Building Community Relations and Involvement for Policing

Oct. 15, 2021
Transparency within law enforcement agencies through better communication is a key to winning public trust.

By Charles Russo, Ph.D., IFPC

Law enforcement professionals are tasked with preserving the peace and protecting life and property. Therefore, transparency between our community leaders and law enforcement officers is essential for building strong community relations.  

Nevertheless, building trusted relationships is complicated, especially in largely populated and diverse areas. Each community has their own perception of police officers and their own needs that need addressing. Building these types of relationships requires continuous input from these communities and reciprocal action from law enforcement officers.

Relationships require a give and take; this is no different with police-community relations. It is incumbent upon policing professions to interact with the citizens they are sworn to protect and to provide them with the information they need to stay safe. For example, what resources are available to citizens who are in need of health care services? Officers should be aware of these services and communicate them to citizens when asked. Additionally, educating citizens on their vital role in policing and crime prevention is key to efficient and effective crime prevention.

A police officer must try to better understand the community, culture, traditions and perceptions of law enforcement agencies. Getting out of patrol vehicles and building relations through non-enforcement interactions such as participating in community events can go a long way in maintaining police-community relations. In addition, hiring civilians to handle supporting and administrative tasks can help strengthen relations  CITATION Ste18 \l 1033 (Steps to Building Trust, 2018).

Stoecker (2019) developed an innovative model presenting five essential parts:

  1. Partner with community-led organizations.
  2. Engage with community-based bridge builders from the organizations.
  3. Gather information and recruiting participants through bridge builders.
  4. Hold direct community discussions.
  5. Turn information into action.

This model is significant to any program as it presents a plan to start building community relationships, particularly as those connections can help prevent crime.

Getting past the negatives

Research shows that some communities negatively perceive law enforcement professionals and may even view them as hostile and biased (Cohen, 2020; Stoecker, 2019). Progress is underway, but structural and organizational departmental changes are still needed to achieve perpetual peace and maintain public trust. What policymakers can do is prepare a comprehensive plan of action after a high-profile incident occurs, monitor law professionals’ practices, investigation operations and their methods for de-escalating the incident.   

Incorporating a sustained, holistic and transparent approach, especially during policy creation, is important. Eliciting input and genuinely listening is essential. Acting on such input and ideas is also vital to establish a trusting rapport.  

In law enforcement, personnel are subject to public opinion, and policymakers must take the necessary steps to establish trust, starting with organization transformation  CITATION Bui20 \l 1033 (Building Trust And Improving Police-Community Relations Starts With Your Mission, 2020).

Work with the community

One challenge in community relations is adopting a proactive approach to a crime or public unrest. The department should arrange regular neighborhood meetings to provide an opportunity for officers and community members to interact. Also, there should be open lines of communication to allow people to approach law enforcement officials for sensitive and non-emergency concerns. This strategy helps encourage community members to come forward and discuss issues that they may not want to share publicly.

Training officers to be collaborate and creative while handling complex situations is key (Stoecker, 2019). Moreover, the officers should exercise discretion and issue verbal warnings to low-level offenders rather than humiliating them. Give them motivation and awareness to build and reinforce trust. Communities need to see the dedication and efforts of the police officers to address public concerns and prevent controversies. Departments might engage youth in crime-prone areas in various sports such as football, basketball, soccer, etc. Also, hold follow-up meetings and discussions with community leaders and parents and guardians—similarly, be present on special occasions like national holidays or community festivals to promote trust-building initiatives.     

Policymakers could develop transparency initiatives to make police investigations more public. Also, they should share the critical policies with the public to encourage dialogue on sensitive issues such as the use of force.  

Community building

Building community relationships also entails teaching officers how to interact with citizens in a difficult or emotionally charged situation. In addition, the department should work with stakeholders to promote programs that increase community trust, such as Neighborhood Watch, citizen police academies, and so on.

Another proven way of encouraging community involvement is by leveraging the latest technology. For example, sharing footage from body cameras and police camera vans and other evidence of law enforcement officers’ behavior, will help contextualize the event. In addition, it prevents exaggeration of a significant event that could easily spiral out of control.  CITATION Bui20 \l 1033 (Building Trust And Improving Police-Community Relations Starts With Your Mission, 2020).

Transparency is key

Transparency within the department through better communication is a key to winning public trust. The high levels of confidentiality raise concerns amongst the community members, further fueling the negative perceptions about law enforcement officers. The senior officers should press on increasing departmental transparency and share their positive initiatives with the community. One easy way to ensure transparency is to gather data regularly through surveys, questionnaires and other methods to assess community perceptions. Implement programs that collect better and real-time data on what is exactly going on in the community and how they see the transparency undertaken by the department  CITATION 3Wa15 \l 1033 (3 Ways to Improve Police/Community Relations, 2015).  

In sum, there are many occasions, including October’s annual Crime Prevention Month, for police officers to improve community relations and motivate the community to participate in the crime-solving process; however, winning public trust requires implementing holistic policy measures that focus on respect, trust and transparency. Both law enforcement officers and community members must work together to identify barriers to communication and find solutions to bridge the trust gap and give officers the best chance at ensuring peace.

Author Bio

Charles Russo, Ph.D., IFPC, is a professor at Columbia Southern University. Dr. Russo is a U.S. Navy Intelligence veteran, a former intelligence analyst with the FBI, and has more than 30 years of experience in intelligence and counterterrorism operations. Note: The views and opinions expressed are the author’s and not that of any U.S. government agency or Columbia Southern University.

About Columbia Southern University

For more than 25 years, Columbia Southern University has been a leader in occupational safety and health education. Taught by experienced safety experts, CSU’s bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in occupational safety and health are recognized by the Board of Certified Safety Professionals as Graduate Safety Practitioner® Qualified Academic Programs.


BIBLIOGRAPHY 3 Ways to Improve Police/Community Relations. (2015, Feburary ). Retrieved from ICMA:

Building Trust And Improving Police-Community Relations Starts With Your Mission. (2020, December). Retrieved from Envisage Grow :

Lebron, A. (2019, April). Examples of Community Policing Strategies at Work. Retrieved from Rave Blog:

Steps to Building Trust. (2018). Retrieved from IACP:

Stoecker, R. (n.d.). Community-Police Engagement. Retrieved from Police Chief Magazine:

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