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4 ways officers can improve neighborhood relationships

If you know more criminals on your beat than citizens you protect, that’s a problem – here are four ways to remedy that


Children walk hand in hand with police during a peace march, Friday, Aug. 19, 2016, in the Liberty City neighborhood of Miami. Various police departments from across Miami-Dade County marched with neighborhood children to promote community relations between residents and police.

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

As our profession begins to transition from one generation to the next, I have noticed newer officers struggling with how they can individually improve neighborhood relations.

Below are some tips I have practiced over the years to maintain great connections with my neighborhood. I believe if each and every one of us did the majority of these things, we would begin to turn the corner on what seems to be an all-out assault on the credibility of the law enforcement profession.

1. Live where you work.

It’s easy to say, “Screw the police,” but it’s a lot more difficult to say, “Screw Deputy Hodges.” Living where you work allows you to know more people in your community than criminals. It also allows members of your community to know you outside of your law enforcement capacity.

I don’t have to ask someone what the community thinks because I am a member of the community. Living where you work also shows those you police that you value them enough to live side by side with them. I realize that living in some police communities is cost prohibitive based on an officer’s salary, but if at all possible living where you police is one thing you can do to improve neighborhood relations.

2. Interact with people in non-enforcement situations.

A police officer’s wife recently said to me, “My husband is a cop, but our kids don’t have any interaction with cops other than him. They drive down the street with the windows rolled up and sunglasses on. I wish they would stop to say hi when they see us playing in the front yard.”

I believe that we have become disconnected from those whom we police. Policing using statistics and data-driven initiatives removes the human element from policing. If you know more criminals on your beat than citizens you protect, that’s a problem.

Administrators helped create this problem with productivity logs. If you are rewarded for the number of citations you write rather than for the number of non-enforcement citizen interactions, what are you more likely to focus on?

Remember what I said, it’s easy to say, “Screw the police,” not so easy to say, “Screw Deputy Hodges.” Public perception is changed one person at a time.

3. Volunteer in your community.

I cannot say enough about the importance of volunteering in the community you police. People who volunteer are active in their communities and are the type of people we need spreading the truth about our profession. Being a public servant should not stop when you take the uniform off – volunteering keeps you connected to the community you are policing.

4. Don’t read, watch, or surf the internet for news.

A wise police chief told me, “The media is not interested in the story; they are interested in a story.” If you believe what is written in the media is reflective of public sentiment you are gravely mistaken. The majority of the public supports law enforcement officers and what we do. The majority of the public wants to interact with us and get to know us as people. Unfortunately, many of us avoid these interactions, especially in certain communities, because of how we perceive they perceive us. The perception in the media is not the reality we live and we should conduct ourselves accordingly.

As a profession we must connect on a personal level with those we are charged with policing. The next generation of police officers will be successful if they become fully immersed in their communities. It is much harder to hate up close!

Bloomington Police Department Chief Booker Hodges has worked as a school resource officer, patrol deputy, narcotics detective, SWAT operator, patrol overnight watch commander, inspector, undersheriff, acting chief deputy, an assistant public safety commissioner and now chief of police.

Prior to joining the Bloomington Police Department in April of 2022, he served with the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, the Lake Police Department and the Ramsey and Dakota County Sheriff’s Office. He has led agencies ranging from 40 to 1,500 staff members.