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Response: Is American Policing Well Positioned? (January 2017)

Principles of Democratic Policing

  1. There should be robust engagement between police departments and the communities they serve around the policies and priorities of policing.
  2. When possible, policing practices should be guided by rules and policies that are adopted in advance of action, are transparent, and are formulated with input from the public.
  3. Police departments should develop and use sound metrics of success that encompass all of the goals of policing, including community trust.

“The police are the public and the public are the police.” Embracing the shared responsibility suggested by Sir Robert Peel’s famous dictum, the Policing Project of the NYU School of Law created Statement of Principles of Democratic Policing. The BJA Executive Session on Police Leadership (ESPL) facilitated a roundtable to respond to the three principles. Our overall goal was to assess how American policing is positioned today to pursue each principle. The roundtable discussion is summarized below. We provide relevant excerpts from the original statement, followed by the roundtable response. The complete Statement of Principles of Democratic Policing, includes a list of its signatories. The participants in the ESPL roundtable appear at the end of this article.

We welcome readers’ comments and responses.

Principle 1: Community Engagement

Principle Statement: ...Community policing generally happens at the bottom—through interactions between individual officers and members of the public—but it is essential to also have engagement at the top where policy decisions are made.

Achieving this sort of community engagement poses a variety of challenges. At present, we do not have a ready formula or playbook for how to go about it. It is necessary both to develop workable models of engagement, and to find the resources to do so. Similarly, it can be difficult to identify precisely who speaks for “the community.” Thus, it is important to develop a range of approaches to connecting with residents...

ESPL Roundtable Response: The BJA Executive Session on Police Leadership (ESPL) roundtable believes that to expand the concept of community engagement, it is important to first understand what it means. Effective engagement should be aimed at effective problem solving. Within the context of relationship building, a key focus of community engagement is to gather and validate critical issues. It is both bottom-up and top-down and should exist therefore at all levels of a police department. It is not a program but should be an ongoing process supported by effective internal communication and information sharing.

The roundtable group agrees that it can be difficult to identify the real leaders in a community. The challenge is greater when there are outside influencers seeking to co-opt agendas and within communities with little social infrastructure.

As police seek to expand their engagement with formal, policy-making leaders at the top, police executives can gain leverage and add tremendous value by bringing deep, even unique, knowledge of the communities they serve. By taking a problem solving approach to bottom-up community engagement, police can be well positioned to succeed at the top.

Principle 2: Democratic Rules

Principle Statement: ...At present, police departments already operate with many rules... But the public rarely is involved in the formulation of these rules, and the rules themselves sometimes are not public.

Applying the principle of democratic rulemaking to policing would help to build trust and legitimacy between police departments and the communities they serve ...the public may lack the expertise to participate in a meaningful fashion regarding policing policy. Departments will need to find ways to educate the public about the mix of legal and practical considerations that influences the formulation of policy...

ESPL Roundtable Response: The ESPL roundtable began by noting that policies are now accessible on department web sites but also acknowledging that such policies are typically posted after they are developed.

There is general agreement that greater participation in policy drafting is desirable and doable in the digital age but also some questions about how it would work. Sometimes policies are posted in draft form for public comment. One roundtable participant noted that his department received comments about aspects of the policy that had not been covered and that were subsequently included. Two participants talked about recent body camera policies that were developed “from scratch” quite successfully with the community.

A question was raised about the scope of democratic rules. Should we throw out current polices and re-build them all? Another noted that the public’s use of cell phone cameras is forcing a new world of transparency that could extend all the way to greater transparency in policy making.

Finally, in both principles of Community Engagement and Democratic Rules, the roundtable pointed out that the public cannot be the sole arbiter of what is a crucial problem. The police should educate the public on what and why certain priorities may need to take precedence. The police and the public work in collaboration.

Principle 3: Sound Metrics of Success

Principle Statement: Departments should develop sound metrics of success that encompass all of the goals of policing. For too long, policing success has been defined almost exclusively by crime and arrest rates. It is necessary to also develop a set of metrics that capture the intangible aspects of policing, like equity and community trust.

Because metrics drive performance, developing these new metrics is essential both at the level of the individual officer, and for the department as a whole. For individual officers, it may mean shifting the emphasis from outputs—like stops and arrests—to outcomes, including public safety and community satisfaction. At the department level, police agencies should use community surveys and other feedback mechanisms to track community sentiment...

ESPL Roundtable Response: The ESPL roundtable participants agree that all aspects of policing should be measured and that outcomes, not outputs, should be the drivers of performance at both the department and the individual level.

However, they also note that determining concrete indicators of the quality and impact/outcome of one’s work is far more difficult than simply counting outputs like arrests. This struggle exists in every profession and every industry.

Nonetheless, the struggle is worth the pursuit. A few participants raised the issue of whether formal surveys are the best tool for tapping into today’s public. One participant noted wryly that Amazon taps customers after each purchase, and the airlines that brought participants to the roundtable would undoubtedly reach out to everyone on the quality of their flights home. Police departments might want to begin requesting email addresses!

On the individual level, police officers comprise a largely unsupervised work force. Developing sound metrics of success must include developing, not only concrete outcome measures, but also designing an effective performance evaluation system.

List of Roundtable Participants

Pamela Antil
Assistant City Administrator
City of Santa Barbara, City Administrator's Office

Carmen Best
Deputy Chief
Seattle Police Department

Shon Barnes
Greensboro Police Department

Gail DePriest
Senior Lecturer
Clemson MBA Director Corporate Relations & Executive Leadership

Shelagh Dorn
Director over Strategic Planning and Analysis
Greenville Police Department

Margo Frasier
Police Monitor for the City of Austin, TX

Julie Hill
Communications Administrator
City of Virginia Beach

Shawn Hill
Professional Standards Sergeant
Santa Barbara Police Department

Anthony Holloway
Chief of Police
St. Petersburg Police Department

Eileen LaHaie
Executive Director
Center for Public Safety Innovation
St. Petersburg College

Philip Lyons
Dean and Director
College of Criminal Justice/Criminal Justice Center
Sam Houston State University

Nancy McKeon
BJA Executive Session on Police Leadership

Kenneth Miller
Chief of Police
Greenville Police Department

Michael Scott
Clinical Professor
Director, Center for Problem-Oriented Policing
Arizona State University

Ellen Scrivner
Subject Matter Expert on Police Reform

James Steffens
Patrol Commander - District 1
Pasco County Sheriff's Office

Darrel Stephens
Executive Director
Major Cities Chief's Association

Angelica Wedell
Marketing Manager
National Research Center, Inc.

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