By Will Grant
In any profession or industry, it’s the meeting of minds that makes the greatest strides in the field. It’s the collaboration between many parts working toward a common goal that makes attaining that goal easier for all. Such is the hope for this year’s International Association of Chiefs of Police conference.
The 119th annual IACP conference starts this weekend in San Diego and runs through Tuesday of next week. Officially called the IACP Conference and Law Enforcement Education and Technology Exposition, the annual gathering is an opportunity for police departments from around the world to network with peers, learn from other departments, and see the latest in law enforcement technology.
The mission of the IACP is to “support the law enforcement leaders of today and develop the leaders of tomorrow.” The annual conference is the association’s foremost opportunity to carry out its mission. “The hallmark of the conference is the educational sessions,” according to the IACP.
This year, more than 14,000 people and 750 exhibitors will convene in San Diego to share ideas on how to confront the most pressing issues facing departments both nationally and internationally.
Among this year’s keynote speakers are Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Attorney General Eric Holder, New York Police Department Commissioner Ray Kelly, and Director of French National Police Claude Pierre Baland. Other speakers include Assistant Director of the FBI, the President of INTERPOL, and the Mayor of San Diego.
Three plenaries (like super sessions) are scheduled for the conference: wrongful convictions on Sunday at 1 p.m., violence against police on Monday at 1 p.m., and law enforcement officer suicide on Tuesday at 1 p.m.
Wrongful conviction is hardly a new topic in law enforcement. But last month the FBI, in conjunction with the Justice Department, launched its largest-ever post-conviction review. According to the Washington Post, the review “will include cases conducted by all FBI Laboratory hair and fiber examiners since at least 1985 and may reach earlier if records are available.”
Efforts to prevent wrongful convictions are now focused on the ‘early warning signs.’ Recurring themes in such cases are helping experts change policies and practices to avoid sending the innocent to jail.
Over the last 40 years, there’s been a decline in violence against police. In the last two years, however, the number of violent attacks on officers has spiked. Deconstructing these numbers is a convoluted process, and determining the cause of the violence is even tougher. Some say that the recent spike is merely an end to the 40-year decline. Others say it’s a reversal of trend—that cops are more likely to be assaulted or shot at than in years past.
Law enforcement officer suicide is a growing problem. According to Harvard University’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, 177 police officers were killed in the line of duty and 143 committed suicide last year. But reporting officer suicide has been a notoriously foggy field of varying statistics.
If anything, the numbers are low; officer suicides often go unreported. Part of the problem, and part of what stands in the way of solving the problem, is the questionable accuracy of the numbers. But with more departments adopting suicide-prevention programs, there’s more awareness, and a greater confrontation of the problem than ever before.
On a smaller scale, the most pressing issues for individual departments don’t always reflect national or international trends. The Seattle Police Department, for instance, is more concerned with the city’s rise in violent crime, the public’s confidence in the department, and how to deal with both.
“Seattle is a very safe city,” according to Detective Mark Jamieson of the Seattle PD, “but we have seen in 2012 a rise in violent crime, especially gun crimes, and as a result have several unsolved homicides.”
To combat the growing number of cold cases, the department has launched an edgy advertising campaign. Billboards across the city read, “Who Killed Me?” and offer a hotline to submit tips. Along with engaging the public in hopes of generating crime-solving information, the department is also trying to increase public confidence in the department with the SPD 20/20 plan, which outlines 20 initiatives to be implemented in 20 months.
For the Sacramento, California Police department, the two biggest issues are staffing and crime rate.
“I pretty sure these issues resonate through department’s across the country,” says officer Doug Morse, “but the two biggest issues we’re facing are staffing and crime rates.”
In 2007, the department was authorized 800 full-time sworn positions. Currently, the department is authorized 653 full-time, sworn positions. And of those 653, only 636 are filled. The crime rate in Sacramento is on track to be significantly higher than last year’s. With little change in population growth, it’s not hard to see how staffing issues could be related to crime rates