In my blog post “All I Really Need to Know about Procedural Justice I learned in Kindergarten,” I provided some simple advice for law enforcement agencies on implementing procedural justice. The article suggested that we apply the principles we learned in Kindergarten – play fair, share everything, don’t hit people, live a balanced life and say you are sorry when you hurt someone. This continues to be valuable advice, but as I noted, life is complex, and communities and police officers face serious challenges. Simple solutions are not always available to address community public safety issues.
Neighborhoods and People are Complicated
Violent crime and disorder in neighborhoods can be complex. Multiple social issues contribute to the environment – including unemployment, trauma, poverty, mental health, poor access to quality education, and chronic social inequities and injustices.
Police and community residents are human; humans have their flaws and sometimes those flaws result in inappropriate behavior. Stress, mental health and exposure to violence are factors that impact police officers and community residents every day.
Social service providers and government agencies often have the best of intentions but are not necessarily following best or promising practices. They may not be coordinated with other providers or may even be in competition with other providers for scarce funding allocations.
But Solutions Can Be Simple, Intuitive – and Human
Neighborhoods have diverse needs. People respond to different approaches. While there is no one best way to address crime and disorder, keep these simple concepts in mind.
1. Be Thoughtful
Find solutions to problems with a strategic approach, rather than a reactive one. As noted in my recent blog post, Don’t Plan to Fail: Adopting a Police Department Strategic Plan, planning provides a roadmap for accomplishing goals in a timely manner. Thoughtfulness also extends to having a much deeper understanding and appreciation of varying norms in society and how best to effectively develop a trusting relationship.
2. Relationships Matter
It is very clear that police departments that develop strong relationships with members of their community are more successful at partnering with community members to address persistent crime and disorder in the community. Relationships internally can be just as important. That is, treat your workforce (police officers) as well as you would expect the workforce to treat the public. This will result in a more cohesive effective department with officers who treat the community well.
3. Ask for Help
Don’t be afraid to raise your hand. Police department leaders should not hesitate to ask for help from the community, social service agencies and other government agencies. Police cannot solve complex problems on their own and need this network to address issues effectively. Police departments and police chiefs are community leaders and have the advantage of being able to convene others in mutually defined common causes and to develop interdisciplinary approaches to issues. On the personal level, we need to ensure that we have policies in place that encourage officers to seek help in dealing with personal issues.
4. Network with Fellow Professionals
Police chiefs should network with other chiefs who may be confronting similar issues. Participation in local, state and national associations can help a chief to understand the types of resources that are available and meet other professionals who can advise and guide them.
5. Follow Best or Promising Practices
While there are not proven or best practices for every issue that a police department may encounter, a lot of work has been done to document programs and policies that do work very well. Police departments need to keep up with the latest research in the field and identify resources that provide information and advice about programs that have worked in other jurisdictions.
Our team at Hillard Heintze recently assisted the COPS Office in developing one such guide, Law Enforcement Best Practices: Lessons Learned from the Field, which provides some of the latest thinking on areas from Community Policing to Internal Affairs. This guide can be a good starting point in being more thoughtful about addressing complex issues in policing.