7 Ways Your Police Department Can More Effectively Integrate with Your Community

Law enforcement has never been an easy career. But the challenges have intensified in the last year, as police face controversial use-of-force incidents and resulting protests, in conjunction with an unprecedented pandemic. These ongoing crises have complicated matters for police departments across the country—even those that have had fairly good relations with their communities in the past.

The long-term effects of these challenges have yet to be resolved, but one clear conclusion has evolved from a difficult 2020: The better you can integrate with the community, the better-off your department will be.

Here are some ideas to consider for improving your organization’s community relations.

1. Stay Transparent

The more transparent you can be in your interactions with the public—and the more you keep a track record of transparency—the more the public you serve is going to trust you.[i]

2. Get Ahead of Trouble

Being proactive in catching and dealing with internal trouble builds the kind of credibility that turns to trust over time. Don’t turn a blind eye to problems that can become bigger issues down the line.

3. Train for De-Escalation

“When all you have is a hammer, every problem becomes a nail.” This saying is often used to highlight the concern that the average law enforcement environment relies too heavily on force because its officers are lacking in alternative tools, such as sufficient de-escalation training. Police need a wider variety of tools to manage situations that they may otherwise inadvertently aggravate.[ii]

4. Consider Your Goals

Departments often feel caught between traditional law enforcement tasks and duties that seem more like mental health or community outreach work. If this sounds familiar, consider forming clear goals for your organization and turning some duties over to appropriate non-police personnel.

5. Modernize Technology

Antiquated manual systems can make interactions with your organization feel cumbersome, inadequate, or outright unfriendly. Combat this by ensuring both customer-facing systems and the backend tools supporting them are modern enough to give community members a positive experience, and that records needed for transparency are readily accessible.

6. Inspect, Adjust, Clarify—and Enforce—Policy

How long has it been since your organization looked over the policies guiding officer behavior in the field? It may be time for a review, both from a self-protection perspective and a community outreach one. Your community will be reassured of your commitment when you can point to clear policies that promote fairness and safety.

7. Take It Seriously

In 2020, these changes are not optional. The more your whole organization buys into better interaction with the community, the more successful your endeavors will be. Make sure your department’s culture and standards come from the top and go all the way down to the rank and file. Anything less will erode your organization’s efforts and risk permanent damage to its standing in the community.

To learn more about how social work can impact relationships with your community, watch our most recent webinar with the Bloomington Police Department, “Make Stronger Community Connections through Social Work.”

[i] https://www.brown.edu/about/administration/public-safety/police-transparency-accountability

[ii] https://repository.asu.edu/attachments/189627/content/Todak_asu_0010E_17217.pdf

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