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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services

145 N Street, N.E.
Washington, DC 20530

March 2023 | Volume 16 | Issue 3

“Community policing is a philosophy that promotes organizational strategies that support the systematic use of partnerships and problem-solving techniques to proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder, and fear of crime” (Community Policing Defined, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, 2012). One component of community policing is the development of collaborative partnerships between law enforcement agencies and the individuals they serve. This collaboration helps increase public trust of law enforcement and provides the space to solve problems impacting communities. One barrier to the collaborative process between law enforcement and the community is a lack of understanding of what community policing is. To gain some insight on the public perception of community policing, Bianca Hunter, Director and Founder of Just Like H.U.E.Y, a nonprofit dedicated to providing youth support services, decided to conduct a study.

Hunter, a native of Los Angeles, California, has interned as a Gang Diversion Mentor with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD) and was mentored by a retiree from the department who was a professor in many of her courses. Her involvement with the LASD and her passion for community collaboration inspired her to be a middle ground for law enforcement and the community. As a citizen connected with the LASD, she experienced firsthand the stigma attached to law enforcement, while also being able to empathize with the public distrust of law enforcement. Additionally, her experiences with community meetings made her realize that there appeared to be barriers to meaningful communication between law enforcement and the community. As a result, she was motivated to become a conduit between law enforcement and the community in an effort to support the resolution of community issues. Hoping to identify some steps that could be taken to repair the relationship between the community and law enforcement, she conducted a study titled “Improving Community–Law Enforcement Relationships: A Public Perspective,” which she presented this year at the 46th annual conference of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE).

Over the course of three months in early 2022, Hunter conducted qualitative surveys with 50 participants she solicited from her social media platforms. Participants were from various communities across five different states and ranged in age from 22 to 56. Participants were asked 12 open-ended questions on topics including the public perception of accountability, the public understanding of community policing, the public perception of misconduct, media influence on public perception of law enforcement, and steps the community could take to support collaboration with law enforcement.

The results were enlightening and surprising. One surprise was that many of the participants did not have a real understanding of what community policing meant. Some people believed that it meant that the community would be responsible for police work, while others had not recognized that outreach programs designed by law enforcement in their respective cities supported collaboration, a component of community policing. Hunter deduced that most of the participants had only primarily seen negative news stories about local law enforcement; as a result, they were unaware of efforts law enforcement had taken to positively collaborate with the community or initiatives to reduce crime and other community problems. She took the time to educate participants on what community policing was after completing their interviews and noted that several participants wished to edit their responses to some questions because of their newfound knowledge.

Although the study was small in scale with a limited sample size, Hunter recognizes the larger impact engaging the community about their feelings towards law enforcement and community policing as an institution could have on the relationships between law enforcement and the community. When asked what she wanted the community and law enforcement to take away from her study, Hunter said, “I really want law enforcement and the community to come together. I want the community to know what they want, [and to] be able to identify realistic goals and methods to achieve them. One major thing that the participants discussed was accountability and the community needs to know what they want accountability to look like. There should also be a desire to improve collaboration between law enforcement and the community. Community distrust of law enforcement leads to the feeling that law enforcement is more warrior than guardian, and law enforcement making more efforts to engage can shift that thinking. For some participants, it was clear that the community was unaware of some efforts being made by law enforcement, and better communication, to include acknowledgement of community challenges and the role of law enforcement in addressing them, can make an enormous difference in the level of trust the community has for law enforcement.”

When asked about the response to her presentation at NOBLE so far, Hunter indicated that there has been a large level of support from the community and law enforcement, noting that the neutrality of the work she did made both parties receptive to the knowledge she wanted to share. Hunter’s study highlights the importance of true collaboration to foster meaningful relationships with the community and law enforcement.

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