U.S. Department of Justice
Community Relations Service

Guidelines for Effective
Human Relations Commissions

CRS Seal

Revised September 1998
(Updated March 2003)

What is Human Relations?

The mission of human relations is to promote ways in which people in communities learn to get along and to safeguard equal opportunity for all. Human relations activities help communities become more harmonious, respectful, and cohesive. Human relations uses the tools of fact finding, staff training, information sharing, community education, mediation, cultural literacy, hate crime response and conflict management.


Communities in America are made up of a people from varied backgrounds. Our neighbors and coworkers are from many different races, cultures, faiths, experiences and traditions. We have different interests, fears and ways of doing things. Some are newcomers, immigrants and refugees. Others are from families, several generations in the United States. We have different preferences in music and food. We have different arrangements in our living situations, and in our domestic and social relationships. Our differences sometimes enrich us and at other times are a source of conflict.

As a nation, unique in being formed by people from many different countries, we have experimented and fought to resolve our differences and make our diversity work. We have a history that houses many examples of difficult challenges regarding differences of race, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, language and other important aspects of our diversity. These have often been complicated and highly charged struggles.

For people of different backgrounds and interests to get along, it is useful for local government to set up places and programs that have the responsibility to help people develop better understanding of each other and to solve differences that might arise. Human Relations Commissions are the most common organization created to help manage relationships between people. Having an organization with the responsibility to examine intergroup relations and promote work that brings people together improves a community's prospects for harmony.

Guidelines for Effective Human Relations Commissions

CRS Seal

Revised September 1998
(Updated March 2003)

Table of Contents


Table of Contents


Establishing a Human Relations Commission

Establish the Commission as a Component of the Local Government
Secure Specific Responsibilities and Powers
Secure an Adequate Budget

Organizing a Human Relations Commission

Organization of the Commission
Build Partnerships and Involve Communities
Commission Staffing
Adopt Clearly Defined Goals

The Work of a Human Relations Commission

Make the Commission a Recognized Authority on Human Relations Needs
Establish a Working Relationship with Local News Media
Involve Community Members and Groups in Commission Programs
Work for Meaningful Intergroup Relations
Mediation, Conciliation, Conflict Management
Working Relationships and Partnerships

Promising Practices for Human Relations Commissions

Criminal Justice
Conflict Management
Hate Crime
Economic Development
Communication and Information
Research and Data Collection
Human Relations Report Card

About the Community Relations Service

CRS Offices

Credits for Revision of the Publication

CRS Customer Service Standards


In an effort to help communities resolve disputes and conflict based on racial discrimination and denial of equal rights, the Community Relations Service encourages the establishment of human relations commissions.

An effective commission plays a vital role in promoting community understanding and open communication. As an instrument of private and local government, a commission is helpful in resolving conflict, settling complaints of discrimination, and promoting cooperation within the community.

This brochure provides guidelines for local officials and civic leaders in establishing a local commission and shaping policies and programs to improve its effectiveness.

Citizens with an interest in improving community relations can work toward establishing a human relations commission.



Illustrating the need for a commission is a crucial first step. The need can be shown through studies of discrimination complaints, the impact of demographic changes, and incidences of hate crime, public controversies, and disturbances. These factors are available from community organizations, governmental agencies, and local colleges and universities. Studies such as surveys and polls are good ways to demonstrate the need for a commission. Another important approach is to talk with key individuals in key organizations, public and private agencies, and schools to collect opinions and views regarding the need for a human relations commission.

Establish the Commission as a Component of the Local Government

The active support of governmental officials is essential for the establishment of a commission. Local elected officials will need a clear explanation of the benefits of a commission, and how a commission will help address specific human relations needs.

Establishing a commission by local ordinance will give it a firm legal status as an official unit of government. A commission can also be established by executive order or administrative action.

Secure Specific Responsibilities and Powers

To clearly define the commission's responsibilities and authority, an ordinance should address the following:

Secure an Adequate Budget Through Local Government Appropriation and/or From an Assured Source of Private Financial Support

An adequate budget can make the difference in the success of a commission's program. The size of each commission's budget varies, depending on the extent of human relations needs and support from government officials. Cities, counties, and states must provide adequate funding for a commission to undertake its responsibilities. Additional resources may sometimes be warranted to support specific responses to new problems. Many commissions have found it useful to be designated to receive funding from other sources.

A commission is an indispensable resource in all communities. Smaller jurisdictions may encounter a greater challenge in securing funds, and it may be necessary to arrange volunteer service from civic leaders and community representatives. Their work may be coordinated by a single official, namely a Director of Human Relations.

Representatives from businesses, churches, and community organizations join together with members of advocacy, civic, and legal groups to form an official human relations commission.



Organization of the Commission

Each commissioner should be committed to the philosophy of inclusion, equal opportunity, and fair treatment. Membership of the commission should include representation from the entire community, and have the respect, confidence, and trust of its citizens. Members should also be familiar with and sensitive to historical, social, economic, and cultural dynamics of local communities.

Commissioners with ties to local government, civic organizations, and educational and religious institutions can help give the Commission visibility and public support. The careful selection of its members signals to the public that the commission is competent, fair, and inclusive. Members should serve staggered, limited terms so that good continuity and provision for new leadership on the commission. Most commissioners serve three to four year terms.

The size of each commission varies. It must be large enough to conduct work in committees and task forces, yet small enough where it can operate efficiently. Most commissions have an average of seven to fifteen members.

An organized committee structure is useful and should be based on the magnitude of work and available staff support. The establishment of administrative committees that deals with financial and personnel matters allow program committees to focus on particular areas such as education, hate crime, criminal justice, employment, and housing.

The number, composition, and size of committees are determined by available resources and staff. Good staff support assists in carrying out the committee's programs and projects. Commissions in smaller jurisdictions may need to focus on fewer committees and tasks because of limited staff.

Build Partnerships and Involve Communities

A commission can increase its impact by working closely with other human relations organizations and agencies. The possibility of additional resources, new initiatives, and cooperation is enhanced by bringing together organizations in joint human relations efforts. A commission should work to help communities understand and value cooperative relations among diverse groups and neighborhoods.

Commission Staffing

A competent, paid staff should direct the day-to-day planning and the operations of the commission. The size of the staff should be based on the challenges and work demands of the community. Salaries should be comparable to those in other governmental agencies and sufficient enough to recruit and retain qualified personnel.

In smaller jurisdictions, a single position in local government may be established. As the Director for Human Relations, this person should possess strong leadership qualities to motivate volunteers with assisting the commission. Basic staff qualifications should include:

Adopt Clearly Defined Goals

Clearly defined goals are vital for an effective commission. Every effort should be made to help the community understand that its objectives are in the interest of the entire community.

The objectives of a commission should be:



Make the Commission the Recognized Authority on Human Relations Needs

When the commission is recognized as the expert source of information, it can become a valuable resource to the media, government, and members of the community. There are a variety of resources a commission can access, including law enforcement agencies which compile data on incidences of conflict and hate crime. Many colleges and universities conduct research in local communities. Newspaper and other media are also useful sources for information. A commission can also do its own data gathering through research, hearings and interviews. Data and information should be carefully collected and analyzed. Keep in mind that its purpose is to help bring understanding and focus to a particular issue.

Establish a Working Relationship with Local News Media

Reliable data is one of the most important tools available to a human relations commission. Accurate information improves understanding and provides a foundation to resolve the issues and conflicts. Newspapers, radio, and television are important media outlets to disseminate important information to diverse audiences.

Information can be provided to the media through conferences, forums, workshops, and briefing papers. Data can be shared for the purposes of publication or as background and context. Reporting can then include perspectives that will more clearly define the issue or problem, which can result on a consensus for a plan of action.

Involve Community Members and Groups in Commission Programs

Public trust and confidence in a commission are fundamental to its effectiveness. By building relationships with diverse groups, organizations, and neighborhoods, the commission can promote intergroup cooperation. In circumstances where this relationship already exists, there is more timely and efficient response to issues and exchange of information.

The level of organization in a particular community helps determine how much effort is necessary to reach certain groups. In well established communities, long standing civic organizations make contact easier. In nascent communities, the lack of community organization may require a more deliberate effort. An assessment of how the community is organized is an important step to understanding the dynamics of a particular community.

Work for Meaningful Intergroup Relations

Communication and understanding are the heart of an effective commission. The commission can provide a bridge among various groups by offering a neutral environment in which to interact.

Communication should be open and candid. It requires skill, innovation, and patience. Without effective communication, meaningful advances in community relations cannot take place. When successful, communication improves understanding and cooperation among diverse groups.

Mediation, Conciliation, Conflict Management

When there is controversy and intergroup conflict, human relations issues receive the greatest public attention. Conflict is a natural occurrence. Intergroup relations are affected according to how the conflict is managed and resolved. Unresolved conflict can escalate and lead to serious community disruption. A commission can play an important role by providing services in mediation, conciliation, and conflict management.

Helping disputants cease hostile actions is a prerequisite to problem solving. Successful conflict management cannot take place until violence has ended. Human relations seeks to move from conflict to resolution. Actions to diffuse tension, identify the basis of the conflict, establish ground rules among disputants, and engage them in the process of mediation and conciliation are important steps in conflict management.

The entire process requires a great deal of time, effort, and patience. When there is community conflict, a commission is an important resource because it can build partnerships with other agencies and organizations to form an organized system of conflict response and management.

Working Relationships and Partnerships

A commission should establish a strong liaison with a wide range of community organizations--- chambers of commerce, churches, civic organizations, civil rights organizations, and other community-based organizations. It is important that the commission inform and update various organizations on the commission's objectives and programs, and provide training and other support to encourage their involvement in human relations, human rights, and race relations issues.

A commission can call on government agencies and departments with human relations interests. Local schools, police departments, district attorneys, libraries, parks and recreation, probation departments, and community development agencies are often strong partners in human relations work. Federal agencies such as the Community Relations Service, U. S. Department of Justice; Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; and U.S. Commission on Civil Rights are important human relations allies. At the state level, there are often human relations commissions available to work with local commissions.

A commission can help the media realize the full impact of their reporting. When reporting is accurate and objective, understanding is improved and prospects for conflict resolution are enhanced. Establishing working relationships with the media, particularly those that serve special neighborhoods and groups, is a important human relations tool.




Criminal Justice

Relationships between law enforcement and community members have a significant influence on community relations. Poor relations increase the potential for mistrust, conflict, and violence. Effective community oriented policing builds public confidence, reducing the potential for conflict and tensions. A commission can assist in building strong relationships and understanding between neighborhoods and law enforcement.

Conflict Management

A commission has the ability to play a key role in conflict management by creating a coordinated system for conflict management. This system should include city officials, law enforcement, counselors, clergy, community organizers, and mediators.

Hate Crime

An effective response by human relations agencies to hate crimes is crucial because such crimes can heighten anxiety and tension throughout the entire community.



Economic Development


Communication and Information


Research and Data Collection

Human Relations Report Card

Help develop an understanding of the state of human relations by use of indicators to assess human relations progress. Such measures could include housing, education, employment, hate crime, demographics, social services, and recreation. Share the report card with officials and the general public.



The Community Relations Service (CRS), a component of the U.S. Department of Justice, is a specialized Federal conciliation service available to State and local officials to help resolve and prevent racial and ethnic conflict, violence and civil disorder. When governors, mayors, police chiefs, and school superintendents need help to defuse racial or ethnic crises, they turn to CRS. CRS helps local officials nad residents tailor locally defined resolutions when conflict and violence threaten community stability and well-being. Created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, CRS is the only Federal Agency dedicated to preventing and resolving racial and ethnic tensions, incidents, and civil disorders. It assists State and local units of government, private and public organizations, and community groups in restoring community racial stability and harmony.



Community Relations Service
U.S. Department of Justice
600 E Street, NW, Suite 6000
Washington, D.C. 20530
202/305-2935 202/305-3009 FAX

Regional Offices

Region I (New England)
(ME, VT, NH, MA, CT, RI)
408 Atlantic Avenue, Suite 222
Boston, MA 02110
617/424-5727 (FAX)

Region II (Northeast)
(NY, NJ, VI, PR)
26 Federal Plaza, Suite 36-118
New York, NY 10278
212/264-2143 (FAX)

Region III (Mid-Atlantic)
( DC, DE, MD, PA, VA, WV)
2nd and Chestnut Streets, Suite 208
Philadelphia, PA 19106
215/597-9148 (FAX)

Region IV (Southeast)
(AL, FL, GA, KY, MS, NC, SC, TN)
75 Piedmont Ave, NE, Suite 900
Atlanta, GA 30303
404/331-4471 (FAX)

Region V (Mid-West)
(IL, IN, MI, MN, OH, WI)
55 West Monroe Street, Suite 420
Chicago. IL 60603
312/353-4390 (FAX)

Region VI (Southwest)
(AR, LA, NM, OK, TX)
1420 West Mockingbird Lane, Suite 250
Dallas, TX 75247
214/655-8184 (FAX)

Region VII (Central)
(IA, KS, MO, NE)
1100 Main Street, Suite 1320
Kansas City, MO 64105-2112
816/426-7441 (FAX)

Region VIII (Rocky Mountain)
(CO, MT, ND, SD, UT, WY)
1244 Speer Blvd., Suite 650
Denver, CO 80204-3584
303/844-2907 (FAX)

Region IX (Western)
(AZ, CA, GU, HI, NV)
888 South Figueroa Street, Suite 1880
Los Angeles, CA 90017
213/894-2880 (FAX)

Region X (Northwest)
(AK, ID, OR, WA)
915 Second Street, Suite 1808
Seattle, WA 98174
206/220-6706 (FAX)

Field Offices

Community Relations Service
51 SW First Ave, Suite 624
Miami, FL 33130
305/536-7363 (FAX)

Community Relations Service
211 West Fort Street, Suite 1404
Detroit, MI 48226
313/226-2568 (FAX)

Community Relations Service
515 Rusk Avenue, Suite 12605
Houston, TX 77002
713/718-4862 (FAX)

Community Relations Service
120 Howard Street, Suite 790
San Francisco, CA 94105
415/744-6590 (FAX)

(May 2002)

1998 Revision by:

Ron Wakabayashi, Director
Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations


Daryl Borgquist, Media Affairs Officer
Jonathan Chace, Associate Director
Lisa Dollerschell, Summer Intern
Sabrina Fox, Summer Intern
Community Relations Service U.S. Department of Justice


Customer Service Standards

Our goal is to provide sensitive and effective conflict prevention and resolution services. CRS will meet the following standards: