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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: