Defining the 6 Pillars of US Policing

Posted on June 24, 2015 by admin

Across the U.S.A. police forces have been swamped with distrust, protests and many questions as to what the future holds in store. Key to the reputation of the police are the 6 pillars of policing in the modern world as outlined by the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which sought to recommend steps forward.

History of American Police
(Click to enlarge)

Under the banners of ‘Building Trust and Legitimacy’, ‘Policy and Oversight’, ‘Technology and Social Media’, ‘Community Policing and Crime Reduction’, ‘Officer Training and Education’, and ‘Officer Safety and Wellness’ – here are concise definitions for each one and what they mean for American policing.

1. Building Trust and Legitimacy

Decades of research suggests that people are more likely to obey the law when they believe that those who are enforcing it have authority that is perceived as legitimate. Nurturing trust and legitimacy between police and communities stems from a belief that law enforcement is acting in a fair and just procedural manner.

“Law enforcement culture should embrace a guardian—rather than a warrior—mind-set to build trust and legitimacy both within agencies and with the public. Toward that end, law enforcement agencies should adopt procedural justice as the guiding principle” says the 21st Century Policing Task Force. Additionally a culture of transparency should be promoted within agencies, a “critical” quality to ensure decision making is understood and in accord with policy.

Finally law enforcement agencies should strive for diversity within their workforce, initiate positive non-enforcement activities to engage communities, and track/analyse the level of trust a community affords over time.

2. Policy and Oversight

With rights comes responsibilities, and established policy must reflect community values. Particular attention should be paid to those communities disproportionately affected by crime. By developing policies and strategies the community/police relationship can be improved.

In order to achieve this goal, clear policies regarding use of force, mass demonstrations, use of equipment, consent before searches, gender identification, racial profiling, and performance measures – among others (investigations/prosecution of officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths. “These policies should also include provisions for the collection of demographic data on all parties involved. All policies and aggregate data should be made publicly available to ensure transparency” notes the Task Force.

To ensure policies and procedures are maintained and current they should be periodically reviewed, in tandem with citizen oversight measures. To achieve the aims of this pillar the U.S. Department of Justice, through the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) and Office of Justice Programs (OJP), “should provide technical assistance and incentive funding to jurisdictions with small police agencies that take steps toward interagency collaboration, shared services, and regional training.”

3. Technology and Social Media

The use of technology can serve to improve community trust, but must adhere to policy framework that outlines its purposes and goals.

“Implementing new technologies can give police departments an opportunity to fully engage and educate communities in a dialogue about their expectations for transparency, accountability, and privacy. But technology changes quickly in terms of new hardware, software, and other options.”

Decision makers need to be able to identify, assess, and evaluate new technology for adoption and do so in ways that improve their effectiveness, efficiency, and evolution without infringing on individual rights.

Furthermore a national standard for the research and development of all kinds of technology should be established. Key focuses of this research should address compatibility, interoperability, and implementation. Meanwhile agencies should adopt policies and best practices for community engagement that increase community trust and access.

4. Community Policing and Crime Reduction

Having a guiding philosophy highlighting the importance of community policing for all stakeholders would emphasize the work conducted by community residents to co-produced public safety.

“Law enforcement agencies should, therefore, work with community residents to identify problems and collaborate on implementing solutions that produce meaningful results for the community… Law enforcement agencies should also engage in multidisciplinary, community team approaches for planning, implementing, and responding to crisis situations with complex causal factors.”

Young persons should have special attention, as those most at risk for crime or violence should not be unnecessarily stigmatized. By recognizing the voices of the youth in community decision making and providing opportunities for participation this will help promote positive youth/police collaboration and interactions well into the future.

5. Officer Training and Education

The responsibilities of law enforcement is far-reaching, and the need for more effective training is critical. “Today’s line officers and leaders must be trained and capable to address a wide variety of challenges including international terrorism, evolving technologies, rising immigration, changing laws, new cultural mores, and a growing mental health crisis.”

Meeting with those whom live within a community, especially those with knowledge in the above outlined areas, during and after the training process can help recruits understand what challenges they may face.

Emphasis on educational partnerships being struck up between universities and police academies should also be put in motion, to prepare officers for 21st century policing. This would include “mandatory Crisis Intervention Training (CIT), which equips officers to deal with individuals in crisis or living with mental disabilities… as well as instruction in disease of addiction, implicit bias and cultural responsiveness, policing in a democratic society, procedural justice, and effective social interaction and tactical skills.”

6. Officer Safety and Wellness

Naturally protecting the guardians of communities is important. The support and proper implementation of officer wellness and safety is a multi-partner effort.

“Two specific strategies recommended for the U.S. Department of Justice include (1) encouraging and assisting departments in the implementation of scientifically supported shift lengths by law enforcement and (2) expanding efforts to collect and analyse data not only on officer deaths but also on injuries and ‘near misses.’”

Agencies should take care to ensure wellness and safety at every level of the organisation. For instance, every officer should be equipped with first aid kits, exemplary training and anti-ballistic vests.

“Internal procedural justice principles should be adopted for all internal policies and interactions. The Federal Government should develop programs to provide financial support for law enforcement officers to continue to pursue educational opportunities. Finally, Congress should develop and enact peer review error management legislation.”


“When any part of the American family does not feel like it is being treated fairly, that’s a problem for all of us.” —President Barack Obama

The members of the Task Force on 21st Century Policing are convinced their recommendations in the final report will bring long-term improvements to the ways in which law enforcement agencies interact with and bring positive change to their communities.

Read the Final Report, who was involved, and the Body Camera Toolkit