4 easy ways police chiefs can build rapport for effective community policing

When dealing with the public or attending public meetings, there are simple things you can do to build better relationships

Jim Zalud is an expert in communication, body language, and sales. Sounds like a great opportunity to get his perspective on how police can improve community relations, right?

The problem, Zalud shared with me at the 2015 ILEETA conference, is that many police chiefs think they are doing a good job when they are not building bridges as effectively as they could in public meetings.

"A police officer is a salesman. You bring an agenda, and you need to build trust to sell it," said Zalud.  

Zalud offers some observations on commonly overlooked opportunities for better relationships with the public.

1. Attention is fleeting

“You have four seconds to make a first impression and fourteen seconds to make a second impression,” he advises, and within four minutes the other person has formed their judgment. A sincere smile, open palms, and a positive voice will make a good impression.

2. Focus on agenda rather than self-image

Police are well-practiced at posturing for dominance. If a community meeting is for sharing concerns, the officer won’t compromise their authority by loosening up a little. Uncross your arms, stop resting your hand on your gun, and curb your habit of taking an interview stance. The goal is a relationship they already know you’re the police!

3. Pay attention to proxemics

Many community meetings are set up with the police behind a table at the front of the room with everyone facing them. Zalud recommends circular tables with no more than ten persons each with an officer at each table. Don’t appear to be “condescending to grant them an audience,” but join them as a peer.

4. Find “cause to pause”

When conflict arises, take time to increase understanding of the reason for the conflict so you can address it. Resist the temptation for a quick, defensive response.

Building bridges — or rebuilding them isn’t likely to happen if we wait for our citizenry to start the process. We need to create a safe place for a conversation and do that with skill and salesmanship.

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