One of President Trump’s campaign promises was to promote and restore “law and order.” This will not be an easy campaign promise to keep due to the recent escalation in police involved incidents in which the media, along with irresponsible politicians, elected officials, community activists, community organizers, celebrities, and sports figures have amplified a negative sentiment towards the law enforcement community. That being said, this campaign promise is one that can and will become a reality if the proper message is sent to our local communities.
The first part of the message is that every community must be invested in their own community’s success through proper education and cooperation with their local law enforcement community. This message is not a one sided conversation, the law enforcement community must do their due diligence and re-train their men and women with 21st century methodology which addresses each issue individually.
The last and final part of the message must come from the media through the use of ethical journalism as well as from non-judgmental politicians and influential public figures endorsing a negative connotation towards the law enforcement community.
Police departments throughout the country have created and implemented programs designed to rebuild community trust and communication between law enforcement and the community. ‘Coffee with a cop” and “Lunch with a cop” give the community and youths the opportunity to connect and interact with law enforcement on a more positive manner. While these programs may be helpful on a micro level, they are not as effective on the macro level which frames and promotes the bigger picture of rebuilding and fostering a partnership through trust between the public and law enforcement community.
Therefore, how do we truly rebuild the trust between the public and law enforcement community? The answer has to be in educating and promoting collaboration from both sides along with constant assessment that contains actionable feedback of any program or programs including community policing.
Community policing stems back to the 1600s and has always been an important component of law and order from the inception of informal transitioning to formal organized police departments.
Early settlements implemented an informal and communal approach to law and order, which was referred to as the “watch system.” The watch system was composed of community volunteers whose primary duty was to warn the public of impending danger. This informal approach to policing lasted until about the 1830s, when the idea of a centralized municipal police department first emerged and is still used to this day.
As cities had begun growing in population at a large rate, the old, informal, watch system was no longer adequate to enforce the laws and control disorder. The assessment of the informal and communal approach to policing was based on feedback from the community and was changed to a formal approach of policing which was centered on an increase in disorder among the populace. This same approach of modern day community policing is a philosophy that rests on the belief that law-abiding citizens in their community have a vested responsibility to actively participate in the police process.
Restoring trust in the community should support President Trump’s campaign promise of law and order. The crucial first step is in sharing this vision with the community and with the law enforcement community is vital in order for both communities to become truly vested in the mission statement of trust through education. Educating the public and law enforcement community is the part of the answer to rebuilding that trust by continually investing in their commitment to each other.
Education comes in many forms and the community must take an active role in their neighborhoods and community policing. The community holds high expectations from the law enforcement community, which makes them accountable for their actions and so they should.
However, education has to be a two-way street between the public and the law enforcement community. Educating each other from both sides of the street and meeting in the middle is the one component necessary to start rebuilding this trust.
Communities and neighborhoods should ask whether they have taken an active approach in their own neighborhoods and community for the law enforcement community to trust them.
Martin Luther King expressed, “The first step in the change process is raising awareness. The second step is to involve others in the planning process.”
Most communities are larger in numbers than any law enforcement agency and must proactively engage and provide greater input and participate in rebuilding this trust as well. This idea is not created merely on the hope of rebuilding the trust in our law enforcement community, but from a more selfish commitment.
Commitment to their own community meaning that the community’s vision provides the valuable input and shared information to educate the law enforcement community in all matters in their neighborhood to complete the mission.
Trust through education starts with both sides educating each other on problems and issues within the community. Law enforcement is judged on results, therefore when the community feels that issues are not being addressed, or law enforcement feels unaware, trust is deteriorated.
Police departments can start rebuilding this trust through education by actively listening and engaging the community with actionable feedback and results. How can this be done?
Community survey and service is a method in which active members of the community take an inventory of their community, survey the troubled areas, and identify areas of concern that they feel warrant public service. Community surveys are designed to provide police with reliable feedback from community members and their perceived perceptions of police performance.
These surveys are also designed to overcome one of the most common criticisms that the law enforcement community expresses, “If the community does not care to get involved and help the police, why should the police care to help the community?” The information on these surveys will educate and inform the law enforcement community about the community’s needs and concerns so they can implement new policies and procedures that address these issues.
When properly utilized these surveys will be the catalyst that restores the trust between the law enforcement community and the public. When the public senses the commitment from law enforcement community and the community actually starts seeing positive changes in their neighborhoods it will create a communal trust.
Trust through educating will create this reciprocal philosophy of investing in each other that fosters a positive relationship between the community and the police.
Lundman, Robert J., Police and Policing: an Introduction, New York, New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1980.
Phillips, D. (1999). Martin Luther King, Jr., on leadership: Inspiration & wisdom for challenging times. New York: Warner Books.274
Spitzer, Stephen, “The Rationalization of Crime Control in Capitalist Society,” Contemporary Crises 3, no. 1 (1979).
Scott Downs former Director of Operations for a national security company and a fourth generation law enforcement officer. He is an Adjunct Criminal Justice Professor at Briarcliffe College and a member of ILEETA-International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association. Scott has two decades of experience as a police officer and instructor. He serves in the public and private safety and security sector as a trainer and consultant. Scott is a summa cum laude graduate of Saint Joseph’s College and holds a Master’s Degree from the Homeland Security Management Institute. Reach Scott at [email protected]