How a “Peace Officer” identity initiative is changing public perception
The Richland County Sheriff’s Department recently added the words PEACE OFFICER to its patrol vehicle fleet
By W. Thomas Smith Jr.
In January 2018, the Richland County Sheriff’s Department (RCSD) became the first sheriff’s office in the country to add the words PEACE OFFICER to its fleet of 600+ marked patrol vehicles.
RCSD was selected, along with the Redlands (Calif.) Police Department, to be part of a pilot program for the new identity initiative. Since then, several LE agencies around the country have been brought into the fold.
“RCSD was perfect for this program because of the importance we saw Sheriff Leon Lott place on commitment, discernment, fair-mindedness, honesty, transparency and compassion within the department,” said Lisa Broderick, executive director of Police2Peace, a national non-profit that is facilitating the project and the accompanying research being conducted by the Joint Public Policy Institute of New York University and UCLA.
“Sheriff Lott perceived that reminders like the PEACE OFFICER identity initiative tend to engender an awareness and compassion that can shift how officers show up to situations in the community, which then changes the energy of the encounter for the better,” Broderick said.
As part of the project, a randomized controlled trial was conducted where some of RCSD’s eight regions had the wording placed on vehicles to gauge the effect of citizens and officers seeing PEACE OFFICER on certain vehicles, while other areas of the county were in control groups where the designation did not appear. Following a six-month period, decals were placed on all vehicles in all of the county’s regions. Those surveyed during the research included RCSD deputies, employees, and the citizens living and working within the county’s various communities.
COmmunity support for RCSD
The results of the survey show good existing relations between RCSD and the community.
Among the community members surveyed since January 2018, nearly 90% “strongly agreed” that the community “is generally very supportive” of RCSD. Eighty percent “strongly agreed” that RCSD “makes efforts to engage and educate the community on law enforcement matters.” Nearly 90% “strongly agreed” that they as individuals “have enjoyed a good relationship” with RCSD. And nearly 95% “strongly agreed” that the department “should devote time to familiarizing its personnel with the concerns of the community while also being a strong law enforcement presence.”
More than 75% of those within the community who had seen the decals “strongly agreed” that “the community is generally safe” as opposed to only 55% who did not see the decals but whom also believe the community is generally safe.
When the question was posed, “Do you think people can change?” nearly 90% who saw the decals “strongly agreed” as opposed to about 65% who did not see the decals.
When asked if they perceived the department’s deputies as being “guardians” rather than “warriors,” over 70% who saw the decals “strongly agreed” as opposed to 55% who did not see the decals.
“We do so much more than simply enforce the law,” Sheriff Lott said. “We do enforce the law to be sure, but peace officer is a more accurate description of who we are and what we do. We are keeping the peace. We’re building relationships. And we’re educating the citizens we serve as how best to safeguard themselves from all threats.
“With the words PEACE OFFICER on our cars, we are getting people to talk about what a peace officer really is. We are changing perceptions and we are redefining what we do and what being a peace officer means to us individually and as a department.”
“This initiative is working here with RCSD and elsewhere,” Broderick said. “We have presented it to numerous departments nationwide, including police departments, sheriff’s offices, state and federal law enforcement agencies, and we are now in the pilot or planning stages with a dozen or so.”
Have you spotted the “Peace Officer” decals on our vehicles? What do you think of them? Take the survey! Today is the last day. bit.ly/2JCgEkyPosted by Richland County Sheriff's Department on Monday, April 30, 2018
For more information about the peace officer initiative, visit https://police2peace.com/.
About the author
W. Thomas Smith Jr. is a special deputy with the Richland County Sheriff’s Dept.