Trust between law enforcement agencies and the people they protect and serve is essential to the stability of our communities, the integrity of our criminal justice system, and the safe and effective delivery of policing services.
This is an excerpt from NLC’s report, City Officials Guide to Policing in the 21st Century. The purpose of this guide is to inform elected officials about the relevant recommendations of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing and provide guidance on how they can work together with their city’s law enforcement officials to implement the principles of community policing.
Community policing is a comprehensive approach to public safety rather than a set of easily-implemented steps. Because it requires partnerships and a culture that actively embraces community engagement in policy-making and intervention, city leaders must often serve as champions of this approach and work in concert with law enforcement agencies and other decision-makers to underscore its importance and ensure that it becomes a part of the community’s doctrine.
Although community policing and the efforts surrounding it may look different in each municipality, there are several thematic take-away ideas from this publication that local elected officials should consider as they work to integrate its tenets into their local public safety cultures.
1. Foster trust
Trust between police and the communities they serve is perhaps the most critical component of the community policing concept. City leaders are central to cultivating that trust within their communities. They can encourage their local law enforcement agencies to embrace the “guardians not warriors” approach to public safety and to develop positive, trust-based relationships with all segments of the community they serve.
2. Align policies with community values
For a number of social and historical reasons, different neighborhoods have different value systems and experiences relative to engagement with law enforcement officials. Local elected officials should take notice of the established culture and value system pertaining to public safety and create policies collaboratively with community members that are practical and appropriate.
3. Embrace new technologies
New technological innovations, such as body cameras and the use of social media in community engagement, can offer opportunities to build transparency, trust, and legitimacy into day-to-day law enforcement operations. Use of these new tools must be carefully considered, and a clearly defined policy framework must be developed to underscore the purposes and goals of implementation.
4. Prioritize community engagement
City and law enforcement officials should take a “big picture,” multifaceted approach to community governance. Much of this should center on building and sustaining the type of culture that is necessary for successful community engagement. This means working collaboratively with citizens to develop a culture and practice of policing that reflects the value of protection and the promotion of the dignity of all members of the community.
5. Invest in training
City leaders should advocate for adequate training for the law enforcement officers in their communities. Training programs should encompass the core values of the community policing philosophy, while also recognizing new trends and dramatic shifts in society, technology, crime, economics, and socio-political factors. Law enforcement officers should be oriented towards problem solving and de-escalation, and the practice should be guided by the numerous community policing resources available to them.
6. Remember to cultivate the well-being of officers
City leaders need to prioritize the mental and physical well-being of their community’s law enforcement officers, ensuring they have the tools to be at their best both on and off the job. This includes embracing injury reduction and mitigation practices, developing nutrition recommendations for public safety officers, providing ongoing physical training and endurance programs, helping officers develop skills for situational awareness, and, most importantly, supporting mental health treatment for officers and their families.
About the Author: Yucel (u-jel) Ors is NLC’s Program Director of Public Safety and Crime Prevention. Through Federal Advocacy, he lobbies on behalf of cities around crime prevention, corrections, substance abuse, municipal fire policy, juvenile justice, disaster preparedness and relief, homeland security, domestic terrorism, court systems and gun control. Follow Yucel on Twitter at @nlcpscp.