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Building Community Trust: Perspectives from Black Law Enforcement Leaders

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In the quest to build stronger bonds between Law Enforcement and the diverse communities they serve, the insights and experiences of Black Law Enforcement leaders are invaluable. This Black History Month, we’ll be sharing the perspectives of Indiana Metropolitan Police Department’s Deputy Chief Kendale Adams and Montgomery Alabama’s Sheriff Derrick Cunningham on the importance of inclusivity, community engagement, technology, and transparency in fostering community trust.

Now more than ever, the need for inclusivity in decision-making processes is of utmost importance. Most agencies find that their policing involves dictating out to communities with little input from those communities they serve. Chief Adams suggests the need to include diverse voices from the community in decision-making explaining: “We have to provide more opportunities for more people from the community to be at the table…we have to continue to seek those individuals in our community that normally wouldn’t be at the seat and add them to the table.”.Sheriff Cunningham adds weight to this by stressing the importance of dialogue with the community: “We’ve got to talk, we’ve got to educate people.” In order to foster trust in our community, we must ensure that we keep open lines of communication and that all members of the community feel that they are seen and heard.

The COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns resulted in communities becoming more technologically savvy. As a result, leaders must adjust accordingly. Technology should be used as a tool to facilitate consistent and meaningful engagement within the community. Chief Adams stresses the importance of this saying: “Leaders have to continue to use technology to enhance that relationship with the community”. He goes on to recommend that leaders take a step back and continually ask themselves “How can we use technology to engage the community more to make them feel more part of the police?”. Chief Adams drives this point home by concluding, “[with technology], groups that won’t come to city headquarters to meet with the police can now do so in the comfort of their own home, in their own environment, and really provide the police department some key information they need”. As leaders, it’s imperative that we continually explore how we can use technology to keep our community in the loop and aware of what agencies are doing as this builds legitimacy and trust over time.

Police Officers Talking to Civilians. Sourced by Kindel Media from Pexels

Positive interactions and empathy play a crucial role in building trust between Law Enforcement and the community they serve. Sheriff Cunningham explains “I always tell my guys and girls there’s nothing wrong with smiling at a person… If you show kindness… hopefully, that person thinks ‘he ain’t that bad’ or ‘she ain’t that bad.’’ He goes on to recall, “We had a gentleman that just couldn’t stand nothing about law enforcement until a tragedy took place in his family. Law enforcement had to come out to deal with that tragedy and work with that family. His whole outlook on us really changed because he had a bad experience back in the past.”. Acknowledging the community’s exposure to negative experiences, officers must actively work towards prompting positive interactions to improve the overall police-community relationship.

The adoption of police body cameras has revolutionized transparency in policing. Chief Adams explains how the addition of body cameras brought the reality of police work to the forefront of his community: “I think body cams have brought [the reality that police officers face] to the forefront in a way that it’s digestible now… we spend time with community members… using technology… to provide them a draft copy of that video to answer any questions they may have.” Body Camera Technology allows communities a transparent look into the day-to-day activity of these officers in these very stressful moments. Having access to this data humanizes officers and enhances the level of accountability between the agency and the community they serve. Sheriff Cunningham echoes the transformative impact of body cameras, saying: “We gotta have them; it’s a game-changer for us in this career. We always say that a person won’t lie; they’re just not telling the truth, but that body camera takes out all the doubt and all of the questionable remarks. It’s right here on recording and you can see it.”. Police Body Cameras provide the community with the full picture and help address any doubts the community may have which also improves agency trust.

Incorporating these insights into law enforcement practices can contribute to the ongoing efforts to build trust, foster collaboration, and create safer communities for all.

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About Utility, Inc.

At Utility, we believe in using technology to enhance transparency. We are a vertically integrated supplier of software-based solutions for body-worn cameras and in-car cameras to capture video evidence, as well as digital media evidence management and video redaction for managing and releasing video.

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