Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office: Community Engagement

Guest blogger: Tom Woodmansee, Senior Adviser, Safety and Security Division of CNA

badge1The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing offers several recommendations for collaborating with the community to build relationships of trust between law enforcement officers and the community, including working with community members to produce meaningful public safety results.

Police agencies throughout the country understand and embrace the importance of community policing.  The definition and application of community policing can vary and be interpreted differently from agency to agency, but the benefits of community engagement and collaboration are proven to build trust and problem-solving capabilities between police and their communities.  The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO), Minnesota, established a Community Engagement Team (CET) to develop and build strong, trusting relationships between HCSO and its multi-cultural communities while increasing public safety. mn-group

Community engagement is not only a sound investment for building relationships with the residents HCSO serves, it is also their frontline strategy for countering violent extremism.  HCSO’s community-focused model for countering extremism led to the agency earning the 2016 IACP/Booz Allen Hamilton Outstanding Achievement in the Prevention of Terrorism Award.

HCSO’s CET is comprised of a diverse membership including sworn officers, civilians, and resident advisory councils representing African Americans, Latinos, Asians, American Indians, and East African communities in Hennepin County.

The mission of CET is to engage the community and strengthen partnerships.  A large aspect of CET is providing education on law enforcement and the criminal justice system, which is especially helpful to residents who are new to the United States. CET also assists with employee recruiting, and providing direct outreach to county residents.  CET members serve as ambassadors of the Sheriff’s Office, and strive to create channels of communication that support building goodwill and improving mutual understanding.  One way of creating channels of communication is through actively engaging in multiple social media platforms. Active social media use allows the HCSO to reach out and communicate with a majority of the community quickly and accurately. Members do not participate in investigations or gather law enforcement data.

handshakeQuarterly roundtables with the resident advisory councils build trust between the agency leadership and the community through dialog.  HCSO presenters at the roundtables include the Sheriff, Command Staff, the Professional Standards Division and Personnel Unit.  These roundtables serve as listening sessions and opportunities to educate the residents on the criminal justice system, but also to teach community members about their civil rights and liberties.

In addition to building and strengthening partnerships within the community, CET has had an impact on HCSO and its operations as well. Diversity hiring in HCSO has increased 25% since the start of 2015. Resident feedback also resulted in HCSO policy changes such as allowing matricular IDs from the Mexican Consulate being accepted for jail visitor access, and allowing hajibs to be worn by jail inmates.

The best way to help ensure the safety of the public is to communicate and collaborate with neighborhood members. The Community Engagement Team partners and works with the community members in Hennepin County to produce a safe and welcoming environment.

This blog post is part of a series highlighting best practices in advancing 21st century policing as part of the IACP Institute for Community-Police Relations. Hennepin County is one of fifteen sites selected for participation in the Advancing 21st Century Policing Initiative, a joint project of the COPS Office, CNA, and the IACP to highlight agencies who are actively embracing the principles in the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

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