Community partnerships rebuild trust in police

NICK EICHER, HOST: It’s Thursday the 2nd of July, 2020. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Nick Eicher.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. First up: community policing.

Police-reform advocates are calling for numerous changes in law enforcement. They especially want officers to build more trust with the neighborhoods, towns, and cities they serve. How to actually do that is the more difficult question.

EICHER: One of the most popular suggestions is a strategy known as community policing. At its most basic level, it involves officers collaborating with residents and neighborhood organizations to identify and solve problems together. 

WORLD’s Sarah Schweinsberg talked to leaders in several cities to find out what the strategy looks like in practice. Here’s her report.

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: Jani Lewis founded Natalie’s Sisters in 2012. The ministry helps women in Lexington, Kentucky out of prostitution, addiction, and poverty. 

It can be dangerous work, so Lewis reached out to a local police officer for help. 

LEWIS: We don’t know anything about women involved in street prostitution. So he introduced us to another officer who had worked the streets for about 20 years, and he’s the one that helped us get started.

It turned out that some Lexington police officers had been praying for a way to help women stuck on the streets. They were tired of just arresting them.

LEWIS: The police took it upon themselves, one particular officer, to write a proposal for the police department, for a formal partnership to partner with us as part of their community policing program. 

And so, Natalie’s Sisters volunteers began riding along with police at night in an unmarked car. The officers pointed out women who needed help. Then police and volunteers began talking to the women and giving them bags of toiletries and snacks. 

Jani Lewis says over the years, the partnership has changed how many women on the streets view the police. 

LEWIS: They have learned that there are many officers who do care a lot about them… The ladies also trust the officers a lot more.. They’ll stop the police on the street and report crimes and things that they would not in the past because they didn’t have any trust for the officers.

The partnership has also helped change the officers’ perception. Jani Lewis says instead of arresting a woman who might be high or soliciting, police are more likely to write a citation, look for underlying causes, and connect them with resources. 

Officer Michael Jones started working with Natalie’s Sisters three years ago. 

JONES: When you start you know, seeing a humanitarian side and realizing some of these women, you know, they went to college, they have careers, some of them dealt with domestic violence. Now, there’s so much more to them. They all have a back story. 

In north Pittsburgh, law enforcement agencies practice geographic community policing. That’s where police are always assigned to a specific neighborhood. That way they can build relationships with people in a community. 

Diana Bucco is the president of the Buhl Foundation. It works with law enforcement to reform policing in the poorer and racially diverse Northside neighborhoods. 

BUCCO: We’ve got residents and police officers telling us they want the same thing. They want a different relationship that’s anchored in proactive public safety, rather than reactive law enforcement. 

So, in 2018, police established a Public Safety Center in a Northside neighborhood. Bucco says the center became a place where both police and the community come together. 

BUCCO: On the main level, it had community space, and it was designed to be a problem solving hub so that residents could attend training and go to workforce development meetings and a sewing club is actually in this Public Safety Center. So the physical space was designed so that it would invite residents in to solve problems in their lives and see a partnership with the police rather than being considered a police station.

Police also invited residents to join the process of choosing which officers would police their neighborhood.

Bucco says two years later there’s still a long way to go. But surveys show both residents and police are encouraged by the reforms. 

BUCCO: The fact that we haven’t seen protests or violence resulting from from the murder of George Floyd in the north side of Pittsburgh is a significant indicator that the relationship between the police and the residents has significantly improved.

In the small city of Belton, Texas, local faith leaders and police formed the Belton-Clergy Police Partnership. Scott Cox is a member and a volunteer chaplain at the police department. He says the partnership allows the police chief to reach out for prayer and to facilitate conversations. 

COX: There may be a week where officers have to deal with multiple fatalities. And he’ll reach out to the clergy partnership for prayer, possibly for outreach to specific officers. And it also is a way to have liaisons within the community where the clergy can be an avenue for communication. 

Belton police also host Coffee with a Cop at a local restaurant every few months. 

COX: It’s really just an opportunity for citizens to come in and just meet and have conversations with police officers. 

While more departments may start looking for ways to implement community policing practices and mindsets, Lexington police officer Michael Jones says, the responsibility to build trust doesn’t stop with police. They need community members to come alongside them as well. 

JONES: My encouraging words to the public is you are also part of the equation of that community policing. An engaged community is a safer community.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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