Traditional law enforcement, specifically in larger communities, spent little time concentrating on engagement, choosing instead to concentrate on chasing bad guys and searching for facts, and “nothing but the facts”.
This tried and true method of policing dominated national thought for decades.
As our country evolved and our profession evolved, it became apparent that to be a professional law enforcement agency, engagement would play a larger and larger role. Change was to come, slowly at first, and then seemingly all at once.
It began as agencies understood that community involvement was important to the overall mission of crime reduction and public safety.
There were also greater and greater expectations from communities all over the country. Why couldn’t they have it all? Why couldn’t they have equal parts enforcement and equal parts engagement? Why couldn’t an agency be tough on crime and still be responsive and courteous to the citizens they serve.
There it was, the challenge, but also the charge.
Expectations meeting professional aspiration. It is at this crossroad that modern policing began to take shape. This new direction took on a variety of forms, depending upon leadership and many times, geography. Law enforcement officials began meeting, comparing notes and sharing ideas.
The willingness and ability to implement these new ideas were dependent upon leadership and community expectation. The kind of change that many in leadership at the time were not familiar with. This meant that those most likely to adopt such change were those whose vision for a safer community ran parallel to the vision of the community they serve.
Those who understand that engagement is an important part of an overall crime prevention strategy would come to understand the value. The goal was not to have less enforcement, the goal was to have better enforcement.
Engagement at any level will have obvious benefits. It can serve to build a rapport with members of the community and establish relationships that can last a lifetime. These relationships can stretch beyond the “assignment for the day”.
Engagement can help foster a sense of trust of the officers assigned to a particular neighborhood or beat. Familiarity, conversation, and care tends to build this trust. A trust among individuals with a shared interest. That interest is safety. Safety in the fundamental quest for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The thought that the individual who protects you and your family is much more valuable when that person is familiar to the individual and a level of trust has been established. On a greater scale, an agency that builds an engagement platform and a level of trust is an agency that can provide a level of service that everyone wants and deserves.
Engagement does not mean that the community expects weakness. In actuality, people want those responsible for criminal behavior brought to justice. They just want it fairly and professionally delivered. It builds comradery while improving the agencies’ image and perception.
This partnership can also improve recruiting as people see law enforcement as an enviable profession. Kids once again dream of being a police officer.
Engagement can even bring down anxiety with regards to crime. The mere mention of crime brings with it a certain level of anxiety. No one wants to be the victim of any crime and that concern can manifest itself in anxiety and a sense of insecurity. With community engagement comes the reassuring prospect that there are those who are sworn to protect you are those you know and trust.
When a lot of what you hear about is the negative, it can be reassuring that the law enforcement officers are doing their best and are doing so for the right reasons.
They are committed to the notion that kindness is not weakness and that engagement is necessary to properly police a society. As our community engagement has increased, so has the willingness to work together. Reports to programs such as Crimestoppers have never been higher. This increased community involvement and willingness to report suspicious activity works well with our increased enforcement efforts. It is indeed possible to reach levels of enforcement and engagement never before seen. We are witnessing what no- nonsense law enforcement looks like when it is combined with a partnership for the betterment of a community.
With community engagement comes a sense of well-being, the belief that we are in this together. There is a realization that we are a people with a shared goal, and a strength only found when you are protected by those who, not only put their lives on the line, but truly care about the community they serve.
This police/community bond brings about a synergy and the feeling that this is home… and home is a safe place.
Sheriff Chip Simmons, Escambia County Sheriff’s Office
*Note from Local Pulse Editor: Escambia County Sheriff Chip Simmons is a part of our Community Voices. Community Voices is a group of Pensacola dwellers that are making a difference in our city by sharing best practices, experiences, their perspective on impactful subjects, and contributing expertise that leads to movement forward for a stronger community.