The problem with community policing as practiced in the United States is that too often it turns into community relations, rather than community engagement. Don't get me wrong: I like feel-good programs and initiatives that humanize police officers and highlight the work they do. Who doesn't break into a smile when they see the hashtag #copslovelemonadestands?
But citizen academies, bicycle rodeos, Facebook pages, storefronts, foot patrols, Segways, ice cream socials, and so forth do not constitute community policing, unless community engagement is at the core. It's fine to burnish the image, it's good to create relationships, it's important to make the police approachable. It is more important, though, to involve citizens in the most significant decisions about how the community is to be policed.
This news story from the Lincoln Journal Star is a good example of what community engagement means. Faced with an issue (growing numbers of chronic, repeat suspended drivers) LPD assembled a task force that included not just law enforcement personnel, but also ordinary citizens, to consider what, if anything, the police department could and should do. The result was some significant changes in policy and practice. Involving the public in decisions like this needs to happen more often in U.S. police departments.
There are many other examples of community engagement: citizens involved in conducting training for police officers; citizens participating in the selection process for police officers; citizen involvement in promotional processes; citizens working as volunteers; citizens participating side-by-side with police personnel in developing the strategic plan, the language access plan, and the gang strategy; citizen police review processes; citizen involvement in problem-oriented projects.
I could go on, but the point is this: getting the public deeply involved in key decisions and the work of the police is where the action should be. This is what truly builds respect, trust, collaboration, accountability, and a shared sense of responsibility for the safety and security of the community.