This blog part of a series written by our subject matter experts that will explore key topics in reimagining policing in America. Click here to subscribe to our blog and receive the latest updates.

The global pandemic and national unrest have provided public safety leaders the unprecedented opportunity to reflect and truly reimagine how we police. For many, this begins with those mission statements often prominently plastered on the wall of the police department for all to see. Many of our nation’s agencies have lofty mission statements with all the “correct words” meticulously written out and recited by new officers without taking a breath when asked to repeat it.

But this isn’t about having the “right” words because our problems are not about the words featured in the hallowed halls; it’s about how those words reflect the community’s priorities and how to serve community members best. It is time for agency leaders to take a pause and revisit “why” we are here and “what” are we doing to protect and serve, and “how” we are modeling, teaching and holding our officers accountable to live by the values etched on the wall.

The Enduring Power of a Mission Statement Today

A mission statement is supposed to be a formal summary of the aims and values of an organization. Most public safety agencies in the U.S. have a mission statement that defines who they are externally to the world and internally to their officers. One of the first inquiries in interviews of applicants for public safety personnel positions is how they plan to embody that mission statement.

It’s more important than ever to revisit a police department’s mission.

As with anything, timing is important. The impact of an international pandemic and the untimely deaths of George Floyd and so many others in our nation have made everyone in this country and the world pause and ask, “What are we doing?” or even more importantly, “What am I doing?” We are asking these questions not just as individuals but as a collective seeking to address what has been unearthed in the last six months. We are taking an up close and personal look at the inequities that run through many of our systems of power, influence and authority, including police departments.

No one is exempt from the need for introspection – and that includes our public safety entities. Given the current climate, it is imperative that police organizations take time to revisit what they stand for and what they say to themselves internally and to the public about “what” they value and “who” they are. Stating what you value and who you are as a public safety agency should be the cornerstone of your approach to policing, as should having the actions of each and every officer in your agency become a true reflection of what is espoused in the mission statement.

How to Represent the Community’s Voice for Co-Produced Public Safety

The first step towards gaining a greater understanding of the who and the what is to listen carefully to the community’s priorities. Now is the time to redo, redesign, reimagine and reflect on agencies’ missions to see if they truly embody the values of each department, and even more importantly, to determine whether those values serve the priorities of the communities that departments have taken an oath to serve and keep safe.

As a collective voice and nation, we should encourage our public safety entities to take this moment to create a Co-Produced Public Safety model with their communities that reflects the agency’s own values and vision of itself while at the same time incorporating and embracing the values, priorities and needs of the communities they serve in a more inclusive and compassionate way. In reality, the values of a police agency and the community it serves should be one and the same. Words are only words until they are turned into actions. Now it is time for action.

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