Community Policing Plans and Programs
“Community policing” is a simple concept—the police must work to build community relationships and work collaboratively to solve problems. This starts at the individual level with every officer on the street. Fostering positive relationships with residents helps to reduce crime and maintain public safety.
Departments should work together with community leaders, including leaders of schools, unions, community centers, and religious groups, to identify common goals and challenges their communities are facing, all with the primary goal of ensuring public safety and decreasing crime. This should include developing concrete plans for crime fighting in collaboration with residents, businesses, non-profits, and informal and formal community leaders.
Larger agencies may opt to create dedicated units to focus solely on community policing initiatives, while smaller departments may assign a few officers to concentrate their efforts on such initiatives. Departments could, for example, select officers who reflect the diversity of the community (e.g., multi-lingual, first-generation American and/or officers who are immigrants themselves), and consider whether they have grown up in those neighborhoods or are current residents. Community policing should permeate the entire department, however, and not be solely the responsibility of the specialized community policing officers.
Departments should provide incentives to officers to live in the communities they serve, such as through Resident Officer Programs that provide free housing in public housing neighborhoods if the officers fulfill public service duties for those neighborhoods. Even if officers do not live in their districts, they can still forge ties to the community.
As soon as officers are assigned to new districts, their orientation period should include meeting members of the community to understand any of their concerns. Service to the community can mean more than just patrolling in the community; some departments have found it helpful to have officers and supervisors perform community service alongside community members.
Cities and police departments should consider their communities’ unique makeup and needs in developing community policing programs. What is necessary for one city may not be a priority in another. Examples of typical community policing programs that strengthen community relationships are:
Youth Programs: By promoting positive interactions between police and youths outside of the criminal justice system, police agencies can build positive, trusting, and lasting relationships with youths and potentially reduce further criminal activity. Departments should create opportunities for at-risk youth in schools and in the community for positive, non-law enforcement interactions with officers, such as joint police-youth training programs or police athletics or activities leagues, which can familiarize youth with the criminal justice system or promote mentorship and relationship building. The Baltimore Police Department, for example, partners with Outward Bound to bring officers and youth together, and the program has strengthened their positive attitudes towards each other.
Immigration and Refugee Outreach: Police departments serving communities with significant immigrant or refugee populations should widely communicate their agency’s policies, providing department policies in multiple languages as appropriate. Communications should make sure that immigrants know they are entitled to the same police services as any other resident and—depending on department policy—that the police will not ask their immigration status. As with other areas of the population, departments should consider appointing liaison officers to community leaders to help facilitate external communication and encourage officer participation in community meetings and events.
Homelessness: Police departments may consider partnering with homelessness services providers and street outreach workers to humanely address encampments and connect people experiencing homelessness with services and housing.
Cultural Literacy and Procedural Justice
Every city is different. It is therefore critical that cities and departments help their police officers and supervisors develop an understanding of their community’s history and traditions so that their daily interactions with the public are based on a mutual understanding and respect. In addition to the history of the community, departments should provide training on the history of policing in the United States in an effort to help them understand the negative feelings some residents have for the police.
Additionally, departments should help their officers and supervisors by training them in procedural justice—the idea of fairness in how officers use their authority in a democratic society. In the words of the U.S. Department of Justice COPS Office, “procedural justice is concerned not exactly with what officers do, but also with the way they do it.” Research shows that people are more likely to cooperate with the police if they think they have been treated fairly.
In developing these trainings, departments should seek the assistance of community representatives who can incorporate the viewpoints of communities that have traditionally had challenging relationships with law enforcement.