Prioritizing community engagement in 2021

LE leaders share advice and top tips for better police-community relations in the New Year

This article originally appeared in the December 2020 Police1 Leadership Briefing. To read the full briefing, visit Perils of raw video | Leadership playbook | Community engagement, and add the Leadership Briefing to your subscriptions.

Police1 asked 21 law enforcement experts to outline solutions for the ongoing and emerging issues facing police leaders and officers in 2021. Following are a few excerpts from "21 on 2021: A police leadership playbook" that focus on improving community engagement in the New Year.  

Access the complete playbook here.

Community relations

I know this will sound backward but police leaders should stop talking about the trust gap, police transparency, police reform, or whichever trending term you want to use. Instead, leaders should just go out and continually show their communities they are doing these things ‒ if, in fact, you are doing them.

If you say you’re going to be transparent, then show you are. Even when things don’t make your agency look good.

For years we have told our communities we were going to do things and failed to show them. The frustration in some communities is warranted when we say we are doing something or going to do something, but community members fail to see the connection between our words and our actions.

2021 should be a year of demonstrated action for leaders. As the saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words.” 

Read more: Policing needs alignment, not reform

Booker T. Hodges currently serves as assistant commissioner of law enforcement for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

Police transparency

“It’s not what you say as much as what they absorb” – Red Auerbach

Dialog and deep conversations are the bedrock to true transparency. Telling your public "what" and "how" you do something does not equate to transparency. Instead, proactively foster and create opportunities to have a true dialog with your community stakeholders; from those who support you and those who don't.

It’s challenging in a COVID-19 environment, but it can be done virtually through town hall meetings, virtual community academies, or social media platforms.

Promote and grow a culture of this understanding throughout your organization.

Read more: The PIO is an invaluable part of police transparency

Chris Hsiung is the Police Chief of the Mountain View (California) Police Department and serves on IACP’s Police Professional Standards, Ethics, and Image committee.

Public perception

Right now, law enforcement leaders are living through a pivotal moment in our nation’s and profession’s history.

With public perception of law enforcement at an all-time low, we have one of two choices to make: give into the negative banter or embrace a much-needed change and establish new fundamental principles of law enforcement for generations to come.

My advice to change perception is simple:

  • Encourage empathy and understanding among the members of your department.
  • Embrace transparency and be willing to have difficult conversations with the community.
  • Remove the “us vs. them” mentality and promote unity.

I believe these three simple steps will allow your organization and community to move forward in unity.

Read more: Breaking the cycle of distrust

Ryan Tillman is a police officer for the Chino Police Department in California, CEO and founder of Breaking Barriers United LLC (BBU), and host of the #ITSNEEDED podcast.

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