*|MC_PREVIEW_TEXT|*Values-based policing | Building empathy | Educating the public
November 11, 2020 | View as webpage
Dear Leader,

Corporations spend billions of dollars every year researching how to better market their brands and connect with current and new customers. While this approach may not seem to apply to law enforcement, during a time of increasing negative perceptions about police, LE leaders should look at how to better communicate their “brand” and connect with their “customers,” that is, community members.

While innovation can be challenging when you are dealing with funding cuts, officer turnover and crime increases, there are some simple, cost-effective ways to market your agency and connect with the community.

In today’s Leadership Briefing, former officer and current sports coach Greg Winkler discusses the value of a values-based approach to policing and Police1 columnist Hilary Romig profiles the work of a NY theater group to increase empathy between cops and citizens through improvisation and story-telling.

P.S. Help Police1 share law enforcement best practices! Please forward this newsletter to your colleagues and professional associates and encourage them to sign up here.

Stay safe,

Nancy Perry
Editor-in-Chief, Police1

How to take a values-based approach to policing

By Greg Winkler

My career in policing was short, but the memories and lessons learned stayed with me as I found my calling in education. Watching the news cycle today brings concern about my former profession. I see parallels from my coaching career that can carry over and improve police relations across the country.

Police performance is currently being questioned and coming under fire. Police departments are under great scrutiny and respect for the profession appears to be at the lowest in years.

How can law enforcement agencies change negative public perception? One approach is through establishing, teaching and holding each other accountable to a set of core values that are communicated throughout the department and the community.

How is your department perceived in the community? There doesn't have to be a glowing problem to implement a set of core values. It may be that you have a great department, and no one appreciates or notices. By emphasizing your department's beliefs and demonstrating them on every contact, officers' efforts will be recognized in your community.

Commit to a value-based approach

Whether you have an athletic team, a business, or a values-based police department, you commit to emphasizing the values you think are important.

If, say, "respect" is a core value, what does that look like? How do your officers treat the people they come into contact with? What communication skills are officers using to defuse stressful situations? Respect extends also to the building custodian, administrative assistants and the people officers see throughout the day at the station. Values, once identified, are taught and expectations set.

When a department decides to adopt a values-based approach to policing, that approach needs to start at the top. If the expectation is for the patrol officers to demonstrate these values in the community they serve, then police leadership must also model that behavior within the department.

Determine your values

Once a department decides to adopt a values-based approach, the real work begins.

Present a plan to your mayor or city manager and meet with department management staff to start forming a values list. Next, meet with each department within your agency to add to your list.

Determining what your 3-5 traits will be is unique to every department. There must be meaningful discussions with all stakeholders. Choose values that will be visible to the community.

Listed are a few examples:

Balance, caring, courage, diversity, equality, ethics, excellence, fairness, gratitude, honesty, integrity, justice, kindness, loyalty, patience, reliability, respect, responsibility, security, service and trust.

Take your initial list (could be 30-40 values) and begin to narrow it down. Choose your final 3-5 core value traits. Define those final values. What do they "look" like? How do you teach them? How do you evaluate them in action?

Promote your brand

Once your department decides on implementing a plan, it is essential to promote your brand throughout your community. Your core values should be the first thing the public sees on your agency's website. Your department patch should include those values, and they should be on your vehicles.

You may look at your department and see some of these values posted around the building. The question then becomes, are they just words, or do you live by them? When officers are evaluated, core values should be part of that process.

Every stakeholder must hold each other to higher standards. It takes tremendous self-control to handle situations that start to go off the rails. Many problems need a level-head or a calming presence.

Officers have many contacts throughout a shift; many are routine and handled efficiently. As a supervisor, think about the officer contacts, arrests, or complaints that required action from you. If you reflect on some of these actions, the way an officer communicates to a subject and the choice of words used can ignite a situation. Handling every case with respect and self-control can impact every encounter.

People make poor choices, and those choices can lead to problematic consequences. They already feel guilty and disappointed in themselves. An officer who shows respect and demonstrates empathy can handle the incident and possible arrest without further complications.

If we want a values-based department, a precise, reliable and consistent message must be communicated. Training and practice of communication skills and de-escalation techniques must be ongoing, and your values must be practiced, evaluated and modeled.

Push your values-based policing program within your community. Promote stories of your officers who are performing positive actions in the city. Highlight an officer weekly or monthly. Write the story and present it to the local media.

Enhancing a police department's perception takes a concentrated effort from everyone who is a representative of that department. The time and energy put into making a positive change will reap immediate and long-term rewards. Putting character and core values at the forefront will make not only the department stronger but also the community.

About the author

Greg Winkler has a degree in education and a master’s degree in sports management. A former patrolman for the City of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. He left police work to pursue his passion for teaching and coaching. After a Hall of Fame coaching career, Greg's focus is on leadership and character development. He is the author of "Coaching a Season of Significance" and "The Transformational Coach." Contact Greg at gregwinkler10@gmail.com.

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'Walk a mile in my shoes': Building empathy between cops and communities
By Hilary Romig 

Building better police-community relations is the goal of every law enforcement leader that requires many different strategies to reach myriad members of the community. Building empathy between cops and civilians is key, but how does an agency accomplish that when there seems to be a chasm between public perception of police and the realities of serving as an officer in today's world?

Through its theatrical program, “To Protect, Serve, and Understand,” the Irondale Ensemble Project has been working with NYPD officers to bridge that gulf.

“We seek to build deeper understanding and trust between communities and police using the transformative power of theater,” said Terry Greiss, executive director of the Irondale Ensemble Project.

Build communication and empathy

In 2015, Irondale invited the New York Police Department to develop a community program that would use theatrical improvisation to build communication and empathy between officers and the communities they are charged to protect and serve.

Over the course of 10 weeks, officers and community members attend workshops and tell each other stories based on their experiences, where they learn to improvise so they can “step into each other’s shoes.” The participants also partake in public performances, attended by community members, with the goal of developing mutual trust and empathy through storytelling.

Bringing law enforcement and the public together in this creative way has impacted everyone involved. Greiss says the program has influenced law enforcers and the citizens who come in contact with them.

“I have seen police officers leave the program with a clearer understanding of how they are perceived by the people they are sworn to protect and serve,” said Greiss. “I have seen them 'walk in the shoes' of people who fear them and I have watched friendships replace fear.”

How the program works

Workshop participants first participate in a sit-down dinner where they discuss hot topic issues surrounding policing, including many of the tragedies experienced by civilians and police officers over the past few years.

“Post-meal conversations become highly charged and emotional as extremely sensitive topics are discussed,” said NYPD Officer Miguel VanBrakle. “Once the meal is over and the improvisation begins, the workshop exercises force the participant to walk in each other’s shoes.”

VanBrakle says the juxtaposition of sharing your point of view and then having to play out another person’s experience, which may be the exact opposite of your own, leads to each person changing their original viewpoints of either policing or civilian experience with police.

“That deep level of understanding bonds the participants to each other in ways that transcend their current life and role, either as a civilian or a police officer,” said VanBrakle. 

VanBrakle says the program has helped him hone the skills he has developed during his career in law enforcement while providing him with additional tools to help understand and empathize with the community he serves.

“From active listening and slowing things down to fully understand the nature of a problem or situation, as well as examining my own perceptions and preconceptions, it has allowed me to see what is really going on,” said Vanbrakle. “On a personal level, it helped bring about a paradigm shift in how I interact and communicate while at work and at home.”

Changing perspectives

Greiss says the program has the power to change an individual’s perspectives and behavior: “Officers have told me that they ‘police differently now,’ and that they listen more acutely.” The program has also given confidence to civilians who may have been afraid of the police. Communication, understanding and transparency all help achieve better community relations.

“Having the chance to have community members who may be apprehensive toward police and policing but are at least willing to try to communicate and interact in this program is invaluable in today’s climate,” said VanBrakle. “All the while developing and reinforcing communication techniques that can bring more positive outcomes during police interactions with the public.”

“To Protect, Serve, and Understand” is an excellent way to accomplish these goals through a positive, creative and attention-grabbing outlet. To date, 53 police officers and 53 civilians have participated in seven series of workshops. Performances have seen audiences at capacity, with more than 2,500 community members attending. Departments interested in the program can learn more at https://irondale.org/to-protect-serve-and-understand/.

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