As waves of community resentment against police departments surge in cities across the United States – from Ferguson and Baltimore to San Francisco – some experts are wondering why frameworks designed to bring trust between police and communities don’t appear to be working. Like, for example, civilian oversight, which is a mechanism that focused far too much on discipline and tends to foster adversarial relationships between the police and the community.

So what exactly is the answer? Co-Produced Policing, a model that gives the community an equal voice to defining the community’s strategy on policing.

Re-Visioning Police and Communities as Partners in Public Safety

Creating civilian oversight that focuses on discipline is just a short-term Band-Aid for a serious deficiency. Instead, a long-term strategy is urgently needed that identifies community issues and offers recommendations on resolving those issues and enhancing the relationship between police and their community.

In order for police to build this trust, communities must be afforded the opportunity to have an equal, meaningful, and constructive voice in key aspects of the way their neighborhoods are policed. In other words – and this is absolutely vital – the community must assume co-responsibility for public safety in their respective neighborhoods.

An Alternate Model of Community Policing

Law enforcement agencies across the country have adopted community policing and problem-oriented policing models for decades. These efforts frequently fail to engage the community successfully and are often quickly rendered unviable and obsolete. For example, some law enforcement agencies have used Community Advisory Boards whose membership draws representatives from various local groups, such as ethnic or religious associations. Boards like these often fail to expand community participation, and many community members question whether they are even truly representative. Many such boards have gone dormant, in part because most are led, controlled and informed by police rather than driven by the community as true partners to the policing process.

Co-Produced Policing seeks something different: police agencies working hand-in-hand with the community to develop policing policies and practices that provide for constitutional policing in a manner consistent with community expectations.

Hillard Heintze has adopted a Co-Produced Policing process detailed in the Police-Community Engagement Initiative[1], a concept designed to empower communities to help shape policing in their neighborhoods and to assist police departments in understanding how to engage with their communities and, following a crisis or tensions, develop a way forward. Fostering Co-Produced Policing in our cities will help restore, maintain, and build increased trust between police and our communities.

Co-Produced Policing Committee: A New Model for Empowering Communities

In our experience conducting community meetings, listening sessions and interviews associated with law enforcement engagements, some participants clearly voice their beliefs that the police do not act in their interests. Many refer to feeling powerless to shape policing decisions that affect their community. We believe cities must incorporate the concepts of Co-Produced Policing to develop and provide technical assistance for interested police departments and their communities on truly collaborative engagement through the development of Co-Produced Policing Committees (CPPC).

Unlike a traditional Community Advisory Board — whereby a small number of theoretically demographically representative residents are asked to provide input and advice — the proposed CPPC would instead exist to aid the department in soliciting more broad-based community input on policing policies, practices, and priorities through the community development of the department’s community policing strategic plan.

In essence, this proposal is a way for communities to actually help define – within the parameters of the law – how they will be policed. The CPPC would also provide a forum for community members to bring their concerns to the department’s attention. For example, a significant portion of the board could be chosen from members derived from the department’s district or neighborhood community policing committees, associations representing local business, non-profits, healthcare, education, as well as broad representation from social justice groups. Then, the CPPC would work with the department to create a formal, written community policing strategic plan that would help champion and implement a truly collaborative set of policies or practices. Finally, the CPPC would work with the department to monitor its progress consistent with that joint agreement as opposed to judging the actions of a few individual officers.

Goal and Vision for Co-Produced Policing

Our end goal is to help police departments and their communities develop a shared vision, understanding, and system of accountability for how the community should and will be policed. The work of the CPPC is not traditional oversight but ensuring that there is a relationship between the community and the Department of mutual and collaborative authority and responsibility for the practices and policies that drive policing decisions within the community.

This proposed model is not a replacement of citizen review or oversight authorities; and it is not designed as the methodology to hold officers accountable for their actions or to issue or review discipline. Similarly, it cannot be a platform for an individual with a single issue focus. Instead, the goal is to develop truly collaborative policing by putting community and police on equal footing in a dialogue over broad policies and procedures appropriate for their specific, localized community.

The Future of Policing

Our proposed model represents a truly innovative paradigm shift in how police departments interact with the communities they serve. Not only will Co-Produced Policing increase trust, legitimacy, and transparency, but it will also hold both police departments and their communities accountable for public safety. Such a process will bring to life the call in President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing for law enforcement agencies to work with their communities to identify problems and collaborate on implementing solutions that produce meaningful results for the community.

[1]          Mr. Robert Wasserman, The NYU Policing Project, the NYU Marron Institute of Urban Management, the Rutgers University Police Institute, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and the National Urban League have jointly prepared a concept of Co-Produced Policing entitled “Police-Community Engagement Initiative”

Photo: © Cpenler |