Force Report synthesized an established multidisciplinary body of literature to provide a blueprint of recommendations, setting standards related to procedural justice, the use of technology, and community policing.

Indeed, the task force work, grounded in evidence, provides the theoretical underpinning for a number of key concepts for 21st century policing. In the following sections, we will review the relevant literature reflecting on the past 5 years since the Report’s publication, including discussion of the state of affairs regarding the Report’s key concepts, its impact, and limitations. This review of the literature is organized by the Report’s pillars and draws both from articles that mention the Report as well as those that add to the literature on the Report’s central concepts. We also highlight key areas in need for further empirical examination.




San Jose Police Department

The San Jose Police Department (SJPD), under Chief Eddie Garcia, has taken an active role in adopting 21CP Task Force recommendations. SJPD keeps a public track of 21CP initiatives and their implementation status. Some projects include: Crisis Intervention Team Training, Coffee with a Cop, LGBTQ Committee, and De-Escalation training.

Law Enforcement Organizations & Agencies

Law enforcement organizations have embraced the Report as a guide over the past five years, with reference being made to it as one of the most meaningful documents for law enforcement in modern history (Lum, et al., 2016). In 2016, the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) published a one-year progress report on the implementation of the Report recommendations, highlighting specific examples at the local, state, and federal level across the country (COPS, 2016). COPS further expanded on how the Report’s recommendations can be adapted to youth policing contexts (Aden & Rosiak, 2016). Major law enforcement leadership groups—including the IACP, Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCCA), and National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE)—have encouraged their members to adopt the Report recommendations. For example, shortly after the Report’s publication, the IACP set up an Institute for Community-Police Relations to provide technical assistance to small and rural agencies on ways to implement the task force recommendations. Moreover, local law enforcement agencies also adopted the Report as a guide (LaVigne et al., 2019). Police agencies in St. Paul (MN), San Jose (CA), Athens-Clarke County (GA), Bloomington (IN) , and Chandler (AZ) to name a few, have released reports and websites assessing their departments’ implementation of the Report’s recommendations, demonstrating ongoing interest in using the Report as one national measure against which to compare their own policing practices. It appears that the Report has been successful in its intent to set certain policing standards, at least in some law enforcement agencies.

Criminal Justice Research

Since its publication, the Report has also contributed to numerous empirical studies and academic discussions on policing. Moule and Fox (2021) recently edited a book on current issues in American policing in which contributing authors reflected on the Report’s findings to discuss pathways for improvement on police’s use of force, community relations, and use of technology. Some researchers have also called the Report’s general premise—to build trust between police and the communities they serve—the basis for their analysis on police practice (Tyler, 2016). Some have used the Report to build upon their own arguments on the future of evidence-based policing (Lum et al., 2016; Telep, 2016). Others have expanded on the Report to explore more specific (and actionable) recommendations on procedural justice (Johnson et al., 2017), use of technology (Hung et al., 2016), providing high-quality training (O’Neill et al., 2019), and establishing standard reporting for the use of deadly force (Koper, 2016). Spivak, McGough, and Rodriguez (2016) noted that the Report offers a “starting point” for practitioners and researchers to implement reforms based on empirical evidence, but ongoing research and implementation of recommendations based on that research is necessary to continue improving police practice.

Pillar 1

Building Trust & Legitimacy

The first pillar of the report, “Building Trust and Legitimacy with the Community,” is conceivably its most influential one. Referred to as the “foundational principle underlying this inquiry into the nature of relations between law enforcement and the communities they serve” (President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, 2015, p. 9), the Report’s focus on trust and legitimacy stemmed from the escalating distrust between the public and the police institution after Mr. Brown’s killing in 2014. In this section, we highlight three key concepts form Pillar 1, the Report’s call for the adoption of procedural just practices, a shift from a ‘warrior’ to a ‘guardian’ mindset, and for police to actively acknowledge their institutions’ role in past injustices.

Procedural Justice

Several key recommendations from Pillar 1 of the Report were informed by decades of research on procedural justice and its relation to the public’s trust and legitimacy in the police. 

Internal procedural justice

Practices within an agency and the relationships officers have with their colleagues and leaders. Research on internal procedural justice shows that officers who feel respected by their supervisors and peers are more likely to accept departmental policies, understand decisions, and comply with them voluntarily. It follows that officers who feel respected by their organizations are more likely to bring this respect into their interactions with the communities they serve (Van Craen & Skogan, 2017).

The ways officers interact with the community and how the characteristics of those interactions shape the community’s trust of the police. Importantly, a key component of external procedural justice is built on understanding and acknowledging potential biases (see discussion in Pillar 5).

ExternaL procedural justice

Procedural justice theory was introduced almost 30 years ago by Tyler (1980), who proposed that the public is more likely to perceive the police as a legitimate authority if it believes it is treated fairly by the police (Tyler, 1990). There are four dimensions of procedurally just policing that officers should adopt when interacting with the public: neutrality (impartiality in decision making and equal treatment), voice (giving citizens an opportunity to tell their side of the story and provide suggestions for addressing problems), respect (treating citizens with dignity), and accountability (giving reasoned explanations for the decisions officers make; Van Craen & Skogan, 2017). The report highlights two aspects of procedural justice: internal and external.

Research supports the benefits of procedural justice on police-community relationships. For example, according to Reisig’s (2007) survey, citizens who judge police practices as fair and respectful are more willing to participate in crime prevention programs. Mazerolle et al. (2012) conducted a randomized controlled trial in which they found that citizen perceptions of police were more positive when officers conducted traffic stops according to a script based around the four dimensions of procedural justice. Once the public confers legitimacy on police officers, they will be more likely to obey officer instructions out of a sense of ‘moral duty’ (Jackson et al., 2012). Murphy (2017) proposed that procedural justice improves police-community relationships by promoting identification with authorities and reducing the negative emotions attributed to them. Inversely, low procedural justice and unfair treatment of the public may result in negative emotions at a population level, public noncompliance and retaliatory behavior, and the corresponding police reaction and loss of trust in the public.

At the same time, research on procedural justice training and its effectiveness for improving policing outcomes is limited. Wood and colleagues (2020) examined officers’ participation in the Chicago PD procedural justice training and consequent records of complaints regarding the officers’ conduct, settlement pay-outs following civil litigation, and mandatory officer-filed use-of-force reports. They found that the training was successful in reducing all three. Importantly, the impact of training on complaints and use-of force-was resilient, lasting at least two years. A 2019 meta-analysis by Colin and Glenn suggested that improving civilian perceptions of police fairness is not only an important measure of police effectiveness, but also appears to play a role in the police’s ability to control crime as civilian cooperation is highly important for gathering critical crime-related information. Currently, the National Police Foundation is conducting a multi-site hot spots field experiment examining whether procedural justice training affects officer behavior and enhances civilian perceptions of police legitimacy. These and other recent emerging studies on procedural justice signify the ongoing and timely interest for research in this area.

Guardian Vs. Warrior

Recent research has also examined another Pillar 1 key concept: the guardian vs. warrior mindset. Alongside the principles of procedural justice, the Report highlighted the need for police to operate under a guardian mindset to help build public trust and legitimacy, rather than the mindset of a warrior.


“As task force member Susan Rahr wrote, ‘In 2012, we began asking the question, “Why are we training police officers like soldiers?” Although police officers wear uniforms and carry weapons, the similarity ends there. The missions and rules of engagement are completely different. The soldier’s mission is that of a warrior: to conquer. The rules of engagement are decided before the battle. The police officer’s mission is that of a guardian: to protect. The rules of engagement evolve as the incident unfolds. Soldiers must follow orders. Police officers must make independent decisions. Soldiers come into communities as an outside, occupying force. Guardians are members of the community, protecting from within.”
 – President’s Task Force on 21st
Century Policing Final Report


“We’re seeing a transition over the past several years…that this is a term, a philosophy, and a paradigm that we need to start adopting much more dramatically and become a police service rather than an occupying force. I think it grew organically, but the report served as a catalyst – it certainly engendered some discussion and helped by serving as a reference point.” – NPF Stakeholder Interview

According to Stoughton (2016a), guardians see themselves as agents of protection and service to the community and prioritize police-community relationships. The Report suggested guardian officers are more likely to partner with the community, prioritize communication and view their authority as contingent to the approval of the public they serve – all key components to community-oriented and procedural justice policing (McLean et al., 2019). Notably, critics of the guardian vs warrior conceptualization argue that being both warriors and guardians is necessary for effective policing (Blake, 2016; Cullum, 2016). According to this perspective, good officers must be crime fighters who partner with the community. Perhaps the more balanced and functioning approach is illustrated by a quote from Sue Rahr: “We need police officers with the skills and tenacity of a warrior, but the mindset of a guardian” (Rahr, 2014). It seems that the key word when applying this conceptualization is ‘mindset’, and how officers’ mindset affects their policing approach (see also Lynman 2020 for a police officer’s perspective).

Since the introduction of the guardian vs. warrior concept, researchers have sought to garner evidence on whether assuming a guardian mindset is in fact effective. For example, McLean and colleagues (2019) surveyed officers from two U.S. police departments on their attitudes toward communication priorities, control priorities and force misconduct, alongside their inclination between the guardian and warrior mindset. They found that the guardian mindset was associated with greater communication priorities during interactions with citizens and less support of attitudes towards use of force. The warrior mindset was associated with weaker communication priorities and stronger control priorities during interactions with citizens, as well as more positive attitudes towards use of force. Importantly, McLean and colleagues (2019) suggest police culture as a driving factor for the adoption of the warrior, over the guardian, mindset. This suggestion echoes Stoughton’s (2016a) observation that the need for officers to see themselves as warriors is ingrained as early as their police academy trainings. Research on whether agencies are actively applying a guardian mentality, and how it may influence policing outcomes remains limited. How police adopt a guardian mentality is largely at their discretion and interpretation, as there are yet no specific guidelines for what constitutes a guardian vs. a warrior. Nonetheless, the concept has become integrated in some police trainings. For example, the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training published a report on strategies and techniques for de-escalation, reflecting on the guardian vs. warrior concept.

Acknowledgement of Police’s Role in Past and Present Injustice

The Report recommended that “law enforcement agencies should acknowledge the role of policing in past and present injustice and discrimination and how it is a hurdle to the promotion of community trust” (pg. 12). This is perhaps one of the most novel, as well as timely, areas of research enthused by the Report.

Considering the historical context in which the U.S is embedded, it is understandable that many communities would not view law enforcement authorities as a source of security, trust, and help (Kendi 2016; O’Brien et al, 2020). The institution of policing has a legacy of enforcing segregation and inequality, and accounts of officers acting in discriminatory ways continue to repetitively emerge (O’Brien & Tyler, 2019). O’Brien and colleagues (2020) suggested that for law enforcement to gain the community’s partnership and begin a reconciliation process, they must address this history.

Reconciliation refers to the process of earning the trust of communities through gestures that acknowledge historical and other reasons for distrust. Such efforts are generally directed toward the community as a whole, rather than at an individual level (O’Brien & Tyler, 2019). One strategy for authorities to reach out to communities in the reconciliation process is to offer public apologies. Besides apologizing, however, O’Brien et al. (2020) found that police leaders need to combine the apology with an acknowledgement of their responsibility for the mistrust they represent, if they want to enlist the cooperation of people who are least likely to trust the police. An apology without acknowledgement is perceived as less genuine. Of note, their results did not indicate that the recognition and apology changed the community’s beliefs about police legitimacy, but as the authors stated, willingness to cooperate creates contact with the police, which allows the police opportunities to act in ways that further promote trust. The process of reconciliation may be cyclical, with the development of trust hinging on community members experiencing procedural justice, following initiatives that acknowledge the barriers to trust (O’Brien et al., 2020). Reconciliation is one of the three guiding pillars of the IACP’s National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice project, which seeks to improve relationships and increase trust between communities and the criminal justice system as well as advance the public and scholarly understandings of the issues contributing to those relationships. Together with enhancing procedural justice and reducing biases, the project recognizes that fostering reconciliation is vital to create a space in which collaborative progress in possible.

Pillar 2

Policy & Oversight

The second pillar of the Report relates to policies and community oversight, emphasizing that police must operate through policies reflective of their communities’ values. Recommendations under this pillar particularly focused on police use of force. Supported by research indicating that clear use-of-force policies help reduce its use (Lum, 2016), the Report endorsed revising policies to encourage de-escalation, enhancing civilian oversight, and encouraged the collection and analysis of data to better inform policing practices.

Use-of-force & De-escalation

De-escalation was identified by the Report as a preferred alternative to use-of-force, however, the Report failed to provide an explanation of how de-escalation is most effectively employed. Engel and colleagues (2020) pointed out that there is currently no consensus as to what de-escalation means or entails in the policing context, becoming a progressive “catch-all” phrase to symbolize a softer approach to potential use-of-force encounters.


“I think that now we’re looking at things under a new spotlight and citizens are now asking agencies about their use of force policies and we didn’t hear that before. I think policies and procedures are being focused on more now than they even were when the report came out.” – NPF Interview

“As Chuck Wexler noted in his testimony, ‘In traditional police culture, officers are taught never to back down from a confrontation, but instead to run toward the dangerous situation that everyone else is running away from. However, sometimes the best tactic for dealing with a minor confrontation is to step back, call for assistance, de-escalate, and perhaps plan a different enforcement action that can be taken more safely later.’”
– President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing Final Report


 Research from the mental health field has attempted to provide a de-escalation model that is applicable to law enforcement, describing it as an approach to police-community encounters that draws from procedural justice principles and focuses on de-escalating or preventing further escalation of potential force encounters (Krameddine et al. 2013). Engels and colleagues (2020) determined that de-escalation in policing context refers to a “process or tactics used to prevent, reduce, or manage behaviors associated with conflict, including verbal or physical agitation, aggression, violence, or similar behaviors, during an interaction between two or more individuals.” (pg. 724).

De-escalation has also been endorsed by law enforcement leadership groups. The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) developed the Integrating Communications, Assessment, and Tactics (ICAT) training, which was designed to handle persons in crisis and teach officers de-escalation tactics as well as critical thinking skills for the management of potentially volatile police-citizen encounters. The IACP also included de-escalation alternatives in their 2020 consensus on police use of force report. Moreover, the adoption of de-escalation training within police agencies appears to be widespread. In a national survey of police agencies (N = 155), a majority of agencies reported currently providing de-escalation training in some form to their officers (CBS News, 2019). However, de-escalation training curriculums can substantially vary (e.g., ICAT, Verbal Judo, and Tact, Tactics, and Trust to name a few; Engel et al., 2020).

Despite its growing popularity, research on the effectiveness of de-escalation training is quite limited. One study evaluated the Tact, Tactics, and Trust Training in two police departments, Fayetteville (NC) Police Department and the Tucson (AZ) Police Department. While the study found the training to improve officers’ attitudes by placing higher priorities on procedurally fair communication during hypothetical officer-citizen encounters, the authors found no evidence that the training led to a reduction in use of force incidents (McLean et al., 2020). Engel and colleagues (2020) conducted a study with the Louisville (KY) Metro Police Department, examining the effects of the ICAT training. Similar to McLean and colleagues’ findings, ICAT training was successful in changing officers’ attitudes, however, they also found initial evidence for de-escalation training reduced the frequency of use of force. Evidence in the literature thus far emphasizes the need for further research examining if and how de-escalation training changes the frequency and severity of police use-of-force.

Policy & Data

Besides developing clear and comprehensive policies on the use-of-force, consent before searches, gender identification, and racial profiling, the Report advised for these policies to include provisions for the collection of demographic data on all parties involved. Moreover, all policies and aggregate data should be made publicly available to ensure transparency. 

The Report’s recommendation is an important one because data is vital for quality research on officer and civilian encounters to be possible. For example, researchers have found racial disparities in police use-of-force, often finding that Black civilians are significantly more likely than their white counterparts to be killed by police (Edwards et al., 2019; Fryer, 2019). Other studies have found more nuanced results on the timing and extent of bias in use-of-force encounters, underscoring the importance of ongoing collection and analysis of data (Kahn et al., 2017). Readily available policies and data are also important for assessing whether departments are indeed embracing the Report’s recommendations. In 2020, for example, Robinson’s review of changes in policing five years after Ferguson found that departments have revised their use-of-force policies and training to emphasize de-escalation training, as recommended by the Report.

Civilian Oversight

Support for the implementation of civilian oversight can be seen as early as the 1920s (De Angelis et al., 2016). However, not until the Report’s publication has there been a more robust assessment of civilian oversight programs, adding to the literature on the development of community, or external, accountability mechanisms.

Rosenthal (2018) interviewed several directors of civilian oversight programs, identifying commonly reported conditions important to the programs’ effectiveness. Among the central themes reported by the directors were the need for professional qualified staff, the ability to publicly report on the police agency’s work, and government officials’ willingness to tolerate criticism of the police. Similarly, the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) and National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE) also provided an assessment of factors to promote organizational effectiveness of civilian oversight, which included the police agency’s cooperation and ability to conduct outreach to community members (De Angelis et al., 2016). One 2019 evaluation of the effect of police oversight on officer conduct and crime at the Chicago (IL) Police Department disputed the theory that oversight increases crime rates and supported enhanced proactive internal accountability as improving police-community relations without increasing crime (Ba & Rivera, 2019).

Pillar 3

Technology & Social Media

The third pillar of the Report examined how departments can use technology and social media to improve policing practices and build trust and legitimacy with their communities. Recognizing the widespread interest in body-worn cameras (BWCs), the Report placed particular emphasis on recommendations for their use, whilst advocating for their adoption. BWCs has been a prominent topic in policing for years (e.g., Braga et al., 2017; CITE). More recently, discussions center on the public release of BWC footage as a method to increase police transparency and accountability (e.g., Zansberg, 2020).


BWCs & Los Angeles Police Department 

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) touts the importance of building community trust through transparency and made more BWCs available to officers working uniformed, public-facing assignments.  Thus, LAPD was able to provide BWC footage to independent reviewers, who analyzed responses to the late-Spring 2020 First Assemblies and Protests.

Read the Analysis

Body-worn Cameras

According to a 2018 Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) survey of law enforcement agencies, a few agencies began to adopt BWCs in 2007 but adoption of the technology began to significantly increase after 2010. By 2016, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) found that nearly half of all law enforcement agencies in the United States had acquired BWCs, including about 80 percent of the largest local police departments (Hayland, 2018). Many police agencies have continued to adopt BWCs, albeit more recently for some police departments—particularly smaller departments—have chosen to not adopt or end their use of the technology because of the high cost to store and manage BWC footage (Kindy, 2019).

According to a 2018 Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) survey of law enforcement agencies, a few agencies began to adopt BWCs in 2007 but adoption of the technology began to significantly increase after 2010. By 2016, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) found that nearly half of all law enforcement agencies in the United States had acquired BWCs, including about 80 percent of the largest local police departments (Hayland, 2018). Many police agencies have continued to adopt BWCs, albeit more recently for some police departments—particularly smaller departments—have chosen to not adopt or end their use of the technology because of the high cost to store and manage BWC footage (Kindy, 2019).

Because the technology is somewhat new, the literature on BWCs is rather limited. Thus, as Crow and colleagues (2017) argued, much of the advocacy for widespread implementation of BWCs, including the Report’s, is based on anecdotal evidence and limited research of varying levels of quality. Researchers have indeed expressed caution in interpreting results due to technical, political, and administrative challenges (Sousa et al., 2016; see Crow et al., 2017). Moreover, the evidence has been mixed. Some studies found BWCs to be associated with reductions in use-of-force incidents and citizen complaints (Hung et al., 2016; Katz et al., 2014; Miller et al., 2014), while other studies did not (Yokum et al., 2019). Besides, although data suggests that the public generally sees BWCs as a positive addition and have high expectations for them, there is less positivity among non-White and younger people (Crow et al., 2017; National Police Foundation, 2020). More research is clearly needed to disentangle the effects of wearing of BWCs on procedural justice practices and public perceptions. However, it has been argued that BWCs alone do not increase the public’s trust, rather their effectiveness depends on the adoption of other community policing and procedural just practices (Ripley & Williams, 2017).

Beyond BWCs, police organizations have begun to adopt—and scholars have begun to analyze—additional types of technology that were not prominent in 2015. For example, unmanned aircraft systems (or drones), virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and facial recognition software (Joh, 2018). While research on these technologies remains even more scarce than research on BWCs, evidence thus far shows that communities tend to react apprehensively to police’ incorporating new technologies, especially when privacy issues are of concern. It is imperative that, as the Report recommended, agencies respond with clear policies on the implementation of technology and actively address the communities’ concerns regarding its use (Bradford et al., 2020; Heen et al., 2017).

Pillar 4

Community Policing & Crime Reduction

The fourth pillar of the Report centers on community policing—a philosophy that promotes community involvement in crime prevention efforts (Gill et al., 2014). Community policing is based on the premise that, rather than relying solely on traditional reactive law enforcement strategies, the police should draw on community involvement and input to define, prioritize, and address crime (Weisburd & McElroy, 1988). This approach to policing requires the traditional hierarchy of police agencies to be re-adjusted to allow frontline officers who directly engage with the community more discretion in decision-making (COPS, 2014; Trojanowicz et al., 1998). By staying in close contact with the neighborhoods they serve, officers can readily identify problems at the local level, and problem-solve them in a collaborative manner with the community (National Police Foundation, n.d.). Besides creating community partnerships, adopting a community policing philosophy requires an organizational transformation that promotes such partnerships, a flattened police power hierarchy, and the adoption of problem-solving techniques to address crime (COPS, 2014; Skogan, 2006).

What is community policing?

Community policing combines a focus on intervention and prevention through problem solving with building collaborative partnerships between law enforcement agencies and schools, social services, and other stakeholders. In this way, community policing not only improves public safety but also enhances
social connectivity and economic strength, which increases community resilience to crime.
– President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing Final

“I don’t think anybody knows what it [community policing]
really means, I think the interpretation is different in every
group, I think everyone has a different idea of what it looks like. I think it should be the coproduction of safety with the police and the community, but I don’t think that’s how everyone looks at it. I think most of the time, it’s superficial things, feel good things. It’s rare to see an agency that has a robust, co-production of safety program.”
– NPF Interview

Evidence on the effectiveness of community policing is mixed, particularly on its crime reduction benefits. While data from case studies suggest a significant reduction of crime through the adoption of community policing (e.g., Leap, 2020), other research has provided less compelling evidence (Johnson, 2017). There is an ambiguity as to whether community policing is a guiding philosophy or whether it consists of standard techniques and strategies (Chapman & Martin, 2016). This ambiguity has led to different agencies implementing varying strategies classified under the umbrella of community policing, creating difficulty in systematically assessing their effects on objective crime-reduction outcomes (Lum et al., 2016). Still, substantial research supports the benefits of community policing on police-community relationships (Crowl, 2017; Peyton et al., 2019; National Police Foundation, 2020). For example, one meta-analysis concluded that residents in community policing areas typically have more trust in police officers and perceive officers as treating them fairly and with respect (key elements of procedural justice; Gill, 2014). Some evidence also suggests that community policing helps in reducing the community’s perceptions of disorder in their neighborhoods (such as drug dealing) and increase feelings of safety (Gill, 2014).

Pillar 5

Training & Education

The fifth pillar recommendations center on police training and education, recognizing the importance of career-long training and education for effective, efficient, and procedurally just policing. In the years following the Report, the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training (IADLEST) conducted an assessment—using a survey and regional meetings—of changes or improvements in training since the Report’s publication. The assessment found that some members reported that the Report precipitated changes in training in their Police/Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) bodies or training academies, while others reported that they were already engaged in making changes regardless of the Report (Strategic Applications International, n.d.). Overall, the survey found that academies were revising training opportunities before and after the release of the Report, and the Report was deemed a “catalyst” for increasing bias-free and fair policing trainings specifically. The survey found that most respondents observed increased academy and in-service training, increased training related to bias-free policing and de-escalation, and increased community participation in the development of training—all recommendations of the Report. Thus, while it is difficult to extrapolate the impact that the Report had on ongoing calls for enhanced training and requirements over the last five years, the Report appeared to help draw national attention to and justification for these expanded areas of training (Strategic Applications International, n.d.).

Implicit Bias & Related Training

A major theme of the Report was the need for law enforcement to be aware of implicit biases and the threat they represent to procedural justice and community relationships. Bias refers to the process by which we link people we do not know to the characteristics or “stereotypes” associated with their race, gender, body type, etc. These linkages can impact how we perceive the individuals and consequently our behavior toward them. This process is called implicit when it occurs outside of our conscious awareness (Fridell & Lim, 2016). Implicit bias can unconsciously influence people despite their desire to be fair and impartial (Principled Policing Training Report, pg. 3).

What is implicit Bias?

“To achieve legitimacy, mitigating implicit bias should be a part of training at all levels of a law enforcement organization to increase awareness and ensure respectful encounters both inside the organization
and with communities.”
– President Task Force on 21st Century Policing
Final Report

“There’s so much pressure right now
with academic institutions and law enforce-
ment to put in certain courses on things like
implicit bias. There’s very little data on what
works and what doesn’t work. There’s a
separation between law enforcement and the
academic world and that needs to be eradicated because there are studies now that show the results of certain things are unknown in law enforcement.”
– NPF Interview

Implicit bias can partially explain the disproportionate levels of police intervention toward ethnic/racial minorities. Minorities are more likely to be searched (Langton & Durose, 2013), stopped in traffic and as pedestrians (e.g., Gelman et al., 2007), arrested (Kochel et al., 2011), and there is some evidence that suggests they are more likely to be subjected to use of force (Terrill & Mastrofski, 2002). For example, experimental research has consistently found that there is a Black-crime implicit bias, whereby people unconsciously link Blacks to crime and violence (Correll et al., 2007a, 2007b; Eberhardt et al., 2004). When applied to policing, this Black-crime bias could mean that Black subjects’ ambiguous behaviors are interpreted as more aggressive, and therefore seen as a greater threat, which in turn may lead to receiving greater force (Fridell & Lim, 2016). It must be noted that field research on the topic has generated mixed results. Some studies have not found such effects of race bias on police use of force (e.g., Cesario et al., 2019; Klinger, 2009), while others have (e.g., Gau et al., 2010; Nix et al., 2017; Tregle et al., 2019).

Addressing implicit racial bias is at the forefront of police reform conversations, and proposed solutions include providing police with implicit bias training. The idea is that through training, officers will become aware of potential implicit biases and actively work on preventing them from manifesting into discriminatory behaviors. Many law enforcement agencies across the US have implemented some sort of bias training (CBS, 2019), and there is some evidence that officers are receptive to the trainings (e.g., Principled Policing Training Report). In 2020, Worden and colleagues published an assessment of the NYPD’s implicit bias awareness training, which consisted of 8-hours and used the Fair and Impartial Policing (FIP) curriculum. Results showed that, in the short-term, training increased the level of officers’ knowledge about implicit bias and its potential implications for policing. Importantly, the long-term effects of training, and whether they lead to actual changes in biased behavior, remains unknown.

Cultural Awareness & Diversity Training

Pillar 5 of the Report noted the need to promote understanding, tolerance, and sensitivity toward minority groups. Ways to increase agencies’ cultural awareness are through diversifying the police force (White & Escobar, 2008) and including diversity training (Moon et al., 2018).

Diversity training has been recommended for decades, as tensions between minority groups and the police have been recognized as the root of the many community-police clashes in the past. For example, the 1965 Kerner Report identified poor community relations as significant cause for the 1960s riots. And since 1990, the state of California mandates diversity training within their police agencies (White & Escobar, 2008). Diversity training is believed to help officers create and secure community relationships and alliances by helping them understand the culture of the communities they serve, especially those coming from marginalized groups. The training includes, but is not limited to, topics related to race, racial biases and profiling, cross-cultural relationships, human rights, and police ethics (White & Escobar, 2008).

A lack of cultural competence, coupled with implicit biases, add to the difficulty in decision-making that officers encounter in their already complex job, and can lead to errors and miscarriages of justice as illustrated by high-profile cases of officer-involved shootings. Proponents of bias and diversity trainings argue that it is imperative for officers to learn and understand these issues in order to operate in ways that are seen as legitimate and trustworthy by the communities they serve.

Pillar 6

Officer Wellness & Safety

Key recommendations in Pillar 6 centered on officer wellness and safety, recognizing the need to support officers’ mental, emotional, and physical health. Indeed, studies acknowledge that officers, due to the nature of their profession, are prone to high levels of stress and line-of-duty injuries (Cohen et al., 2019). Research differentiates between two types of stress: the operational, or related to the profession (e.g., exposure to sensitive content, such as homicides or fatal car accents, dangerous physical encounters with civilians), and occupational stress, which results from the workplace environment (e.g., working overtime, lack of organizational support; Cohen et al., 2019; Sanders et al., 2019). Police officers also experience stress from outside (e.g., the public’s expectations about police performance), and personal sources (e.g., family or financial problems). The Report recommends agencies actively work with their officers to manage stress and promote wellness, as the detrimental effects of unmanaged stress and trauma are well-documented, including anxiety disorders, depression, sleep problems, anger management issues, poor job performance, high turnover, and suicidal ideation (Copenhavera & Tewksbury, 2018; Saunders et al., 2019; Smith et al., 2014).

Recent data suggest that officer wellness is starting to be recognized as a priority. A 2019 survey of 438 law enforcement agencies across the United States found that almost all responding agencies provided mental wellness resources and information, as well as offered an employee assistance program (EAP; Bonner & Crower, 2019). However, Bonner and Crower (2019) found that few agencies provided annual mental wellness checks or resiliency training. The need and effectiveness of preventative mental health checks has been discussed by Spence and colleagues (2019), who reasoned that the high levels of occupational stress, suicide ideation, and substance use known among police officers renders them as a higher risk population who may benefits from proactive regular checks. Nonetheless, there is yet to be in-depth research conducted on the benefits of or the most effective methods for implementing mental health check programs (Spence et al., 2019). Moreover, promoting an organizational culture that normalizes seeking mental health services remains difficult. Mental health services are often underutilized by police officers (Tucker, 2015), and, relatedly, the stigma within law enforcement against seeking mental health support remains pervasive (Spence et al., 2019; Velazquez & Hernandez, 2019). Thus, effective strategies for promoting officer health and wellness through de-stigmatization at the organizational level are greatly needed.

Since the Report, studies have added to the literature on officer safety. For example, in 2020, Wolfe and colleagues contributed to the literature on officer seat belt use, noted by the Report as a leading cause of officer fatalities. The study identified factors for improving officer driving safety, including the need for supervisors to enforce seat belt use (Wolfe et al., 2020). Additionally, the LEO Near Miss Reporting System—endorsed by the Report as a means to collect lessons learned to help shield officers from future accidents, injuries, and fatalities—has continued to compile and share reports on “near misses,” which are associated with improved safety (Thoroman et al., 2018). Other publications have endorsed the Report’s suggestion of providing officers with tactical first aid kits and training to support officer and community safety (Office of Health Affairs, 2015).

Concurrently, in recent years, agencies have increasingly conducted their own examinations of officer wellness within their own agencies, with many acknowledging those cultural challenges that have historically prevented officers from seeking mental health and wellness support. In 2019, 26 agencies across the Commonwealth of Virginia participated in a first responder survey led by the Fairfax County, VA Police Department to identify factors challenging the mental health of officers and inform changes in wellness and suicide prevention strategies (Carson et al., 2019). Three out of ten of first responders indicated not seeking the help they need because of the stigma associated with doing so. Following officer suicides, the Office of the Inspector General for the New York Police Department (NYPD) conducted an investigation of NYPD’s officer wellness and safety services, in part based on a survey of uniformed personnel who retired in 2016. This survey revealed valuable information on cultural challenges to service access and led to recommendations that the NYPD has adopted to build on their existing programming, such as through additional training and the hiring of full-time licensed mental health professionals (Garnett & Eure, 2019).

Overall Report

Limitations & Future Steps

The Report facilitated a national discussion on American policing by offering a guideline for effective 21st century policing practice. However, the Report was not without limitations. Among the most critical, some have described ways in which the Report did not go far enough. Bell (2017) challenged the Report’s focus on issues of legitimacy and trust between police and the communities as the basis for poor police-community relationships. Instead, Bell argued that legal estrangement, or the alienation from law enforcers, represents a more adequate reasoning for the poor relationships, whereby communities of color have been alienated from society through the legal system’s structure. He further argued that understanding structural approaches to police issues—which the Report did not do—is necessary for police reform (Bell, 2017). Others have asserted that the Report did not sufficiently address some key policing issues, such as police use of deadly force (Marenin, 2016). In her article examining changes in policing five years after Ferguson, Robinson (2020)—one of the task force’s co-chairs—identified recruitment as an area that should have been further explored in Report as well (see also Sullivan, 2020).

Others have identified the Report’s challenges in dissemination and widespread implementation. Trautman (2016) noted that offering recommendations alone makes it difficult to determine whether they are implemented at the agency-level. Robinson (2020) identified several obstacles that hindered the Report’s implementation, including the de-centralized nature of policing, the resistant-to-change police culture, gaps in policing research, and the lack of support from some governmental agents. Similarly, Gill and colleagues (2017) speculated about challenges to the dissemination momentum of the Report’s recommendations over time. In particular, given the politicized circumstances surrounding the Report, some have observed that the change in presidential administrations in 2017 may have hampered the speed and scale of law enforcement’s adoption of the Report’s concepts (Gill et al., 2017).

Assessing whether the Report has led to improved changes in policing outcomes has proved challenging. This difficulty is due to several reasons. First, the Report provided an array of recommendations, ranging from the readily implementable (revising use-of-force policies, collecting systematic data on police shootings) to bigger-picture cultural changes (diversifying police forces, shifting away from what the report describes as a “warrior” mindset to that of a “guardian”). Recommendations in the former category are indeed easier to gauge. For example, a survey of 47 of the largest law enforcement agencies in the United States from 2015 to 2017 revealed that 39 percent of the departments changed their use-of-force policies and revised their training to incorporate de-escalation (Stephens, 2019). Cultural changes, and the consequences of such changes, are more difficult to assess. Not only are they long-term changes but it is impossible to not be impacted by the ever-changing socio-political climate surrounding the support, or lack of, of the police institution. Adding to that challenge is perhaps Report’s most salient limitation, and that is the lack of evidence-based guidance for implementing some of its key recommendations. For example, James (2017) noted that while the Report recommended implicit bias training as a best practice, it did not provide specifics on what the training should entail, how it should be administered, and little data exists about the effectives of training. Nonetheless, because it was recommended, numerous agencies have adopted and invested resources in implicit bias trainings that have yet to be systematically validated.

A significant task for future research is to continue producing evidence on concepts such as de-escalation, diversity training, the impact of BWC’s on police-community relationships, and the effects of community policing on crime reduction, among others. Future research must also develop suitable ways to assess police trainings, not only as related to the content but also the most effective formats and modes for teaching, reception, and information retention. Future studies will also need to focus on evaluation of training programs, particularly as it relates to developing national protocols that can supplement the Report’s current recommendations.

Overall, the Report highlighted important areas of policing that academics, practitioners, and policy makers need to push forward and continue to address. As the Report itself described, “Expanded research and data collection are . . . necessary to knowing what works and what does not work, which policing practices are effective and which ones have unintended consequences.” Spivak, McGough, and Rodriguez (2016) noted that the Report offers a “starting point” for practitioners and researchers to implement reforms based on evidence-based practices, but continuous research and implementation of recommendations based on that research is necessary to improve police policies and operations in practice. Ultimately, many have acknowledged the Report’s role in calling attention to issues in policing—emphasizing its call for more research to continue to inform the conversation.

Cover Photo Source: Social Media Manager, Oregon Police Department