American law enforcement agencies reflect the people they serve.All of the nearly 18,000 state and local agencies continually adapt to the values and priorities of the local community.
Local police have responded first to nearly every major incident, including the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the 2002 Beltway sniper attacks, and the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.
Even when incidents, such as the 2009 shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, took place on military installations, the responders have included a blend of federal and local law enforcement. military forces increasingly have become involved in peacekeeping, peacemaking, and peace enforcement efforts that mimic law enforcement operations.
Likewise, the preventative measures focused on identifying and interdicting terrorists and predicting targets routinely involve the combined efforts—information sharing, fusion centers, joint operations, terrorism task forces, and regional intelligence centers—of local and federal policing authorities. They have recognized and used the knowledge, skills, and abilities of reservists who also serve as police officers.
The practical knowledge of these dual-role subject matter experts gained from criminal investigations, gang suppression, crowd and riot control, narcotics enforcement, and nonlethal options has enabled capabilities and understanding not otherwise available in the armed forces.
Clearly, the line between roles and functions assigned exclusively to law enforcement or the military has become increasingly blurred.
This certainly holds true regarding concerns, like smuggling, illegal immigration, international drug cartels, and other violent transnational criminal organizations.
The trend takes on greater significance with reports of terrorists’ relationships with drug trafficking organizations and the accompanying spillover violence associated with their activities. Likewise, criminal cartels now use hardware and weapons, such as armored vehicles, submarines, armed helicopters, and rocket launchers.Today, in their respective environments, law enforcement SWAT teams are considered on par with military special forces. As a result local law enforcement agencies have acquired military surplus equipment and weapons, while nonlethal options now make up part of the armed forces’ arsenal.
Some of these shifts are of such magnitude that they meet the definition of a megatrend, one of such importance that it always leads to a change in behavior.
Law enforcement must stand ready to recognize emerging trends and either adapt or become irrelevant.
While a case could be made to highlight many, at least five are becoming irrefutable.
Years before the September 11 terrorist attacks, American communities had begun to recognize their local law enforcement agency as the first line of defense against acts of terrorism.