Persistently poor economic conditions are likely to “fundamentally change the delivery of police services,” says Bernard Melekian, director of the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing (COPS). Melekian, former police chief in Pasadena, Ca., noted that it is “extraordinarily inefficient” to send out a police car for each service call. He said police might take more reports via the Internet, video conferencing, or Skype calls. Melekian, who spoke yesterday at the annual National Institute of Justice conference near Washington, D.C., said he was not making a formal prediction on behalf of the Justice Department.
Many police departments around the U.S. have laid off officers, frozen hiring, or sought federal aid to hire more cops–a program administered by the COPS office. Melekian believes that the best-case scenario is that police-agency budgets overall will hold steady in the next few years. He said another budget-saving measure may be for police departments in a region to specialize in certain functions, to avoid duplications. University of Maryland criminologist Charles Wellford, who co-chairs the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s research advisory committee, suggested at the conference that criminal-justice agencies could conserve money for law enforcement by spending less on incarceration, which he said does little to cut crime.