I am sure you have read countless stories, articles and even some polls on how the police can better respond to community members and what the community expects from police and police services. This column is going to focus on 10 ways that resident engagement can help the police in their daily functions and the performance of their duties.
One of the most critical aspects of effective policing is community engagement. To build trust and respect, collaboration with the community is essential. I asked myself what actions residents could take that would help the police be more efficient and effective. I’d like to share a few thoughts.
1. Volunteer. Community volunteers help supplement and support police operations in many areas such as search and rescue, community-sanctioned writing of parking citations and participation in neighborhood watch programs.
2. Serve. Serving on a community advisory board can provide critical support for funding of police department priorities. Municipal officials often seek resident feedback for their support of police initiatives presented by police chiefs at budget hearings. Vocalized support by residents carries weight with city/village managers and elected officials, helping police to procure the necessary funding.
3. Join the academy. Although not a new concept, participation in a citizen’s police academy is an excellent way for people to learn about the values and mission of the agency and how the agency operates. It’s Informative and also lots of fun.
4. Offer feedback. Sharing compliments or complaints with your local police chief is an important avenue of communication. Praiseworthy interactions with police can be noted and appreciated, while awareness of complaints is instrumental in helping the police chief make improvements or take corrective action. Most police departments have complaints and complimentary forms on their village websites.
5. Participate. Residents can participate in police initiatives, projects and programs. Law enforcement agencies throughout the area host countless programs such as National Night Out, Coffee with the Cops and other community-focused events. Officers truly value these opportunities and the positive impact they afford.
6. Attend meetings. Attend community meetings sponsored by the police department. They are a direct and highly effective way for the police and residents to exchange valuable information. At these meetings, the police department can get its message out and receive input from business owners, church groups and other community stakeholders. Likewise, residents can communicate directly with police officers, in many cases the beat officer with whom they have the most frequent contact. These types of personal connections cannot be overvalued.
7. Take surveys. Participation in law enforcement surveys that police departments conduct several times a year are important sources of operational feedback. Taking the time and effort to return them will help guide the policing efforts in your community.
8. Get the kids involved. Programs that engage law enforcement with youth are a terrific way to familiarize children and their families with local law enforcement and the police officers in your community. For older children, Police Explorer or Cadet programs provide a great way for law enforcement and teenagers to connect.
9. Participate on social media. For the most up-to-date community information, follow your police department on social media. Many police agencies use social media to communicate with the public. Community members also can communicate with law enforcement through these same media outlets. On village/city websites, you can find the social media platforms your police agency is active on. Sign up for these. They are a reliable source of information.
10. Call 911. Call 911 when you need the police or see something out of the ordinary. Too numerous to count are the times in my career that responding to a call a resident has told me, “Sorry, I should have called you sooner.” Please do not hesitate to call 911. Rather than bothering the police, you are helping them to keep you and your community safe.
These 10 ways to better communicate and reach out to the police may seem simplistic, and they are, but the impact of engaging in them, regardless of the extent, is significant. As your interaction with your local police department increases, you will get a better understanding of not only the individual police officers, but the overall police operations in the community in which you live.
Police departments are funded with your taxes. I highly encourage you to participate with your local police agency, a welcomed opportunity that is open to everyone.
In closing, it is my sincere hope that you will feel free to contact your local police chief directly. Holding true to the values of their public office, chiefs should be, and in most cases are, always available to meet with the residents whom it is their privilege and honor to serve.
• Tom Weitzel was chief of the Riverside Police Department. Follow him @chiefweitzel.