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3 police-community engagement questions every law enforcement leader should ask in 2021

It is our responsibility as police leaders to constantly improve our interactions with the communities we serve

Seal Beach police car

Seal Beach Police Department

Recently a reporter with the Orange County Register asked the Seal Beach (California) Police Department: “Do you think it’s important to try to empathize with the cause of racial justice?“

The answer to this question is an unequivocal, “Yes.”

The reality is that systemic racism is certainly not localized to law enforcement, it is a global issue. But regardless of where systemic racism occurs, it is our responsibility as law enforcement leaders to constantly ask how we can improve police-community engagement. To that end, here are three questions every police leader should be asking in 2021:

1. Is your police department representative of the demographics of the community you serve?

Although we do not capture the racial or ethnic data of our employees in Seal Beach, we are fortunate to have an extremely diversified police department. If your police department is not as diverse as your community, some suggestions we have include:

  • Visit more diverse communities and recruit from local high schools, colleges and businesses.
  • Physically seek out lateral police officers from other organizations with diverse backgrounds who you or your organization feel would fit well within your community.
  • Prepare a diverse oral board panel. This is easily done as most organizations select who they wish to handle the interviews from within the City. Branch out to other departments within your city and ask specifically for other diverse employees to sit in on the interviews.
  • Highlight in the “qualifications” section of the job posting that your organization is specifically searching for the most qualified and diverse staff, which greatly represents most of the community you serve.

2. Are you listening more than talking?

In Seal Beach we have been fortunate to engage in conversations and listen to the following groups about local, state and national issues. These include all City of Seal Beach citizens and employees, Seal Beach City Council members, Seal Beach Lions Club and the Los Alamitos Unified School District.

Our Police Department’s social media team holds virtual ride-a-longs via Facebook and Instagram Live (feel free to add us @SealBeachPolice).

We asked our local newspaper, the Sun News, to give us space in their paper to provide a weekly article highlighting members of the community’s questions and answers. In essence, anyone can submit general questions to the Seal Beach Police Department via All questions asked are answered and if found to have a significant amount of community value will be published in the Sun Newspaper under a dedicated Police Department section titled “The Briefing Room.”

We hold virtual “Coffee with a Cop” events with each of our five City Council member districts and have our elected officials join in as guest speakers. When doing this, we have made it clear to our community how we want to know what people are hearing and saying so we can do a better job of listening and even address any rumors immediately.

Additionally, we continually express our desire to:

  • Hear and learn what people genuinely have to say.
  • Hear and learn from individuals experiencing quality of life issues.
  • Hear and learn from our BIPOC, LGBTQ and AAPI communities on how best to assist in combatting any racial injustices.

3. What action are you taking?

We are blessed in Seal Beach to have an astounding amount of support both at the local and civic level, where our community supports our mission of driving down crime and improving the quality of life for the residents and visitors of Seal Beach.

This is not to say there isn’t room for improvement. We are always improving and attempting to find better ways of serving our community. If we become aware of something that can be improved, we are committed to acting and improving it. Because of this goal specifically, the Seal Beach Police Department’s Strategic Goal’s acronym for 2021 is titled Seal Beach CARES:

C – Community Traffic Safety

The Seal Beach Police Department will continue to focus on community traffic safety. By reorganizing the Seal Beach Police Department’s Traffic Bureau, we will be able to direct the traffic resources already at our disposal. Traffic enforcement officers will be both reactive and proactive, responding to community complaints and safety issues as they arise.

A – Always Listening and Learning

The Seal Beach Police Department is dedicated to listening and learning from the community. We will collaborate with the community to determine exactly what they expect from their police department and how we can work together to improve community relations.

R – Responsive to Quality-of-Life Issues

Besides working to drive down crime in Seal Beach, we will also continue to focus on quality-of-life issues and respond to all calls for service, regardless of the nature.

E – Enhance Partnerships with Residents, Businesses, and Visitors

We will improve the level and efficiency of the service we provide through enhanced community partnerships. Opportunities for community outreach will be organized with the objective of seeking input on new and continuing local issues for global-based strategies and problem-solving.

S – Strengthen Relationships with McGaugh Students and Faculty

The Seal Beach Police Department will provide opportunities for positive interactions with McGaugh students, parents, faculty, and all Seal Beach Police Department staff.

We hope that through each of these goals, we can take small steps to have a large impact in changing the dynamics of the relationship between the police and the community.

A native of Phoenix, Arizona, Chief Philip L. Gonshak began his law enforcement career at the Tempe, Arizona, Police Department in 2000 before joining the Seal Beach, California, Police Department in 2007. Since joining Seal Beach, he has served as a police officer, corporal, sergeant and commander where he has had a variety of assignments in patrol, field training, special investigation, narcotics, and SWAT operator and sniper. Additionally, he served as the West County SWAT Commander prior to his promotion, a regional team that serves the cities of Seal Beach, Cypress, Fountain Valley, Los Alamitos and Westminster.

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