Each year, law enforcement must pause to reflect upon the last 12 months in preparation for the coming year.  What major trends have we seen?  What are the lessons learned?  How can we improve?  Where are the weak spots and where did we excel in meeting the challenge before us?

The Top Ten Law Enforcement stories of 2013 include:

(Listed in no particular order)

1. Sandy Hook One Year Later

2. The Boston Marathon Bombing

3. George Zimmerman’s Not Guilty Verdict.

4. Captives in Cleveland – Ariel Castro

5. Detroit’s Bankruptcy and the Threat to Police Pensions

6. Stop and Frisk

7. Washington Naval Yard Active Shooter

8. Whitney Bulger Convicted in Boston

9. The Knockout Game

10. The End of Ray Kelly’s tenure as NYPD Commissioner

Law enforcement’s role is to meet its responsibility to the community by ensuring its officers perform as required by department rules, regulations, policy, and procedure. The proper conduct of the police department becomes an issue in terms of meeting community expectations.

Police actions tend to be to be challenged by the community based upon two premises:

  1.  A different philosophy regarding proper police conduct.
  2.  A lack of understanding of department policy, procedure, criminal law, and case law.

Two incidents were brought to a close in 2013 which resonated deeply within the respective communities involved.. Both the George Zimmerman verdict and the Sandy Hook Elementary School Summary Report answered questions regarding proper procedure pursuant to the law, yet both incidents have generated challenges that more could have been done. George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the death of Trayvon Martin. From the moment, this incident first occurred. the Sanford Florida Police Department and the local prosecutor was scrutinized for not immediately arresting Zimmerman. An immediate arrest was delayed due to a lack of probable cause.

To address the issue of civil unrest developing throughout the country, a special prosecutor was placed in charge of the case. The not guilty verdict that followed serves to reaffirm the initial actions taken by the Sanford Police Department. I don’t believe that George Zimmerman’s conduct was proper.  However, the prosecution was not able to prove the charges against Zimmerman beyond a reasonable doubt. .

The final Sandy Hook report was issued shortly before the first anniversary of that horrendous day.  Some media members questioned whether Newtown Police had delayed entry into the school and that this delay caused further carnage.

The first Newtown police officer arrived at Sandy Hook Elementary School less than 4 minutes after the 911 call.. Adam Lanza committed suicide in approximately one minute after police arrival.  Lanza’s suicide suggests that Newtown police officers stopped the killing by making their presence known.

The officers delayed entry into the school because no shots were being fired when they arrived.  There had been an erroneous report that a second gunman was on scene on school grounds.  Once police confirmed a second shooter was not present, they made entry into the school in less than five minutes.

This year, the community of Newtown, Connecticut requested that the Sandy Hook massacre be remembered with an act of kindness. Just recently, an NYPD police officer gave his jacket to a homeless man, the officer found freezing on a New York City street on a cold wintry day.  As we all know, LEO’s perform acts of kindness all year long, but it was refreshing to have the media acknowledge this gesture.

A growing and disturbing trend is the Knockout Game. This “game” involves inner-city young people sucker punching a total stranger with no provocation.  The Knockout trend has occurred in New York, New Haven, Washington, DC, even migrating to a suburban Philadelphia area.

The Washington Navy Yard Active Shooter Incident may not have occurred if an appropriate background check of Aaron Alexis was conducted. Alexis, was granted security clearance although he was involved in two prior incidents where he discharged his firearm.  He told medical staff that he had been hearing voices. Active Shooter Incidents have tripled in the last 5 years.

Diminishing funds for law enforcement continue to have a devastating effect on police morale, operations, and training. The constant trend is to expect LEO’s to accomplish more with less.  LEO’s commitment to continue to protect and serve under such conditions is exemplary.  Most citizens who followed the Washington Navy Yard law enforcement response did not realize that when the Capitol Police risked their lives in response, they were not being paid due to sequestration. They came to work anyway.

Other concerns include the erosion of law enforcement pension and medical benefits.  In Camden, NJ, the entire police force is being dissolved, with police having to reapply for jobs in a county police force.  The bankruptcy of major cities like Detroit and the subsequent financial realignment threatens police pensions, pay, and benefits. Police all over the country have accepted minimal raises or no raises at all for the promise of pension benefits in the future.  Camden and Detroit prove that those benefits may be questionable.

Whitey Bulger’s capture after 15 years on the run is a significant law enforcement achievement.  Bulger was on the FBI 10 Most Wanted List for 19 murders.  Information provided by several of Bulger’s former associates led to the discovery of secret graves of his Boston area victims. James “Whitey” Bulger was convicted for 11of the 19 murders. The task is not yet complete. Bulger is now waiting to stand trial for murders in Oklahoma and Florida.

In Cleveland, three young girls; Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michele Knight were held captive by Ariel Castro for 10 years. The girls were found in a house not far from where each of them disappeared..

The strength of three young girls, deprived of their freedom, but not their will to survive is an amazing feat in comparison to their captor. Castro pled guilty to 937 criminal counts of rape, kidnapping, and aggravated murder, as part of a plea bargain. Castro was sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole. One month into his sentence, he died of asphyxiation.

The Boston Marathon is our country’s oldest. The victimization of those cheering on runners at the finish line is due to Tamerlan Tsranaev, 26, and his brother Dzhokhar Tsranaev, 20, who strategically placed two backpacks containing Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDS) among the numerous people at the finish line.

Lives were saved and people were protected by both law enforcement and average citizens that day. In contrast, when police attempted to apprehend them, Dzhokhar ran Tamerlan over, dragging his brother’s body a short distance as he temporarily escaped. Dzhokhar Tsranaev was captured a short time later without incident and is awaiting trial.  No matter what the challenge, residents and LEO’s proved that they were indeed “Boston Strong.”

Commissioner Ray Kelly ends his tenure as NYPD Commissioner, having kept the City safe from further Islamo-facist terror.  Since 2002, NYC crime rates have significantly declined.  The murder rate is at a historic low.

This impressive crime reduction is as a result of the Stop and Frisk program. When William Bratton (beginning his second era as Commissioner) first served the NYPD Police, he introduced a data-driven management model called CompStat (Computer Statistics). The present accomplishments under Kelly are a product of CompStat and predictive policing which provides statistical analysis of NYC locations where crime is highest.  Officers were placed in high-crime areas to protect, not harass people.

We look back to remember the valor and service of the fallen whose names will be etched into the Memorial this May.

We remember the crime victims, living and gone, who suffered man’s inhumanity in 2013.

As each day flows from hour to hour, law enforcement steps up to meet the challenge without stopping to consider things from a more global perspective.  The dawn of a new year is a time to look both forward and back.

The law enforcement community must always prepare today for tomorrow. All law enforcement executives must anticipate the demands upon his or her agency as 2014 becomes our today and 2015 will become our tomorrow.

Jim Gaffney, MPA is Law Enforcement Today’s risk management /police administration contributor. He has served with a metro-New York police department for over 25 years in varying capacities, culminating with Executive Officer and PIO. He is a member of ILEETA, IACP, IACSP, and FBI – LEEDA. Jim is a Certified Force Science Analyst. He mentors law enforcement’s next generation as an adjunct criminal justice professor in the New York City area. Jim brings the street into the classroom to prepare students today for their roles as police officers tomorrow.  He is CEO of Bright Line Consulting and can be reached via www.brightlinepoliceconsulting.com

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