Aftermath Focus: Law Enforcement and Community

policeCommunities rely on police departments to protect them; the police, in turn, depend on community support and cooperation to do their jobs. However, the relationship is not always perfect. Tensions run high, and recent news media is plagued with stories of police officers abusing their power. Feel-good stories of law officers helping citizens attempt to offset the negative attitudes projected by these stories, but in many cases the damage is already done.

Common questions on both sides ask what the law enforcement community can do to get back track, and how concerned citizens can help officers make neighborhoods safer. In today’s blog, Aftermath explores the first part of the equation: responsible police work. In upcoming weeks, additional posts will tackle other aspects, including the role of individuals and community groups, as well as support services and “second” responders, crime scene cleanup companies like Aftermath Services LLC.

While there are many ways to reconnect officers to the people they serve, many successful police departments have utilized the following methods to improve relationships within their area:

1. Community policing.

Community policing is a value system in which the primary organizational goal is working cooperatively with individual citizens, as well as public and private organizations, to identify and resolve issues which potentially effect the livability of the area. In a recent Huffington Post article, authors relate that the best strategies for community policing involve “forming partnerships with community organizations, prioritizing transparency, actively pursuing feedback and establishing programs that allow police to engage with residents outside of the law enforcement arena.”

2. Transparency and Feedback to Encourage Emphasis on Quality.

The traditional image of a police department is one where merit is determined by the amount of work completed. Common productivity measures that distract from thoroughness and quality include clearance rates, numbers of arrests, and evaluation of response time/time on-call. In such environments, officers may lose touch with the people they serve in an attempt to satisfy numerical requirements. Clearly defining and communicating to the public how merit is achieved, and encouraging feedback on police interactions with consistent followup can improve the public perception of a department while still allowing standardized evaluations.

3. Proactive, Problem-Oriented Strategies.

Rather than responding to a situation by simply increasing police presence, this type of police strategy involves identifying issues, gathering data, bringing together members of the community, including individuals, businesses and charities who are impacted by the conditions, and then implementing specially tailored strategies to target the problem. Not only does this reduce dependency on police resources in areas where such resources are already scarce, but it allows officers to manage both greater and lesser offenses which contribute to public fears, and negatively impact the community’s image.

These three components of cooperation merely touch on the philosophies behind some of the nation’s most dedicated and progressive police departments. “Enforcement is a piece of the puzzle, but it’s only one piece,” says Scott Nadeau, Police Chief of Columbia Heights, MN. A great deal goes into creating suitable policies and procedures that work for all parties. The Municipal Research and Services Center provides an overview of some of the manuals and instructionals that are used by police departments nationwide

Citizens who are interested in how their local police department works are encouraged to get involved through community watch programs or citizen’s police academies. Check out the department’s website for opportunities.