I strongly believe that community partnership is by far the most successful crime reduction tool we have. But to develop a healthy relationship with all members of the community, police agencies must first earn the trust of their communities.
Establishing community trust first begins with input from stakeholders, accounting for and responding to each neighborhood’s unique cultural and socio-economic dynamics. The acronym TRUST identifies several critical components that are designed to strengthen law enforcement’s relationship with our communities.
Building trust requires:
T - Transparency
R - Receptiveness
U - Unity
S - Service
T - Training
Here are examples of the TRUST model in action that you can incorporate within your department.
A TRUST program should invite civilian community leaders or citizens to participate in the oral board phase of the selection process for hiring new officers. This allows for community members to see and interact with potential police officer candidates, as well as learn what their department is looking for in a police officer. It empowers community members by including them in determining who is selected to police their neighborhoods.
Police departments should also invite community members to public demonstrations of new equipment and practices such as what to do during a traffic stop. Citizen police academies allow for your organization to meet with community members on a regular basis and inform them on various aspects of how and why we operate. I would suggest agencies consider academies with alternate languages that are appropriate to each jurisdiction.
Finally, we must be transparent with our police policies through sharing information on social media and other outlets. We do not need to compromise officer safety by sharing procedural tactics, but general orders are important to share with the public.
Police1 resource: How to set up a community outreach event to review police policy
We can never adequately serve our community unless we understand their perceptions. To be receptive is to be open-minded and willing to listen to other points of view. This can be accomplished through quarterly, bi-annual, or annual listening sessions. Listening sessions can be hosted at a community center, faith-based facility, school, or any other neutral location that is welcoming to your respective community. These can also be done virtually.
These sessions should be exactly what is in the title: listening. It is the community’s opportunity to have a voice on any topic, concern, idea, or complaint they choose. The role of the police is to hear them. I have found these sessions to be very useful in making minor changes that have major positive impacts for our community. I am confident it will do the same for you.
Police1 resource: 6 steps to hosting an effective community meeting
To truly endorse and inspire our positive non-enforcement interaction, we should start by reviewing and restructuring our performance evaluations. While nearly every agency uses a different evaluation system, I can say we fail to emphasize non-enforcement activity during performance reviews. Why not fully embrace and encourage concepts through performance reviews so staff can discern exactly what they are required to accomplish? For starters, evaluation criteria could encourage and monitor positive non-enforcement interaction such as:
- Regular business contacts and positive, non-enforcement interaction.
- Participation in community-based projects, outreach, and/or other activity related to enhancing community relations.
To further unite your organization with your community, embrace a volunteer program. Consider coordinating with schools in your district. Many high schools require students to achieve a certain amount of community service hours to graduate. Volunteer programs within your agency can assist them while simultaneously establishing healthy relationships. Another program that provides a platform to interact with our youth is the Police Activities League (PAL). The PAL program allows for staff to become involved with coaching and mentoring the youth in a variety of sporting activities.
The Boston police department invested in an ice cream van to bring ice cream to underserved communities. My agency took this idea and established a caravan-style vehicle that drives through our community and hands out healthy food snacks, sports equipment and school supplies to our youth. These actions not only serve as community outreach for our youth, but they also send a powerful message that our police promote healthy living, positive activities and higher education.
Uniting with our youth, parents and schools should be a priority. Several years ago, my community experienced a spike in gang violence. Our officers reached out to the families of those impacted by gang violence, ex-gang members and community leaders. Together, we held a peace summit at the local schools. It was very impactful and enhanced relational building between our staff and all involved. Partnering with those who have made changes in their lives and want to help others is a powerful experience that we should embrace. Creating a peace summit with local experts brings the community together.
Shift projects are another way to inspire patrol teams to engage in opportunities to unite with the community to resolve problems. Each patrol shift should identify a community-based shift project at the beginning of each shift rotation with a focus on one of the following:
- A charity that benefits a group or individual within our community.
- Youth outreach (coaching, mentorship, presentations, etc.).
- Community problem-solving and/or criminal activity resolution.
- Community partnership program.
This platform makes officers feel heard and creates an environment of participation and even a little healthy competition among shifts. It is okay to have some fun, so long as we are working to enhance public safety and relationships. Shift projects allow for our line-level experts to think outside of the box and develop creative community policing measures that administrators often overlook.
Police1 resource: How to police from the heart in your community
When appropriate, police personnel should follow up with victims and/or citizens that come to us for assistance to see how they are doing and determine if there is anything else we can do to assist.
It is also critical that we facilitate unfiltered feedback on how we are doing, which can be obtained through companies that provide survey services, free online surveys, or community meetings. I often receive follow-up surveys for services I engage in, yet this is not required in the law enforcement profession. This should be a professional standard for all agencies. We need to hear from our communities how they perceive our performance. Just like you see the “How is my driving?” stickers on the back of a public sector company vehicle we should have a similar sticker on our squad cars that asks, “How is my policing?” with a phone number to the watch commander’s office.
Finally, we often forget that celebrating our employees and citizenry are significant motivators. People appreciate acknowledgment for doing good things. Establish quarterly employee recognition awards for actions taken by your staff when they have positive impacts on your department and community. We know this is a motivator and encourages others to engage in similar actions. You could also extend the recognition and award your citizens for actions that also contribute to a safe and healthy community.
Police1 resource: How citizen surveys improve community engagement with police
Community relations training should be incorporated into your FTO programs so new police officers can begin their careers with a solid foundation in community-oriented policing. FTOs cover a broad spectrum of topics to pave a path of success for our police officers and the earlier we train, the easier it will be to maintain the culture years later.
We should include scenario-based training focusing on treating people with dignity and respect, being neutral and transparent in decision-making, conveying trustworthy motives, and being receptive during contacts. In addition, part of the FTO program should include meeting members of our community, as it relates to self-initiated activity.
We need to shape a culture of getting to know people in positive encounters at the earliest stages of policing as possible.
Police1 resource: 6 ways beat officers can make a difference through community policing
Law enforcement cannot effectively address public safety problems alone. To be successful, we must philosophically change our approach and incorporate authentic community policing throughout all levels of our organizations. I believe community policing is defined as a partnership between police and the community, working together to solve problems and enhance public safety by way of building trusting relationships. We must not lose focus of that. Following the TRUST model is one way to transform your law enforcement organization into a fully unified, community policing agency.
NEXT: Why cops need to get out of their cars: Strategies for community engagement
About the author
Nick Borges is the acting police chief for the Seaside (California) Police Department. He has been with the department for 19 years and has served as a field training officer, detective, corporal, sergeant, commander, deputy chief and SWAT commander. Chief Borges is a graduate of the FBI National Academy, session 277.