NJ Police Look to Increase Community Confidence in Law Enforcement
Recent attacks against law enforcement officers nationwide has placed even greater emphasis on the importance of strengthening ties with the community, and many New Jersey police departments have been working on gaining the public's trust.
Newark Police Director Anthony Ambrose said he's been working over the past seven months to change the waning trust people have in police. He started by inviting the public to the Department's weekly Command Status Conferences.
"I think that shows them how the police do business, why they do the business and what they do," Ambrose said, adding that it has resulted in positive feedback so far.
The Newark Police Department also held a nine-week Clergy-Citizen Public Safety Academy. The program took place one night per week for three hours to explain various roles of police officers, including what happens when a complaint is filed and an explanation of the court system. Officials with the Newark Fire Department and Office of Emergency Management were also were involved in the academy, Ambrose said and participants even had an opportunity to experience the Firearms Training System used by officers.
Immediately following the fatal attacks against police in Dallas, Texas, this month, Ambrose said clergy members started riding with the Newark Police Department's Community Service Units to act as mediators, including during demonstrations in the city.
Ambrose said police officers have to act as "guardians" for the public, but also be prepared to be "warriors."
"It's more you're a social worker, you have to deal with people's complaint's, you've have to be a problem solver," Ambrose said. "I think that's going to boost community trust within the city of Newark and across America."
Ambrose also said there is also a need for procedural justice and fairness to start internally with police departments.
"It will then be demonstrated onto the community, and I think that police legitimacy now is at its all-time low with the community because of what's happening, and these are programs that we have to work on bringing the community together," Ambrose said.
Another way the Newark Police Department is fostering community involvement is by having volunteer watch groups monitor more than 200 cameras citywide and be a partner against crime with Newark Police, according to Ambrose.
Ambrose said the department is able to measure its success through surveys and has been able to cut down on police response times and implement client relations training
and de-escalation training based on feedback from residents.
In the Camden County Police Department, Community policing is considered a "cultural mandate," according to Lt. Zsachiem James.
"We want to be a part of the community, not just in times of crisis, but before that, so we can avert crisis," James said.
Officers are trained to treat people the way they would want their families to be treated, he said.
Holding pop up basketball games and pop up barbecues with the community also makes a difference in improving community relations, according to James. He gave a recent example of a positive service call.
"There was actually a call for service for a woman who called us to come to speak to her 4-year-old child because she kept walking out of the house," James said. He noted those types of calls are welcomed and come from being present in the community.
"We've had police-involved shootings in the city and we still had the support of the community," said James.