October 21, 2020 | View as webpage
Dear Leader,

"How can law enforcement better connect with their communities?" While this question is never far from a police leader’s mind, the recent civil unrest and widespread calls for police reform have put a spotlight on police-community relations like never before.

The articles in today’s Leadership Briefing seek to provide some easy-to-implement solutions that will immediately improve the public perception of your officers who serve and protect their communities every day.

Assistant Commissioner of Law Enforcement for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety and Police1 columnist Booker Hodges doesn’t like the term “reform.” Instead, he writes, LE agencies should be looking to better align with their communities and offers three steps to accomplish police-community alignment. Detective Haywood Irving identifies two ways to improve police-community relationships that are easy and inexpensive: Cops waving and getting out of their cars.

What is the biggest challenge your agency has faced connecting with the community in 2020? Email editor@police1.com.

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Stay safe,

Nancy Perry
Editor-in-Chief, Police1 

Policing needs alignment, not reform
By Booker Hodges 

In the wake of the death of George Floyd the law enforcement profession has been inundated with demands for “police reform” with public officials nationwide reimagining public safety. Some ideas are better than others, while some are outright unrealistic and dangerous.

I personally don’t like the term “reform,” as we have tried this before in the period referred to as the “reform era” of policing from 1930-1980. I prefer the term “alignment,” meaning we (cops) and our neighbors (community members) need to get into alignment with each other.

Here are three steps to start on the road to alignment:

1. Develop a set of shared values

Work with your community to develop a set of shared values. We recently completed this in Minnesota after we conducted statewide listening sessions in which we asked citizens what character traits they wanted their police officers to possess.

After conducting the listening sessions, we took the community feedback to LE agencies and developed a set of shared core values that were reflective of both the values discussed by both the community and the LE agencies.

When we originally started this project, it was set up to gauge if each of our state LE agencies' core values were in alignment with the community, but after the data was collected a new realization emerged. As I looked at the shared values of honesty, leadership, respect and service, I was hit in the head with the bible verse Luke 6:48: They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. In essence, for something to last, whether it is a house or a relationship, it is critical that we build on a strong foundation.

The foundation of our departments is the community because we all come from the community. If the community wants cops to continue to have the values of honesty, leadership, respect and service, we must start to reinforce these shared values within our communities. The values of society are reflected in our departments. Society doesn’t like to hear this sometimes but it’s the truth. We are and have always only been as good as society and we may not like to hear that. As society has lost its way in terms of respect, honesty, leadership and service it can only be expected these sentiments sometimes seep into our departments.

If we develop shared values with our neighbors, we can come back into alignment with one another. Developing shared values could also help us establish behavior standards and consequences for violating those standards either as a member of the neighborhood or a police officer. In addition, shared values could help shape your local criminal justice system so that it reflects those values.

2. Consider residency requirements

Having a residency requirement for police officers is not popular but in order for us to be aligned with our neighbors, they must be our neighbors.

Livability issues such as housing costs and access to good schools are often cited as reasons for not wanting to live where you work. So, when I say residency, I am defining that as being either 15 minutes from your jurisdictional line or 15 miles, whichever best suits the agency. We all know in some agencies that 15 minutes would get you half a mile away from the jurisdiction, but the point here is to have some interaction with those you are charged with protecting when you are not working. It becomes easy to dehumanize the police when people don’t know us as their neighbors.

3. Rethink where we bring the tail of the criminal justice system

We need to have an honest discussion with our neighbors regarding what I call “the tail of the criminal justice system.” Again this is something I know some won’t agree with, but over the years we have got out of alignment with our neighbors in part by allowing the tail of the criminal justice system to be bought into places where it doesn’t belong.

What do I mean by this? As a police officer, every place I go while working I bring the tail of the criminal justice system with me. When I am called to respond to a house where a 13-year-old doesn’t want to go to school, I bring it with me. When I am dispatched to a call where an autistic child refuses to eat their breakfast, I bring it with me. When I am dispatched to respond to a suicidal person who has taken pills, I bring it with me.

None of the situations I mentioned on the surface would require the tail of the criminal justice system, but my mere presence may cause any of these individuals to enter the criminal justice system.

I believe we need to stop bringing the tail of the criminal justice system places it doesn’t belong. I know some will ask “If we don’t go to these types of calls who else will?” We had mechanisms in place previously that brought the hand of the healthcare system into these situations and we need to bring that back so we can come into alignment with our neighbors. 

Alignment, not reform, is what I believe is needed to restore our relationship with our neighbors. As a profession, we can either choose to focus on those who are looting and rioting in our streets, or we can view this as an opportunity to establish long-lasting alignment with our neighbors. What an opportunity we have to get this right.

NEXT: 5 critical occasions for agencies to connect with the community

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'Operation Wave and Get Out': A simple approach to community policing

By Haywood Irving

Community policing is not complex. It involves the community and the police coming together to get to know, trust and relate to one another with respect.

For the two to come together, it makes the most sense for the police to initiate the relationship at a basic level: one on one. This goes back to a time in policing where the beat cop got out of the station to walk the beat, waving, greeting and talking to people as they moved through their day. The modern “police station” is the patrol car, and it is urgent we change our culture to get out of our vehicles to interact with our community and, when we cannot, we at least wave.

Now is the time to enact policies that outline simple ways to interact with the public. Mandated or suggested ideas generally become part of our policies and procedures. Review your department's policy on community policing and officers' personal, daily interactions with the public. Do you have specific expectations and standards for your officers to facilitate easy, successful public interactions? One simple approach is “Operation Wave and Get Out.”

A gesture of goodwill

There is a misguided belief that money is needed to make changes in government. But it does not always take money to change the culture of officers and the police department.

One obstacle between police and the community is that civilians often do not experience our humanity. In some neighborhoods more than others, the residents do not see our good side. We are not viewed as friendly, empathetic protectors, but oppressors disinterested in their lives. What if we could change how we are viewed through repeated gestures of kindness and caring and score a cost-free, public relations win-win?

The hand wave has an unclear origin but is believed to have originated as a salute from one knight to another to show they come in peace. Fast forward to the modern-day knight, the law enforcement officer, where a wave from a cop says “I come in peace” to the public. It says, “I pose no threat and I come seeking friendship, not to harm you.” The wave is a way to disarm any discomfort the public may feel around the police. The wave from the officer says to the public, “I am approachable” and is an invitation to come together.

Operation Wave

When I was on my department's Crime Suppression Team, one of the officers who was having more complaints than normal and a poor attitude toward those who lived in the neighborhoods we worked in, was assigned as my partner. One of the things I told him we were going to do was to wave at the children and adults we passed while either driving or on foot. I jokingly called this “Operation Wave.”

At first, only a few people would wave back; many would look at us with confusion. After a month or so, though, especially in the neighborhoods we were frequently in, my partner began to notice that people were waving at us first. Not just a few people, but just about anyone we came across waved, smiled at us or had something positive to say to us. His attitude changed, and the way people interacted with us changed.

Just through the minor gesture of a simple wave, we created a positive encounter between the community and the police. This in turn changed their attitude from seeing officers as an occupying force to being there for them and their safety. For any agency of any size to simply wave at the public would only cost the effort of getting officers to raise their hands.

Operation Get Out

“Operation Get Out” is something I have done for 23 years. Some of the public only see officers arresting and using force against people in their neighborhoods, especially in high-crime locations. They do not believe we are there for them, and we disrespect them by not even taking the time to acknowledge them with some type of gesture (wave, head nod, or greeting). How would you feel if day after day, year after year, someone passes you and never acknowledges you?

With “Operation Get Out,” if I am driving in a neighborhood and see kids throwing a football, playing basketball, or just out, I just get out of my vehicle to throw a ball around, shoot some baskets, or chat with them for a few minutes.

If I am leaving a house, business, or building from a call and do not have another call to go to, I greet anyone I come across. If I have time, I might stop, introduce myself and talk with people for a short period.

On our beats, we should walk into businesses and introduce ourselves, and let owners and customers know we are there for them. When we see gatherings in neighborhood parks, we should do the same thing. These small gestures go a long way to humanize us.

While we do community outreach programs, the impact is small in terms of the number of people we encounter. On the other hand, on calls for service, proactive activity and detective follow-ups, we come across hundreds of thousands of people each year. Imagine if an agency of any size, on every call, on every follow-up or contact, 365 days a year waved or got out of their cars and in some way interacted with the public. In short order, we would impact a very sizable portion of our population as humans, and not as enforcers of the law. We would no longer just be patrol cars, guns and badges, but become real people to our public and garner their respect and trust.

Implementation is simple and personal

Let us not complicate the simple during our implementation of such initiatives. Questions of when to wave or acknowledge the public will probably arise. The simple answer is if you can see community members, wave, or acknowledge them. If you have time, and you see children playing basketball, throwing a football, or hanging out, get out and play with them. If residents are out, or a business is open, stop for a moment to chat.

Here is the simplicity of this policing: If you are stopped at a light, every car that pulls alongside you, wave to them. If someone passes in front of you in the crosswalk, are standing on the corner, or walking by, wave. If you are entering or exiting for a store to get coffee, try to acknowledge everyone you pass as you enter and leave. When you arrive and leave a call in a neighborhood, wave and acknowledge everyone you see. If time warrants, stop, introduce yourself, and talk to the public.

With our public image at an all-time low, let us identify those areas where we can improve police-community relationships that are easy and inexpensive. Wave and get out, not just for the community, but for all of us.

NEXT: Why we need to humanize law enforcement (and how to do it)

About the author

Haywood Irving has been with the Fresno (California) Police Department for 23 years and is currently a detective. He worked patrol for the first eight years of his career, three of them as a Field Training Officer. He was assigned to a District Crime Suppression Team for six and has been a detective for the past nine years where he has worked robberies, property crimes, hate crimes and crimes against persons. He has received numerous commendations, including the Medal of Valor Under Mortal danger for leading an ad hoc rescue team of officers who responded to two officers that had been shot while under fire from the suspect. He served in the United States Air Force for six years achieving the rank of Staff Sergeant.

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