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Taking a back to basics approach to community engagement

There are several ways to build police-community trust that have little to no impact on the fiscal budget

Block Party.jpg

Photo/Philadelphia PD

This article originally appeared in the January 2023 Police1 Leadership Briefing. To read the full briefing, see Mission statement mismatches; Low- to no-cost community engagement and add the Leadership Briefing to your subscriptions.

By Chief Michael Moore

Getting back to basics and learning to connect with the communities you serve is a recipe for success. It both humanizes law enforcement and builds police-community trust.

The good news is there are ways to accomplish this goal that have little to no impact on the fiscal budget. However, it does require buy-in from the agency and a true understanding of the overall importance of repairing these relationships. If the administration doesn’t explain why trust-building must occur, all subsequent efforts will fail. Here are several methods to build trust and legitimacy.

1. Coffee with a Cop

Dusting off community events such as Coffee with a Cop is a great start. These events take very little planning and have almost no upstart costs. All it takes is coffee, cups and police officers willing to invest their time and energy.

The foundation of this event centers on community members and police officers having an open and honest dialogue. The goal is to break down barriers to communication and offer a means for the public to ask questions, bring up issues and share ideas about topics occurring in their neighborhoods. What better way to have a conversation than over a cup of coffee? The result is a healthy debate that demonstrates police officers are human beings, not merely a badge and uniform.

Learn more: How to launch Coffee with a Cop (and why you should)

2. Block parties

Never miss an opportunity to have your officers stop by a block party. At first, residents may wonder why police officers chose to spend some time at their block party. Once the officers begin playing basketball with children, showing off their patrol vehicle, and handing out stickers to kids, requests for future block parties may include law enforcement. Again, these types of events cost very little to attend and provide an opportunity to gain community allies.

3. Houses of worship

Partnering with houses of worship situated in your communities is another method of relationship building. There is a national movement titled National Faith and Blue Weekend that occurs annually in October. The event began small in 2020 and then transformed quickly into a national call to action. The idea behind the event is to bring local law enforcement and houses of worship together to create safer, stronger and more unified communities. The events include everything from picnics to parades and many things in between. Faith and Blue Weekend events bridge the gap between law enforcement and congregations in the communities they serve.

Learn more: Community-police engagement at the forefront of National Faith & Blue Weekend

4. School partnerships

Pairing law enforcement together with schools is another way to build trust. Consider moving beyond simply assigning a school liaison officer to creating sports rivalries. Events such as local police officers versus high school basketball teams are a great way to bring everyone together. Not only do the student athletes and police officers create relationships, but it also has the potential to bring families and the entire community together. Again, these sporting events do not impact the fiscal budget and provide an opportunity to create relationships.

5. Senior citizens

Do not forget your senior citizens. Playing cards, attending arts and craft events, and simply sharing meals together are straightforward methods of connecting with our seniors. Having the opportunity to share ideas and build lasting relationships is worth the small investment of time. These folks have the potential to be some of our strongest allies but often get left behind.

6. Citizen police academies

Maybe the strongest way to earn and build community trust is through offering a citizen’s police academy. This allows your residents a chance to learn firsthand what police officers do every day. Although this takes more resources such as time, staffing and money, the payoff is much greater. Selecting a cross-section of your community to have the opportunity to learn from your staff and gain an understanding of your brand of policing is priceless. This experience creates lifelong allies of your agency who will support you not only during good times but especially during crises.


Building trust is a never-ending process that takes years to accomplish and only seconds to lose. It is imperative to leverage that stockpile of trust when your law enforcement agency is faced with a critical incident. The community will afford you the opportunity to be transparent and conduct thorough investigations without the rush to judgment. The time to be earning community trust is not during a critical incident. If you look inward and realize your agency is not working to build trust, the time to start is now.

NEXT: How to establish community TRUST

About the author

Michael Moore is chief of police for the Royal Oak Police Department in Royal Oak, Michigan. Chief Moore has been serving the Royal Oak community for the past 23 years. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice as well as a master’s degree in Criminology, both from Michigan State University. Chief Moore is a graduate of the FBI National Academy, session #284. He is also a graduate of Eastern Michigan University’s School of Police Staff and Command Executive Leadership Program.

Chief Moore has been actively involved in the recruitment and hiring of new police officers. He created a cadet program that employs students seeking a career in law enforcement on a part-time basis. The program is already proven successful as three former cadets have attended the police academy and are now sworn police officers at the Royal Oak Police Department.