Police and Minority Groups

Bridging the Gap: How to Improve Communication Between Police and Minority Groups

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The phrase bridge the gap is used frequently in law enforcement discourse. It is also an idiomatic expression to bring together disparate entities toward a common goal. Someone attempting to bridge a gap may also be described as reconciling, conciliating, or intervening. It is a phrase that describes bringing together two groups who have separated, as in the example of someone filling in for another employee when he or she is on leave (hence “bridge the gap”).

Encourage Dialogue

Although the hatred between communities of color and law enforcement is currently grabbing headlines, it is not new. The issues generating the current rancor date back to this nation’s founding, and the seeds of discord continue to thrive today. Many law enforcement agencies have devoted substantial time, energy, and resources to developing recruitment, hiring, and retention strategies to ensure that their personnel more closely reflect the diversity of their jurisdictions. These strategies include local partnerships, minority group outreach Kansas City, KS, mentoring programs, and internal diversity committees. Community dialogues can range from the very simple, where friends or neighbors sit to talk informally about race issues, to partnering with existing community groups. This latter approach can bring new participants to the dialogue and may produce larger long-term community or institutional change, depending on the groups involved.

Invest in Training

In addition to training on topics like implicit bias, the use of force, and de-escalation skills, officers need to be trained to recognize the stress and trauma that can affect people they encounter on the job. Research shows that individuals living in neighborhoods that are perceived as high-crime, for example, often have mental illness and lack access to services. Having a police department representative of the community is essential for building trust and reducing tensions. Unfortunately, many law enforcement agencies struggle to recruit and retain a diverse workforce. One way to overcome this challenge is to invest in recruitment and hiring initiatives to attract more minority applicants. For instance, agencies should focus on recruiting at universities and colleges, outreaching out to community organizations, and working with social service providers. These efforts can help ensure that the agency hires the best candidate, regardless of background. This can improve the department’s morale and overall effectiveness in the long run.

Create a Culture of Respect

Leaders need to make it clear that their agency supports and values the diversity of its employees. Demonstrating this through a respectful workplace culture, which includes addressing toxic behavior such as gossiping, spreading rumors, or harassment, will improve employee engagement, morale, and retention. Encouraging diversity in law enforcement also promotes an environment of respect and trust that is important to community relations. In communities where police have historically had negative interactions, a police department that prioritizes community policing strategies and practices that support cultural inclusivity can help address those issues and promote an atmosphere of accountability and justice. For example, one department changed its physical agility test to include push-ups instead of a bench press component, which they believe led to more women competing and passing the test and ultimately becoming officers with their agency. 

Create a Safe Space

A safe space is a place where people can gather and be themselves. Typically, these spaces are created for groups that have been historically oppressed or marginalized. Some examples include schools, LGBT communities, and survivors of sexual assault. Creating a safe space requires active participation from both parties. Police and minorities must be willing to communicate and listen to each other. It also means avoiding judgment, unsolicited opinions, and pressure to react. The idea behind safe spaces is that everyone deserves to have their entire, integrated self included in an environment where they feel safe and loved. However, critics of safe spaces often focus solely on the context of college campuses and free speech, which creates a false dichotomy between protecting people from hurtful ideas and censoring controversial viewpoints. This narrow interpretation prevents discussion and understanding of how safe spaces work. Body language also plays a vital role in safety. Studies show that 55% of communication is nonverbal.

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