The police are an institution that is designed to protect the residents of a country from various threats. However, the relationship between the two entities is often strained, leading to a variety of complications and scandals. One prominent reason is that police officer are among the few people who are legally authorized to use force, up to and including lethal weaponry, in a variety of circumstances. As such, people are worried that police members will harm them without an appropriate cause and not be punished for it. The history of police approaches that harmed communities, such as the “Broken Windows” policy, has helped erode trust further. As such, the police now need to rebuild the trust that they have lost and embrace partnerships with the community.
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To create mutual respect and trust with communities, police have to demonstrate their commitment to the safety of those whom they serve. Gonzalez and Kemp (2016) propose an approach that aims to reduce police violence by changing interactions to move away from applications of force to direct and respectful discussions whenever possible. Many perpetrators of violence are victims of the circumstances and possibly the targets of violence. As such, if they are less afraid that the police will shoot them on sight, they may surrender and seek reformation through the services offered to them. The practice would also trickle down to less severe cases, reducing the unnecessary violence applied by the police and improving its public image.
Youth incarceration is also a problem that can give vulnerable young individuals cause to distrust the police for their entire life afterward. It can permanently harm their prospects in life before they have a chance to achieve something noteworthy. Moreover, with the emergence of various gangs and crews, young people with no other prospects become entangled with crime and struggle to recover. The police should work to develop ways to help these people instead of further damaging their lives. They can achieve this goal best by engaging with such youths directly under conditions of trust. Community initiatives are an excellent way to do so and warrant deep consideration of the specific methods that can be used to achieve this goal.
Community partnerships are another way for the police to become more popular and trusted, particularly with disadvantaged groups. Many neighborhoods, particularly minority ones, have had a history of viewing the police as alien and dangerous due to the focus of the organization’s activities on them. As a result, they fear the police, which they see as a nebulous hostile entity, more than the community’s criminals, many of whom they know personally. Walsh and Vito (2018) claim that various forms of community partnerships can improve safety as much as increased raid frequencies while also fomenting community trust. As such, these initiatives should be a key tool in the police’s efforts to reclaim their friendly relationship with the people whom they serve.
Initiatives such as the “Broken Windows” approach have contributed substantially to the distrust some people have for the police. They tend to come from high positions and spread throughout the entire force, creating a widespread culture of oppression. As such, in addition to police members on the street, the organization should also consider the actions of its leadership and offer criticism when it is necessary. Officers can apply their experience to offer suggestions and explain which initiatives will be met with community backlash. As a result, many problematic practices will end before they can begin harming the population. Over time, the police will earn a reputation for being fair and, consequently, gain the population’s trust.
However, the theoretical danger of a police officer acting legally but unethically and hurting or killing someone remains. The design of the police system means that this danger can never be alleviated entirely and will always be present during police interactions. However, initiatives that try to improve the accountability of police officers may help people understand how it works. In the process, communities would understand what police workers can and cannot do and potentially fear them less. Moreover, incidents that involved officers acting unethically would receive more attention and be addressed by the authorities. As a result, the public would be able to understand the restraints placed upon the police better and have less cause to worry about unjust treatment.
The relationship between communities and the police is always going to be associated with specific misgivings and dangers. However, members of the force should always strive to minimize the abuses of their power that take place in the organization. Accountability is a strong measure to that end, helping identify inappropriate actions and show to the community that they will be punished. In particular, they can try to rebuild trust with disadvantaged communities, which have suffered in the past as a result of misguided policy efforts. Overall, however, as long as the police avoid implementing harmful practices and try to improve themselves, they should be able to create and maintain community trust.
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Gonzalez, J. J. III, & Kemp, R. L. (eds.) (2016). Corruption and American cities: Essays and case studies in ethical accountability. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company.
Walsh, W. F., & Vito, G. F. (2018). Police leadership and administration: A 21st-century strategic approach. New York, NY: Routledge.