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Improving officer morale and safety by protecting their personal data

May 13, 2024  By Dimitri Shelest

Photo: terovesalainen / Adobe Stock

Police officers risk their lives every time they go to work. It’s what they signed up for when they agreed to protect and serve. However, being harassed, threatened—or worse—outside of work isn’t. Neither is putting their families at risk by association.

Unfortunately, this is the new reality. According to a survey1 conducted by the National Center for Police Advocacy, nearly 20 per cent of officers say they have been threatened while off duty by someone they encountered on duty, while 32 per cent have experienced vandalism of their personal property.

It’s not just officers and their families that are at risk. A 2019 survey2 by the International Association of Chiefs of Police found that 78 per cent of the United States’ 18,000 law enforcement agencies were struggling to recruit qualified candidates. The prospect of being threatened and harassed outside of work doesn’t make the job more appealing. Understaffing translates to longer response times, fewer criminals caught and cases solved, and overworked, stressed out officers on the streets.

It’s a complex problem fueled by anti-police sentiment and the easy availability of personal data. The good news is, there are some simple steps that can be taken to enhance officer safety.


Spike in anti-police sentiment

Public sentiment toward the police and policing practices has taken a negative turn around the globe in recent years, as videos posted on social media have created a growing awareness of police violence, with the video of the May 2020 death of George Floyd sparking a mass outcry.

“The anti-police climate would surge after a high-profile case, and usually after a month or so it would subside. But right now, we’re talking about over a year of high-profile, anti-police coverage,” Maria Haberfeld, chair of the Department of Law, Police Sciences, and Criminal Justice Administration at John Jay College, told CNN in 2021.

Data-fueled crime

The gathering and selling of people’s data is a $500 million industry, with over 190 “people search” sites that fuel these crimes. According to data from OneRep, the average person has data records on 46 different sites.

The good news is, there are some simple steps that can be taken to enhance officer safety.

Records can sometimes include names of family members, past and present neighbours, ex-girlfriends or boyfriends, and even more sensitive information such as income range, property value, political affiliation, voting records, credit score, criminal records, and what type of car you drive.

A perfect storm

Amidst this perfect storm of anti-police sentiment, partisan violence and abundant data, officers report that their children are being harassed in school. As an example, in Georgetown, Texas, a police sergeant had his squad car vandalized in his own driveway. Fearing that his job was endangering his family, he considered leaving the force—something a growing number of officers are doing.

A 2021 survey by the Police Executive Research Form (PERF)3 showed that the retirement rate increased 45 per cent from the year prior. Resignations increased by 20 per cent, with much of the turnover attributed to declining morale. And, in a poll4 of 10,000 officers in the United States, just seven per cent said they’d recommend a career in law enforcement to a son or daughter, with 83 per cent citing lack of respect for the profession.

Long term initiatives are underway in many police departments to revise their policies and practices, and to address mental health issues.

In the short term, there are immediate steps that both officers and departments can take. Experts recommend measures such as not calling added attention by wearing tactical apparel or sporting “thin blue line” bumper stickers; by changing out of their uniforms when leaving work; and not keeping their badge in the same place they keep their ID and credit cards.

More ominously, they can educate their friends and family about the threats and teach them “situational awareness,” such as being conscious of discussing police-related matters in phone conversations conducted in public, and not volunteering that they have a family member in law enforcement.

Being a law enforcement officer is hard, and the events of the last several years have made it even harder. Staying safe in the line of duty is always top of mind, but officers should not have to be so vigilant when they’re off duty. Their families live with constant worry about their loved one coming home from work alive, but they shouldn’t have to fear for their own lives.

Political winds may change, and public sentiment may swing back in law enforcement’s favour in the future. But there is no end in sight to the sale of data and the ability to broadcast it. Preventing that is one small thing departments can do to improve officer safety and morale.


  1. Shults, Joel F. “The Police Family at Risk.” National Police Association. Accessed at
  2. International Association of Chiefs of Police. “The State of Recruitment: A Crisis for Law Enforcement.” 2019. Accessed at
  3. “Survey on Police Workforce Trends.” Police Executive Research Forum. 2021. Accessed at
  4. “10,000 officers respond to policing poll: Only 7% would recommend becoming a cop.” Police1. June 2020. Accessed at

Dimitri Shelest is a tech entrepreneur and an avid proponent of privacy regulation framework and likes to explore cybersecurity and privacy issues as a writer and reader on various platforms. 

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