Stakeholder Interviews

The NPF assessment team conducted a series of stakeholder interviews with individuals from a variety of organizations related to law enforcement. NPF conducted interviews with representatives from state and local law enforcement agencies, standards and training organizations, community groups, national criminal justice organizations, academia, mayors and city managers, and federal law enforcement agencies. Additionally, NPF interviewed original members of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

These individuals were asked a series of questions pertaining to the six pillars referenced in the Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. These pillars are: Building Trust and Legitimacy, Policy and Oversight, Technology and Social Media, Community Policing and Crime Reduction, Training and Education, and Officer Wellness and Safety. The NPF assessment team conducted a thematic analysis of the interviews which is described below.

Pillar 1

Building Trust & Legitimacy

When asked if they believed trust and legitimacy to still be a priority in current American policing, majority of interviewees believed them to be (n = 39, 84.8%). Several interviewees noted that the public does not trust the police (n = 7, 15.2%) and that trust and legitimacy gains have been inconsistent (n = 6, 13%). A member from a city leadership organization stated: “We might often tell a tale of at least two cities where there’s a sense of trust and legitimacy with police and then other parts of the same city where it’s broken down over time.” When discussing trust and legitimacy, the events surrounding the death of George Floyd and the consequent “policing crisis” were prominent discussion points (n = 13, 28.3%). Some interviewees believed that the events dampened the trust and legitimacy progress the police had made since the Report’s release. Other interviewees felt that the events instead reflected the lack of actual progress on building trust and legitimacy, for example, one member from a law enforcement organization noted: “trust and legitimacy have been a priority for a long time, but the George Floyd protests showed that the response was more superficial than we would have thought. Police recognize they need trust but didn’t put in the work to build it.” Similarly, a few interviewees felt that police leaders incorporated language consistent with the idea of building trust and legitimacy but that concrete actions did not follow (n = 4, 8.7%).
Diversity and Recruitment

Majority of interviewees also believed diversifying the police force continues to be a priority in current American policing (n = 35, 76.1%), and several acknowledged the importance of police agencies reflecting the communities they serve (n = 17, 37%), as one community member said: “part of the concept of legitimacy is representation. It’s having police forces; government look like the communities that they are attempting to partner with.” Several interviewees noted seeing an improvement in the representation of women and people of color in the force (n = 6, 13%) and to be aware of ongoing diversity efforts in the agencies they work with (n = 5, 10.9%). However, other interviewees felt that diversity efforts have been lackluster (n = 11, 23.9%), for example, one city manager stated: “the notion that diversity should be reflective of the community is a good one, but there has to be a commitment from the very top to pursue that, from policy makers, managers, chief and hopefully with respect to the union officials as well. You have to be open to trying things that you haven’t tried before. We know how the conventional strategies work, and sometimes we have to be creative in our approach to bringing diversity to the department” Similarly, other interviewees felt that law enforcement leaders talk about the importance of diversity but do not want to put in the work to make it happen (n = 6, 13%), as one member from a law enforcement organization noted: “I think it’s getting a lot of lip service, and leaders will say yes I want to diversify, but they are not actually doing the things required to do that.

A number of interviewees also mentioned the police’s organizational culture as a deterrent to diversity (
n = 6, 13%). For example, one academic noted: “it depends on your locker room environment to really get that diversity that you’re looking for, as much as you make the videos and do the recruiting booth, it just depends on if those people feel welcomed or not” A few interviews mentioned the “defund the police” movement (n = 2, 4.3%) as another deterrent to diversity recruitment. Notably, a few interviewees were hesitant to believe that diversifying the force was as effective as widely believed, noting the lack of consistent data showing an improvement of diversity on policing outcomes (n = 3, 6.5%).

A prominent theme several interviewees discussed were the current recruitment and retention issues (
n = 29, 63%). Interviewees discussed how applicant pools are shrinking, officers are choosing to retire early, and few are recommending others to join the force at all, as a member from a law enforcement organization stated: “[recruitment and retention] it’s already been challenging but I think it’s just going to get harder and harder. I think there are officers now that are second guessing themselves and their roles. I think with the younger generation, people who would have wanted to enter the law enforcement field, to help people, and they’re probably rethinking their career because of the feedback they’re going to get from the public, and that’s going to be an issue we have to address. How do you make people want to be police again?

The Report’s Impact
A number of interviewees believed the Report to have helped prioritize the issues of building trust and legitimacy and diversifying the police force (n = 7, 15%). However, others also noted that the urgency of the Report’s recommendations began fading over time (n = 5, 10.9%), with the current events serving as a wake-up call to the issues still prominent in American policing, as a member from a law enforcement organization noted: “In the last few months some of the dormant concepts have come to the forefront, I don’t think they lost importance I just think they weren’t the focus of the conversation.”

Cover Photo Source: Boston Police Department Facebook