Policing in Complexity

Policing in Complexity

Victoria Herrington and Karl Roberts | Police Chief Magazine

Policing in Complexity

Leadership Lessons from an Annus Horribilis

Victoria Herrington, PhD, Director Knowledge, Australian Institute of Police Management, Adjunct Professor, Western Sydney University, and Karl A. Roberts, Consultant, World Health Organization, Professor of Policing and Criminal Justice, Western Sydney University, Australia
Police Chief Magazine

"Across the world, 2020 threw challenge after challenge at police. The headline may have been Covid-19, but the subheadings have been many.1 From the unprecedented need to enforce a public health lockdown and the resulting social ferment about connected issues of inequality, distrust in authority, and injustice to the inevitable adaptation of criminal enterprises, the palpable pendulum shift of public opinion toward police from hero to villain, and serious discussions in the United States and elsewhere about whether taxpayers should fund policing at all, policing has seen many challenges.

Through all this adversity, millions of police personnel have gotten up each day, dressed in often-inadequate personal protective equipment, left their worried families, and continued to serve their communities. Facing an unrelenting barrage of murky information and wicked problems, officers have used their ingenuity, experience, and tenacity to press ahead. It is timely to reflect on the last 12+ months, about the multiple crises that policing has faced, the profession’s responses, and what leaders might choose to do differently instead.

2020: A Masterclass in Complexity

The events of 2020 have been a masterclass in complexity. A global pandemic handled with variable success; latent inequality-fueled social discontent underscored by a poverty–Covid-19 connection; political divisions intensified by a U.S. election watched the world over; emergent economic challenges accelerated by shifts in consumer patterns, themselves resulting from lifestyle changes forced by Covid-19; unimaginable technological advancements; shifting geopolitical allegiances as nations continue to look, and think, inward, reinforced by reduced global travel; social media–invigorated conspiracy theories in all areas of life, propagated by the most powerful; and a backdrop of climate volatility resulting in extreme weather and unprecedented wildfires, placing a huge burden on many emergency services and serving as an apocalyptic backdrop to all of the above. Throw onto this bonfire 8 minutes and 46 seconds of mobile phone footage from Minneapolis, Minnesota, beamed instantaneously around the world, and the release of pent-up frustration, the multiethnic and multigenerational protests against injustice, and the calls to break apart the system are understandable, if not predictable."

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Policing in Complexity, Victoria Herrington and Karl Roberts, Police Chief Magazine, 2021

Photo: Black Lives Matter protests, Los Angeles 2020 | Joseph Ngabo