The role of law enforcement officers in American communities has changed over the last several decades. While it has always been expected that police officers will respond to neighborhood crime, officers are now also expected to prevent and reduce crime and serve as first responders to people experiencing a mental health crisis or overdose.

Pressure to tackle these newer challenges has risen at the same time as many states have begun to see violent crime rates increase for the first time in several decades. Between 2006 and 2016, two-thirds of states experienced an increase in at least one category of violent crime. While some states saw increases in violent crime in large metro areas, nearly half of states experienced more than a 5-percent increase in violent crime rates in areas with fewer than 50,000 people. (For more information on crime rates, see Part 1, Strategy 1.)

Unfortunately, these increased responsibilities for police officers come at a time when officer-involved shootings, high crime rates, and low clearance rates for those crimes have led to mistrust of law enforcement in some communities. This atmosphere of mistrust has a negative impact on public safety and quality of life in these areas and strains the mental health of officers who work there.

While these are significant challenges to overcome, a number of jurisdictions have shown that change is possible. Training for leadership and line officers on effective policing strategies and increased utilization of strategies known to improve community trust can have a significant positive impact on public safety. Providing the resources and training officers need to stay healthy in the field can further these goals while also improving quality of life for those who serve.

State policymakers can work with local law enforcement agencies to support improvements by taking the following steps:

  • Action Item 1: Ensure that local law enforcement agencies use evidence-based policing strategies to combat violent crime.
  • Action Item 2: Advance violent crime reduction efforts by improving trust and cooperation between communities and police.
  • Action Item 3: Provide law enforcement officers with the necessary resources to respond to the needs of their communities.

State policymakers can work with law enforcement agencies to support improvements.

View the video to hear what law enforcement leaders are saying.