Robust police-community relations are essential to improving public safety and maintaining effective policing. Police need the cooperation of community members to benefit from the information that can help them effectively combat crime in neighborhoods. Moreover, community members rely on police agencies to maintain public safety. As such, the two parties must work together to formulate lasting solutions to crime and disorder issues. Notably, community members’ willingness to cooperate with the police depends on the established trust; that is, whether they believe that police behavior reflects the values of the community and uphold the established principles undergirding procedural justice and legitimacy. In recent years, various incidents involving the police use of excessive force among other issues have led to community members questioning the legitimacy and trustworthiness of police in many communities. Police agencies can remedy the deteriorating police-community relationship by implementing active measures designed to cultivate trust and enhancing their legitimacy. The current paper presents recommendations for improving police-community relations.
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In the early days, before the emergence of police departments, it was the sole responsibility of all able bodied people to watch over the community at night, which contributed to effective community policing at the times. The members of the night watch would raise an alarm in the event that there was a crisis or intruders in the community. But due to the developments in the early 20th century, like the rise of more efficient means of transport, it promoted the idea of police officers not living in the same places in which they guarded (Rebecca, 2014). This eventually led to the breakdown of the existing good community and police relations, and contributing to the rise of poor relations.
Causes of Poor Police-Community Relations
In order to come up with effective strategies to build positive community relations between the police and the community, it is important to identify some of the causes of the poor relations between both parties. The police departments have difficulties in interacting with the communities they serve because of various reasons. Many of these reasons are associated with the fact that police departments have contrasting opinions about the community, poor communications, and different concerns about the nature of social control in an unrestricted society. The other fact is that the police deal with the community in different levels, either individually, as a group or organization, or under political influences (Braga et all, 2014). There is always peaceful coexistence between the police and the community if the law enforcement agencies represent the interests of the communities in which they serve. But there is discontent and civil unrest if the police are out of sync with the required opinions.
It is also evident that different communities view the police differently, and that they have varying thinking of the precedence and purposes of the law implementation and criminal justice. Some of the major contributions to the poor police-community relations include poor cooperation, discriminations against one’s race, color, one’s status in the society, the fear of the police, violence and high rates of corruption among the staff in the police department. The other factors include the socialization by the parents to their children about the negative police habits which lead to distrust and fear of the police by the growing generations. It also leads to hostilities by the communities towards the police officers (Miller & Brasswell, 2014). Adding on that is the decreased confidence in the services offered by the police officers. Reduced community and police interactions can easily lead to one developing negative attitudes towards each other, for example, the police might not trust the information provided by the citizens concerning increased crime rates, or the citizens might not trust the services provided by the police while trying to solve the problems.
The presence of bad, corrupt and violent police officers in the department might lead to the assumption that all police officers are not competent and do not follow the law while performing their duties. Other issues include the fact that some veteran officers or other officials in the government would rather not deal with a specific community because of their minority status. This is evident in Courtelaney Pass case, whereby a white councilman responds to the sergeant policeman about how he would not care of what happens to the immigrants in that state just because they were not eligible to vote (Peak & Glensor, 2011). The other contributing factor is that the police and the residents have dissimilar perspectives on the causes of crimes and how they can be solved.
Importance of Police-Community Relations
Existence of good relations between the police and the community enables the community to have a clear and better understanding of the concerns of the public, especially those concerning crimes. The citizens on the other hand will be more willing to report any crime incidents to the police, provide necessary information to the law enforcement agencies that can be used as foundations for solving the crimes, they will be willing to act as witnesses and participate in jury trials. This will encourage the police officers to be more proactive in trying to prevent crimes and minimize the impacts that could be caused by the crimes (Gorman, 2011). It also averts the notion by the general public that the services offered by the police are just the mechanisms for collection of intelligence from the community and not for providing security and safety.
In situations where there is poor police and community relations, the police lack basic understanding of the problems existing in the community, more so on those communities that experience high crime rates , poverty and homelessness. The communities on the other hand view the police as forces that provide them with more harm than good. Under such circumstances, the police officers provide a reactive response to the problems in the community. This situation is evident in Courtelaney Pass, elaborated in the disappearance of Kayla, and the response provided by the police was not in any way pleasing and not in accordance to the law it was not documented. The investigations about the cause of her death were not better as well (Rebecca, 2014). This shows that the existing relations between the community and the police were very poor.
Effective Ways to Improve Police-Community Relations
Acknowledge and Discuss Challenges with Community Members
Excessive use of force, racial profiling, et cetera are among the issues damaging the relationship between police and communities. It is worth noting that a single act of misconduct by an officer can damage the police-community relationship in the entire community. In some cases, the impact is not only locally as it can gain countrywide attention consequently reducing the trustworthiness of the police nationwide (Herring & Tarver, 2019). It is imperative that police acknowledge the history of excessive use of force and racially inclined injustice in the communities they serve. Moreover, police should never discount or disregard the negative experiences of community members with the police. For instance, African-Americans have a longstanding history of being mistreated by the police. The history has led to the community lacking trust and resentment towards police. The history is reflected in many African-Americans’ feelings regards the police (Fleming, 2020).
Police officers must be aware of the history that has damaged police-community relations in the areas that they serve. Furthermore, they should take the responsibility to change citizens’ negative feelings towards the police by discussing with community members ways to strengthen police-community relationships (Fleming, 2020). Acknowledging and discussing the challenges facing the police-community relationship marks the first step towards repairing the broken trust and tarnished legitimacy. Thus, there is a need for honest and continued dialogue that involves police departments and the community, which should focus on issues that negatively impact the police-community relationship.
Emphasize Collaboration and be Visible in the Community as a Way to Improve Police-Community Relations
Police should maintain a focus on collaboration with community members and visibility in the communities that they serve. According to Fleming (2020), it is crucial for police officers to be visible in the communities they serve and know their residents. It is worth noting that many citizens do not interact with police officers outside of enforcement contexts. If the only contact community members have with the police is in enforcement contexts it can result in people developing negative associations with the police. Police officers, therefore, need to find non-enforcement contexts to interact with community members. Fleming elucidates that these types of interactions can help reduce bias on the part of the community members as well as the police officers. Getting to know each other better helps both parties break the personal barriers to positive police-community relations and help both groups overcome stereotypes. The interactions also help police officers know which members of the community are law-abiding and which ones are not (Worden & McLean, 2017). A positive relationship between police and community members improves collaboration leading to relatively better policing outcomes.
Non-enforcement interactions between police officers and community members cultivate mutual trust. Trust is essential to addressing neighborhood crime issues. Programs and initiatives that police departments can utilize to foster positive interactions between police officers and community members include but are not limited to police and youth police academies, ride-alongs with police officers, police participation in community events, police-community sports leagues, and police involvement in local school activities (Saunders & Kilmer, 2021). The programs and initiatives can prove resourceful in helping police officers see themselves as part of the community they serve. On the other hand, they can change community members’ perspectives so that they view police officers as friends rather than enemies. Another way to improve the visibility of police officers in the communities they serve is encouraging that they live where they work. When an officer lives where he/she works, it makes it easier for the community members to know them outside of their law enforcement capacity. It also shows community members that the police officers value the community enough to live side by side with its members (Worden & McLean, 2017). The long-term impact of such continued efforts is the development of a robust relationship between police agencies and community members.
Uphold Transparency and Accountability as an Effective Way to Improve Police-Community Relations
Transparency and accountability are essential to any positive relationship. One of the ways that police agencies can increase transparency is by releasing as much information as possible when a critical incident occurs. Police agencies should release the information as soon as possible to ensure that the community does not feel like they are purposefully withholding information from the public (McCandless, 2018). McCandless elucidates that it is equally important for the agencies to stress that the first information released is preliminary and, as such, may change as more details become available. Thus, police leaders should inform the news outlets and the public that the preliminary information may not be correct and ensure to correct any misinformation swiftly. Police departments should ensure to post information on their websites and social media platforms detailing policies regarding the use of force, complaints from community members, reported crimes, arrests, and other relevant issues (Schlosser, 2020). According to Fleming (2020), the information must be easily accessible to the public. The availability of this information for public review promotes a culture of transparency and accountability.
Police agencies can also promote a culture of transparency and accountability by implementing external oversight mechanisms such as external review boards and independent auditors. Notably, these mechanisms should conduct independent investigations on internal affairs to ensure that police are accountable for their actions (McCandless, 2018). It is also worth noting that the police agencies can utilize the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division’s past investigation of their respective local police department to gather information regarding the best practices to promote constitutional policing. The Department of Justice Civil Rights Division website is rich in documents that can help police agencies promote transparency and accountability including case summaries, consent decree, findings letters, et cetera (Schlosser, 2020). The information entailed in the said documents can help police agencies increase their commitment to excellence in law enforcement consequently improving police-community relations.
Take Active Steps to Reduce Bias and Enhance Cultural Competency
Police departments can also take the initiative to reduce bias and improve cultural competency as a measure for improving police-community relations. Many cities and towns have communities characterized by diverse racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds. One of the factors causing fueling mistrust by the community members towards police is racial/ethnic profiling. Police departments should, therefore, invest in ensuring their officers embrace diversity and inclusion. This should entail training designed to educate the officers regarding how to communicate effectively with diverse groups and understand their cultural norms. Having cultural competence can significantly help improve the relationship between police officers and community members (Saunders & Kilmer, 2021). Police agencies, therefore, need to provide recruit and in-service training on cultural responsiveness and implicit bias. Active efforts to reduce bias and promote cultural competence allow police officers to develop cultural awareness and become more cognizant of background differences. Notably, police officers can become culturally encapsulated even with no intention of being biased. The bias may result from a person being increasingly ingrained in their own norms (Fleming, 2020). Taking active steps reduces the bias consequently helping improve police-community relations.
Promote Internal Diversity as an Effective Way to Improve Police-Community Relations
It is imperative that police departments present policing as a respectable profession. Police agencies should as such work to recruit individuals who want to become police officers because they have a passion for the job. Individuals who wish to become police officers must have the understanding that most of their time and effort in the job will be utilized in addressing community requests. Police departments should also establish recruitment and promotional processes designed to increase diversity in terms of race and relevant demographics (Worden & McLean, 2017). The agencies should also work to provide regular career growth and professional development opportunities by emphasizing ongoing learning through training. The training should ensure they focus on teaching the police officers ways that they can develop and maintain positive relations with community members. Worden and McLean explain that the agencies can incentivize the training to attract more police officers. Moreover, diversity within the police departments allows the officers to be more comfortable with community members of different racial backgrounds due to their interactions within their respective departments (Saunders & Kilmer, 2021). Thus, police agencies need to create environments that promote internal diversity through their recruitments, promotions, and training to impact police officers with qualities that will improve their day-to-day interactions with the community.
Proper Training and Revision of Performance Standards
To improve police-community relations, proper training and new performance standards are necessary. Schlosser (2020) elucidates that having proper training and appropriate guidelines allows police units to adapt to a variety of situations; thus, are well-equipped to treat different situations differently as the dynamics dictate. Police agencies also need to standardize performance measurement to allow them to accurately measure the quality, safety, and legitimacy of their services. During recruitment and training, police agencies should ensure that they tailor their programs to help police officers establish good relationships with the communities they serve.
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Cooperative relationships are beneficial to both the police officers and the community members. To the police officers, the relationship provides them with intelligence that helps make their work easier and more effective. On the other hand, the robust relationship benefits the communities through the reduced crime rates (Fleming, 2020). Proper training and the establishment of standardized performance standards help police departments to be viewed as legitimate by the communities they serve by promoting best practices and values.
Utilize Transactional Model of Communication and Active Listening
Due to their nature of work police officers often find themselves engaging in linear communication (giving orders and commands). Notably, this mode of communication is only effective in situations where police officers need to gain immediate compliance. However, linear communication overlooks other aspects that make interactions incline towards two-way communication (Schlosser, 2020). Schlosser emphasizes that in many instances police communications to citizens are delivered in a direct and precisely directed towards one direction (sender to receiver) with little or no intention of accepting feedback from the receiver.
Police officers need to change from linear to transactional communication. Transactional communication is two-way and, therefore, allows for effective communication between the police and the community (Herring & Tarver, 2019). Additionally, police officers need to embrace active listening so that they listen and understand community members’ feedbacks and grievances. Regular training focusing on communication is necessary to promote transactional communication and active listening (Worden & McLean, 2017). For a significantly long time, police have been utilizing linear communication and, therefore, a paradigm shift to transactional communication will take time. However, continuous improvements can help remedy the situation and consequently facilitate the improvement of police-community relations.
Conclusion and Christian Worldview
The recommendations proposed in this paper can help improve police-community relations by cultivating robust relationships based on trust and legitimacy. However, it is worth noting that improving police-community relations requires continuous efforts and can only be achieved by bringing multiple components together in a systemic manner as discussed in this paper. The measures should be implemented in an ongoing manner to facilitate steady improvement and ultimately, in the long run, robust relationships between police officers and members of the community they serve. The Christian worldview requires that humans must uphold ethics and abide by the law of the land. Romans 13:1-2 states that “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” Therefore, citizens must abide by the laws and regulations established by the government. On the other hand, the government must be fair in its ruling. Romans 13:3 emphasizes “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval.” This scripture insists that the governing bodies should not terrorize those who abide by the law and should also ensure to uphold the rule of law. Therefore, a good relationship between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve is also emphasized by the Christian worldview.
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