Relationship Policing: Implementing a New Model of Thinking for Law Enforcement to Build Formal Community Partnerships

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Mark Poland


Police and sheriffs use a variety of enforcement methods to protect and serve citizens. These methods include community policing, evidence-based policing, and formal partnership programs with other agencies and community entities. As a rule, police and sheriff departments have few formal connections with the community, such as partnerships for exchanging information that may help prevent or reduce crime. Often, chiefs do not focus on the factors and processes that contribute to successful partnerships.
Effective partnerships allow law enforcement agencies to develop trust, create continuous communication feedback loops, and identify critical stakeholder relationships that can last over time and turn into professional working relationships. These partnerships allow relevant stakeholders the opportunity to work closely to achieve common goals, such as building trust, reducing truancy within schools, solving homicides, protecting children, or helping others in need of services.
Chiefs and sheriffs typically use the term “partnership” too casually to describe partnerships with private or public entities. Leadership routinely talk about partnerships within their communities, but then characterize contacts as partnerships. For example, when a department places an officer inside a school, the department will refer to this assignment as a partnership. Committing an officer to working one specific location does not constitute a formal relationship or partnership, as this situation is the same as assigning an officer to a patrol sector or beat. A partnership is not an assignment, whereas the officer assigned to a sector or school is viewed as an informal commitment.
Successful partnerships are complex relationships that require formal processes, as well as the presence of facilitating factors or enablers. Before leaders form a partnership, it is important to agree on a common problem and then to commit to work together. Thus, chiefs must identify why a partnership will be beneficial, how a partnership will assist in solving a problem, who the appropriate stakeholders will be, what common goals will be achieved, and how facilitators and barriers will impact the process.
The study analyzes six case studies of police programs that involved partnerships with private and public stakeholders each sharing common goals. The Detroit Police Department partnered with the Detroit 300, a private stakeholder, which resulted in the reduction of violent crimes and an increase in the closure of homicide cases. The Queensland Police Department successfully partnered with its school system, which resulted in the reduction of truancy of at risk students. Similarly, the Metropolitan Police Department successfully partnered with Homeless Outreach workers to provide services to homeless people. Two case studies revealed elements that resulted in unsuccessful partnerships within the Family Engagement Services program of the Queensland Police Department, as well as a broader partnership between Child Protective Services and police. Specific factors within each study showed either to enable or obstruct leaders’ ability to reach their identified goals.
Two leading factors that contributed to partnership program success are purpose and strategy. Common goals must be agreeable, identified and messaged completely through the chain of command within a police department and across the various partner organizations. Leaders must be willing to change, remain flexible, and understand their partners’ needs or interests. Leaders must identify and commit the appropriate resources prior to engaging in a partnership. Supervisors assigned to work within a partnership or form a partnership must be committed, motivated and have the same level of buy-in as the leadership teams. A lack of competency or conflicting interests will only foster failure within the program.
Last, for future partnerships, chiefs and sheriffs ought to familiarize those in leadership or decision-making positions with the Inter-Organizational Collaboration Model. By understanding the specific success factors, as well as those barriers indicative of failure, chiefs, and sheriffs can quickly adapt and formulate change throughout the entire problem-solving process. Internal training on this model can be used to implement a new form of relationship policing to foster the creation of partnerships within communities to reduce crime and solve law enforcement problems.

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