Law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve are inherently dependent on one another. People need police to enforce justice, protect them and create a safe living environment. Police need their communities to provide support when appropriate and trust officers enough to cooperate during investigations. While all parties involved may understand that they rely on one another, they do not always have an easy time cooperating. Recent national events, not to mention many incidents across local jurisdictions, have put a spotlight on community relations in law enforcement, and a variety of forums have worked to build bridges.

A few law enforcement-community forums have taken place over the past few weeks, and they fall under a common theme – opening up the lines of communication between police officials and the people they serve.

Looking at police-community forums

Holding public forums where police officers can speak with the community about how they work, and residents can talk to police about the issues most important to them, have become a longstanding tradition in law enforcement. A few events of this sort recently took place:

In Minnesota – Multiple local and county police departments recently held a community forum in Richfield, Minnesota, to discuss the community engagement opportunities available through each law enforcement agency and work to heal some of the wounds that have emerged between citizenry and police, Insight News reported. Richfield Police Chief Jay Henthorne explained that building relationships is the central theme of these events.

“Tonight’s event was about building relationships and bridges with our citizens and community partners,” Henthorne told the news source. “We were able to show what our agency is doing in the community to continue our relationships and solicit community engagement.”

In Michigan – State police, as well as law enforcement agencies in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Milan and Pittsfield Township, Michigan, all came together to connect with the community. Stephanie Dawkins Davis, executive assistant U.S. attorney, pointed to successful community engagement improvements in Southeast Michigan as an example of why increased correspondence between police and the communities they serve is so critical, The Michigan Daily reported.

in Ohio – Law enforcement officials from Cleveland and St. Louis recently gathered for the Citizens Empowerment Summit in an effort to fight against rising gun violence problems in the two cities, The Plain Dealer reported. Ronnie Dunn, associate professor of urban studies at Cleveland State University, emphasized the importance of relationship building between police and law enforcement.

“I think it’s imperative that we address the police-community relations because as we see in light of these recent shootings, these tragic shootings, there’s no community that needs the police more than the African-American community,” Dunn told the news source.

Community engagement not an isolated event

These diverse forums echo an overarching theme across law enforcement agencies in the United States – community relationships are more important than ever. A recent WHIO report pointed out that a police-community relations nonprofit recently expanded into Dayton, Ohio, emphasizing the growing national focus on community relations in law enforcement. The New Order National Human Rights Organization recently opened a branch in Dayton, and its goal is simple – serve as an objective intermediary between police and communities to spur healthy relationships.

Getting ready for increased community transparency

The theme is clear – law enforcement agencies must work to engage the communities they serve by opening up lines of communication. This opens up a whole new set of problems, however, as agencies must be incredibly careful to provide the right information, at the right time. Transparency is incredibly difficult when dealing with open cases and a need to keep sensitive information private.

All of these conditions add up to a renewed emphasis on policy management and training. You can protect your communities and your personnel by giving your officers clear regulations on when and how they should make different types of information public. Guidelines on how to interact with members of the community play a vital role in protecting against law enforcement manipulation and potential litigation.

The process of creating, distributing and managing new policies, as well as training your workers on these guidelines, can be incredibly time consuming and expensive. A cost-efficient document management software platform puts all of the systems you need in a web app, making materials as accessible as possible and streamlining the process of creating community relations policies.