Why cops should love National Night Out

There is nothing more effective for building trust than personal, positive contacts between the police and those they protect and serve

It may be too late to execute a plan for National Night Out this year, but if your agency is participating, make it big. If your agency isn’t participating, you can still commit to community outreach.

Police agencies and individual officers need to be proactive in reminding their public of the efficiency, value and compassion that continues despite the heat and critique. Remembering that most Americans still trust and respect their police officers is critical to rebutting the sour narratives from politicians and critics who have led the country down the path to increased crime and division.

Mass media campaigns can help, but there is nothing more effective for building trust than personal, positive contacts between the police and those they protect and serve. Making individual connections between the citizen in blue and the citizen on the porch steps has a multiplier effect.

Here are some strategies that could bear fruit for better relationships:

Join and support existing work

Police departments are often reluctant to engage in any program they didn’t start or run. The risk of endorsing the total belief system of a group with a crime-fighting strategy that is helpful or at least meaningful can keep police leaders separated from those community efforts.

If the group is a political hot potato, distance might be prudent, but whenever someone is trying to do the right thing, a partnership or at least a listening ear can be a source of unity. There are many programs, walks and special events that don’t originate with the police but have admirable goals.

Be ready with information

There is undoubtedly enough equipment and tools to fill an officer’s pockets, but there should always be space for a business card, junior police badge, or a handout to be placed in the hands of a citizen. The transactional effort of giving, even if the receiver tosses it into the next available trash can, creates a sense of cooperation and connection.

Plan ahead

Next year will be here soon enough for the next National Night Out, but there are other events that can help the police build community connections. Keep an eye out for opportunities for that personal interaction.

Budgeting for connection opportunities may mean handout materials, offering overtime for event attendance, and providing mini-grants for worthy causes that can brand the department as involved in community building.

Nothing new

Public relations and community policing are nothing new. What is fresh is the urgency of retaining support for the very basic function of preserving peace and reducing crime. No agency is immune from false perceptions of their work and purpose, which means seeking positive, personal interactions is an essential job for police leaders to line officers. Jumping on the National Night Out bandwagon is one of those opportunities.

NEXT: Not your average citizen’s academy

This article originally published on July 31, 2021, has been updated.

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