Growing conflict and tension between police and community continues to foster a sense of distrust.
Stopping this cycle requires a stronger relationship between the police and the public, both at local levels and, thanks to the web, the country as a whole.
What is Police and Community Relations?
Police and community relations is the process of building strong relationships, based on mutual trust, between police agencies and their communities. Police often need to engage in community policing work for information, and rely on crime reporting to maintain public safety.
On the other hand, earning the trust of community members is dependent on the perception that police officers reflect community values, and make decisions and take actions that are just and legitimate.
Why Police-Community Relations are Important
A strong relationship is vital for public safety and effective policing because police officials depend on community members to cooperate in their efforts, reporting crimes and providing information. Police also partner with the community to develop solutions to crime and other problems.
7 Ways to Improve Police-Community Relations
To improve police-community relations, the Law Enforcement Action Partnership advises, it’s time to go back to the basics: increase trust in the community and prevent, rather than react to, crime. Here are seven ways to improve policy-community relations:
- Have the Hard Conversations
By simply acknowledging the history of injustice racial minorities and other groups have faced, police departments can welcome difficult, even uncomfortable conversations about events and perceptions that have heightened many communities’ distrust of the police. Members of the Missouri House Special Committee on Criminal Justice, for example, took the time to listen to ten people express their concern about racial disparities found in St. Louis’ 2018 traffic stop report, according to the St. Louis Public Radio. Conversations about racial profiling arose among law enforcement officials and citizens during the hearing with the aim to solve the issue by practicing accountability.
- Hold Other Officers Accountable
By establishing “duty to intervene” policies, police can help ensure that if an officer is engaging in misconduct, the other officers will intervene – immediately, and publicly if necessary. Not only does this increase accountability, but it can also improve community relations as citizens observe first-hand officers holding their peers accountable – putting a stop to unethical, unnecessary or otherwise bad behavior.
- Communicate Often, With Transparency and Accountability
Immediate transparency is critical to cultivate positive police-community relations. As soon as an incident occurs, agencies should strive to quickly release as much information as is possible, to avoid a sense that information is being withheld. At the same time, the community needs to be educated to understand that initial information after a critical incident is often incomplete and can change as more information can be found.
Police department websites and social media pages can communicate policies related to use of force, community complains, and other issues that could allow mistrust to fester. The Boston Police Department’s (BPD) Twitter account is a unique example. Following the Boston Marathon bombing, the department kept users updated with instructions and emergency contacts. The account has over 500,000 followers and the BPD’s strategy is the same: communicate information to the public in a timely manner.
- Strive to Reduce Bias and Improve Cultural Competency
All officers in a police force should be trained on mental health issues, implicit bias, cultural competency and diversity issues to enable police officers to support any member of the community, regardless of race, ethnicity background, or culture. In 2018, the Little Rock Police Department (LRPD) Academy in Kansas introduced a course titled Cultural Training, which tackles biased policing and helps students develop cultural competence. Other topics include cultural intelligence and conflict management. Implementing trainings like the LRPD is just one example of how police can learn how to communicate across cultures and improve police interactions.
- Integrate Into the Community
If community members only ever see police officers during a traffic stop or reporting a crime, it’s natural to develop negative associations with the police force. But when police officers seek out ways to interact with community members and develop relationships, they can better understand the communities they serve. For example, understanding the community can help police avoid unnecessary stops in a high-crime neighborhood. By participating in community events, hosting adult and youth police academies, creating athletic leagues, offering ride-alongs or getting involved in local schools, police officers can better integrate into the community and maintain peace.
- Promote the Profession
By improving diversity within the police department, agencies can better address community requests. When police agencies present policing as a profession, recruiting people with the focus on address the communities’ requests more than enforcing the law, and encouraging higher education, they can improve the force, creating an internal culture that is fair and transparent, and which will translate to the community as well.
- Create Partnerships for Prevention Within the Community
Working with other agencies and organizations in the community to prevent crime helps improve relationships and establishing innovative, effective programs that improve the community overall. For example, more than 300 partners in 13 cities across Southern California banded together to prevent minors from joining a gang. OC GRIP (Orange County Gang Reduction & Intervention Partnership) includes police, private businesses, faith-based organizations, non-profits, and probation departments, and strives to improve the relationship with the community and encourage children to resist gangs. Through the program, police officers attend and supervise at-risk students at an MLB game, offer mentorship programs to inspire youth with the possibilities an education can enable, and improve student attendance and reduce suspension and expulsion, according to the report.
Everyone benefits when the community trusts, supports law enforcement efforts, and making these efforts are well worth the payoff of a more vibrant police and community relationship.