This article was previously published in the 2016 edition of Police Chief Magazine.
Authors: Dr. Jessica Herbert and Harold Medlock, Police Chief (Ret.), Fayetteville, North Carolina, Police Department
Communication is an integral part of law enforcement work. From handshakes on foot patrols to electronic profiles portraying media messages on how officers protect and serve, each communication technique assists in building community trust and developing relationships—two critical elements for policing today. Communication tools available to law enforcement have drastically expanded and challenged agencies’ ability to reach the citizens they serve. Therefore, police chiefs and other law enforcement leaders need to educate themselves on how to use traditional and current tools effectively to engage with their communities.
While officers in the 1970s were not encouraged to interact with the public during patrol, those who chose to be proactive could still establish relationships, most often with older citizens who lived in their neighborhoods for decades and watched their neighborhoods change from stable to fragile.
Informal exchange of information often provided patrol officers with insight into the neighborhood and made them aware of “problem houses” or people who contributed to the crime or disorder in the neighborhood. Armed with this information, officers were able to develop strategies to solve problems before they manifested throughout the neighborhood. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, informal communication exchange became more formal, as an increased number of departments embraced community policing and its philosophy as the way of doing business. The relationships and the exchange of public information with community members was pivotal for the successful implementation of a community policing strategy. To encourage this, some agencies established community policing officers, who often walked door-to-door, talking with citizens and leaving contact information to talk directly with an officer.
As a result, building connections and having personal interactions with people in their homes when no problems were occurring allowed officers to begin establishing trust within the community.
Our current digital age has highlighted the need to have consistent, strong relationships within communities prior to critical incidents; It is law enforcement’s job to use both new and old communication techniques to counter negative stories with ones about officers’ dedication to public service and safety.
To engage with youth, residents, business owners, community leaders, and the media, Fayetteville Police Department is encouraging its officers to use both old and new, informal and formal techniques. While these informal channels have evolved over time, Fayetteville Police Department has formalized certain aspects of its media interactions.
This year, Fayetteville Police Department launched its Open Data Portal, yet another method to increase transparency and enable open conversations with its communities. This portal allows citizens to view critical issues and data points, such as employee demographics, particular crime information and field contacts, use-of-force statistics, and community meeting information. While initially intimidating, the transparency and information sharing at these levels have beneficial for both the community and the department.
Can you elaborate on this? Do you mean to have this section as one paragraph sneak peak?
Law enforcement agencies and leaders cannot wait until crises occur to establish effective lines of communication with their community members and the media. Ultimately, all relationships are built on trust, and the relationship between law enforcement and a community is no different. Developing trust with a community starts with consistent, meaningful communication — via whichever mechanism or methods chosen. Open communication provides a foundation for strengthening relationships, increasing information sharing, and improving trust in law enforcement.
Police officers need to develop a better understanding of where and how their communities prefer to communicate and need to build trust by providing the necessary tools for those methods of communication. In doing so, they can establish where, when, and how an agency can work with the community.
The full article was published in the 2016 edition of Police Chief Magazine. Download the full article below For solutions for your organization that drive real change in real time, contact our team HERE.
The Police Chief magazine is the official publication of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.