This morning I welcomed two new rookies to the department fresh out of the Academy. They looked incredibly young to me. Raw, nervous. They took me back to my first day in law enforcement many years ago. I hoped that when they looked back on things some day from my vantage point, they would feel that they had made a difference.
I thought about the many changes in law enforcement during my time on the job. Columbine, Ruby Ridge, Oklahoma City, the Branch Davidian cult, Ted Bundy, and the Unibomber. Rodney King and the LA Riots. Video surveillance, Shot Spotter, cell phones, in-car computers, and Facebook. Force Science, tasers, DNA testing, and COMPSTAT. I think that this would have all seemed like Star Wars to the rookie I once was.
The Internet brought new tools for law enforcement to utilize and, conversely, new environments for criminals to exploit. The concept of cyber crime did not exist when I was a rookie. Today it is a major concern for private citizens, major companies, and the government. Now we must cope with the explosion of financial, identity, and sexual exploitation crimes which dominate the computer security field.
The force I joined was a white, male-dominated, cohesive unit. Today’s law enforcement draws on the synergy of diversity…diversity of gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and age. I read not long ago that the Virginia State Trooper Academy welcomed a 53 year old recruit starting a new career.
Law enforcement now has non-lethal weapon, forensic, and computer technology which I would have not dreamed possible. We have so many additional tools at our disposal, as well as challenges which can seem nearly insurmountable.
The biggest change? Local law enforcement can never again be a simply reactive agency handling local issues. The events of September 11, 2001 have taught me that the long tentacles of terrorism can reach far. I would have never dreamed that extremists could kill over 3,000 citizens, including 60 brother law enforcement officers who were first responders, just a few miles from my own department.