Five Ways to Better Connect with the Community You Serve
Forward-thinking law enforcement agencies across the country are adopting community policing techniques to better address crime and social disorder. Not only do these collaborative strategies improve community-police relations, but that improved relationship leads to less crime, less frivolous lawsuits, and a safer environment for everyone. To help officers and their departments implement more community policing tactics, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) offers two comprehensive documents full of evidence-based strategies and recommendations[i] [ii]. Below, we’ve highlighted five great ways that agencies of any size can use to reap the rewards of successful community policing.
- PRIORITIZE COMMUNITY FACE-TO-FACE TIME. As with any relationship, the more face time you put in, the better you get to know one another. The same goes for building positive relationships within the community you serve. Get to know residents—and let them get to know you outside of more traditional venues. The IACP recommends holding monthly meetings with community members; increasing bicycle and foot patrols; and implementing tried-and-true programs that involve collaboration from residents, such as National Night Out, Coffee with a Cop, Neighborhood Watch, and citizen police academies.
- DEVELOP A SOCIAL MEDIA STRATEGY. Social media is a big part of most people’s day-to-day, and learning how to use it effectively in both a professional and personal capacity can go a long way in fostering a positive community connection. Within your department, decide on the “voice” you’ll use to disseminate not only timely and important safety information, but positive interactions between departments and citizens. Consider educating employees on using personal social media in ways that best reflect themselves and the department. More tips on social media use can be found here.
- BOOST TRANSPARENCY. Research shows that residents who feel their local police are transparent also have a more positive view of them. You can boost transparency through a variety of means, including the use of body cameras, custodial interview recording, and sharing information pertaining to public safety. Make policies and procedures public and available in all languages spoken in your community, as well as collect incident data regarding suspect and officer demographics, location, date, time, and other relevant information, and review it regularly. The IACP also recommends “adopting external oversight bodies for the review of critical incidents involving police action [as] this can help establish a transparent review process and manage public expectations.”
- GET TO KNOW YOUNGER RESIDENTS. When considering how to improve your community connections, it’s important not to overlook the youngest citizens. Coach a youth sports league, participate in a mentoring program with at-risk kids, or consider an incentive program like the Boulder Stars program that rewards children who are “caught” doing something good, or New York City’s Operation Conversation: Cops & Kids program that uses improv to help improve relationships between inner-city teens and police. Not only does youth outreach help build trust in children and make them more willing to share important information, but it can also help keep kids on the right side of the law and even prime them as potential future recruits!
- GATHER FEEDBACK. If you have the resources to invest, consider using surveys to gather feedback from residents and community stakeholders. To boost a survey’s efficacy and impact, the IACP suggests that your organization work with research partners “to develop [and target] surveys to those communities most impacted by crime or police services.” The right feedback can help you direct valuable resources where your community needs them most.