Staying ahead of the threat: Capabilities-driven strategy for law enforcement

May 1, 2019

Executive summary

The law enforcement environment is complex and rapidly evolving

Agencies are facing capacity and capability shortfalls as a result of expanding mandates and compressed budgets. There is a need to respond to emerging and shifting threats, including cybercrime, terrorism, and foreign interference. Community expectations and scrutiny are also higher than ever.

In the face of this challenging situation, law enforcement agencies must clearly and objectively understand how well their existing capabilities address the threat landscape. They need to identify how new ways of working could better achieve their purpose, and they need to clearly articulate the trade-offs faced by government when determining investment in a financially constrained environment.

To do this, agencies need to define a capabilities-driven strategy that aligns three critical elements – strategy, capability and funding – to provide a sustainable framework that can adapt to changes in both the internal and external environment. If a capabilities-driven strategy is not adopted, the best case is that siloed ways of working around crime-types will persist, operational prioritisation will be challenged, and capability development will be ad hoc. Worst case law enforcement won’t keep up with the threat, and ultimately greater harm will be felt in communities.

The development of clear strategic priorities and direction for capabilities allows more efficient development and deployment of resources and engagement with partners both domestically and overseas. By implementing a capabilities-driven strategy, law enforcement agencies can improve their ability to respond with agility to the complexity and uncertainty of the modern operational environment.


Law enforcement leaders have a simple objective that is getting harder to execute

A repeatable model is needed that brings simplicity, breaks away from the traditionally siloed functions, and enables strategic direction and sustainable investment for capabilities.

The future law enforcement environment is complex and multifaceted. It will require constant self-reinvention, and new responses to threats outside of the traditional law enforcement mandate. Increasing use of digital technologies by criminals, the shift in terrorist threat, and an expanding mandate, will further challenge the capacity and capability of agencies around the world. Moreover these challenges do not exist in a vacuum, with governments and the public placing increasing pressure and scrutiny on law enforcement agencies in areas ranging from operational responses to funding.

The implementation of a capabilities-driven model allows law enforcement agencies to align strategy to capabilities and funding – and to build a coherent, consistent and credible organisation that is able to rapidly respond to new and emerging threats. This enables police and agencies to be confident that they are at their best and ultimately strengthens operational responsiveness and flexibility.

The alternative, functional planning by crime type, will only serve to reinforce historical silos – making structures and resource development more rigid and ring-fenced. Change is the only constant. Agencies can’t afford large transformation exercises every 5 years to help them catch up with the threat – they have to stay ahead – as the political, societal and personal risks are too great.

A good strategy aligns government priorities, organisational objectives and operational outcomes as the foundation for operational tasking processes as well as investment decisions. This strategy, when combined with a well-defined taxonomy of current and target capabilities and an aligned funding model, becomes the mechanism for rapid identification of capability gaps and areas where investment is needed most to deliver on operational requirements.

This way leaders will be able to meet their mission objective: to better prioritise multiple threats, know the good and bad aspects of their agency’s capabilities, and have an ability to explain this to governments and the public to garner their support and funding.

As law enforcement agencies move towards capability-based strategies, strong leaders and resilient cultures will also be of paramount importance. Harnessing the Critical Few behaviors, and exemplar individuals in the organisation are central to any successful transformation in the public sector (see further reading on public sector culture-led transformation in “The Purpose Series”). Not only do these aspects build momentum within an organisation, they also assist in the development of a cooperative and collaborative approach within and between agencies and allow more effective responses to an increasingly complex environment. By combining a sound capability-based strategy with strong leadership and a resilient culture, law enforcement agencies are able to more effectively deliver on expectations and stay ahead of the threat.


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