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10 Steps to Better Police-Community Relations

Hugh Grant
10 Steps to Better Police-Community Relations

Police officers and communities both benefit from better police-community relations. Unfortunately, fostering better police-community relations in this political and economic environment is a bit of an uphill battle. Still, with the right mindset and some collective alignment, we can work together to improve how police officers support their communities and how our communities support our police officers.

The Long Journey

Better police-community relations are going to require efforts on both fronts. Police officers need to do a better job communicating with the public, executing their work, and recognizing when they have deviated from public expectations. Community members, including average people reading this article, need to do a better job recognizing police efforts, tapering their judgments, and challenging the biases that may be shaping their perceptions and interactions with the police.

This is not something that can happen overnight. If we’re going to change how police officers and community members interact with each other, and indeed, how we collectively think about and treat police as an establishment, we're going to have to take consistent steps in the right direction over a period of years, if not decades.

Fortunately, organizations like the National Police Association are already making efforts in this area. The NPA combats misinformation by supplying context and the results of investigations, and it builds public trust in police through outreach and community-centric operations.

Even so, this is only one organization, and it can only do so much by itself.

Steps to Better Police-Community Relations

What steps can we take to improve police and community relations?

1. More beat policing. Beat policing involves patrolling a given section of territory, typically on foot or on a bicycle. There are several advantages associated with this. Beat police officers get an opportunity to know the area much better, including the people in it. Simultaneously, people get an opportunity to interact with the familiar officer on a regular basis, building mutual trust. The extra visibility of police officers on the street builds trust even further and helps to suppress the emergence of crime.

2. More community involvement from police. Police officers can also spend more time getting involved with local communities. They can visit schools, nursing homes, and other gathering places as a gesture of goodwill and to educate the public about matters related to safety and crime prevention. Even the presence of police officers at major parades and festivals can make a difference in public trust.

3. Superior training and education. We can also make police officers more trustworthy and more respectable in the eyes of millions by providing them with superior training and education. Police officers who are skilled in martial arts and unarmed self-defense are less likely to use firearms in interactions; similarly, better-trained officers are more confident and less likely to escalate scenarios unnecessarily.

4. More frequent de-escalation. Speaking of escalation, police departments around the country should make de-escalation a higher priority. Making a tense environment calmer means a much lower chance of the situation erupting in violence. Regardless of whether or not potential violence is justified, avoiding violence should always be a priority.

5. Public education and awareness. Many problems associated with police-community relations are due to misconceptions and myths held by the general public. This is especially true when high profile events begin making the rounds on social media before all the facts are in. Teaching the public to better understand the nature of policing, and providing them with critical context, can mitigate the effects of misinformation.

6. Media reporting restraint. Similarly, we need to do a better job of practicing responsible media coverage. When police officers commit acts of violence or any other questionable activities, journalists can and should report on those events. But it's important that these events are reported on accurately and with the proper context; otherwise, people in the public will walk away with the wrong impression.

7. Social media context provision. Better informing people on social media can have a similarly positive effect. Oftentimes, even providing a sentence or two of context can make a huge difference in how people perceive an event.

8. Honest communication. Heads of police departments everywhere should also prioritize honest, transparent communication, even if that sometimes means admitting mistakes and apologizing. Consistent, honest communication is a foundational requirement for building trust as an individual or institution. Transparency isn’t always pretty, but if it’s practiced consistently, it leads to much higher mutual trust.

9. Accountability and justice. Police accountability is a perceived problem in modern America that could be resolved with a few changes to our laws and approaches. If we do a better job of holding irresponsible and inappropriately acting officers accountable for their actions, public trust will naturally increase.

10. Data-centric evaluations. Both police departments and the general public should rely on objective data to form their conclusions. Police leadership needs to objectively investigate incidents and audit internal processes. Community members need to rely on objective, neutrally gathered data before forming conclusions about police officer actions.

Police-community relations aren't in a great place right now, but that means they're in a prime position for a dramatic and positive transformation. If we all work together, we can change these relationships for the better and ultimately make our communities and our police officers safer and more harmonious.

Hugh Grant
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