Simple Steps to Enhance Police Interactions with Community

Guest Blogger: Fabienne Brooks, Chief (retired), King County Sheriff’s Office and Co-Director/ Consultant Law Enforcement Programs, NCBI; IACP Associate Member

In this era, it is more critical than ever to enhance positive police interactions with community members.  Done well, these positive interactions result in safety for communities and officers as well as positive media coverage. In the Mantua Enhancing Police Interactions in Communities (EPIC) project, the National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI) used an implementation model that recognized that building trust and developing the structure of positive interaction does not occur with the completion of one event or training cycle. blog 1

This year long project was designed to build relationships between officers and community members who live and work in the Mantua area of Philadelphia, PA.

The first step in the approach to police-community engagement was to conduct a needs assessment to get to know the community, its strengths, and challenges.  Before any training was designed or delivered, the NCBI team reviewed the environment (community), occupation (law enforcement specific), individual needs for training, and how the term “community” was defined. The needs assessment process entailed learning what factors influenced police management and practices as well as what factors influenced or drove community concerns. NCBI staff spent time with members of the Philadelphia Police Department 16th District and Drexel University Police Department to develop an understanding of how the department functioned and what its members believed to be critical community issues.

No less significant was gaining a commitment from the community. A series of focus groups were held with members of the Mantua community to try and develop a deeper understanding of how the community viewed its relationship with the police department.

Trust-building was the second step in the NCBI model. This was accomplished by treating trust-building as a process, not a single event. Multiple opportunities, such as training workshops with community members and law enforcement, over extended periods of time were provided for trust to develop and grow.

Once a trusting atmosphere was created, a three-day Train-The-Trainer workshop taught important communication skills to members of the department and community.  Participants had the opportunity to learn from one another and build relationships in the classroom. The training approach included hands-on, experiential activities to teach skills such as:

  • Listening
  • Empathy
  • Reframing questions
  • Resolving conflict
  • Dealing with controversial issues

blog2This entire process lead to the ultimate goal: the development of a sustainable partnership between law enforcement and community leaders. The police department and community leaders will continue to offer opportunities for positive dialogue, interaction, and community-engagement, using what was learned in the training environment.

The program was evaluated at each step by Cedar Crest College for effectiveness and long-lasting change. The final evaluation report, completed in early 2017, documented changes with both the officers and community leaders.

This project was funded by a grant provided by DOJ/OJP/BJA Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation in partnership with the Mt. Vernon Manor, Inc. The EPIC project originally was developed in partnership between NCBI and IACP.

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