Influencial Forces

Early in the first decade of the 21st century, shortly after the 9/11/01 attacks on the World Trade Center a pastor friend of mine asked me what impact the attacks had on law enforcement.

I thought for a while.  Some of the immediate effects were obvious, a heightened sense of alert, lots of suspicious activity that was never suspicious before, a heightened awareness of people that didn’t look just like us.

For example, I flew to Toronto, Ontario several weeks after 9/11.  I remember having to get to the airport over an hour and a half earlier than I normally would have.  I remember seeing armed, uniformed military police everywhere.  This wasn’t the United States I remembered from just less than a month previous.  This impression was sealed when, as we waited to board the plane a random search was announced prior to boarding.  The first name called forward for the random extended search was a decidedly middle-eastern name.

All of these were immediate effects of 9/11.  The same type of effect as the renewal in patriotism, people flocking to places of worship, a renewed sense of kindness and oneness.  All of these immediate effects eventually faded into the background as life hummed along and people’s sense of hypervigilance, patriotism and renewed community subsided.

There were lasting effects though and this is what my pastor friend was getting at when he asked how law enforcement changed with 9/11.  Prior to 9/11 law enforcement and government service in general went something like this:  a) We’ll tell you what the problems in your community are, then b) we will tell you what we are doing to address those problems, then c) we’ll tell you how we did in solving the problem.  Public service prior to 9/11 came distinctly in the flavor of, “We are the government, we are here to help.”

After 9/11, and I mean immediately after 9/11, that all changed.  People began to define what the issues and problems are that we need to address.  Government could no longer afford to ignore problems that government did not see as important.  A new era of responsiveness began.

The concept of military and law enforcement intelligence also came to the forefront.  We saw terror alerts change colors frequently.  People began to demand information that would keep them safe, tell them where not to travel to and tell them who to look for.  Since then, we have seen the emergence of the world wide web, creating a new publishing forum for documents on the Internet, and a new responsiveness on the part of the government (it is not a surprise that the more user-friendly IRS emerged during this time).  A new era of accountability and transparency began.

These changes have been the standard since 9/11,but now there are different forces acting on government that are demanding new competencies to deliver government service as we enter the second decade of the 21st century. (courtesy Souder, Betances, and Associates, Inc.)

These major forces include:

  • Globalization.  Government service and law enforcement in general is no longer about home town issues only.  What is happening in a person’s neighborhood is still what will impact quality of life and a person still remains much more likely to be the victim of a theft of liquor from their garage than a victim of terrorism.  While all this is still true, the people we serve are faced more and more with the threat of fraud originating in other places and even other countries.  Jurisdictional lines are blurring and collaboration and cooperation are of essence to efficiently deliver public service in the Internet age.


  • Technological shifts.  Government and law enforcement traditionally function in a vertical system, from top to bottom with measures at every step for command and control.  The world however, including our society in the United States is functioning almost completely in a horizontal system where relationships trump systems in helping people get things done.  This is profoundly effecting society in general and entities that function vertically specifically.  The speed of technology is outpacing systems and laws for data accountability.  The exponential technological shifts we are facing will require a whole new way of thinking about data and how we in government share it.


  • Demographic Changes.  Demographic changes come in two flavors, age and race/culture.  In terms of age, After 2010, the number of people over age 65 will grow dramatically as baby boomers reach this age bracket.  The very old population, those age 85 and older, will rise rapidly until 2010, after which its growth will slow, reflecting the low birth rates during the depression of the 1930s.  Today’s elderly population and an anticipated future elderly population will have an impact on the delivery of police and government services and the type of family structure in the community with a growing number of multi-generational households.  Elderly people not only will increase in number rapidly after 2010, but they also will account for a larger proportion of the total population.  As this rise in elderly people occurs, the dependency ratio – the ratio of the number of children and elderly to the number of working-age people – also will begin to go up.  A relatively small number of workers will have to support a large number of retirees and children, increasing the potential for inter-generational conflict.  In terms of race/culture, right here in Minnesota the percent of Minnesota’s population that is nonwhite or Latino is projected to grow from 14 percent in 2005 to 25 percent in 2035 with the numbers of Latino, black, and Asian Minnesotans projected to more than double over the next 30 years.  All regions of the state will become more racially and ethnically diverse than they are now.  The trends in my home state match the trends nationwide.  An increase of even 1% or 2% of any race other than white will have an impact on the delivery of government services and law enforcement.  A change in the racial demographic will bring unique cultural differences that will impact the delivery of police services.  The primary implication is in language.  It will be necessary for police officers to be at least familiar with different languages than English as the racial demographic changes.  In addition to language, changes in racial demographics bring issues with cultural differences in family dynamics and community interaction.  A cultural competency is critical.

Change is happening almost constantly now.  Are you ready?  Do you understand what competency gaps exist that need to be filled in order to serve effectively in the 21st century?

John Bermel, Influence International