Tensions between police and communities around the country are rising, and many factors are at play here. For one, the true and perceived acts of brutality and the impunity the officers seem to be enjoying has a role in this. But the public’s perception is also skewed by the media, who will often add fuel to the fire in order to get more attention to a story.
That doesn’t mean, however, that officers don’t have to play their part. As a matter of fact, they should be making the first step, as they’re the ones working for the community, not the other way around. Let’s take a look at why strong police-community relationships are more important than ever, and what can be done to restore them.
Why Good Relationships are Important
Good relationships between law enforcement and communities are essential for many reasons. For one, a public that has a bad perception of the police is much less likely to cooperate and is more likely to retaliate as well.
Organizations like the National Support Fund are constantly working on efforts to change that perception among the public. National Police Support Fund videos are used to raise awareness of the issue, and the officials who are having a negative effect on how police officers are perceived.
On another level, misconduct leads to a public that is more distrustful of police, which can end up affecting investigations. Witness accounts remain one of the cornerstones of any investigation, and uncooperative witnesses can sometimes completely kill a case.
One of the most insidious effects of poor relationships between police officers and the communities they serve, however, is the perception of the job itself. Police departments around the country are in dire need of members hailing from poorer communities who have better insights on their struggles and reality. Bad perception means less representation for people of color and minority groups in the force, which can lead to more misunderstandings and possible slip-ups.
Now that we’ve touched on a few reasons why police-community relationships are so important, let’s take a look at some concrete steps officers and departments can take to improve them.
Research has shown time and time again that visibility is one of the best ways to build trust. In short, people want to know what type of efforts the department is deploying in their community and making this information as accessible as possible can make a world of difference. Departments have to do more to make reports and other public documents available, holding public forum discussions, and being more visible and accessible to the public.
Actually Live in the Community
One of the best things you can do to build a bond and truly care about the people you serve is to actually live in the community. You might come face to face with the issues they have to live with every day. You might also get a whole different perspective of the people living there, and not see them all as potential offenders.
When you live in the community, you don’t have to ask anybody what it needs and lacks. You are part of it. It also shows people in the neighborhood that you care for them enough to actually live next to them.
Don’t Interact Solely in Law Enforcement Situations
Police officers are, unfortunately, getting more disconnected than ever. This can be partially blamed on the increased use of statistics in the force. Data-driven initiatives often remove the human factor in policing, which should play a central role. Officers should not know more criminals than they do actual people in the community.
Administrators should also be held accountable for some of this as well. Productivity logs, for instance, have played a major role in this disconnect, and have changed the perception officers have of their duties. Officers are being rewarded for giving out citations, but not for the number of positive interactions they have with the public, and that’s a problem.
Become a Volunteer
Becoming a volunteer, and asking other officers to join you, could make a world of difference in how you are viewed by the community. Events can also be used to build closer bonds with the community and open the dialogue.
There needs to be more volunteers in the force. When acting in their volunteer role, they have a great chance to build trust with the people they serve. They can then work on painting a better picture of what they do as a police officer and show it through action as well. You should be a public servant wherever you are, whether you’re in uniform or not.
Don’t Get Your News from the Internet
A police officer once said, “The media isn’t really concerned with the story. All they want is a story.” And that couldn’t be more true. It can be easy to believe that the public’s perception is the same as the media’s, but you’d be surprised at how contrasting the thoughts about the police might be where you are.
The vast majority of the public still supports the police and sees them as a positive force in the community. However, distancing yourself or building a preconception of the community is a sure-fire way to erode this image and deteriorate relations before you had the time to build them.
People also want to reach out to police officers and share their thoughts in the community. But too many officers tend to shun these interactions because of their perception of how people perceive them. No matter how bad they paint it to be, remember that the world presented by the media and the one we live in are totally different, and policers should conduct themselves accordingly.
Building solid relationships between the police and the community is crucial for the future of this country and communities everywhere. Both sides will have to do their part, but it starts with a conscious effort to make a change and transform communities for the better.