What Will Policing Look Like in 2021?

By Stephen Owsinski

As we step foot into 2021 and give 2020 the proverbial boot, changes may be afoot while some other things remain business-as-usual. One guaranteed constant though: law enforcement officers will continue to show up…much like the two Woodstock cops here, with definite demonstration that cops are always going to be there for the new year and subsequent years.

Like the two Woodstock, Georgia cops safeguarding the official New Years Eve lighted numbers destined for the traditional Times Square “ball drop” festivities, I suspect all our nation’s LEOs could use a breather and more jovial moments.

Throughout 2020, we witnessed an unrelenting browbeating of the police institution, with some anti-law enforcement folks outright denying the imperative nature of having cops literally fulfill the “protect and serve” credo. Conversely, cops have been continually/unjustly held responsible for the blatant malice inflicted by the many criminal elements roaming out there. The misplaced priorities of some people boggles the mind, but cops report for duty regardless of the finger-pointing folly and impending dangers.

For example, a certain organization spearheading anti-police rubbish published a piece today, and it is titled “Ending police violence and investing in true public safety.” The article’s opening sentence is this doozy: “Every encounter between the police and a community member could end in violence and even death.” That is largely true, especially when cops encounter “community members” who are criminals possessed of violence, mayhem, and destruction, and have no intention of peace, compliance, and accordance with our laws.

But, no, they don’t ostensibly care to address that glaring factor. Instead, seeming anti-police sites throw all the stones at cops while examples of anarchy and lawlessness breed and bastardize freedoms of the law-abiding upheld by our chronically devalued law enforcers.

Yet I am a believer in silver linings…

One thing which stands out among all the hubbub about the mission of law enforcement is how much more exposed the profession is, nevertheless exceeding the endemic perils police officials confront daily. Not new, just lots more exposure. Thus, a propaganda blast from anti-coppers is paradoxically morphed into a massive painting illustrating the myriad ways cops are absolutely essential to a society pillared by democratic principles. (Thank you, naysayers!)

The anti-law enforcement site referenced above also printed the following: “In just the past five years, police have shot and killed 1200 Black people.” That’s it! No substantive details/elaboration based in facts to support the myopic stance/statement. FBI statistics proving otherwise are still free to anyone who bothers to conduct due diligence and research data which counters fictions born of bias and unmitigated weight of emotional saddles.

Will this seeming new norm be the continuum through 2021 and beyond? Maybe. Yet, despite these naysayers and their negative perspectives, optimism prevails…cops keep doing “the Job.”

While some entities insist on beating the same drum’s tuckered and worn skins —maintaining the call for “police reforms” and overextending bizarre ideations to put a The End on the policing institution— countless wonderful police-oriented interactions, kindnesses, bravado, and successes evolve.

As the Fraternal Order of Police Jacksonville wrote, “Ummm…we have some ideas [about the soaring crime issues plaguing America]. And we know who still isn’t the problem.”

In 2021, I can comfortably foresee nothing less than a continual cascade of good deeds, diligent duty, and stellar oath fulfillment by LEOs spread across our beloved geography, all implored by the U.S. Constitution and whose personal constitutions are galvanized in selflessness symbolized by justice badges.

While mainstream media gets to spread ill-conceived and erroneous storylines making cops look bad, many cops are largely relegated by police protocols and some executives, maintaining meekness with their feelings, duty decisions, and opinions on matters involving them. It is a breath of fresh air to wake up and read the story of Officer Wells and his depth of faith which aided him well, enabling him to salvage his life and the lives of his colleagues and citizens.

Well before Christmas, countless episodes of cops everywhere across America illustrated compassion and courage throughout dire circumstances imposed by COVID or other destructive circumstances. A Portuguese woman in Taunton, MA is depicted embracing Taunton Police Officer John Borges after she was displaced due to a house fire.

Officer Borges befriended this survivor and ensured she knew she was cared for, as illustrated in the following image:

(Photo courtesy of the Taunton, Massachusetts police department.)

That image reminds me of the Norman Rockwell painting picturing a state policeman on meal-break at a diner while a little lad admiringly looks on, befriending each other. In times of utter uncertainty, cops are there.

Sadly, Officer Borges perished from COVID on December 24, 2020. As the Taunton PD site conveyed: “This picture was taken after a fire in downtown Taunton where John was comforting a Portuguese-speaking resident who was displaced by the fire. It displays the compassion John had for everyone he encountered. I guess the saying ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ is true.” True indeed, on all accounts. And these real-life ill-reported police deeds transpire every single day in America—2021 will be a continuum of compassion from cops.

As a young boy who never got to know any of his grandparents (cancer casualties and a traffic crash), I paid extra-special attention to seniors (especially those who lived alone) throughout my police career. Similarly, cops know their beat and who may need a listening ear from time to time, looking in on seniors between running from call to call.

And, although not criminal and only highly embarrassing, cops will continue to respond to life’s awkward moments involving citizens. Just as the young man in this image discovered:

(Photo courtesy of the Kaukauna, Wisconsin police department.)

Whether snowed in or pole-bound or whatever, cops do it all. The Kaukauna Police Department officers surely smirked about this one. Goes to show you how many kinds of predicaments in which folks find themselves involved…and who they primarily think to call for help: LEOs.

My department was/is big on PSAs and messaging about preventable tragedies resulting from human traits and careless behaviors. Law enforcement agencies across the nation will persistently do everything it takes to save lives, including offering educational segments such as distracted driving and the twisted wrecks they create for citizens and cops alike.

The South Portland Police Department uses one of their very own police cruisers which was struck by a larger sized truck, the driver of which was texting while driving, causing him to collide with a fully marked police cruiser:

(Photo courtesy of the South Portland, Maine police department.)

Per the South Portland PD, a “…police officer was seriously injured by a distracted driver a few years back. Please drive safe, and respect others on the road.” Indeed, flagrancy on the highways and byways nowadays is inexplicable. No one wants a traffic citation. But everyone wants to go home unscathed, and each can do his/her part while police officers do theirs; symbiosis goes a long way.

Social media use is becoming a far more utilized platform for police agencies to convey alerts, advice, new hires, novel programs, and relate to the public in a communal fashion seasoned with dos and donts.

Related to social media, technology in policing is revolutionizing how cops go about investigations,  making it much more safe for LEOs to go about duties in perilous environments (interstate traffic crashes) ordinarily not very conducive to meticulous fact-finding missions where officer safety is jeopardized. Drones are becoming a key component for police personnel building solid cases for successful prosecution or other matters such as missing persons in vast environs usually requiring tens or hundreds of searchers and many hours of sifting. One drone/one operator is logistically sound, and far more nimble and much less expensive than  police chopper deployment, saving gobs of tax dollars.

Hazardous materials spills recon? Send in the drones.

Old school policing meets new norms. Cold cases are being solved while new criminal reports are generated. Fair to say police personnel will continue to do what they have always done, despite the foregone conclusion that there are those who wish them harm. Courage withstands evil and ignorance, and compassion is a cop commodity.

Pie-in-the-sky slam-dunk identifications of suspects will have to rely on other human features/factors to put names to (ahem) faces.

(Slight related foray into technology and facial recognition: doxxing was a thing in 2020, whereby cops and their personal info being outed was trending and to the delight of anti-cop activists. Now, there is murmurings about activists teaming up to develop facial recognition software specifically to identify cops who “hide their badges” or nameplates. From my research, these activists have bene busy scouring social media accounts, seeking police officers’ images to help build their anti-police enterprise.)

In a respiratory-concerned world, COVID-masked individuals require observations laden with extra scrutiny. The era of cops thinking they are staring at a masked bank robber or shoplifter are over; now, everyone looks suspect thanks to masks mandates. Mindful of surveillance systems in place, we now have to reconfigure cops’ observation skills (a certain gait, a limp, a tic, unusual mannerisms, etc.). Like police sketch artists who formerly sat and penciled a possible suspect image, modern police composites will no longer be able to dwell on shape/size of a suspect’s mouth/nose or facial hair (other than obvious long-beard strands).

The flip side to donning masks? Cops will not necessarily need “spit socks” for arrestees who like to spit on them—a glorious positive from a disgusting negative.

Speaking of COVID, cops are receiving the oft-debated vaccine. How are LE agencies handling this new factor? Mandated? Opt-out considerations?

(Photo courtesy of the Coweta County Sheriff’s Office.)

Lest we omit the political forces against police forces at every turn, police union figureheads are fighting on behalf of officers. One union boss is campaigning to unseat a mayoral figure who unceasingly dogged cops and their welfare. Chicago police union head John Catanzara is tooling to dethrone Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, scoping a 2023 mayoral run. Certainly, Chicago cops are happy about such an announcement and favorable future.

Catanzara has invalidated the sentiments pushed by anticop sorts and those who trumpet “defund the police” arguments, and his stance for police officers comes with a reputation of being feisty with regard to years of speaking against the political machinations of Chicago governance.

In all likelihood, mainstream media will persist in nothing more than denial and cheap shots at cops in order to garner increased clicks on articles with inflammatory titles and boldly erroneous copy—never mind facts. In this context, I’ve noticed more and more law enforcement executives taking to the podium mic to set the records straight. An increase in promptly released body-cam footage is a dividend to counter false claims and knee-jerk reactions from folks who simply are not in the know about police encounters.

No need to argue with these types; just show the imagery chronicling facts surrounding what transpired.

Police using body-cams has been a godsend, in my opinion, offering the world a POV experienced by the police officer in dire situations turned into life-saving feats thanks to brave first responders.

Ultimately, we have opportunities to exhibit continuity of excellent police services despite propaganda perpetuated by hate-mongering individuals who know zip about being in a position of self-sacrifice. Whereas 2020 offered blurred vision about policing in America and a chasm separating fact from fiction, 2021 can be the impetus to carry on with doing a job while dutifully educating more people about the law enforcement institution and personal responsibility.

Police canine teams will continue to do phenomenal work, with a burgeoning partnership between human/canine cohorts to serve the public and leave viewers in awe of such dynamic duos.

(Photo courtesy of the St. Petersburg, Florida police department.)

This is just a cursory peek at the current climate and foreseeable direction of roughly 900,000 active-duty cops bolstered by new recruits, and the navigable plots taken to continue delivery of unfailing police services as calendar years evolve. We will see extra efforts to improve survivability in mainstream society whose cops care and diligently do veritable good deeds, all while continually sterilizing police cars and equipment in an era of COVID contagion.

One last thing. There are rumblings of “travelers” (citizens and otherwise) being checked for vaccine records via a passport-like piece of proof circulating the net. Will cops have to alter the script to “License, registration, proof of insurance, and vaccine passport” in 2021 and thereafter?

Leaving it here for now, let’s all pray that 2021 and thereafter looks a lot like this:

(Photo courtesy of Meet Me in the Street Ministry.)
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