Community Relations in the Post-Ferguson World
Communities rely on police departments to ‘protect and serve’ and the police, in turn, rely on community support and cooperation – but the relationship is not always harmonious. Police/resident tensions, heightened by cultural differences and media attention, have led to distrust and anger in both urban and local municipalities alike. Through community-wide dialogues, police and residents have used their shared insights to dramatically improve relationships. This session at the PRIMA 2016 Annual Conference outlined a new approach that police departments can take to enhance community engagement.
- Gloria Francesca Mengual, The National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation
- Patrick Ridenhour, MS, Stratford Police Department
There has been increased visibility of police incidents with African Americans, which has had a large impact on public perception of law enforcement. Currently, there are several cities across the U.S. being investigated by the Department of Justice (DOJ) for allegations of systemic police abuse. Police departments are winning cases in the legal system, but they are losing in the court of public opinion.
Many risk managers have increased training programs, but we can’t stop there. While training programs help, community-relations is imminent to truly implement change.
True Community Policing
Community policing uses strategies to build trust and, thus, cooperation with the community. The DOJ offers the following recommendations to implement a robust system of true community policing:
- Develop a plan for comprehensive implementation of community policing and involve the entire community.
- Increase the opportunities for officers to have frequent, positive interactions with people outside of an enforcement context.
- Train officers in advantages of community policing as related to crime prevention, officer safety and anti-discrimination.
Implicit Bias Training
Implicit biases are the stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions and decisions. They are based on characteristics like race, ethnicity, age and appearance. They are developed over a lifetime via influences like family, friends, school, religion, movies, etc. They reside deep in our subconscious and are activated involuntarily. We all have them.
Implicit bias can be gradually unlearned with proper training. One application of training is the Implicit Association Test, which first helps recognize the bias, then measures the gap between intentions and actions in addition to attitudes and beliefs. One aspect of this test helps officers identify bias through multiple photos of the same individual in different dress, facial expression and overall appearance. Highlighting the different perceptions of the same individuals with different appearances shines a light on this implicit bias. The training is helping to intervene with unintentional profiling of individuals.
Dialogue into Action
Turning community/police discussions into action is not an easy task, but can be very effective when done correctly. The first step is to host weekly dialogues. Each dialogue group should contain 10-12 people that speak to the entire group. Multiple groups should meet community wide, which can be 10s or 100s of citizens, to convene to ultimately create the action team or action forum.
It is important for the group to begin by identifying group rules for the dialogue. Include facilitators to ensure there is a quality discussion and that the dialogues build upon each other. This is effective through the following steps to gather the proper information for the action forum:
- Getting acquainted and discuss why issue is important to the group.
- Analysis of what is not working well.
- Best practices – what’s worked with other communities.
- Idea generation – how to address challenges.
- Prioritization of action ideas.
The important thing is to begin with small successes so that the group can see the fruits of their labor and stick with the program. Outcomes from action forums have ranged from reducing injuries during arrests to creating youth workshops. Ultimately, it comes down to building trust through increased communication.
Building community relations is an ongoing process. We can never rest on past accomplishments. Community outreach is a department-wide responsibility, not solely the job of a few officers. With the proper outlook, setbacks can be turned into opportunities.