Violence reduction: Improving police-community relations is key

With rising rates of homicides in many major cities, the community’s role in crime prevention and reduction is that much more important


This article originally appeared in the February 2021 Police1 Leadership Briefing. To read the full briefing, visit Data-driven reform | Violence reduction | Tech to fight crime, and add the Leadership Briefing to your subscriptions.

This essay is reprinted with permission from the Violence Reduction Project

The role of the community in policing is once again at the forefront of discussion among community advocates, city leaders and police executives.

Beyond the role of the community in the accountability and oversight of police, communities are also seeking greater input in how police serve, or in some cases “police,” their communities.

Communities seeking greater input in how their neighborhoods are policed are also taking greater responsibility in developing crime prevention and reduction strategies.
Communities seeking greater input in how their neighborhoods are policed are also taking greater responsibility in developing crime prevention and reduction strategies. (Getty Images)

With rising rates of homicides in many major cities across the country, the community’s role in crime prevention and reduction is that much more important and just one of many approaches that can be implemented to address these increases.

What matters to community members

Over the last 10 years, I have interviewed hundreds of community members on issues related to community-police relationships and police reform. One such interview highlighted how an officer’s demeanor and actions when interacting with the family of a homicide victim can impact the broader community’s sense of trust and cooperation. This distraught father, whose primary concern was not related to police violence, but rather how the police treated him after his son was discovered as a victim of a homicide.

As the father described it, the apathy and lack of transparency from the officers and detectives who responded to the crime scene broke down any semblance of trust he might have had prior to that day. The actions and behavior of the officers and detectives reflected to him, a department who saw him and his family not as victims, but as the causes of the city’s crime problem. Unfortunately, as I spoke to others within this same community, the impact of this negative interaction carried on for many years and across various community members, some of which shared the same or similar stories.

The value of homicide support groups

Agencies like RichmondLouisville Metro and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police departments have sought to improve how communities are treated after violent crimes and have implemented Homicide Support Groups.

In these cities, Homicide Support Groups (HSGs) are reflective of how building greater, more substantive, relationships with the community increases trust and thus result in greater community cooperation and increased homicide clearance rates. HSGs are comprised of partners from multiple stakeholders, led by homicide detectives, who engage directly with the families and communities affected by these violent crimes, keeping them apprised of the investigation process, judicial developments, and provide resources and support.

In addition to working toward strengthening relationships with their communities, in some cases, these agencies have also experienced increases in homicide clearance rates. Although research is limited on the impact of this specific approach, it appears to be fruitful and in 2019, the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services funded additional research, as well as the development of an implementation guide for other agencies considering HSGs.

Community-specific policing strategies

Communities seeking greater input in how their neighborhoods are policed are also taking greater responsibility in developing crime prevention and reduction strategies.

Community-based groups and organizations, some of which are funded using city funds, grants, and/or donations, are stepping up to improve their neighborhoods by establishing community centers, conducting listening sessions, revitalizing their neighborhoods using crime prevention through environmental design, and directly engaging city and police leaders in developing community-specific policing strategies.

Fort Worth’s LVTRise, Albuquerque’s Community Policing Councils, and the Charleston Area Justice Ministry are just a few examples of community-based organizations that are currently working to improve their communities, increase safety, and address inequities in policing.

No one approach will be the panacea

The above examples are just two innovative approaches to addressing the rise of homicides and violent crime, which in some cases rates have not been experienced in over 20 years.

A comprehensive approach, one that involves many partners, extending beyond policing and criminal justice, such as health, social services, housing and education must also be included in these discussions. Further, no one approach, however innovative, is going to be the panacea for all communities and police agencies.

As is clear when examining the research that has been conducted on police policies, procedures, technologies and strategies, the success of these approaches varies across communities and as their needs change, so must these approaches.

NEXT: Addressing 2020's unprecedented rise in violent crime

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