While these represent promising steps at the federal level to advance “community-centered policing,” local efforts and leadership are also needed. The seven principles in the open letter to President Obama can guide actions by community leaders to help improve police-community relations and institute community-centered policing at the local level. They can help build mutual trust and respect, increase safety in communities, and minimize senseless killings and excessive use of force by police:
- Ensure Transparency and Accountability: Police departments are funded by the public and should be accountable to the public. Therefore, police departments should not investigate themselves. Departments should establish enforceable, impartial accountability measures in instances where police brutality, racial profiling, and/or improper use of force are in question. This includes establishing effective and independent review boards broadly representative of the community, not just police interests. The actions, investigations, and publication of all relevant information, evidence, and policy recommendations of departments and review boards should be transparent and enforceable. Departments should also ensure that data and summary information are properly collected and made publicly available on particular incidents, progress, and trends that relate to suspected police brutality and racial profiling over the years for the department.
- Invest in Training: Racial bias is real. Whether implicit or explicit, it influences perceptions and behaviors and can be deadly. Law enforcement personnel should be required to undergo racial bias training in addition to building skills that exemplify problem-solving strategies, conflict mediation techniques, and de-escalation tactics. Officers should become adept at being responsive to community needs and voices, and achieving consistency and continuity in engaging community while enforcing the law.
- Ensure Diversity: Police department personnel should be representative of the communities they protect and serve. Therefore, police departments should adopt personnel practices that result in the hiring and retention of diverse law enforcement professionals who are culturally sensitive, speak the communities' languages, and are residents of their patrolled communities. Departments should implement and monitor diversity hiring and retention guidelines to further community trust and partnerships.
- Proactively Engage Communities: Too often, law enforcement personnel hold stereotypes about Black and brown youth and vice versa. Lack of familiarity breeds lack of understanding and increases opportunities for conflict. Police departments should work to deconstruct stereotypes and bias by identifying regular opportunities for constructive and quality engagement with youth and others living in the communities they serve. Departments should therefore partner with our communities in solving and preventing problems before they occur.
- Reject Militarization: Police should not become an occupying force in our neighborhoods. Emergencies and terrorism are real concerns for our communities, but departments should not rely on military equipment and tactics to police everyday problems or peaceful protests. Departments and communities should reject the transfer of military equipment into local police departments.
- Examine and Implement Good Models: It is possible to develop police departments that respect, serve, and protect all people in our communities regardless of age, race, physical and mental ability, gender, or class. Every department should partner with other local, state, and federal entities to quickly identify and establish new policies and practices to improve policing in communities.
- Implement Technology and Tools for Oversight: Departments should implement technology that helps to investigate and hold officers accountable for misconduct, such as profiling due to a person's race, class, religion, gender, physical or mental ability, or sexual orientation. The technology should only be used when legitimately apprehending suspects with probable cause, and all information gathered by the use of technology should be made publicly accessible immediately.
In 2001, PolicyLink and Advancement Project released Community-Centered Policing: A Force for Change, a report intended to help advocates, policymakers, and police officials understand models addressing the myriad challenges facing police departments, police-community relations, and the advancement of community-centered policing practices. With the same goal, PolicyLink and Advancement Project have come together once more to lift up solutions, this time with a series of issue briefs that will update some of the examples and best practices originally presented and explore critical new issues in the following areas:
- Limiting Police Use of Force
- Engaging Communities as Partners
- Demilitarizing Local Police Departments
- Sustaining and Institutionalizing Best Practices and Strategies
We hope these briefs will be tools for community leaders to use in conversations with local police forces and policymakers that can shape new policies to help communities — including low-income communities and communities of color — become healthier, more vibrant, and safer for all to participate and prosper.
Mayoral Pledge to End Police Violence
In cities across America, neighborhoods populated by people of color—places where residents strive to live, learn, work, play, and pray in peace and harmony—are being treated as military combat zones by local law enforcement. Youth of color—particularly Black youth—who should be growing up in supportive, affirming environments are instead presumed to be criminals and relentlessly subjected to aggressive police tactics that result in community mistrust, unnecessary fear, needless arrests that often have long term financial and human collateral consequences, injuries, and countless deaths.
Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teen shot multiple times and killed by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer, is just one of 93 known unarmed Black men and boys who died at the hands of police in 2014. The pattern of systemic racial bias is too frequent to be a coincidence.
Mayors are in a unique position to take leadership in transforming how police departments interact with their communities. The customizable template below consists of a mayoral pledge with important principles and actions that model community-centered policing. Concerned citizens should organize and urge the mayors of their communities to sign the pledge and take proactive and bold leadership to build community trust and help prevent police violence against communities.
Police violence is an urgent problem in our city. In 2014, at least [# of civilians] were killed by police in [name of city], [#] of whom were [Black/Latino/etc.]. It is time for our city to take action to minimize the chance of further deaths of people of color at the hands of police.
I, Mayor [name of mayor] of [name of city], commit to a new vision of public safety based on trust, legitimacy, accountability, respect, and the sanctity of all lives. I pledge to immediately take the following actions to end the police violence epidemic and help ensure that NOT ONE MORE person unjustly dies at the hands of our police force:
- Ensure Police Are Accountable to the Community: Police departments are funded by the public and should be accountable to the public. Therefore, our police department will not investigate itself, but will instead establish enforceable, impartial accountability measures in instances where police brutality, racial profiling, and/or improper use of force are in question. This includes establishing effective and independent review boards broadly representative of the community, not just police interests. The actions, investigations, and publication of all relevant information, evidence, and policy recommendations of the review boards will be transparent and publicly accessible. Our police department will also ensure that data and summary information relating to suspected police brutality and racial profiling are properly collected and made publicly available.
- Invest in Rigorous and Sustained Training: Documented studies demonstrate that implicit racial biases influence how officers interact with community members and suspects, and that these perceptions and behaviors can be deadly. Law enforcement personnel will be required to undergo racial bias training in addition to building skills that exemplify problem-solving strategies, conflict mediation techniques, de-escalation tactics, and understanding mental health considerations. Training programs offered by community-based organizations will be prioritized. Officers will become adept at being responsive to community needs and voices, and achieving consistency and continuity in engaging community while enforcing the law.
- Ensure Police Reflect and Respect the Community: Police department personnel should be representative of the communities they protect and serve. Therefore, our police department will adopt personnel practices that result in the hiring and retention of diverse law enforcement professionals who are culturally sensitive, speak the communities’ languages, and are residents of their patrolled communities. The police department will implement and monitor diversity hiring and retention guidelines to further community trust and partnerships.
- Preserve Life and Avoid Excessive Force: Police will only use force in a manner that preserves the lives and safety of all residents of our community. Police department personnel will do everything in their power to de-escalate situations and use alternatives to deadly force. The police department will not rely on military equipment and tactics—including the use of SWAT teams—to police everyday problems or peaceful protests. We will reject the transfer of military equipment into our police departments and seek to return or otherwise eliminate existing military weaponry in our inventory.
- Use Technology for Oversight While Protecting Privacy: Pending community approval through a democratic process, our police department will implement body cameras and/or other technology that helps to investigate and hold officers accountable for misconduct, such as profiling due to a person’s race, class, religion, gender, housing status, physical or mental ability, or sexual orientation. The technology will only be used when legitimately apprehending suspects with probable cause, and information gathered by the use of technology related to police violence will be made publicly accessible immediately.
- End the criminalization of communities of color: We will de-prioritize and, where possible, decriminalize the enforcement of non-violent ‘quality of life’ or ‘broken-windows’ offenses that frequently consume too many resources and end up criminalizing too many young people. We will eliminate police department quotas and reduce municipal fines and fees to remove financial incentives for police officers to focus on minor offenses.
- Shift Public Investment to Communities: Our city’s over-policed communities are the same neighborhoods most in need of infrastructure improvements, access to healthy food, affordable housing and transportation choices, good jobs, and important city amenities. The city budget will reflect a shift toward providing essential services to these communities. Further, each and every city department, such as Housing, Community Development, Transportation, Planning, Parks and Recreation, and Public Works, will take responsibility for—and work together to improve—public safety.
[Signature of Mayor]
CLICK HERE to download a .pdf of the pledge.
Beyond Confrontation: Community-Centered Policing Tools
Limiting Police Use of Force: Promising Community-Centered Strategies (Brief 1)
Mapping Police Violence