Representatives from a civil rights organization and the city of Laurel, Maryland, come together to sign a mediated agreement. The agreement contained policy changes and strategies for communication after the perceived excessive use of force by law enforcement. (Luke Lavoie/The Baltimore Sun)
The United States Department of Justice Community Relations Service frequently works with state, local and federal government agency administrators, elected officials, and community leaders to address and mitigate the impact of policy changes, administrative practices, zoning, and redevelopment concerns, transportation and school system issues, voting access, and the provision of services that are controversial or result in conflicts based on issues of race, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, or disability:
Facilitating training programs, town hall meetings, and dialogues with community members to meet the unique needs and concerns of the community, dispel rumors and misperceptions, and promote collaborative problem-solving between local, state, and federal officials and the community;
Providing technical assistance in developing and maintaining Human Relations Commissions and other mechanisms to ensure productive and open communication between town, city, state, and federal officials and community members in order to discuss and resolve tension and conflicts associated with allegations of inequitable access to resources, poor police-community relations, and failure to recognize changing demographics; and
Helping city officials, state, and federal agencies, law enforcement, and demonstration organizers with planning, managing, and coordinating safe marches and protests through rumor control mechanisms, self-marshal training, logistical planning, and on-site mediation services.
Below are examples of CRS's work with municipalities and state and federal agencies in recent years. Additional case summaries may be located in CRS Annual Reports, contained on the CRS Resource Center webpage.
In the Summer of 2013, CRS services were requested by a Colorado city, several local non-profit organizations, and various service providers to facilitate problem-solving sessions between city officials and community leaders. The sessions were aimed at identifying issues and concerns related to the integration of Somali, East African, Latino, and Muslim refugee communities. The parties also asked CRS to aid the existing Human Relations Commission (HRC) working group in establishing a commission for the city. In response to the requests, CRS arranged for HRC experts from nearby communities to provide overviews of the missions, goals, objectives, and structures of their respective HRCs. CRS then facilitated meetings between the working group and members of the Latino, East African, and Muslim communities. During the meetings, the members discussed their concerns and the issues impacting their communities, including: language barriers, crime, access to health care, equal employment opportunities, and perceptions of racial, cultural, and religious bias and discrimination by law enforcement and city officials. Following the meetings, CRS assisted the working group in developing an action plan to address community relations, communication, and system-related concerns. The Agency also helped the parties in developing an action report that not only detailed the actions of the parties, but also listed the recommendations they had developed. CRS then assisted the stakeholders in drafting a resolution, creating a Community Relations Commission for the city.
In July 2012, CRS was asked to provide a Cultural Competency Training for members of the United States Forestry Service in Washington. The training was requested as a result of several incidents involving Latino men, the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service, and the Department of Homeland Security U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Latino community leaders and non-governmental organizations perceived that the Forest Service requested assistance from Customs and Border Protection whenever an incident involved a member of the Latino community, in order to search for illegal immigrants. This practice allegedly caused several clashes, including one in which a Latino community member drowned while trying to flee from officials. In February 2013, CRS provided Cultural Competency training, which was supplemented by law enforcement programs provided by the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division and the area's United States Attorney's Office.
In November 2012, CRS services were requested by the Executive Director of a state commision on Asian American and Pacific Islander affaris, regarding the perceived lack of communication between law enforcement and Asian Pacific American communities during times of emergency preparation. The request rose out of an incident in 2006, during which numerous members of the African and Southeast Asian communities died during a winter storm due to carbon monoxide poisoning. The communities felt that crucial information regarding heat sources and their toxic by-products was not successfully translated into African and Southeast Asian languages before the storm. In response to the request, CRS developed a working group comprised of the Executive Director of the commission, the Executive Director of a human rights commission, and the Executive Director of a state office on minority and women's business enterprises. CRS then aided the working group in drafting a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), that included proactive measures the parties would take in responding to the needs of the African and Southeast Asian communities.