Adam J. McKee, Ph.D.
Section 3.5: Building Partnerships
Effective Strategies to Partner with the Community
Law enforcement alone cannot implement and advance community policing. Community leaders, researchers, and police officials recognize the need for a strong, well-articulated role for community members in community policing efforts. They know that the police cannot substantially impact crime by themselves, so they advocate for the community to act as a full partner in preventing and responding to problems. Community involvement and collaboration is an integral part of any long-term, problem-solving strategy. At the most basic level, the community provides law enforcement agencies with invaluable information on both the problems that concern them and the nature of those problems.
Community involvement also helps ensure that policing agencies concentrate on the appropriate issues in a manner that will create support. In addition, collaborative work involving police and community members provides the community with insight into the police perspective on specific crime and disorder problems. Law enforcement benefits when community partnerships are formed to implement community policing— these partnerships increase the amount of information available to law enforcement, reduce duplication of efforts, improve the comprehensiveness of approaches to community problems, and create public recognition of community policing efforts.
Traditionally, community involvement in crime prevention and reduction efforts has been limited to serving as the “eyes and ears” for police or helping implement responses. The collaborative problem-solving approach allows for much greater and more substantive roles for community members.
Combining Strengths: A Value-Added Partnership
Before beginning your collaboration, it is important to have a common understanding of what each party brings to the table and to understand that together, these strengths bring added value to the collaboration that far exceeds what each individual organization can accomplish by itself. Clearly, the police bring power and influence, skills and tools to control crime, reliable crime data, and a growing capacity for collaboration.
However, law enforcement agencies need to consider and take advantage of what strengths community groups bring. These are:
Dominant community force. In many troubled urban communities, community organizations function as the anchoring force. Community groups have a major impact on people’s lives and are frequently a focal point of activity, providing a range of spiritual, social, and support services to residents. Similarly, in small communities outside of urban areas, spiritual centers and places of worship tend to play a significant role in people’s lives.
Extensive understanding of social issues that underlie crime. Many community groups have the capacity to deal with the special needs of disadvantaged populations. They often lend a level of compassion and understanding that traditional government social service agencies do not. The police need their help in controlling crime, disruptive behavior, and inherent distrust of law enforcement and government.
Established infrastructure for addressing human needs. Many community groups in rural and urban areas have already established an infrastructure for addressing some of the special needs of the community. Examples include the operation of food pantries and soup kitchens for families; child care, after-school programs, and tutoring and mentoring services for youth; and GED and employment training programs for unemployed or underemployed adults.
Perhaps the most convincing arguments for developing law enforcement/ community partnerships are seen in the benefits attained by agencies that have implemented these partnerships. For example, effective community policing collaborations can provide the following six results:
- Accomplish what individuals alone cannot
- Prevent duplication of individual or organizational efforts
- Enhance the power of advocacy and resource development for the initiative
- Create more public recognition and visibility for the community policing initiative
- Provide a more systematic, comprehensive approach to addressing community or school-based crime and disorder problems
- Provide more opportunities for new community policing projects
Accomplish what individuals alone cannot
Through collaboration, police and district residents in Chicago held meetings to prioritize problems in each beat and set up projects to work on each one. In an effort to reduce crimes often attributed to negligent tenants and landlords, collaborative efforts between the police and community groups in Seattle, Portland, Indianapolis, and other cities have developed training for landlords in screening tenants. Police in San Diego have developed problem-solving teams who work with residents, patrol officers, and other agencies to identify specific problems, examine why they occur, and take steps to remove the causes of these problems.
Prevent duplication of individual or organizational efforts
A collaboration among the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, the New York City Police Department, The Citizens’ Committee for New York City, and the Bureau of Municipal Police allowed these four organizations to delineate their specific areas of expertise, combine talents, and utilize limited financial resources. This collaboration allowed the agencies to: (1) provide basic community policing and problem-solving training to citizen groups and law enforcement officers, (2) implement a cultural diversity education initiative, (3) provide statewide training and technical assistance services to communities across New York State, and (4) conduct an evaluation of the collaborative services. This collaboration helped eliminate duplication of efforts among the different agencies.
Enhance the power of advocacy and resource development for the initiative
Public housing residents in Spokane, Washington, worked with the police, city officials, and local business owners to clean the streets, renovate and inhabit several abandoned buildings, and close the neighborhood to drug dealing and prostitution. Survey and observation data indicated that these changes to the neighborhood resulted in greater use of public space and reduced fear of neighborhood crime.
Create more public recognition and visibility for the community policing initiative
In order to combat a growing number of domestic violence incidents, the Martinsburg (West Virginia) Police Department collaborated with key organizations to form the Domestic Violence Police Group (DVPG). This group included representatives from the county prosecutor’s office and courts, the public defender’s office, emergency medical services, central dispatch for the city and county, the city hospital, social and other health services, the faith-based community, legal aid, the local batterers intervention program, the school system, private research organizations, victims of domestic abuse, a private law firm, media, and the West Virginia House of Delegates. Key to public recognition and visibility of this project was the fact that the breadth of the collaboration led the media to cover several collaboration activities. Because the efforts of the DVPG caught the media spotlight, domestic violence issues now have a weekly forum in the Martinsburg Journal newspaper.
Provide a more systematic, comprehensive approach to addressing community crime and disorder problems
Due to a multifaceted, comprehensive response implemented by a community wide partnership, police calls for service in a Portales, New Mexico, “problem” park decreased from 30 to 2 percent of all police calls. The park is now one of the most frequently used parks in the city.
Provide more opportunities for new community policing projects
In Vallejo, California, neighborhoods are jumping on board neighborhood revitalization efforts being led by the Vallejo Police Department, in partnership with the city’s code enforcement officials, the fire department, and the Fighting Back Partnership, a community grassroots organization.
What is Collaboration?
Collaboration occurs when a number of agencies and individuals make a commitment to work together and contribute resources to obtain a common, long-term goal. For example, to implement community policing, law enforcement personnel may collaborate with businesses to maintain order in the business district. Law enforcement may collaborate with schools to establish and maintain school resource officer programs and develop and implement safe school plans, or law enforcement may collaborate with youth, residents, and neighborhood watch groups to use problem solving to address ongoing community concerns. Collaboration is the most intense type of working relationship, and the one that is most frequently required when implementing community policing. Building and sustaining an effective community policing collaboration requires much more than a decision to merely work together. Effective collaborations promote team building, a sense of ownership, enthusiasm, and an environment that maximizes the chance of collaborative partnerships succeeding.
By having these nine elements in place, the collaboration can avoid the disorder, apprehension, nine Components fragmentation, disorganization, slow pace, of an effective discouragement, and unfocused achievements that can affect many community policing partnerships.
The process of building and sustaining collaboration is ongoing and circular in nature. The process begins with developing a shared vision and ends with developing, implementing, and assessing the action plan. However, throughout the life of the collaborative effort, the partnership will attract new expertise, decide on additional motivators, and identify and access new means and resources. Trust is the core of the relationship, with each of the other components acting as essential elements of the whole. Trust is the hub, with stakeholders, shared vision, expertise, teamwork strategies, open communication, motivated partners, means, and an action plan serving as spokes of the wheel (see Figure 1 on page 16). If any one of the pieces is weak or broken, the wheel will not roll properly and the collaboration will not progress. Thus, partners must continually reassess the collaboration and, if necessary, determine what actions should be taken to strengthen one or a number of these components. Routinely examining “what’s working” and “what’s not working” is essential to building, motivating, and sustaining a collaboration that can achieve results.
When to Collaborate?
The rule of thumb is that law enforcement should engage in collaboration with other organizations or individuals when stakeholders have a common, long-term goal; are committed to working together as a team; and cannot achieve the goal more efficiently as independent entities. Not all law enforcement relationships must be collaborative, nor should they strive to be. Under some circumstances, it may be appropriate for law enforcement personnel just to establish a good communication plan. Under other circumstances, cooperation between two individuals may be sufficient. Perhaps coordination between two agencies to avoid duplication of efforts is all that is required. Collaboration is, however, critical for many community policing endeavors.
Partners are truthful in their communication with each other and demonstrate that all stakeholders have the best interests of the collaborative effort in mind during project-related discussions. Partners are at ease in discussing individual concerns about the project and do not withhold valuable information from each other. Partners demonstrate a willingness to share human and financial resources.
Action Steps to Success
Trust is central and fundamental to developing a collaborative working relationship between law enforcement and the other partners. Taking the time to build trusting relationships with partners will often spell the difference between success and failure. Trust must often be developed on a one-to-one basis between primary partners, and then among all partners. Therefore, sufficient time must be allotted during the planning process to allow this trust to develop. Trust should deepen as the collaborative effort proceeds and partners prove themselves through their performance. Inherent to trusting relationships is respect for each other (including each other’s differences), integrity, and open communication. Partners will, invariably, come to the project with life experiences and preconceptions that may make building trust challenging. However, without trust, partners may be hesitant to work as a team and reluctant to share the talents, time, and resources needed for the collaborative effort.
Step 1: Make Personal, One-on-One Contact with Stakeholders. Initial contact with stakeholders is more effective if it is made personally, one-on-one. Contact with an individual may be made through a phone call or a personal visit to introduce the project and invite the individual’s participation. The primary partner should share his/her interest and role in the project and ask the person contacted about his/her thoughts on the problem/issue that the collaboration is addressing.
Step 2: Be Certain to Listen and Show Respect for What the Partner/ Stakeholder Has to Say. Open and sensitive communication is critical for trust building. When a partner shares his/her perspective, do not judge what he/she is saying. Rather, process the information at face value and consider it with an open mind. Suspend judgment, listen, and work to understand a person’s perspective rather than working to persuade him/her to your ideas.
Step 3: Follow up. Follow up with a letter, such as the one inviting the stakeholder to be a part of a meeting to create a shared vision. Communicating through a memo or newsletter may keep people informed, but it is not a substitute for personal contact. Do not leave partners’ questions unanswered. A lack of openness can translate into a perception of deceptiveness.
Step 4: Do Not Rush. Don’t feel that time to build trust needs to be rushed so that the work of the project will move ahead. Since trust is only based in part on past behavior and is also based on an emotional feeling or intuition about individuals, it cannot be switched on like a light. Only genuine trust is effective; feigned trust will not produce an effective collaboration.
Step 5: Establish Norms/Ground Rules That Create a Tone of Collaboration and Support Good Communication Skills. Regardless of the size of the partnership, ground rules and norms help ensure that etiquette is observed and that all partners are encouraged to ask questions, offer opinions, and listen to the ideas and opinions of others. The variety of ideas can build stronger relationships and a better project. Ground rules and norms should be developed at the visioning/common goals meeting and periodically revisited. The question to be asked, for 2 or 200 partners is, “What agreements can we make that will help us work together in an effective and efficient manner?”
Norms will be unique to each collaboration. However, collaborative norms will answer these questions at a minimum:
- How long can I expect a meeting to last?
- Will meetings start on time?
- If I disagree on certain issues, how will the disagreement be handled?
- Are all the partners equal, or do some groups have more power than others?
- How are decisions made?
- How do collaboration members treat each other?
- What behaviors are acceptable and unacceptable within the collaboration?
Norms will support positive collaborative functioning when they are:
- Posted and easily viewed at meetings
- Used as facilitative tools to confront disruptive behavior
- Used to orient new members to the collaborative partnership
- Revisited periodically and changed if necessary
- Followed and valued by the team
Good communication and respectful interactions guided by group norms that have been developed, agreed upon, and adhered to by all partners will help build trust. Everyone must agree to:
- Stick to the meeting agenda
- Do not criticize the individual or statement when brainstorming
- Allow only one individual to speak at a time
- Make all decisions by consensus
Step 6: Be Trustworthy. Do not promise more than can be delivered. Be responsible, accountable, and loyal. In all interactions, act in a way that earns the trust needed for successful collaborative problem solving.
Step 7: Do Not Ignore Troubles. Ignoring brewing conflict leads to erosion of trust. Address issues through facilitated, one-on-one discussion or implement another means of conflict resolution.
Source: COP Office. The Collaboration Toolkit for law enforcement: Effective Strategies to Partner with the Community.
Modification History File Created: 08/10/2019 Last Modified: 08/13/2019
This work is licensed under an Open Educational Resource-Quality Master Source (OER-QMS) License.