By Ben Jealous
Sunday, December 21, 2014.
What is community policing? In the wake of
increased shootings in Ferguson and around the country, there has been a
renewed public interest in the role of police, the extent of police brutality,
and the prevalence of racial bias.
not new issues, and in fact a number of organizations have been working for
decades to increase trust between law enforcement and the communities they
serve. Among these is the National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI), a
nonprofit leadership program headquartered in Washington DC, whose leaders I
spoke with recently.
1984, NCBI focuses on eliminating prejudice and resolving inter-group conflict.
They work in cities across the U.S. and overseas to build the capacity of local
leaders in schools, college campuses, police departments, and environmental
organizations to lead prevention-oriented workshops and to intervene in the
face of tough inter group conflict. One of NCBI's key programs, the Law
Enforcement Community Citizen Project, focuses on building productive
relationships between police and the communities they serve.
The NCBI Law
Enforcement Community Citizen Project was initially funded in 2002 by a grant
from the COPS office (the office of Community Policing at the US Department of
Justice) to work in Bethlehem, PA and King County, WA. Since then the program
has been implemented in Atlantic City, NJ as well as numerous communities
throughout Pennsylvania, Missoula, MO, and Seattle, WA.
called on to bridge the divide between community members and police officers.
NCBI leads Train the Trainer programs, Welcoming Diversity and Inclusion Workshops,
and Leadership Institutes for officers and community activists to educate them
in skills to foster cooperative relationships. Some communities have contacted
NCBI when there have been specific difficulties between white police officers
and people or neighborhoods of color that have been singled out by police. From
their experience, NCBI has learned that it is best to offer communities a
prevention-oriented, trust building approach. This way, NCBI builds the ongoing
capacity of law enforcement and community activists to work in partnership to
increase safety for all citizens in the community.
I spoke with
Fabienne Brooks, who along with Guillermo Lopez is co-director of NCBI's Law
Enforcement Program. Brooks is a retired Chief of Detectives for the King
County Police Department in Seattle, WA. She was the first Black female officer
in county history to be hired as a deputy, and throughout her career she made a
point to immerse herself in the community that she served. The neighborhood she
patrolled was the same neighborhood where she attended church and raised her
family. After 26 years on the job, she retired and joined NCBI so she could
continue her passion for community policing.
told me that "an important part of community policing occurs when an
officer recognizes that they are part of a community, and the community
understands the same about the officer. It includes forming empathetic
relationships between law enforcement and community members, which results in
increased officer safety and safety for all members of the community."
The NCBI Law
Enforcement Community Partnership project builds trust between law enforcement
and community leaders by helping each side to understand the daily realities of
the other. Each has a key story to tell. Each deserves respectful listening. By
teaching listening skills and conflict resolution practices and by helping each
side see the humanity and legitimate concerns of the other, trust and
partnership increases. In addition, NCBI teaches specific skill sets that help
each side to confront the biases they have learned about each other that get in
the way of equitable treatment of the entire community-- particularly the
equitable treatment of people from different racial groups. NCBI believes in practices
that will bring about institutional change not one-time trainings or quick
As just one
example of the outcomes of the NCBI's COPS and Community project, consider what
happened in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. In 2005, a pool frequented by Latino young
people had been closed for repairs and the young people went to another pool.
Within minutes, the mainly white life guards felt threatened by the presence of
the Latino young people, called the police and the police, ignoring the pleas
of the Latino parents for calm, called for increased back up.
altercation between the parents and the police continued for months. The NCBI
trained police/ community activist team was able to bring the parents and
police together, and using their NCBI skills, bring about increased trust and
Former Chief Brooks sees an opportunity for an effective community-policing
program to emerge from the chaos and violence of the past few weeks. "Now,
there is a chance for police and the community to hear each other," she
said. "The focus needs to be on how people are treated. If you can train
officers how to treat ALL people with dignity and respect - that is a
co-director Guillermo Lopez explained that community policing cannot be
accomplished with the wave of a wand, "You don't go in trying to change a
whole department; you go in trying to change a few people, who eventually come
to change the whole department. We can start by focusing attention and
financial resources on organizations like NCBI, so they can continue spreading
the word that emphasize the 'serve' aspect of "Protect and Serve".
establishment of a sustained value and practice for coalition building skills
between Community and Law Enforcement is a pathway to conflict resolution and
will create a climate which fosters violence prevention". Joyce Shabazz,
Consulting Associate Senior Trainer / Director Of Affinity Caucus Programs
told me, "Police officers meet with the community, hear tough things, say
tough things and confront their prejudices together - this is how we will move
is a Partner at Kapor Capital and former President and CEO of the NAACP.