Violence Against the Police – the Perspective of Community Members

This blog post is part of a series discussing the work of IACP President De Lucca’s Task Force to Global Address Violence Against Law Enforcement

In March 2017, as part of IACP President De Lucca’s Task Force to Address Global Violence Against Law Enforcement, the IACP hosted a focus group with community members to gain their insight and perspectives on issues related to community safety and violence against police.

The focus group consisted of community members, many of whom served in leadership roles in various groups and non-profit organizations. All participants had experience and interaction with law enforcement, both positive and negative, including service on civilian review boards, being stopped and/or arrested, and one participant was a retired police officer.

Several themes arose through the course of the discussion:

Community Engagement Programs. Participants noted a perceived decline in police investment in civic engagement over the years, citing programs like GREAT, DARE, and PAL, which they saw as once successful, but not sustained due to lack of funding. Participants felt a lack of commitment to community programming can have an adverse effect on community-police relations and officer safety.

Community Policing. Participants noted the advantages of having officers assigned to a specific area/neighborhood, citing officers build rapport and familiarity with residents, which translates into mutual respect, trust, and improved officer safety. While participants expressed frustration with seemingly constant reassignment of personnel, they understood that promotions and career advancement play a role. Nevertheless, they felt departments should strive for stability in officer assignments and create succession plans with the community’s needs in mind.

Staffing. Participants noted officers often seem rushed but acknowledged the public’s expectation for quick police response times can affect availability for protracted community engagement activity. This discussion illuminated misconceptions around staffing levels and police resources. The public has limited understanding of the number of officers required to patrol a given area or the volume and frequency of calls officers handle.

Communication / Public & Media Relations. Participants cited law enforcement does not always effectively communicate with the public, which can cause tension and potentially lead to violence.  Participants stated some officers do not take the time to explain their actions and when questioned, situations can escalate. Participants agreed that officers should be firm but not disrespectful. When it comes to communicating with the community after major incidents, the lack of information coming from some departments can lead to misunderstandings among all parties –  the police, media, and community members.

Community Assistance. Participants stated come areas are plagued by “survival crimes” that are, in part, tied to unemployment, homelessness, or addiction. Lack of community mental health programs/resources can be a potential catalyst for crimes of violence. Participants also cited a disconnect within the criminal justice system where offenders are not held accountable.

Trust/Respect. The themes of mutual respect, citizenship, and positive community norms arose repeatedly. Consensus among participants was that these key societal elements are eroding. Further, participants felt there can be a presumption of place-based guilt. Citizens in more affluent areas are treated differently; minor crimes are treated as antics with no consequences.  This disparity leads to frustration and sometimes violence against law enforcement.

Conclusion. The civilian focus group on violence against the police provided a community perspective for the Task Force to help guide further actions. The participants provided insight into the perception/reality in their communities. They did not point to one specific issue that was the cause for an increased lack of respect and violence against law enforcement. The participants acknowledged that community and law enforcement both must make changes to reduce violence.

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