Building Trust Between Police and the Communities They Serve

No comments

This resource, presented to city leaders at NLC’s City Summit in Pittsburgh, offers a wealth of information to help municipal officials build stronger police-community relationships.

(Getty Images)
Led by Chief Cameron McLay, police in the city of Pittsburgh are mirroring efforts in other cities around the country to build trust with the communities they serve. (Sean Pavone/Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Jack Calhoun.

Municipal leaders can choose what kind of policing they will seek to provide to their constituents. In recent years, more have been choosing to place greater emphasis on police-community partnerships and the co-production of safety, which necessitates a strong focus on equity, transparency, accountability, shared information, and changes in how police are trained, evaluated and promoted.

There have been times when law enforcement officers, because of the laws enacted by federal, state, and local governments, have been the face of oppression for far too many of our fellow citizens. In the past, the laws adopted by our society have required police officers to perform many unpalatable tasks, such as ensuring legalized discrimination or even denying the basic rights of citizenship to many of our fellow Americans. While this is no longer the case, this dark side of our shared history has created a multigenerational — almost inherited — mistrust between many communities of color and their law enforcement agencies. Many officers who do not share this common heritage often struggle to comprehend the reasons behind this historic mistrust. As a result, they are often unable to bridge this gap and connect with some segments of their communities… The first step in this process is for law enforcement and the IACP to acknowledge and apologize for the actions of the past and the role that our profession has played in society’s historical mistreatment of communities of color. – Terrence M. Cunningham, President, The International Association of Chiefs of Police

In the wake of recent and highly-publicized shootings of both residents of color and police officers, many mayors and other city leaders are wrestling with these choices. In some communities, the resulting changes are sweeping and dramatic. For example, in the Watts section of Los Angeles, a neighborhood with mostly Black and Latino residents, new policies include a five-year residency requirement for sworn officers, co-screening of police by community members, and evaluation and promotion criteria based in large part on the quality and frequency of their community contacts and crime reduction in the neighborhoods they serve. In cities like New Orleans and Tacoma, Washington, community conversations with law enforcement and residents of color are providing space for racial healing by acknowledging the historical role of policing in the creation of racial inequities. In other cities, elected officials are taking more incremental but still hopeful steps to strengthen ties between police and the community.

Enforcement is not the core of our work. Harm reduction, sustaining healthy communities and work with youth lie at our heart. We must co-produce safety with the community…we need training on the rightful role of police and training for mayors on hiring police chiefs, as public safety is their most important job and the chief of police is their most important hire. – Jim Bueermann, President, The Police Foundation

Too little research has been done on the effectiveness of these efforts to know with certainty the most effective ways to build police-community trust. Nonetheless, a wealth of ideas and city examples give municipal officials many ways to get started. Five areas seem particularly promising for local action: engaging the community in planning and oversight; improving police training; promoting youth development; connecting residents to resources; and building personal relationships between police officers and residents. Here are a number of examples from each area:

Engaging the Community in Planning and Oversight

  • Community conversations about race and police-community relations (many cities)
  • Police and community working together to develop comprehensive violence prevention plans (many cities)
  • MOUs that enhance data sharing and prevention planning
  • “Micro-Community Policing Plans” (neighborhood safety plans developed with local residents in Seattle)
  • Citizen Police Academies (many cities)
  • “Community of Trust Committee” (Fairfax County, Virginia)
  • Police/Clergy Advisory Boards (many cities)
  • Police meeting with faith community following officer-involved shooting (Long Beach, California)
  • Establishing success indicators to measure the progress of strategies to increase trust between law enforcement and the community
  • Sharing plans with trusted community partners (e.g., local chapters of the NAACP and National Council of La Raza, the faith community)

Improving Training and Support for Police Officers

  • Implicit bias training
  • De-escalation of force training
  • Cultural competency training
  • Changing how officers are evaluated and promoted (Watts, California; Camden, New Jersey)
  • Community service in Police Academy training (e.g., mentoring youth throughout academy training)
  • “Transparency” policies
  • Training police officers to police one another (New Orleans)
  • Recruitment and hiring of minority and bilingual, bi-cultural law enforcement officers
  • “Adopt a Cop” (e.g., churches praying for, caring for individual officers in San Jose, California)

Promoting and Supporting Youth Development

  • Mentoring (“Youth Pride” in Providence; “Ambassadors Program” in Saint Paul)
  • Tutoring (Santa Rosa, California; “OK” program in Oakland, California; PACER in Camden)
  • Coaching football/basketball; police-athletic leagues (PAL in many cities)
  • Chief’s Youth Advisory Board (Louisville, Kentucky)
  • Police Cadet Program (Los Angeles)
  • Police Academy (Washington, D.C.)
  • Explorer Scouts (many cities)
  • “Challenges and Choices” taught by police in public schools (Los Angeles)
  • “Officer Friendly” programs in schools
  • Safety camps for youth (New Orleans)
  • Youth/police dialogues (New Orleans, Seattle)
  • Youth and Police Initiatives (Spokane; several sites in Massachusetts via Northeast Family Institute)

Connecting Residents to Community Resources

  • Mental health clinicians riding with officers (Oakland); mental health officers (Madison, Wisconsin)
  • Making citizens aware of essential services (e.g., homeless shelters, addiction treatment, housing and code enforcement)
  • Social workers stationed in police departments (Boston)
  • “Quality of Life Officers” (New Orleans)
  • Community Policing Officers spotting and responding to non-enforcement problems such as poor lighting, absence of stop signs, local parks in disarray, problem bars (many cities)
  • Diversion from arrest (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion in many cities)
  • Police/Human Services/School partnership to divert low-level offenders to services, which include school retention strategies (Philadelphia)
  • Citation and release (Charleston, South Carolina)
  • Officers linking caregivers to child protection agencies following arrest of a parent
  • Police Departments supporting “Peacemaker or Street Worker” (Cure Violence) initiatives, most of which are staffed by ex-offenders

Building Personal Relationships between Officers and Residents

  • Pop Up Barbeques (Camden)
  • Bike Patrols (Minneapolis, Minnesota; Covina, California)
  • Operation Hoodsie (ice cream) Cup (Boston)
  • Police/Youth Chats (Louisville)
  • Coffee with a Cop, Coke with a Cop, Shop with a Cop (several cities)
  • “Open Up” (police delivering food to people experiencing poverty in Knoxville, Tennessee)
  • Police attending community meetings (many cities)
  • Police worshipping in local churches/singing in choirs, attending local sport events & funerals
  • Peace Walks with community groups (Long Beach; Boston; Richmond, California; Seattle)
  • Help giving away food; planting trees (New Orleans)
  • “Trust Talks” (Winston-Salem, North Carolina)
  • Clergy (Baltimore) and citizen “Ride-Alongs” (many cities)
  • Acknowledge need for reconciliation and for vehicles that promote trust
  • Use of communication vehicles to share police programs, policies, practice

More Resources

  • National League of Cities (“Policing in the 21st Century”)
  • President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing (recommendations derived from national hearings)
  • The Police Foundation (evidence-based approaches to improve policing)
  • The Police Executive Research Forum (program and policy research, TA provider, author of “Guiding Principles on Use of Force”)
  • International Association of Chiefs of Police (providing research, education on exemplary practice to its worldwide association of police professionals)
  • S. Conference of Mayors (“Strengthening Police-Community Relations in America,” a report by a working group of mayors and police chiefs)
  • National Conference of State Legislators (policy actions states can take)
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (policing and the mentally ill)
  • Campaign Zero (10 recommendations to reduce police violence from the community perspective)
  • Vera Institute of Justice (“How to Support Trust Building in Your Agency”)
  • John Jay College, National Institute for Building Trust (initiative in six cities: Birmingham, Alabama; Fort Wayne, Indiana; Gary, Indiana; Minneapolis; Pittsburgh; Stockton, California)
  • National Association of Counties (reports on various criminal justice issues)

For more information on building police-community trust, contact Leon T. Andrews, Jr., the director of NLC’s Race, Equity And Leadership (REAL) initiative, at

Jack CalhounAbout the author: John A. “Jack” Calhoun is an internationally-renowned public speaker and frequent media guest and editorial contributor. He currently serves as Senior Consultant to the National League of Cities and is the founder and CEO of Hope Matters. For more than 20 years, Mr. Calhoun was the founding president of the National Crime Prevention Council, prior to which he served under President Carter as the Commissioner of the Administration for Children, Youth and Families. His new book, Policy Walking: Lighting Paths to Safer Communities, Stronger Families & Thriving Youth, is available now.