The concept of community policing, or a framework for forging stronger relationships between police departments and the communities they serve, is seeing renewed interest in cities as a way to rebuild trust and repair racial rifts, Axios' Michele Salcedo and I write.
Why it matters: While this policing strategy has been criticized as too "soft," proponents say the emphasis on de-escalation, daily engagement with residents, and a greater sense of empathy and tolerance is exactly what's needed to defuse the national outrage over police brutality against African Americans.
"When people have an understanding of what community policing really is, the practicality of community policing, they are much more receptive. People want to see their neighborhood police officer because they know that person is the one who's going to respond. So when something does happen, it's a more positive interaction regardless of the situation, because of that relationship."— Dallas City Councilman Casey Thomas to Axios
Background: Community policing was popular in the 1990s, but it was de-prioritized after 9/11. Responding to possible threats of terrorism became a larger focus, officers took on more homeland security-related duties, and funds withered during the economic downturn of the early 2000s.
- Now, people are seeing the value of it again as Americans look for ways to rebuild trust between police departments and the people they serve.
How it works: The Justice Department’s Community Oriented Police Services program, created during the Clinton administration, was a top-to-bottom overhaul that moved police departments away from the traditional paramilitary structure to more transparency and community involvement.
- The program leveraged substantial grants and local commitments to add about 100,000 additional police officers to departments around the country.
The other side: Community policing isn’t cheap and doesn’t lead to instant, quantifiable results. Building relationships, networking and sharing information with residents don't always align with the modern data-driven methods that put a priority on increased arrest and warrant numbers.
- Some police unions have pushed back against the mandate, arguing playing football with kids and taking complaints from residents isn't the best use of uniformed officers' time.
The bottom line: Greg Evans, a member of Eugene, Oregon's city council who also provides civil rights and anti-discrimination training for the Lane County Sheriff's Reserve Academy, tells Axios that improving relationships between the police and the public requires a broader change in police culture, a significant undertaking that won't happen overnight.
- "Our police are trained on tactics, not on community service and engagement, and the curriculum is outdated," Evans said. "We really need structural reform in the department if we're ever going to make any substantive progress toward community policing and de-escalating reactions."
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