Home > Public Safety > 21st Century Policing

21st Century Policing

In December 2014, in response to continued policing killings of civilians and subsequent urban uprisings, President Obama signed an executive order to establish the Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Over the next year, the task force convened several times and issued its final report, including a set of recommendations for the nation's police departments.


Since then, our nation has faced the on-going legacy of disturbing shootings of unarmed citizens, mentally ill citizens, and people of color. There are cities and police departments around the country actively working on long overdue reforms to reduce police bias, increase accountability and transparency, and bring police operations in line with the recommendations of the President's Task Force.


Our resources and examples on the proceeding pages focus on the six core areas defined the Task Force on 21st Century Policing:

  1. Building Trust and Legitimacy
  2. Policy and Oversight
  3. Technology and Social Media
  4. Community Policing and Crime Reduction
  5. Officer Training and Education
  6. Officer Safety and Wellness


Mayors alone can’t reduce police violence and bias, but they can play a key role in how their law enforcement officers approach their job, creating accountability, and in the city’s approach to keeping its citizens safe. 

Not Trained to Not Kill, Curtis Gilbert, American Public Media, May 5th, 2017. Read more.

Guiding Principles on use of Force, Police Executive Research Forum, March 1st, 2016. Read more.

President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing Implementation Guide, Washington, DC: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, October 27th, 2015. Read more.

A Strategic Resource for Mayors on Police-Involved Shootings and In-Custody Deaths, Cities United, Resources Series. Read more.

Additionally, The National Institute of Justice produces a variety of reports and statistics on issues of concern to law enforcement, such as scientific studies on the effects of fatigue on law enforcement, and the impact of different methods of Use of Force training, that may be useful in weighing policy considerations. 

Many police departments, such as those in Burlington (VT), Minneapolis (MN), San Francisco (CA), and Salt Lake City (UT) are stepping up their officer training in de-escalation techniques. Sometimes called "Force Mitigation,” using strategies to slow down interactions and alternatives to physical force in a police response can reduce the likelihood of fatal interactions with police. Police Executive Research Forum Executive Director Chuck Wexler has written extensively on this topic, and it is the cornerstone of the organization's "30 Guiding Principles on Use of Force," released in 2016.


Officers need more training and tactics to interact with agitated, mentally ill, or drug or alcohol impaired citizens. According to data released by the Washington Post, approximately 25 percent of fatal officer-involved shootings in 2015 involved subjects displaying signs of mental illness. Burlington (VT) partners with its local Street Outreach Team, which provides crisis intervention services in response to calls involving people suspected of experiencing mental health episodes. Salt Lake City's (UT) Community Connection Center, located in one of the city's most volatile neighborhoods, embeds social workers in the police department to look for other ways to serve distressed citizens during and after their interactions with the law.


Increasing productive and peaceful police and community dialogue can improve police-community relations. Charlotte's Cops and Barbers initiative has worked to build relationships between police and the community; Spokane's (WA) Youth and Police Initiative is working to build relationships and dismantle stereotypes, as have initiatives like Shop with a Cop and town hall meetings in places like Toledo (OH).


To increase public trust and transparency, many departments and cities are turning to data and technology. The Cranston (RI) Police Department uses MyPD, a mobile app that enables residents to submit feedback directly to the department. Departments across the country are increasingly posting use of force and biased policing reports directly to their web sites, and distancing their review boards both physically and personnel-wise from their main law enforcement operations. In addition to publishing a wealth of police data online, the city of Toledo (OH) is further using data in its Operation STOP program to target high crime areas for proactive enforcement and then to offer residents in those areas additional resources.


The mental and physical health of officers is also a factor in their ability to behave reasonably and compassionately. The Henderson (NV) Police Department created a Restorative Rest Program to reduce fatigue and increase mental focus by allowing for on-duty officers and supervisors a resting period in a secure location during breaks. Many other departments are pursuing a variety of officer wellness programs, from yoga classes, to mandatory screenings, to crisis and violence counseling services. 


Katya Szabados
(608) 262.5831

At the Summer 2017 Annual Meeting we heard from experts and community leaders on how cities are working to build public trust, train police, and spur better police and community dialogue. Click here to view presentations from the panel, and here to view and download the briefing book.