Public trust in the legitimacy of law enforcement in the US is at a record low. Decades of aggressive policing tactics in the US, such as “stop and frisk,” have eroded trust and added enormous tension to the relationship between police and community members, especially in low-income neighborhoods of color in America’s cities. The effects of this are bad for everyone: police are unable to protect communities effectively because the community doesn’t trust them while community members see police as a threat to their safety.
The U.S. Federal government has tried to address this problem by investing more than $14 billion in grants to more than 90% of the law enforcement agencies in the country to support community policing efforts. Community policing is supposedly more humane, because officers talk with community members without investigating them for a crime. So far, however, meta-analyses show that community policing has no benefits on average. Unless community policing can be fixed, departments are likely to continue relying on aggressive policing, which too often results in unnecessary death and harm for people of color and poor people, and erodes trust.
Our approach to this problem is to investigate ways to improve the ways police interact with civilians on a daily basis to decrease the likelihood that violent interactions will occur. Our current initiatives examine the power dynamics embedded in police-civilian interactions and whether increasing officers’ empathy, transparency, and authenticity could decrease fear of police and police violence.