Building Trust and Improving Police-Community Relations Starts with Your Mission

“In law enforcement, officers and chiefs are subject not just to the court of law but also to the court of public opinion,” says Envisage CEO Ari Vidali.

When incidents occur, law enforcement organizations must respond quickly to establish trust in their communities. While taking immediate action is imperative, it is equally important to provide crucial communication to the public, politicians, and civic groups keeping a close eye on unfolding events.

What is the relationship between the police and the community?

Often, the relationship of law enforcement organizations and their communities is seen as unidirectional: Police officers work within their organization to create outcomes in their communities. In reality, a healthy relationship between police and community requires reciprocal input from the community.

In law enforcement organizations, the mission drives department policies, which in turn help administrators select and provide necessary training. Training is one of the most important factors shaping officer behavior, while behaviors ultimately drive community outcomes.

It is true that community outcomes ultimately stem from the mission of the law enforcement agency serving them. However, this linear approach can create a sense of disconnect within the community, where citizens may feel they have no say in the outcomes—and police personnel are further removed from community needs.

Closing this disconnect between police and community requires involving the community from the start.

How can we improve the relationship between police and community?

The most important thing law enforcement can do when building police-community relations is to co-create your mission with those you serve.

“Choosing the right mission focus for a police department has to start with the community,” says Vidali.

While developing your mission alone creates polarization, working on the mission together allows departments to preemptively address community concerns, preventing future controversy. Departments should gather community input on the needs and values of the people they serve and work to instill those insights into the core of the organization.

But your collaboration shouldn’t end there.

Increasing Police Transparency

Communities need to be able to see the evidence of the shared mission throughout the cycle. Too often, law enforcement agencies are only transparent about their mission, leaving the community to guess what happens between mission and outcomes.

In addition to establishing a mission that truly serves the community, departments must show the community that the shared mission is guiding the entire policing process.

Three ways to increase transparency at each stage of the cycle include the following.

1.    Openly sharing your policies

With new transparency initiatives, policy creation is a joint effort. Many departments are developing transparency portals in order to share and facilitate dialogue on important issues such as use-of-force policies.

2.    Maintaining accurate records of police misconduct through internal affairs case management

Departments must quickly respond with facts and documentation when there are questions about an officer at the heart of an incident. Clear documentation of training and records of past misconduct can demonstrate follow-through on the department’s promises to the community. And a robust internal affairs case management system is crucial to answering these inquiries effectively.

3.    Rapidly sharing body camera footage and other evidence of officer behavior

Artifacts such as body camera footage and official police/witness reports of an incident will help to contextualize the events for the public, provide important perspective on the situation, and prevent exaggeration or conjecture that could easily spiral out of control if left unaddressed.

Beyond Community Relations

For more on how technology can solve the public challenges facing police, check out Ari Vidali’s Tech Talks Daily podcast interview.

Vidali was also a keynote speaker at the virtual 2020 Police Technology eXchange Experience. Be sure to watch his presentation on 5 Ways to Measure the Readiness of Your Department.

The Acadis Readiness Suite is the most comprehensive public safety training and compliance software platform for officer performance management, use-of-force reports and cases, decertification, and analytics, and is trusted by more than 2 million public safety professionals and 10,000 agencies. Learn more about the internal affairs case-management capabilities of Acadis.

Posted on Dec 1, 2020