Policing the Left

Elements for working in liberal communities

"The difficulty is sometimes on a particular issue there might be employment issues, legal issues or investigative issues that don't allow us to put all the facts out there for everyone to see." Madison's Chief of Police Noble Wray believes transparency needs to include the bad with the good. "The principle behind trust-based policing is to understand a person from their perspective, and making sure they are being transparent not only when things are going well, but when mistakes are made," he explains. "It gives the community a sense of what we can and can't do. I think it is equally important when things are going wrong and they can see it and see how an agency responds under those circumstances."


The third element in working with diverse populations is development of trust. This includes trust in the community and in the media. "You can't do this job alone," explains DeSpain. "You need to have trust in the community. It's a two-way street. If you are not putting out information, there's a break-down in trust, and if people don't trust you they aren't going to work with you to help fight crime." Kusmiss agrees, and also believes changes in technology, the Internet and social networking have created an even deeper relationship with the community. "At the end of the day, we create forums for neighborhood dialogue," says DeSpain. "We don't just send talking heads. We send the line officers, the sergeants who police in those neighborhoods. They're the ones the community sees, and we want the basic police officer and sergeant to be accountable, to hear first-hand what the problems are and bring them back. We aren't asking them to create world peace and harmony, but to look at the problems in their beat, document some and report throughout the course of the year what steps they are taking to help reduce the problem. It's the dialogue that promotes more community trust."

Trust in the media is also an important element. "We'll hold sessions where we'll invite all media together and talk about how our relationship is going and what can be done to work on it from both fronts," says DeSpain. McLaughlin believes traditional media is changing. "Newsrooms have become smaller with less staff that change more frequently. Sometimes you'll get a reporter who doesn't have a lot of background on policing or on the government, and they are putting out information to the public who also might not have the background, so (the reporter) need(s) to be brought up to speed more quickly."

Berkeley didn't have a public information officer until 2002. "We saw it as an opportunity to change culture internally and externally by developing mutually respectful and mutually understanding relationships," Kusmiss explains. "The internal process was more difficult to change. Then, officers started to realize the relationship was beneficial." As far as externally, Kusmiss states media personnel trust she will be open. They understand, "I will always tell you the truth and if I can't tell you the truth I'll tell you why."

"Working through crime, fear and disorder, you must have a mutual understanding of where the police are coming from and where the citizens are coming from," Wray states. "It's definitely a journey and not a destination. It could be one incident that sets you back and you have to be committed to continuously work on it." Teamwork, transparency and trust are essential to working with and in communities with ideology that strays from mainstream. "We have a real mix of people," says DeSpain. "We have million dollar condos in the same neighborhood as a halfway house and rental units with students."

In Madison's city center, numerous festivals are hosted such as Halloween's Freakfest and the Mifflin Street Block Party (born of the protest years). The area includes politicians, tourists, a transient population and students. If someone is going to have a rally or protest, it will be here. DeSpain concludes, "It's a challenge on a daily basis getting these diverse people playing nicely in the sandbox."


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