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The great reset: Policing in 2030

The coronavirus is rapidly changing the way every aspect of our society operates, including law enforcement and the communities they serve

Apr 16, 2020

By Bob Harrison

Author’s note: This story about 2030 is not a prediction of what will happen, but an imagined, plausible future based on trends and events in the present. Scenarios of possible futures are useful to help planners envision what the future could be, and then plan ways to optimize on opportunities or mitigate the damage from obstacles that may arise. In this instance, trends regarding retail operations, hotels, tax revenues, fines and forfeitures, and autonomous vehicles are all happening today – although we’ve imagined how they might extend into the future. The question for police leaders is: what can you do, and want to do, about it?

The coronavirus pandemic in the spring of 2020, its rebound in early 2021, and the third wave the following year before herd immunity slowed the virus, killed more than a quarter-million Americans.

The virus left in its wake entire industries destroyed or crippled. People stopped going to the movies as everyone began streaming almost everything into the home. Small colleges shuttered their buildings; community colleges transitioned to almost all online courses. Private, non-profit universities suffered the most. Many of their campuses, jewels in the smaller communities where they resided, were now empty reminders of a time long past. Retail never quite made it back, either.

Almost 10,000 businesses closed in 2019, a high although not unexpected number, as retailers fought to avoid bankruptcy. In 2020, 15,000 more closed forever. By 2030, online penetration of the market meant more than 80,000 small businesses were images of the past. The survivors created online and delivery services for people who were used to the world showing up at their door. Pre-pandemic forecasts of 25% of retail going online were low; more than a third of all transactions were done in cyberspace.

Hotel occupancy taxes, the lifeblood of tourist and resort communities, lagged far below their peaks in the 2010s. More than 40% of all small hotels closed for good. Even larger hotel chains discarded underperforming properties. Roadway construction funding was repurposed to roadway repair and maintenance, although fuel taxes were raised to pay for bonds that had already been issued. Major air carriers had shrunk from 22 major carriers in 2008 to 17 in 2019. The decade of the 20s saw that number drop again to 12, with regional carriers being consolidated to sustain a semblance of profitable route structures.

By 2030, sales tax revenues had leveled off around 15% below where they had been in 2019. Property taxes settled at rates of about 10% lower than in 2020. City and county budgets descended, then stabilized at about 30% below the levels before the “Great Reset.” Some hotels made it, especially in beach or mountain resort communities within driving distance of major urban centers. Others were repurposed as homeless housing or ad hoc senior health communities.

Transient occupancy taxes fell like a rock and stayed at the bottom of the pool. This slashed that revenue stream; it also meant jobs lost for hotel, service and restaurant workers struggling to feed their families. Utility companies were increasingly joining cable companies as yesterday’s providers of home entertainment and energy. A radical shift in habits killed some industries; technology killed the rest.

The onshoring of production had helped to stabilize employment, and almost everyone liked seeing “Made in the USA,” even though the prices were higher. The oil industry had suffered, with many producers declaring bankruptcy as the coronavirus hit when they were already engaged in a death match with foreign competitors trying to undercut their profits and drive them out of business. Even with a revitalized industry sector, unemployment figures drove legislation to enact a universal basic income and major medical coverage in 2024 to support those who never really got back on their feet.

In short, things were less expensive, but people had less to spend. Gas was cheaper, but people didn’t need it as much. Humans are social creatures, and enjoy congregating in groups. The ways they gathered, though had changed. Sports venues and concerts reemerged, but took a few years before distancing requirements were eased. Tourism had cratered and never came back. The five dozen or so ocean cruise lines had been reduced to the ultra lines with low occupancies and river cruises that offered small boats with strong health protocols. Some cruise ships were now permanently anchored in former ports of call as floating casino hotels. Others were moored in ghost fleets, quietly waiting for passengers that would never board.

The old ways were broken, and the new ways had taken their place. Policing wasn’t immune to either economic or technological change – in fact, it was in the bullseye of one change that transformed policing forever.


The 2010s were filled with a societal dialog over the conduct of the police, especially in contacts where implicit bias may have been a factor. The 2020s changed the discussion to one where people were asking if the police were really a priority in the “next normal.”

People were staying home, ordering in, going to school and working from their living rooms. Family crimes were up; domestic violence, child abuse and elder neglect were serious issues. Daytime burglaries, though, had dropped, as had traffic collisions, assaults at (formerly) crowded bars and gatherings, and street drug sales had morphed to a largely online sales and delivery platform. No more check fraud since there were no more checks. The biggest sustained spike in crime? Online intrusion into work and play.

Since the police had so little expertise in these types of crimes, people looked elsewhere to resolve their tech crimes and online issues. Police work was marginalized in cyberspace and became different in profound and lasting ways. In fact, police work, reset more quickly than anyone might have imagined. Most of the pressure on the police to change was economic; however, the coup de grace was the impact of automation in vehicles and the intelligent roadways those cars used.


Police work was on life support from a technology that saved lives, eased the suffering and lowered crime – self-driving vehicles. Cops weren’t the only ones on the endangered list due to autonomous vehicles. By 2030, almost all commercial and transit fleets were automated. Truckers were relegated to being passengers that only parked trailers into their loading bays (into automated factories that loaded them without workers).

Almost half of all vehicles on roadways were already partially or fully automated, and roadways communicated with cars to keep them apart at safe distances and ease congestion. Three of 10 insurers had disappeared, since liability was lower, and had shifted from the owner to the manufacturer. Even the gig economy lost a major source of employment as Uber, Lyft and everyone else automated their fleets.

Car manufacturers didn’t worry much about those losses, but they worried a lot about declining sales resulting from shared ownership plans and an end to America’s love affair with cars. Many older Americans had been car enthusiasts in their youth, but the passion cars used to evoke was gone. Since most cars looked pretty much alike, everyone knew there was no going back.

Vehicular automation meant 40,000 lives each year weren’t lost due to traffic collisions. The 1.2 million impaired driving arrests each year weren’t occurring, nor was almost half of all police activity that involved traffic enforcement or collisions. Pretext stops also almost disappeared, something that was celebrated by social activists. Along with these changes, millions of dollars of revenue from fines and forfeiture, and parking tickets, stopped flowing into city coffers. Penalty assessments were gone, but the court construction, driver training and other programs they paid for weren’t needed, anyway.

Courts, jails and prisons cut their workloads and populations in half by 2025 due to a lack of business. In law enforcement, a lot of smaller agencies had been absorbed into their county’s sheriff’s departments as their communities declared insolvency. Others had formed consortiums to regionalize dispatch, records and administrative functions. Some police departments were fighting extinction tooth and nail, with the “way things used to be” a powerful drag on innovation. Autonomous vehicles, declining budgets and the new American stay-at-home culture, though, forced the issue even if chiefs and sheriffs didn’t want to act.


Police agencies that survived relatively intact through the turbulence didn’t do so by accident. They were being led by executives strong enough to understand the need to transform, and staff that helped convert their vision for the future into real change. The ones doing well shared some things in common. They found that to thrive in the aftermath of severe budget and staffing cuts, it required visionary leaders who engaged in the process of futures planning that led to action. Here are some of the things those leaders implemented:

1. Expanded their online community contact and crime reporting platforms

This allowed anyone to make an appointment and have a teleconference with an officer (or another member of staff) to report a crime or discuss neighborhood issues. By 2030, virtual call-takers screened public queries so effectively that people didn’t notice the difference from talking with a human. Dispatch had been virtualized in the early 20s, so now they were tracking to replace humans altogether to facilitate a police response to crime.

2. Formed community teams

These teams were comprised of police officers, community service officers, code enforcement, family counseling, mediation and psychological services reps. These reps were police staff in most instances; their job was to be a one-stop-shop for all issues inside families and neighborhoods. The teams sought to facilitate safety and quality of life, not to “police” people. They rarely talked with someone they didn’t already know or weren’t already looking for. This approach solved problems, lowered arrests and assaults on officers dropped to near zero as tele-policing limited the chances of an adverse contact.

3. Established regionalized tactical and mobile field force units

One core function in policing had become extinct. Traffic enforcement and collision investigation became marginal skills as more and more highly automated vehicles filled the roads. Drunk driving disappeared as quickly as plastic bags at grocery stores had the previous decade when people began being charged for them. As self-driving cars, buses and trucks increasingly filled the roadways, traffic units slid into the tar pits of history and folded shop by 2027.

To save costs and retain expertise, tactical and mobile field force units were regionalized. State regulations mandated that no community with fewer than a half-million residents had its own team. Cops grumbled a lot when this happened, but the teams had the highest levels of training, the least use of force and better outcomes than anyone could have imagined.

4. Changed the hiring and training process

By 2030, there were only half as many police departments than in 2020 (this was done through legislation in 2024 to speed the process along). Since fewer cops were being hired (or needed), agencies could be much more selective about who they chose. In 2026, the state finally passed laws requiring all police officers to have at least a two-year degree, and for all supervisors to have four-year degrees.

Successful police departments had feeder systems to hire kids in college, sponsor their tuition costs and have them work 20 hours a week to learn the tools of their future trade. Basic academy training went online, leaving only the applied skills to be taught before recruits hit the streets. The cops coming into policing in the 20s were different; their sense of civic duty was higher than anyone in decades, probably since 9/11. Experience shapes beliefs, and these kids saw people step up, help others and save lives during the pandemics. Public safety and the military saw a spike in applicants that had yet to recede.


The “Great Reset” was painful for everyone. Job losses and unemployment hurt families and communities. Entire business sectors disappeared as travel and vacation habits changed and people transitioned to an online, at-home or virtual life. Policing saw staffing cuts that would never come back, and a redefinition of what policing should do to protect their populace. While no one knew what the next normal would be, agencies that formed “plan-ahead” teams to support planning and crisis management and red teamed the future found themselves primed to seize opportunities no matter what was thrown their way.

How do you think the COVID-19 pandemic will transform policing? Email and share your thoughts in the comments box below. 

About the author

Bob Harrison is a retired police chief who is an adjunct researcher with the non-profit, non-partisan RAND Corporation, working in RAND’s Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center. He is also a course manager for the CA POST Command College. Bob consults with police agencies in California and beyond on strategy, leadership and innovation. He holds a Postgraduate Degree in Business Strategy & Innovation from the University of Oxford, and master’s degrees from two U.S. universities.

About the author

The Society of Police Futurists International (PFI) is an organization of law enforcement practitioners, educators, researchers, private security specialists, technology experts and other professionals dedicated to improving criminal and social justice through the professionalization of policing.

Futures research (long-range planning and forecasting) is the pivotal discipline that constitutes the philosophical underpinnings of PFI. The tools and techniques of this field are applied in order to more accurately anticipate and prepare for the evolution of law enforcement 10, 20 and even 50 years into the future. Futures research offers both philosophical and methodological tools to analyze, forecast and plan in ways rarely seen in policing in the past. The strength of PFI lies in the participation of it’s members as we engage in dialogue and collaborate on research on the future of the policing profession.

PFI was founded in August 1991 and incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in April 1992.

Original Article on PoliceOne:

Reactivating retirees for police service in times of crisis

Law enforcement leaders should consider ways to clear a path to bring retirees back to work to support public safety

By Bob Harrison

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, an increasing number of police officers and deputies have been exposed or tested positive for the coronavirus. Instead of relying on existing resources, gaps in personnel coverage could be filled by easing restrictions on the hiring of retired police officers. Using processes similar to those being implemented for doctors and nurses, the police could return thousands of retired cops to service quickly to fill critical needs. 

Most, if not all, agencies have already redeployed investigators into field duties and worked on shift schedules that can survive short-term staffing needs. Some have even begun to incorporate a home-isolation schedule for sworn staff to limit exposure from one officer to another, and to ensure the department can continue to operate if they lose, 15%, 20%, or even 30% of their cops.

Should the pandemic endure, and if it spikes again in the future, how far can people be stretched before they aren’t capable of providing basic police services? One solution could be to follow the lead of states that have streamlined processes to allow retired health care workers to return to work.

In Pennsylvania, the governor recently announced the state was enacting a series of temporary licensing waivers for healthcare professionals to provide support to frontline medical personnel, and to expand the use of telemedicine to provide care. California is also looking to relax the rules governing the scope of practice to free up more doctors and nurses. The state’s Medical Association is surveying retired members who may be able to help treat the wave of patients. The Veteran’s Administration is also expediting hiring processes and modifying compensation rules so retirees don’t have to give up benefits to start assisting at VA facilities. Taking heed of these lessons, law enforcement leaders could consider ways to clear a path to bring retirees back to work to support public safety.

There are hundreds to thousands of police officer retirees in every state. Most retirees, right now, would probably love to contribute in meaningful ways to public safety. Many police departments are struggling to fill positions, and have pulled back from non-critical duties and investigative follow-up to reported crimes. What if there was a way for the retiree to really help at the local level? What if they could sign up, suit up, and go to work in their local police department to relieve their agency’s staffing woes? 

If there were ways to make this happen, the number of cops could grow quickly in ways that could ease the burden on those who work to protect the public. Making that happen could require modifying hiring practices, recertifying officers and placing them in duties that full-time cops don’t see as hindering their work.

There are limits on the types of employment and number of hours public safety retirees can work. There are also regulations requiring a retiree or out-of-state officer to qualify or requalify for employment as a peace officer in that state. The requalification process often takes weeks, as does the hiring process.

To speed the rehiring of retired cops, agencies could:

  • Lobby for regulatory change to allow them to hire retired police officers in an expedited process during times of declared emergencies.
  • Work with their state’s licensing body for peace officers to create an expedited requalification process. The requalification could be an online course, or delivered locally that requires only a day or two to complete before the retiree is returned to active service.
  • Work with their local elected bodies to pass ordinances to allow hiring in this manner, and also with their HR departments to determine compensation and employment status.
  • Finally, they could work with their unions and police associations to develop agreements noting the opportunities and limitations of this expedited employment, including an expiration date for such employment and subsequent reactivation policies for future emergencies.

With these steps, it seems possible that staffing in police departments could increase by as much as 10% in a month, and be sustained for as long as the state of emergency exists. Once a “new normal” is achieved, police agencies could also consider ways to retain this emergency corps via a National Guard-like process. Departments could develop periodic weekend training to retain retiree skills, and have them ready for the next emergency declaration.

In the short term, such a plan could help address the problem at hand. In the long term, it could transform the ways departments and officers think about “retirement” so that retirees could be ready to return to active duty when emergencies arise.

About the author

Bob Harrison is an adjunct researcher at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation. A retired police chief, he consults with police agencies on futures issues, innovation and strategy. He has a postgraduate degree from the University of Oxford in Business Strategy & Innovation and holds MS degrees from two U.S. universities, one in management, the other in HR management and organization development. He was a Fulbright Fellow to the UK, and visiting scholar to the FBI. Contact him at

Original article in PoliceOne:

Why LE needs to prepare for the disinformation era

When you combine deep fake technology with social media, you have a powerful weapon for domestic abuse, stalking, harassment and blackmail

Aug 13, 2019

By Glen Mills

dis·​in·​for·​ma·​tion | false information deliberately and often covertly spread (as by the planting of rumors) in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth — Merriam Webster

An article published by Forbes Magazine on July 9, 2019, asked: How Were Social Media Platforms So Unprepared For ‘Fake News’ And Foreign Influence?

The topics of disinformation, fake news and foreign actors using social media against multiple democratic governments, including the United States, has been the subject of headlines since the run up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Questions of how the federal government and large technology corporations allowed attacks to be carried out on our democracy have been asked and the analysis of where things went wrong will continue for many years.

A good argument can be made that if the major social media companies and the federal government had been paying attention to developing patterns and had thought more about the future, we may have been able to better anticipate what was coming and could have prevented some of the harm that came from these attacks.

Can we apply futures research to anticipate if and how this might affect policing? With a better understanding of what might happen and then anticipating what will probably happen, can we be better prepared to steer things toward a better outcome? 


We can probably assess the future social media landscape through looking at the history of online social networks and how they developed from CompuServe to Friendster to Myspace to Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat.

We have seen an evolution in technologies, accessibility and popularity. Technology allowed these networks to go from simple text posted in forums, to pictures and text, to uploaded video to live video.

More people are able to access these technologies as the price of computers and smartphones have decreased. We have also seen the popularity of social networks rise as more people use these tools to communicate and spread ideas.

Finally, we have seen how malicious actors have found new ways to exploit these tools to spread disinformation. 


If we imagine these trends continuing, we can see that more people will likely gain access to the technologies and tools that only large businesses and governments can afford today.

Think of the cost of a mainframe computer of the past to your smartphone today or of the amount of information you can now download freely with a cheap internet connection vs. the slower and more expensive connections of the past.

We have also seen a trend of governments and technology companies struggling to figure out ways to battle misinformation, a situation exacerbated as governments are unable to keep up with technological advancements and regulate harmful acts carried out with newer technologies.

Russian intelligence agencies spent “only” a few million dollars to employ hundreds of workers at “troll farms,” purchase online advertisements and deploy “bot armies” in their attempt to sway the 2016 election. (A bot is basically a computer program that can behave like a person online.) We don’t know if, or exactly how much, these efforts affected the election, but any observer can see that their efforts did cause a great deal of mayhem and confusion.


Why should we care about this in policing? Because the social media tools and techniques of Russian “non-linear hybrid warfare” are coming to your backyard.

Your smartphone’s technology is equal in power to computers that cost millions of dollars decades ago. Not only that, but the multiple user-friendly apps you have loaded onto your device would have taken teams of developers thousands of hours to create and have required very sophisticated knowledge to even operate in the past. These trends mean that the “troll factory” filled with human employees today will be replaced by sophisticated artificial intelligence programs or bots that will act more convincingly like humans tomorrow.

The bot armies of today (that only cost hundreds of dollars) will cost pennies, be much easier to find and far easier to use by those who have little technical skill.

What will happen when anyone with any type of grievance against any person can easily use all of these tools and techniques? When you add “deep fake” technologies (as discussed in a previous Police Futurists column) and make them attainable and usable by anyone, then social media will become a powerful weapon for domestic abuse, stalking, harassment and blackmail.

By standing up an army of fake but convincing accounts and amplifying messages on social media, individuals could cause civil unrest, disorder and outright panic. What was once a threat by a single person to divulge embarrassing information to a victim’s friends, family and coworkers becomes a highly convincing campaign to have multiple sources permanently discredit someone in all aspects of their lives.

The phoned-in bomb threat of the past becomes hundreds of very convincing real-time reports from students of an active shooter at their school, and the controversial police encounter in another jurisdiction from a few years ago is recycled and spread as something that just happened in your jurisdiction last night.

Police leaders in agencies of all sizes need to plan to detect and respond to these events immediately. If any of these events rises to the level of criminal activity they will obviously be investigated, and they may eventually be prosecuted, but what about the damage done in real time?

We need to recognize the trends and signals because they are clearly telling us what is probably going to happen in the future. We need to be better equipped to handle disinformation from many sources, in real time, all of the time. If your agency is not prepared for this then the headline years from now may read, How Was (Insert Your Agency Here) So Unprepared For (Insert Fake News Story and Resulting Real World Harm)?

About the author

Glen Mills is a lieutenant with the Burlington Massachusetts Police Department currently assigned to the Administrative Division and oversees community services, training, emergency management, information technology and dispatch. He is involved in a number of community outreach programs and manages his department’s social media, website, Citizens Police Academy, workplace safety and crime prevention efforts.

Glen is
also the President of Police Futurists International, the President of the Massachusetts Association of Crime Analysts and an IACA-Certified Law Enforcement Analyst. (CLEA)

Originally published in PoliceOne:

From footprints on the moon to female Mounties on patrol: Catalysts for change

Forty-five years ago, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police swore in the first female Mounties rocking conventional understanding of the qualities required to be an officer

Jul 17, 2019

By Jane Hall

This year the world celebrates the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing. The first steps on the moon were indeed a giant leap forward for humanity. The bounds of earth’s gravity that had confined past generations were broken, and the sky was no longer the limit. Perhaps the only limits mankind had were self-imposed ways of thinking that accepted existing wisdoms as absolute truths.

One might argue that the first step was largely symbolic, eclipsing the rapid expansion of science that preceded the Apollo 11 mission, and later overshadowing the many space programs it spawned globally. Perhaps, but symbols are important, and no one should ever diminish the vision and courage of those early astronauts and aerospace engineers to set a seemingly impossible goal and reach it. Nor should anyone ever understate the power of symbolism as a catalyst for change.


2019 also marks the 45th anniversary of the swearing in of the first females Mounties of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). At the time, this was a controversial, high-profile move that rocked conventional understanding of the qualities required to be a police officer and fundamentally changed the policing profession.

The RCMP, one of the most recognized police forces in the world, is held in such high esteem that it is considered a symbol of Canada. When the RCMP opened its ranks to women, the world was watching. Time magazine featured a graduating female troop on its famous cover. This generated positive press for an organization that was simply acting on a government mandate to open its ranks to women. Canadian feminist activists in the 1960s deserve the credit for building on a 50-year-old foundation started by a previous generation.


In 1912, Vancouver became the first city in Canada to bend to pressure from women’s activist groups and hire three female police officers to deal with juveniles in conflict with the law, women as victims of violence and members of the sex trade. These female officers had no uniforms or guns and their authority was limited to children and women.

By the early 1970s, police departments in Toronto, Vancouver, Chicago and Michigan, to name a few, were experimenting with limited numbers of females on patrol. However, rarely, if ever, were these early pioneers afforded the same powers, status, training, uniform and equipment as men. These pioneering police officers were contained by glass ceilings and organizational barriers that denied them the ability to move both laterally and vertically through the organization.


There was no policing model apparent for the RCMP to emulate when it was directed to recruit, train and employ women with no career restrictions based on gender.

The RCMP had a problem. Unlike Canadian men, women were not waiting in a large applicant pool hoping to be recruited into the RCMP ranks. The RCMP needed women with the right stuff to join, but most women of the Baby Boom generation had never consider policing as an option.

The task of recruiting women caused the RCMP to alter its recruiting standards of the day in anticipation that female recruits would be older, shorter and possibly married. The height and marriage restrictions were the first to change.

This was a paradigm cultural shift in the RCMP’s approach to recruitment. Historically the RCMP expected recruits to adapt to the RCMP, not the other way around. The acceptance of women became a catalyst for modernization. The introduction of women as Mounties allowed the RCMP to draw upon a more diverse field of male and female applicants that was more reflective of Canadian society.


Historically, fighting was part of the job for male police officers. It seemed to be a no-lose scenario for offenders. It was macho to fight a Mountie, win or lose. Crown Councils (district attorneys in the US) did not like to clog up the court system with officer assault or resisting arrest charges, preferring to leave that to “street justice.” The introduction of female police officers turned that situation on its head. It was not considered macho to fight with a woman, especially if a man lost a fight to a woman. Assaulting a police officer was no longer acceptable.

The success of women in policing led to a reassessment of what qualities were best suited to the policing profession. Height requirements were replaced by fitness tests grounded in the physical demands of police work. Emotional intelligence, communication skills and critical thinking began to be avalued as desirable policing skills.

Over the past 45 years, the strength and success of the lighter, kinder tone brought by women to policing has been incorporated into the traditional male-dominated culture of policing. Rarely have minority groups had so substantial an impact on dominate cultures. The credit for these achievements belongs to the female activists of the 1960s and those on whose work they built on, who cracked open doors younger women like me could step through.


Back in the U.S. Space Program’s infancy, men and women rushed to be the first astronauts. Dr. Randolph Lovelace was tasked with evaluating female pilots for suitability as astronauts. Many like Geraldyn Cobb met or exceeded the physical and psychological thresholds set by NASA, but suddenly, part way through the training, the rules changed. Astronaut qualifications were expanded to require candidates to have experience as fighter pilots. At the time, women were not eligible in the US or other countries, to be combat pilots.

Geraldyn Cobb, who had passed all the same pre-flight tests as her seven male peers for the Mercury 13, NASA’s inaugural human spaceflight program, could not overcome that barrier. In 1962, Ms. Cobb crossed over from being a potential astronaut pioneer to activist when she testified before Congress and denounced the new requirement.

I have no doubt women will leave footprints on the moon. Sadly Ms. Cobb did not live long enough to see it. I hope the first women pause to pay tribute to Geraldyn Cobb when they do.

About the author

Jane Hall is president of Society of Police Futurists International. She is the author of The Red Wall: a Woman in the RCMP, and chair of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Veteran Women’s Council and of the Women in Leadership Team for the Public Safety Leadership Development Consortium, and is a member of the Advisory Committee for the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Operation Honour. She lectures on police culture and organizational change for the Law Enforcement Institute of Texas (LEMIT) program and is considered a subject matter expert on police culture. After graduating from Queens University with a B.A. and B.Ed. in 1977 she joined the RCMP and served 21 years.


Deepfakes, Forensic Science, and Police Investigations

By Joseph Schafer

USA Today recently ran a piece on the emergence of “deepfakes”

Deepfakes is a term applied to the ability to manipulate video to modify words and possible actions. In other words, to take something that is ostensibly real and modify it in such a way that the video conveys something entirely different. The implications for policing, while they might seem distant and rare, are profound, particularly when coupled with social media and a 280-character news cycle based on short attention spans and limited critical evaluation of sources.

The technology is being advanced, in part, by entertainment media. Video of an actor might be modified in post-production to correct an error or insert a better joke. An actor who has died can still complete their appearance in a film or TV show (although there might be legal, contractual, and financial implications).

Consider this technology in the hands of a foreign nation, however. Just days before an election, video might be released that seems to show a candidate making a particular statement. The capacity to interfere with free elections is profound and the risk in upcoming election cycles is astonishingly real. What was a pipe-dream in 2016 increasingly appears to be a reality for 2020.

In time, the risks here will not be limited to entertainment media or nations leveraging influence campaigns against each other. Imagine controversial police use of force event captured by a bystander’s mobile phone. In the near future, it might be possible to manipulate that video to make it appear the officer made biased, vulgar, or profane statements. In time, it might be possible to manipulate the video even more, to edit out citizen resistance or elevate the apparent force used by an officer.

In all of these examples, is anyone calling for the development of forensic expertise to analyze video and determine manipulation has taken place? Do crime labs and investigative agencies employ personnel with the requisite skill set for such analysis? How long will it take to develop credentialing standards for such forensic examiners? Will society care, or label reports that video has been altered “fake news”, continuing to believe that what they saw in a video with their own eyes represents reality?

Questions abound, but answers and solutions (for now) appear elusive. As future thinking police leaders, are we doing enough to call for attention and action on this issue before matters escalate beyond mitigation?

fear, crime and terrorism in the u.s.

bud levin

we have long known that there is little relationship between crime rate and people’s fear of crime. facts don’t matter very much. (e.g.,

a recent RAND publication reminds us that terrorism has declined.
“…an overall decline of terrorism in the West since the 1970s.
These findings suggest that the threat of terrorism should not affect individuals’ behavior in the United States and Western Europe-not even in the wake of a significant terrorist event.”( )

faint hope, that. fear of terrorism remains high (
implication: if we focus merely on terrorism- and crime-fighting we will be missing the reassurance that many in our population seek. they seek a perception of “safety” rather than absence of terrorism and crime.

on the up side, if people were rational, we wouldn’t need many cops.

What Will Police Do With Ubiquitous Information?

bud levin

the author makes a good argument — that in a cashless society, we (public and private sectors) will have information on nearly every detail of people’s lives. cash inevitably will be, as the author says, supplanted by information — and to a considerable extent already is.

the arguments will make the current fbi vs apple sort of argument seem rather penny ante. police — or private sector surrogates — will have comprehensive information about everyone’s lives, including those of other police.

what is clear is that the potential for “enemy of the state” on steroids is real. what is not clear is what police will do with that information.

how could — or should — law enforcement (and police) prepare for this probable future?

Data on Police Use of Force

bud levin

View at

nick gives an example of how one might properly analyse data. department-wide data usually are not very helpful. the devil — and the opportunity for improvement — are in the details, in crosstabs, in demographics, in ……

gross averages hide more than they reveal.

imagine police departments that had crime analysts, or analysts of any sort, who had the statistical and scientific chops to collect and crunch the numbers in a meaningful way instead of in a way intended to garner (or combat) headlines.

of course, that would require a lot of imagination. few chiefs can afford to hire such folks. but wouldn’t it be interesting if analysis were to supplant politicized and uninformed argument?

How do we get off this train?

Most of us do not live in abundant riches. Our nation, our states and our cities are confronted with problems and limited resources to throw at them. For every dollar thrown at a problem, there is some alternative use of that dollar that didn’t get funded. Economists call this opportunity cost. Among the many benefits of foresight for  public policy, an awareness of how trends may intersect in the future may prevent us from wasting scarce resources funding projects that will lose their value prematurely.

Recently, I’ve been doing some research on self-driving vehicles (SDVs).  Along the way, I’ve developed a strengthening sense that two trends that are headed for collision.

  1. SDVs seem to be the best bet for achieving Personal Rapid Transit (PRT), primarily through car-share and for-hire models (Uber, Zipcar, Lyft, etc.)  Even SDVs that are individually owned may be monetized during down time by loaning them to a share service.  Except perhaps for those who reside directly on transit routes, PRT is a superior option relative to mass rapid transit (MRT).   PRT will deliver the person from origin to destination via the most optimal route, minimizing waiting and eliminating transfers.
  2. Cities are spending billions on light rail installations.  For example, Houston recently expanded its rail system by adding a North line and a Southeast line at estimated costs of $143M and $125M per mile respectively.  An analysis in the Houston Chronicle estimated the cost of 8.9 miles of rail at $1.4B (  Because buses operate on public roadways, bus-based MRT is flexible and can more easily adapt to need. But rail-based MRT is much more capital intensive, requiring expensive infrastructure to operate. Because of the capital involved, rail-based MRT projects are major bets with time horizons in excess of 30 years.

I also have two hunches or assumptions about the impact of car share models on the future:

  1. They will provide an alternative to car ownership for the poor, even in transit-weak cities;
  2. Because of 1), they will accelerate the adoption curve for SDVs by eliminating the back-end of the traditional vehicle life cycle.

While the earliest models are coming on-line now (Tesla, 2017 Mercedes E-Class), I think fleet models (like Google) will roll-out around 2020 in the first cities (San Francisco, Austin, etc).  I expect most luxury brands to roll-out SDV capabilities around 2020 and mainstream brands to follow around 2025.  If there were no changes in car ownership patterns, half-the vehicles in service will turn over in 11 years and most will be out of service in 15.  However, viable and cost-effective SDV car-share fleets could eliminate the need for the poor to own a vehicle and secondary car markets (used cars) could take a shock.  This would shorten the life-spans of non-SDV stock.  It is plausible that the public fleet could become majority SDV around 2030.

If SDVs realized the potential of PRT, then what will keep MRT ridership up, particularly on the fixed routes of light rail?  All the cities making light rail investments presumably are anticipating system lifespans beyond 15-20 years, but SDV delivered PRT could threaten those systems within that period. At great cost to society, light rail systems may lose economic viability prematurely. When cities are paying for expensive light rail projects long after PRT has taken their riders away, there will be fewer resources for public safety.  Urban planners need to keep in mind the potential impacts of SDVs when making grand pitches for rail.

Policing: Numbers versus Relationships

Bud Levin

the above is a nice article describing versions of “predictive policing.”  however, the underlying problem is not the details of software but the tension between policing by the numbers and policing by relationships.
traditional policing has valued numbers, even though we haven’t necessarily paid a lot of attention to them as we work day-to-day. some of us have paid a lot of attention to relationships while others not so much, focusing more on “catching bad guys.”
to what extent is that tension driving ambivalence among officers — “productivity” versus relationship-building. is there yet a department that validly quantifies relationship-building?  or does it remain as ill-defined as pornography, “we know it when we see it?”
moving forward, does what we measure comport well with what we are trying to do? if not, does measurement matter? how do we move forward?

Using Community Policing to Prevent Violent Extremism

Bud Levin

The task, preventing violent extremism, reminds one of “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” While Lamont Cranston might have known, for the rest of us the task remains foreboding.

Any of us should be grateful when simple, understandable and credible hope is put forth. Schanzer et al. have done us that favor. Still, the limits — mostly as laid out by the authors — should be understood.

These are “promising.” We’ve seen promises evaporate in other contexts. These are not easy to pull off. And the barriers to success are non-trivial.

The spreading of misinformation online

Bud Levin

Michela Del Vicario and colleagues wrote an interesting research paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science ( They studied how scientific information and “unsubstantiated rumors and conspiracy theories” are spread via Facebook.

It turns out that both types of information tend to spread via homogeneous  “echo chambers.” Scientific information tends to get out faster. The rumors and conspiracy theories have a much longer distribution cycle. And neither group of people talks much to the other.

Most likely, this will surprise few of us. These sorts of processes have been going on since there has been something recognizable as science.  The challenge for policing remains how to cope with the spread of rumors and conspiracy theories as their consumers tend to be isolated from sources of scientific evidence.

The challenge goes even beyond that.  Police, too, are people, subject to many of the same social processes that affect private citizens. Police, too, may be isolated from scientific evidence.  That makes police leadership somewhat of a challenge.

So, as chiefs and sheriffs lead their organizations toward various futures, how can they best enhance the distribution of objective evidence, cope with rumors and conspiracy theories, and encourage the sharing of information across narratives?  Surely, transparency can help — rumors and conspiracy theories emerge more often when the supply of objective information is limited. But what else can or should be done?


A Set of Boundary Problems

Bud Levin

When U.S. President Reagan was shot, the U.S. went through some soul-searching — and some sense of vengeance — regarding responsibility of those who were mentally ill and also committed a criminal act.  States took two diverse approaches, approximately:

  1. Guilty but mentally ill:  The person would be imprisoned but some treatment might be made available in prison versus
  2. Not guilty by reason of insanity: The person would not be held responsible criminally but could be committed to a mental facility.

There is still disagreement about which approach is preferable and how well each of them works.  But we’ve also got a second and even more complicated problem. Where is the boundary between religious zealotry and mental illness — and terrorism.  An instructive case is that of the Philadelphia police officer who was attacked Thursday night ( by someone with a history of mental illness and who claimed to be acting on behalf of Islam and in the name of ISIS.

In the Philadelphia case, how does one separate out the terrorism dimension from the mental illness and from religious zealotry?  What rules should police and prosecutors follow? Also keep in mind that the first two clauses of the first amendment to the U.S. constitution guarantee religious freedom.

Labels are convenient and attractive because they are simple. Because they are simple, they can be used to achieve political ends and to unite mobs (virtual or physical).  But real cases rarely are so simple.

Police are faced daily with real people who are multidimensional. As transparency burgeons, information on these individuals and their interactions with police will be even more rapidly and widely shared. The potential for firing up mobs and intemperate individuals is significant.

The choices that police have are limited somewhat by law and by service availability.  To give a concrete example of the latter, my department wants to be able to refer first-time drug offenders to treatment instead of arresting them. Unfortunately, treatment resources are very limited, so they become enmeshed in the criminal justice system — which rarely makes things better and always is expensive to all parties.

Both strategically and tactically, what should police do while enmeshed in such mine fields? Whatever your answer, now play out the processes and the political winds/whimsy to test the viability of the answer.



What of your digital communication should law enforcement be able to find?

Bud Levin

Privacy is a rapidly changing concept.  In many respects, it has faded markedly over recent decades.  Transparency seems an almost overwhelming zeitgeist.  Secrets have become very hard to keep, despite vigorous attempts.  See, e.g., .  This new work, in itself, is not a paradigm shift as much as it is a modernizing of a model long in use — e.g., two users sharing a username and password who leave messages in “draft” form on an email server which, itself, was a technologized update of the “dead drop” methodology spies have used as long as there have been spies.

Hope springs eternal, e.g., . However, for the nonce, privacy and transparency remain locked in a continuing battle, much like bazookas (and their successors) versus armor.  When the power of attackers increases the defenders develop stronger protections.  Thus it has been, both in physical and digital worlds, for a long time.

What changes that dynamic usually is a paradigm shift, often from outside the attacker/defender box. The paradigm shift may reflect changes in technology and/or changes in mindset but, either way, the old attacker/defender paradigm becomes either less useful or irrelevant.

What possible paradigm shifts do we see?  For example,
1. could the general public become more comfortable with increasing transparency, including to police and other intelligence agencies?
2. could invasive technologies stably overcome any probable defenses?
3. could an electromagnetic pulse (or a conceptual equivalent) stably make this game irrelevant?


What do we count as “terrorism”?

Bud Levin

Most people seem to agree that the primary purpose of terrorism is to create terror. At least we agree in theory. When it gets down to brass tacks, agreement is a little harder to come by.

We label events as “terrorism” (or not) depending in part on:
a. association with others we label terrorists
b. damage done, injuries and deaths caused, especially if at a socially valued target (gang fights in the slums rarely are labeled terrorism).
c. whether we are surprised at the event, e.g., we don’t label as terrorism the “usual” friday night bar fight, anything that’s “normal” for the neighborhood (even if people are made afraid).
d. political proclivities and the sociological other

What seems odd is that, other than the folks who are “hysterical for a living,”  few seem interested in measuring fearfulness. Media denizens don’t generally use objective measures, so they’re not helpful for our purpose.

We’re left with a definition way out of sync with how we actually apply the label.  So, where are we likely to be going, e.g.,
a. abandon the concept of terrorism, merging it instead with “violent crime” or something similar? This would implicitly recognize that victims of violent — and even nonviolent — crimes often become fearful.
b. consistently restrict it to events where the avowed purpose was to create fear. If this choice is adopted, the label would have to be an outcome of subsequent investigation. That delay probably would not sit well with the political classes.
c. abandon the term as rife with surplus meaning, misleading, and, errrr, fear-mongering.


The morphing of terrorism?

Bud Levin

What is your conceptualization of terrorism?  is it

a. ISIS/IS/ISIL/Daesh?
b. the destruction of the world trade centers in New York?
c. Coordinated team-based attacks such as at Mumbai or, more recently, Paris?
d. Lone wolves (e.g., such as Timothy McVey?
e. the various Al Qaeda affiliates and copycats?
f. ad hoc street gangs?
g. organized (or disorganized) crime by another name?

Have we created too broad a rubric for it to be useful?  To what extent should police and/or military be engaged in conflict with these folks, and how?  How can terrorism best be impeded or prevented?

What does our future look like in a world where terrorism seems to make frequent headlines?

Variations in Violence

Bud Levin

Consider   among many others.  Some cities, e.g., New Orleans, while not as peaceful as one might wish, seem to be stabilizing in terms of homicide while others, e.g., Baltimore and Chicago and Milwaukee, seem to be experiencing increased violence.

Be the details as they may, and conclusions depending upon which measures one chooses, it’s clear that violence is up in some places and down in others.  The core question remains, “Why?”

Criminologists and others have been debating the uneven distribution of crime for a very long time.  Police futurists, wonder, naturally enough, what role police might have if we were more effectively to “protect and serve.”  At present, police are often recognized as part of the problem.  Looking ahead,

  1. can police become a more effective part of the solution?  if so, how?
  2. what parts of the solution are best addressed by other components of the community instead?

Police and Community Policing

Bud Levin

Community policing, by a variety of names, has been around for a very long time. Some would argue that it precedes Sir Robert Peel’s principles (e.g.,

In a more modern context, it has been contrasted with both combat policing and neighborhood-driven policing ( , p. 9). Many police believe that there are times where each of those models might be appropriate.

In the wake of recent U.S. uproars , in Sanford FL, Ferguson MO, Baltimore MD and a variety of other places and including on or near various college campuses, there has been a re-examination of what is right and proper for police to do. That re-examination is still under way.

The relationship between police and community has never been a stable one, nor should it be.  For example, when gang members are shooting at me, I want combat policing to come to my rescue.  However, when my neighbors and I disagree about the proper care of our front lawns and the disagreement gets out of hand, it is not combat policing that is likely to produce an improved situation.

All of us at heart want policing customized to the needs we perceive at the time. However, what happens when what I perceive is not the same as what my neighbor perceives?  What if my neighbor is of a demographic different than mine? Suddenly the police role becomes a bit more of a challenge.

None of the above is new. What is new is that in the U.S. many police departments and policing associations are engaged in discussion regarding how we might better “protect and serve.” A goal of that discussion is to build futures better than our past. The Society of Police Futurists International has that discussion front and center on its agenda.


A Catastrophic Scenario

Bud Levin

This one was developed by the folks at Argonne National Laboratory. It’s at .  It is 15 minutes long.  As you proceed through it, consider

  1. how the police of today could have helped
  2. how the police of the future will have to be different from today if they are to contribute more to the resolution of the scenario.
  3. then consider how police might get from where we are to where we would need to be.

It’s New Year’s Eve.  Here is a virtual toast to our readers, members and colleagues, wishing all good fortune in the coming year.  Bonne annee!

This time of year, people naturally become a little more future focused.  They reflect on the recent past and develop hopes for the coming year.  Many of us will make a New Year’s Resolution, a commitment to some action that we think will mprove our lives.  In our organizations, we make a shift to the new year.  Calendar year stats get a re-boot. 

This is an excellent time to have conversations about our futures, both personally and professionally. So much of the practice of foresight involves fruitful dialogue.  In my formal training, the most exciting methods – the very ones that separate futurists from the pack of forecasters, analysts and consultants – are focused on facilitating effective conversations about the future.  

Last month, we published a piece from Rick Myers, who has since been appointed as the chief of police in Newport News, Virginia.  BTW, Congratulations, Rick!  Rick’s article drew on his past experience as the chief of police of numerous departments and a consultant for many others.  His comments struck a chord with me.  Let me draw attention to a particular section:

 I enjoy thinking about the environment of policing 25 years from now and what we need to do to prepare.  However, I’m finding a definite tension that draws me back to dealing with today’s crises, which often have little resemblance to what the forecasts say lie ahead.

I enjoy thinking about the environment of policing 25 years from now and what we need to do to prepare.  However, I’m finding a definite tension that draws me back to dealing with today’s crises, which often have little resemblance to what the forecasts say lie ahead.


As a chief, I often had to fight off being bogged down with today’s crises, personnel issues, nagging policy snafus, etc.  Even tougher was getting my staff out of the daily funk and thinking forward.  I believe it is a forever battle.


But, now, as someone who finds himself consulting at different agencies, I’m really drawn away from the future as I attempt to assist agency leaders try to fix what’s broken today.  And, there is plenty out there that’s broken.

I think Rick is expressing the very real and necessary tension between the demands of the present and the lure of the future.  The necessities of the present often work against our future aspirations.  Dealing with the urgencies of the present yields immediate fruit while investments for the future require delayed gratification. But, failure to prepare adequately for the future imposes future costs.  But, social science is pretty clear: when faced with two choices, one with immediate rewards and deferred costs and the other with up-front costs but delayed rewards, people will choose the first option over the second nearly every time.

In recent years, a new method for encouraging dialogue that confronts this tension has emerged: Three Horizons.  While there are some American practitioners, the center of gravity for the method is clearly the United Kingdom, with prominent practitioners in London, Oxford and Edinburgh. 

Three Horizons holds a simple proposition: at any given time, there are three essential and valid voices about the future: the managerial voice, the entrepreneurial voice, and the aspirational voice.  These are voices of the present that speak to different views of the future.  

The managerial voice addresses the need to get work done.  It is the voice that responds to the urgencies of the present and the need to service those needs in the future.  The managerial voice seeks incremental change – to evolve in response to changing demands.     

The aspirational voice challenges the current practices and dreams of a better future.  It pursues transformation (large scale change) and seeks to prepare for future dangers.  It is the voice of sudden, dramatic change over incremental change and revolution over evolution.   

The entrepreneurial voice is opportunistic, seeking to exploit smaller scale improvements in current practices.  It is the voice of action that implements change.  Ultimately, it becomes co-opted by the other voices, usually by the managerial (incremental change) but occassionally by the aspirational (transformative). 

Three Horizons provides a way to map and value these voices.  It grants structure to discussions about the future and helps participants understand from which perspective a particular idea comes.  The organizations that have used Three Horizons are finding it easier to make the critical linkage between the present and a distant, desired future.  Consequently, they find it easier to take concrete actions toward that future while respecting the demands of the present. 

As we move foreward into the new year, let’s have better conversations.  To good futures!