Community Policing Relations in Disarray!

Resolution is Simple, but NOT Easy

“Don’t cross the bridge till you come to it.”

This saying has been in my thoughts for over 25 years as I served as a management consultant to organizations in the U.S. and Mexico, including the Houston Police Department. One reading of this saying suggests that we should not anticipate problems until we are faced with them. This was too passive for me. I see it like this: by not anticipating some problems, their resolution becomes more difficult because we have not given any pre-thought to them. Solutions that involve people, community policing in particular need to be considered proactively, especially as we deal with high emotions in the mix.

If optimally solving a problem involves a combination of 1) the tangible, numeric-side (big data, geography, and demography), and 2) the intangible, people-side (emotions, desires, wants, satisfaction, behaviors, i.e., human dimensions) then it makes sense to consider both sides to deal with police/community relations. Most problem solving approaches give little emphasis on or ignore the people component or human dimensions. Trying to understand and solve a problem without involving people will absolutely fail here. It seems like a simple fix, but watching the news each evening, we know it’s not going to be easy.

The SIMPLE Challenge

While there are questionable killings of unarmed citizens by police, there are now deliberate assassinations of police by citizens (by some reports a 78% increase during the same period in 2015).  How do we arrive at a safer, better solution? The answer is to make it very simple with easy steps so people move toward the goal that is, in reality, for our mutual benefit.

We are guessing that police departments have a mission that is similar to that of the Houston Police Department — to enhance the quality of life in the city of Houston by working cooperatively with the public to prevent crime, enforce the law, preserve the peace, and provide a safe environment.  The answer to changing the negative dynamics of police/community relations is simply found in this mission statement.

1) Enhance the quality of life
2) Work cooperatively with the public
3) Provide a safe environment

If these three components of the mission are achieved, we can be assured that preventing crime, enforcing the law and preserving the peace will be better served.

Disruptive Innovation toward Resolution

We need disruptive innovation to change the current intolerance, confrontational dynamic.  We think that means starting ‘fresh’ and not through existing police structures like neighborhood policing bureaus or neighborhood storefronts.

Solution:  Engage those who are antagonistic toward police and those police who have problems with the antagonists.

Then, enhance life quality, work cooperatively, and provide safe environments.  Simple solution but NOT EASY!  The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing Implementation Guide with 59 recommendations organized around six pillars addresses the three mission components above.  Our GeoPolicing Team, that included the father of Community Policing, Dr. Lee P. Brown, was involved in suggestions for the Guide.

The divide between police and citizens will be easier to resolve when emotions, preferences, biases and behaviors – the human dimension – are factored into our traditional data analyses as these are incredibly powerful when identified, analyzed and applied proactively.  We anticipate success in rebuilding trust and tolerance (i.e., community) between law enforcement and the citizens will happen when we disrupt traditional approaches and emphasize the human dimension above other considerations.

© Baldwin H. Tom CMC

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