Cover: Fostering Innovation to Respond to Top Challenges in Law Enforcement

Fostering Innovation to Respond to Top Challenges in Law Enforcement

Proceedings of the National Institute of Justice's 2018 Chiefs' Panel on Priority Law Enforcement Issues and Needs

Published Jul 22, 2019

by John S. Hollywood, Sean E. Goodison, Dulani Woods, Michael J. D. Vermeer, Brian A. Jackson

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Research Questions

  1. What issues and challenges does law enforcement face?
  2. What are the high-priority needs associated with law enforcement?

On August 28 and 29, 2018, the Priority Criminal Justice Needs Initiative hosted a capstone workshop attended by a group of the nation's top law enforcement executives. The purpose of the workshop was to identify and characterize top issues facing law enforcement today, including both challenges and opportunities, as well as needs for innovation that, if addressed, might help resolve these issues. The panel discussed how law enforcement is faced with serious challenges that often do not have ready solutions available through short-term science and technology development. That said, panel members reported feeling that the challenges were tractable, but addressing these challenges will take concerted and collective effort across the criminal justice community, including stakeholders from local communities, social service providers, vendors, and researchers. Such efforts should consider substantial and systemic improvements to public safety and criminal justice: The panel suggested a potential national commission to revamp criminal justice in the United States.

Key Findings

The proliferation of video evidence from all sources is causing major policy and resource challenges for law enforcement

  • Systems should be developed to accelerate the review of video evidence.

Today's policing environment is endangering officers' health, wellness, and performance

  • Best practices should be identified for physical, mental, and emotional support opportunities for law enforcement officers, families, and agencies.
  • Early warning systems should be developed that can help agencies and officers get ahead of potential problems.
  • Research should be conducted to identify sources of stress and their likely impacts on officer health and wellness.

Better strategies, tactics, and tools are needed to improve community relations and public trust

  • Research is needed on public-sentiment monitoring tools and on how appropriate law enforcement interventions can be used to improve police-community relations.
  • Research is needed on realistic interaction skills that reflect how most law enforcement scenarios evolve.

There is insufficient information on the types of skills that officers of the future should have

  • Research is needed to identify skills, abilities, and experiences that are useful in today's policing environment.

Officers need help to address an ever-increasing flood of information

  • An inventory of law enforcement information analysis tools should be developed.


  • All solutions developed need to be flexible and agile. The commercial technology industry will move much faster than government acquisition, meaning that solutions will need to adapt to leverage actual technological progress. Panel members noted that solutions also need to be scalable at different levels and uses — what works for a big metropolitan agency may not work for a small agency. Finally, they noted that agility is not just for hardware; policies and procedures need to be flexible and adaptable to meet the needs of disparate agencies as well.
  • Solutions will need to be accepted by both officers in the field and larger communities if they are to be used successfully. In some cases, especially successful solutions may bring unanticipated benefits: One panelist noted that seat belts are probably the most important safety innovation to date for both police operations and the public.
  • Panelists noted that some of the most pressing challenges, such as staffing and development issues, public-private relationship issues, and vendors having too much control over police technology directions, did not have ready short-term solutions. However, they felt that these problems could be addressed through collective effort by the full criminal justice community, which includes community members, agency service providers, and the private sector, as well as law enforcement, courts, and corrections. Some panelists noted that the presence of so many major, complex problems reinforced a need for a National Commission on Criminal Justice, which would be capable of considering systemic improvements to policing on a national level.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was prepared for the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and conducted by the Justice Policy Program within RAND Social and Economic Well-Being.

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