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Community Policing Can Ease Tensions

President Obama has designated this week as National Community Policing Week.  In a time when tensions between police officers and residents are high, focusing on what is right in police and community relations can provide a template for success elsewhere.

Community policing is a public safety philosophy based on partnership and cooperation between law enforcement and the communities they serve.  This philosophy is grounded in the idea that all members of society have a stake in the safety of our neighborhoods.  Under a community policing philosophy, police see themselves and seek to have others see them as “guardians of democracy” rather than an occupying army.   

To promote community policing, the Department of Justice is participating in more than 400 events around the country this week to raise awareness and support community policing.  Here in the Eastern District of Michigan, we have been involved in outreach events and panel discussions to promote police and community engagement.  Even more importantly, we are investing in long-term solutions to improve relationships with police.

One important contribution to police and community trust is an organization called ALPACT, which stands for Advocates and Leaders for Police and Community Trust.  Launched in the 1990s by former U.S. Attorney Saul Green and ACLU Michigan Executive Director Kary Moss, ALPACT chapters now meet regularly in Detroit, Flint, Saginaw, Jackson and other cities in Michigan.  ALPACT brings together law enforcement officials and leaders of community, civil rights and faith groups to discuss issue of mutual concern.  Discussion topics have included racial profiling, use of tasers, implicit bias, serving immigrant communities, police training, dealing with mental illness and serving the LGBT community.  ALPACT meetings provide a forum for police to share information and dispel myths and for community members to help law enforcement understand how to do their jobs with improved sensitivity.  Over the years, ALPACT has served as an important venue for addressing incidents of police use of force, providing an opportunity for police to share the facts and community members to ask hard questions.  By meeting monthly, relationships form over time that enhance trust between law enforcement leaders and community members.

Many other good things are occurring in our region that can serve as model programs for other communities, such as Detroit’s Neighborhood Police Officer Program, Ferndale’s Coffee with a Cop, Michigan State Police’s Youth Leadership Academy, the FBI’s Citizen Academy and the Department of Homeland Security’s Middle Eastern Law Enforcement Officers’ Association, to name just a few.  All of these programs break down barriers between citizens and police to help us all achieve our common goal of public safety. 

As Attorney General Loretta Lynch has said, “Our country’s founding principles guarantee every person a life of safety, dignity and opportunity.  By allowing residents and law enforcement to see each other as allies, rather than as adversaries, community policing helps to make that guarantee real – not just for some Americans, but for all.”

Barbara L. McQuade
United States Attorney
Eastern District of Michigan

Updated November 28, 2016