One of the keys to the development of positive relations between the police and the community is the creation of a culture of openness and transparency in policing.
During my many years as a police officer I found that when police explain what they are doing and why they are doing it, all but a few members of the public (and the media) ‘get it’. They may not always agree but they recognize and understand the rationale.
What is required from police is a willingness to be open and transparent. Police departments have been and continue to be secretive about almost everything they are involved in. Unless, of course, they are looking for media coverage of positive stories or they need media assistance in getting out a message about a particular case where they need information from the public to solve the case.
Greater openness and transparency on the part of police departments would go a long way to improve the police image in the eyes of the public. It would also provide a greater measure of accountability.
Lets look at an example: there are few issues in policing that create more heated debate than police use of force. Police departments are seldom taken to task for high crime rates, low clearance rates or the like. But, an instance of police use of force, especially if captured on video (such as the Rodney King incident in Los Angles, the Robert Dziekanski incident in Vancouver or the Cody Bousquet case here in Winnipeg) focuses public attention on the actions of police.
One of the main issues when these types of incidents come to the public’s attention is that the public, and to a lesser extent the media, are ill-informed about what police department policies are in relation to use of force.
There are several approaches that can be taken to address issues like this in a proactive way. One is to create greater transparency in terms of police policies and procedures. If, for example, both the public and the media are fully aware of the police department’s use of force policy, and the policy is a public document, a lot of speculation and misinformation could be avoided.
Secondly, if police departments conducted information sessions explaining their policies both for the media and the public, the resulting dialogue would eliminate many of the misconceptions that exist.
Some police departments such as Vancouver and Portland, Oregon have put their procedure manual on-line – a bold and progressive step.
Police in Oakland, California recently invited the community and the media to a seminar that outlined the use of force training received by members of the Oakland Police Department. The seminar dealt with both the legal use of force framework, as well as hands on demonstration of video simulator training.
Initiatives such as these reinforce openness, transparency and accountability to the public on the part of police and create positive dialogue between the public and the police.
Note: The Oakland Police Department has also opened its CompStat meetings to the public.