6 ways departments are strengthening community policing

Amid police force controversies, many municipalities are strengthening their community policing efforts with increased resources and new strategies



Community policing initiatives are broadly defined as strategic efforts to encourage trust between police departments and civilians. Most community policing projects focus on interactions to create partnerships and problem-solving techniques to proactively address conditions surrounding crime and public safety.

In light of recent controversies concerning use of police force, many municipalities are strengthening their community policing efforts with increased resources and new strategies.

Local Youth Trainers

In Baltimore, a social justice organization is offering local police departments with specialized training on how to better interact with residents. These training programs will be led by teens who live in the communities directly impacted by police activity and monitoring.

The Inner Harbor Project not only teaches police how to communicate better with local residents, but also provides urban teens with the necessary skills and information to lead these important classes. The social justice organization equips teenagers with research and professional skills to enable them to brainstorm solutions to community issues involving race, class and culture.

In Baltimore, there has been ongoing conflict between young city residents and police. The Inner Harbor Project aims to help teenagers better navigate public spaces in the city without causing disturbances or triggering police response.

Likewise, group is also working to ease tension between teens and local businesses. The Inner Harbor Project released The Harbor Card program that offers discounts to young shoppers at a number of participating outlets. The goal is to foster a more relaxed environment between young patrons and the business community – which was most likely to contact police if teens appeared to be loitering.

Smartphone Chatter

The Chattanooga Police Department recently adopted a smartphone application that allows the department to communicate with city residents regarding crime in local neighborhoods. The Nextdoor app enables police officers to send residents:

  • Safety tips
  • Event information
  • Community alerts

The information can be shared with residents in a specific neighborhood most affected by the news. The app also functions as a private community forum where residents can post messages regarding local news such as upcoming garage sales or lost pets.

While police may post messages to residents, the department will be unable to see posts among neighbors. Residents, on the other hand, can see all messages, post to the forum or send a private message directly to the police. The app is free to use once a resident has verified they live in a neighborhood, The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported.

The overall goal of the app is to both increase communication between police and residents, as well as increase safety and awareness.

Interactive Policing

In Messina, New York, the local police department has unveiled a new community policing initiative that gets officers on the streets to interact with youth. The True Blue program encourages officers to spend at least a half hour of their shift out in public spending time with children at playgrounds and other community centers, Watertown Daily Times reported.

Whether the police are spending time with kids playing hockey or basketball in the park, fishing in a creek or reading at the library, they are participating in the program. The goal is to nurture strong, trusting relationships between youth and police officers. If the children feel comfortable with local police, they will be less afraid to report things they see or ask questions in the future, Watertown Daily Times reported.

Messina Police Chief LaBrake said the program is designed to get police officers out of their cars and on the streets where they can learn about community needs and concerns more directly. In addition, the initiative hopes to present a more positive image of police officers than what has been presented in media coverage of recent controversies.

Play Ball

Similar to Messina’s True Blue program, a Chicago police department has created a youth baseball league to build stronger relationships with city youths. In a neighborhood riddled with gang violence, most kids in Englewood are unable to play outside in the summer without fear of violence or arrests.

The Englewood Police/Youth Baseball League was strategically launched in one of the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods and aims to keep vulnerable kids off the streets and away from violence. Furthermore, the league shows youths that police officers can help keep the community safe and shouldn’t been seen as a threat.

Create Leadership

Another way local police departments are making community policing a priority is by instating the necessary leadership to organize initiatives and be held accountable for performance. The Chicago Police Department recently named its first Deputy Chief of Community Policing to further bridge the gap between community groups and police departments.

The Deputy Chief of Community Policing will work with the patrol division and CAPS personnel to coordinate community policing efforts and projects across the city. These initiatives include moving hundreds of officers out of administrative roles and into foot and bike patrols in an effort to support interactions with residents.

Measuring Success

It is one thing to launch a community policing project, but an entirely separate project to know if it is working or not. Lorie Fridell, associate professor of Criminology at the University of South Florida, argues that police departments should conduct community surveys at regular intervals to gauge how residents feel about the programs and police departments in general, Newsweek reported.

Another type of survey – a consumer survey – would poll individuals who had recent contact with the police. This survey would provide deeper insight into how one-on-one interactions have or have not changed since the program was launched.

Furthermore, cities should be evaluating their police data regularly to identify any major reductions, spikes or patterns in police-community activities. Departments can track criminal activity alongside resident reporting to see if greater trust has been built in the community.

Some departments, for example, have adopted ShotSpotter gunshot detection technology that can compare the number of detected gunshots with the number of 911 calls related to gunfire at the time. This data illustrates the state of relationships between residents and police by measuring people’s willingness to call law enforcement, Newsweek reported.

No matter the strategy, police departments should be documenting activities in neighborhoods where community policing projects are active, and comparing the results to other areas to identify successes, failures and best practices.

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