- What is police community outreach?
- Benefits of police community engagement
- Examples of strong community engagement in police departments
- Strategies for implementing police community outreach programs
The role of law enforcement today goes far beyond citizen compliance with local laws – police community outreach is integral to modern policing. A robust outreach strategy improves community-law enforcement relationships so that officers can provide the best public safety services possible.
That said, outreach has its challenges. Successful outreach requires careful consideration of your police department’s goals, a deep understanding of the community you’re trying to reach – and lots of time and planning. We want to help you overcome these obstacles to assemble the best outreach plan possible.
In this blog post, we’ll define police community outreach and discuss the benefits of a comprehensive outreach strategy. Then, we’ll dig into some examples of successful resident engagement and the strategies you should consider when implementing your police community outreach programs.
What is Police Community Outreach?
Police community outreach is the strategic interactions your police department has with residents to inform them about your work and build trust. Law enforcement officers do outreach for various reasons, from educating citizens about a new program to improving safety practices in a community.
In addition to informing the public about your department’s programs, police community engagement helps agencies learn more about citizen needs. Many law enforcement departments include surveys as part of their outreach plans so they can better determine satisfaction levels with policing in their community.
Organizations that regularly survey citizens can then use this information to guide the types of police community outreach programs offered. In this way, outreach can help you meet the needs of your community.
Benefits of Police Community Engagement
Police community engagement provides several key benefits. First and foremost, engaging with residents demonstrates law enforcement officers care about building strong relationships in their communities. This helps build trust between police departments and citizens.
Improved community trust leads to more residents seeking law enforcement guidance and following public safety best practices. Plus citizens feel supported in emergencies.
Ultimately, this helps law enforcement officers do their jobs better. It also keeps your community safer and boosts public perception of your police department. As a result, law enforcement officers can go to work each day knowing they’re proactively impacting their community.
Police-Community Engagement Examples
One of the best ways to gather community engagement ideas is to look at the successes of other agencies. Below we provide a few examples of effective community engagement programs in law enforcement departments across the country.
Police citizen’s academy
Citizen’s academies are a popular component of many police community outreach programs. These courses not only provide residents with the chance to learn more about a department’s programs and operations, but also enable law enforcement officers to learn more about the needs and interests of residents.
For a stellar example, look no further than the City of Tacoma’s citizen’s academy. Over 13 weeks, Tacoma law enforcement officers and administrative staff spend time educating citizens about their department’s operations and programs. Upon completing the academy, citizens understand a myriad of programs, including Designated Crisis Responder, Child Abduction Response, and Domestic Violence responses.
City of Naples "Do the Right Thing" Program
If your department is trying to improve its citizen outreach with youth, you might be interested in the City of Naples' “Do the Right Thing” program. This program recognizes school aged children’s good deeds, like turning in lost property and improving their grades. Through this outreach, police officers build young people’s self-esteem and establish relationships of trust from an early age.
Your department may consider hosting community events as well. Coffee with a Cop lets citizens and police share a conversation in a casual environment. While sharing a coffee together, officers and residents can get to know each other better and understand each other’s challenges.
National Night Out is another excellent opportunity for law enforcement officers and community members to interact in a relaxed and fun way. This national community event is held on the first Tuesday of every August and features activities like neighborhood block parties, barbecues, and other social outings.
Strategies for Implementing Police Community Outreach Programs
As you brainstorm new community outreach initiatives, there are a few critical considerations to keep in mind. We discuss these items below so you can be as strategic in your outreach approach as possible.
Understand your audience
The best police community outreach occurs when law enforcement officers understand their target audience. When you know who you want to reach, it’s much easier to create programs that will resonate. Understanding the needs and interests of your community enables you to identify:
- Where and when to conduct your outreach.
- How to make your programming as engaging as possible.
- What information is critical to share.
For example, if your agency is trying to promote safe driving practices for teens, you might develop a community partnership with local high schools and driver’s ed classes. As a guest speaker, you can show videos about the dos and don’ts of driving. Given that these teens will be newer drivers, you’ll focus on the basics, keeping your program casual and to the point.
Conduct regular citizen surveys
To target your approach and ensure you’re meeting community needs, you must understand what citizens think about your public safety services. One way to accomplish this is by sending surveys to individuals who have recently interacted with your department.
You can use the information gathered from surveys to strategize about the types of training and police community outreach programs you’ll offer in the future.
Suppose you regularly receive negative feedback about officers’ listening skills. In that case, you might hold refresher training around active listening. Then, the department can host community listening sessions to build upon survey information and better understand community needs.
Finally, the best strategic police community outreach programs remain transparent every step of the way. As you consider your outreach goals, identify and track metrics to help you determine whether your outreach was successful. Then, share your progress back with citizens, including the resident feedback you receive from outreach events.
You might even consider transparent police community engagement in your strategic plan, as the City of Durham did in 2015. To ensure citizens were aware of ongoing policing and outreach efforts, the City created a goal to “increase departmental transparency through communication.” This metric helped the department stay on track and maintain strong relationships with citizens.
Police community engagement is critical to building trusting relationships between citizens and law enforcement. By understanding your audience, conducting regular citizen surveys, and learning from successful examples of community engagement programs, you can build an effective outreach plan that benefits law enforcement and residents alike.
Excited to put these ideas into action? Learn more about our police community outreach tool, PowerEngage.