In law enforcement today, there are great concerns about transparency crisis and the impacts that it has on the public and solving crimes. Transparency is one of the major crises in law enforcement that has received great attention with many arguing that there is a need for its increase. Arguments have been raised that increased transparency can reduce the likelihood of people breaking the law and increase public support for police. It has also been argued that increased transparency can increase integrity and ethics in law enforcement professionals and agencies. Critics against increasing transparency argue that too much transparency can jeopardize the efforts of police to solve crimes and apprehend suspects. The critics indicate that confidentiality needs to be encouraged for the safety of victims, suspects, and law enforcement officers. Although criticisms against transparency are justified, increasing a certain level of transparency in law enforcement can provide larger benefits such as improved police-community relations, public trust, community confidence, and police integrity.
The Need for Confidentiality
People who condemn increasing and encouraging more transparency in policing have the right to do so since there are unintended consequences that can result as with all other mitigation strategies to problems. Reports indicate that there is sometimes a need for disclosing information from the public for safety purposes (Friedrich, 2017). The reports indicate that being open and transparent to the public regarding certain cases, accusations, and people could invite danger to some parties. This is specifically true where influential criminals are trying to avoid court prosecution by trying to ensure that certain evidence does not reach the court. Another good example is when an officer is expected to provide information against a fellow officer who has engaged in practices that go against the law and policies of the agency. In such instances, too much transparency can jeopardize the safety of the people and their families.
The arguments on safety are valid and need to be respected and taken into consideration. However, with the desperate need for transparency, transparency can still be increased to a certain level that would help to compromise the safety of officers and witnesses. Based on research, the most sensitive information about people are those that pose a major threat to safety (Sheptycki, 2017). When communicating to the public, transparency can be exercised in other aspects pertaining to an event while ensuring confidentiality in all sensitive information. It is true that too much transparency can pose as a threat, but too much confidentiality in such matters can send the wrong message to the community that can prove consequential to the efforts of police in fighting crime. Law enforcement agencies need to take a leap and be open about the progress of the issue and measures taken to ensure safety so that the public is aware of why certain information has been kept confidential.
Disciplinary and Public Inclusion
Apart from the safety issue, another claim that has been raised against increasing transparency is on the disciplinary process and inclusion of the public (Dillon, 2018). The critics argue that the internal review boards have superior methods of investigating and prosecuting officer misconduct and public inclusion is not only unproductive but can also encourage bias decisions due to the influence of public opinion (Dillon, 2018). The critics, therefore, argue that transparency in such matters would only deter the efforts of the internal board to effectively prosecute officers who engage in police misconduct. The arguments presented are true and there is a need to ensure that the concerned body is free from external influences when initiating disciplinary actions. External influences can negatively affect the decision-making process of the internal review board leading to unfair decisions and actions.
The increasing complaints from the public regarding various police misconduct such as excessive use of force and corruption necessitate the need for an effective and well-organized disciplinary board. Although the arguments presented on discerning transparency are valid, it should also be noted that one of the reasons why the public thinks that law enforcement is not doing enough to keep officers in change is due to their dissatisfactions in the decisions and actions taken (Zimring, 2017). There is, therefore, a need to instill a certain level of satisfaction in the public regarding the disciplinary actions and decisions without interfering with the disciplinary process and decisions of the board. This can be achieved by having public representatives who are constantly updated and allowed to attend disciplinary hearings of the accused officers. These representatives would act as the eyes and ears of the public and provide a testimony that the best decision was taken. This would create the opportunity to increase transparency without interfering with the processes and decisions of the disciplinary board. Although public inclusion can interfere with the processes and decisions of disciplinary boards, involving selected public representatives witnessing the events can mitigate the issues and create room for more transparency.
Transparency and Community Confidence
Arguments made against increasing transparency in law enforcement are valid and need to be taken into consideration. However, increasing transparency can provide more benefits to law enforcement that outweigh the negative ones. Although minimizing transparency can foster safety, officers are in much more danger when operating in communities that lack confidence and antagonize law enforcement (Hjelmeng & Soreide, 2017). The use of body cameras is one way that law enforcement tries to encourage transparency as a way of building community confidence in police work. Body cameras are used to discourage unethical practices by police that further builds community confidence in law enforcement. Based on research, body cameras are essential tools that can protect police from false complaints and reduce community complaints thereby facilitating police-legitimacy (Ariel, Sutherland, & Henstock, 2016). Research further indicates that community confidence in law enforcement can only be achieved by reducing anti-police sentiments (Hamn, Trinker, & Carr, 2017). Transparency in disciplinary procedures can help agencies to reduce anti-police sentiments especially if such matters have caused public complaints. Through being transparent on what is being done and ensuring just disciplinary actions, agencies can reduce anti-police sentiment and build the confidence of the public in policing. By the community having confidence in law enforcement, the two can collaborate and ensure that crime and criminals are reduced in society.
Transparency and Police-Community Relations
Transparency has a significant impact on police-community relations. According to research, transparency largely influences the trust that the community has in law enforcement (Hamm, Trinkner, & Carr, 2017). When communities trust the police, they are more likely to call on them for help, cooperate with them in certain critical situations, and work with them to solve problems affecting security and safety in the region. Trust is, therefore, an essential part of building strong police-community relations. According to reports, by being transparent in what they are doing, law enforcement agencies can build trust with their communities (Suzanne, Kris, & Lee, 2019). Although the police culture makes it challenging for law enforcement agencies to be more transparent about their activities, the increasing distrust in policing calls for a shift towards embracing transparency. Reports further indicate that increasing transparency in law enforcement can improve police-community engagement, which strengthens police-community relations (Suzanne, Kris, & Lee, 2019). Transparency gives an opportunity for both communities and law enforcement agencies to raise their opinions and justification regarding certain matters affecting police-community relations. Based on research, law enforcement agencies cannot build meaningful relationships with communities if they operate at an arms distance from their communities and transparency goes hand-in-hand with community engagement. The more transparent police are to their communities, the more the community would be willing to engage in meaningful discussions and activities with the police.
Transparency and Police Integrity
Increasing transparency in law enforcement calls for the need of both agencies and officers being accountable for their actions (Maskaly, Kutnjak, & Haberfeld, 2019). Police corruption is one of the major reasons for the lack of confidence in law enforcement and poor police-community relations. As a universal issue, police corruption is also evident in the United States. Due to police corruption, the integrity of police has continued to be jeopardized over the years that has led to the questioning of the capability of law enforcement to effectively serve and protect. Based on research, increasing transparency can help to reduce police corruption (Bauhr & Grimes, 2017). Law enforcement agencies that are transparent to officers and the public regarding values of services, disciplinary measures, and actions discourage police corruption. Law enforcement needs to ensure that it responds and investigates all complaints of police corruption and openly share what is being done and the disciplinary actions are taken. Only through being transparent to officers and communities can police corruption be discouraged in law enforcement. Based on reports, it is not whether the public thinks that the police involved are corrupt, but how such issues are handled and communicated to the public (Chanin & Espinosa, 2016). As a result, communities, law enforcement agencies, and officers become accountable for certain practices that distort police integrity. Through accountability, every party can take responsibility for actions that interfere with the efforts of fighting crime.
Strategies for Resolving Transparency Crisis in Law Enforcement
Apart from the body-worn cameras discussed earlier, there are various other technologies that can be adopted in law enforcement to encourage more transparency. Mobile data collection and retrieval platforms are other technologies that law enforcement can adapt to increase transparency (Management Association & Information Resources, 2019). The technologies have revolutionized how scene investigations and reporting are conducted in law enforcement by bringing local agencies on the same page for each investigation, which further reaffirms the testimonies of officers in court. The technology brings a new level of transparency in law enforcement where data pertaining to operations and investigations are available to law enforcement executives, criminal justice representatives, public, political leaders, and media (Management Association & Information Resources, 2019). Google Glass is another technology that law enforcement agencies can adapt to increase transparency in the practices of officers (Gaines & Miller, 2016). The advanced Google glass has a built-in screen that records and analyze everything that an officer wearing it sees. Additionally, the glasses further provide officers with information about the item or person that is being viewed. Google Glass not only provides police with relevant information but also helps to increase transparency. The events that officers engage in are recorded, which can be retrieved for review in case the need arises. Additionally, police are likely to improve their conduct when dealing with members of the community and the public is likely to have more confidence in talking and sharing information with the police (Gaines & Miller, 2016).
Open Information Sharing
Crime can be effectively mitigated if the community and law enforcement work together. Some of the factors that interfere with the ability of communities and police to work effectively together include poor relations, lack of confidence, and lack of police integrity, which can be mitigated by increasing the level of transparency between the two. Open sharing of information between the community and law enforcement is crucial if the levels of transparency are to be improved (Carter, Carter, & Chermak, 2017). Open sharing of information for increasing transparency involves openly sharing information while maintaining the desired level of confidentiality. Methods need to be put in place where the public and law enforcement personnel and agencies can exchange information and engage in meaningful interactions. Research indicates that digital tools and using media outlets are some of the methods that can be used to encourage an open exchange of information by the public and law enforcement (Carter, Carter, & Chermak, 2017). Through utilizing such tools, law enforcement can send the right information to the public that would help communities understand the decisions and outcomes taken regarding certain issues and complaints.
Investigating and Responding to Public Complaints
Reports indicate that secrecy during the investigation process by law enforcement regarding public complaints is the major reason for distrust and lack of confidence (Schulenberg, Chenier, & Buffone, 2015). Based on research, the best way that law enforcement can increase the trust and confidence of the public regarding the legitimacy of investigations regarding public complaints is by increasing transparency. Although confidentiality would need to be maintained during the process, there is a need for law enforcement to communicate to the public on what is being done. It is crucial for law enforcement to constantly inform the public regarding the progress of the matter and what actions are being taken to get to ensure honesty and integrity are maintained in the investigation process. Based on research, the major reason why the public are dissatisfied with the actions and decisions taken regarding public complaints is due to the lack of knowledge on the procedures and disciplinary measures used to come to the final conclusions (Patton, Asken, & Fremouw, 2017). Law enforcement agencies can, therefore, instill confidence and trust in the public in the decisions and actions taken on complaints is by communicating the relevant information that creates awareness and justifies the final decisions made.
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