At this point in my career, I am spending the majority of my time working directly with law enforcement to address the many challenges regarding policies, practices and procedures for addressing crime as well as integrating police and community engagement.  Over the past few years, several incidents have occurred at fairly high-profile police departments, raising questions about police practices, use of force, and community trust and engagement.  These incidents and the resulting inquiries have placed the police at the forefront of our nightly news and sparked discussions in our communities.

Many of the questions raised have created a renewed interest in how police enforce the law and interact with the communities they serve.  Several of these incidents have been reviewed by the Department of Justice and have resulted in civil rights investigations or court-ordered monitoring.

This heightened global attention has reinforced the need to provide the public and the police with guidance on how to counteract a deepening crisis by rebuilding relationships based on mutual trust, communication and respect.  With this goal in mind, the President created the 21st Century Policing Task Force in December 2014 to promote transparency and establish national law enforcement best practices in this critical area.

The 21st Century Policing Task Force: What is it?

The task force is comprised of 11 members with diverse backgrounds in the legal profession, law enforcement; as well as academia; and various advocacy and policing organizations – all of whom provide deep insight and guidance on issues facing our police and communities.

In March 2015, the task force released an interim report that provided recommendations and findings to guide and assist police and communities on taking steps to create sustainable police practices.  These practices will foster community collaboration, build partnerships, foster police legitimacy and trust, as well as model constitutional and bias-free policing practices.

Two months later, in May, the task force issued its final report.  It outlines six pillars to guide police and communities on how to rebuild trust and establish constitutional police policies, practices and procedures, as well as other interrelated critical areas including technology, training, oversight and crime reduction.

The report is a must-read for police leaders and practitioners as it outlines and captures ideas and concepts that have been used in progressive departments across the country.  It lays out a blueprint for departments and communities to create mechanisms for fighting crime, creating safer communities, ensuring constitutional policing practices, and building lasting bridges between the community and the police.

Building Trust and Legitimacy

As outlined in the report, key actions police departments can adapt and implement immediately to take positive steps towards strengthening community engagement and building trust include the following:

  • Make all department policies available for public review and regularly post on the department’s website information about stops, summonses, arrests, reported crime and other law enforcement data aggregated by demographics.
  • Communicate with citizens and the media swiftly, openly and neutrally when serious incidents occur, including those involving alleged police misconduct, while respecting instances in which the law requires confidentiality.  Even though some information is publicly available, the police should not release background information on involved parties when a serious incident occurs.
  • Proactively promote public trust by initiating positive, non-enforcement activities to engage communities that typically have high rates of investigative and enforcement involvement with government agencies.
  • Track the level of trust the community has in the police, just as changes in crime are measured.  Annual community surveys, ideally standardized across jurisdictions and with accepted sampling protocols, can measure how policing in that community affects public trust.

Police and Community Engagement and Crime Reduction

As the report states so eloquently – “Community policing is not just about the relationship between individual officers and individual neighborhood residents.  It is also about the relationship between law enforcement leaders and leaders of key institutions in a community, such as churches, businesses and schools.  The police need to support the community’s own process to define prevention and reach goals.”  This could include:

  • Developing and adopting policies and strategies that reinforce the importance of police and community engagement in managing public safety.
  • Adopting model policies and best practices for technology-based community engagement that increase community trust and access.
  • Refraining from practices requiring officers to issue a predetermined number of tickets, citations, arrests or summonses, or to initiate investigative contacts with citizens for reasons not directly related to improving public safety, such as generating revenue.
  • Evaluating officers on their efforts to engage the community, which will place an increased value on developing partnerships.
  • Underscoring the importance of language used and adopting policies that direct officers to speak to others with respect.
  • Scheduling regular forums and meetings where community members can interact with police and help influence programs and policies.
  • Restoring and building trust between youth and police by creating programs and projects for positive, consistent and persistent interaction between youth and police.

As stated in the report –“Trust in institutions can only be achieved if the public can verify what they are being told about…”  As we have seen repeatedly in numerous cities the community continues to raise concerns regarding law enforcement transparency and how the lack of it impacts trust and engagement.  So as we move towards establishing better police and community engagement and relations – how well transparency is integrated into police policies, practices and procedures will be paramount to trust building and collaboration.

I have personally seen success in community and police problem solving and I believe it works and I support it.  And I’m interested in hearing your perspective on the report and sharing your examples of positive police and community collaborations.  Please feel free to comment here or send me an email at Marcia.thompson@hillardheintze.com.

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