There is no disputing that law enforcement agencies face significant challenges today. Recent events around the country have brought policing issues, such as transparency and accountability, community trust, officer and public safety, and use of force, to the forefront in our public dialogue. However, these issues are not new to us. In fact, neither are the solutions. A quick review of Sir Robert Peel’s Principles of Policing established in 1829 remind us that strong, positive relationships with the communities we serve are, and always have been, at the foundation of good police work.
In the midst of the challenges we face, we find ourselves with a critical opportunity to engage with our local communities, government officials and law enforcement counterparts to advance public safety and our profession. Throughout the nation, law enforcement, community leaders and policing experts have come together to discuss best practices in strengthening police-community relationships. In May 2015, the Task Force on 21st Century Policing issued a Report on 21st Century Policing containing 59 recommendations for reforms. Shortly thereafter, the Columbia Police Department was invited to participate in a White House event to discuss implementation of the Task Force recommendations and best practices in policing. Since that time, we have initiated reforms within the Department and put many of the task force recommendations into action.
To reference just a few, we have established a Citizen Advisory Council, focused on recruitment of diverse candidates, provided a residence incentive for officers to live in the community they serve, implemented a body-worn camera program, published annual Internal Affairs Reports, opened CPD command staff meetings to the public, increased opportunities for community engagement, and initiated a text message-based citizen survey to provide an additional mechanism for community members to submit feedback regarding interactions with CPD officers.
The Columbia Police Department, along with Columbia city officials, have taken advantage of every opportunity to be a part of the national conversation about community-police engagement and criminal justice reforms because many of these reforms will make our communities and officers safer and shape our profession for years to come. With so much at stake, we don’t want to stand on the “sideline,” we want to be “in the game.” Recently, members of the Columbia Police Department were invited to attend and participate in:
- A national rank and file forum to discuss issues facing law enforcement in the 21st century and the recommendations outlined in the Task Force Report. CPD was one of just 40 agencies invited to participate in this forum.
- The African American Mayors’ Association Annual Conference – “The Urgency of Now.”
- A conference on the White House Police Data Initiative (PDI) – the City of Columbia is one of approximately 53 jurisdictions that have agreed to share data sets such as calls for service, use of force incidents and assaults on police officers available to the public through an online data portal.
In addition, as result of the strides made by the Columbia Police Department in implementing Task Force recommendations, the Columbia Police Department has been selected as one of just 15 agencies nationwide to participate in the Advancing 21st Century Policing Initiative launched by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS).
As an initiative participant, the COPS Office will provide the Department hands-on assessments and technical assistance to further advance implementation of the recommendations. Ultimately, the work of the Columbia Police Department and the other 14 law enforcement agencies participating in the initiative will produce guiding materials for other agencies to use in advancing best policing practices.
Change doesn’t happen by chance or accident. It takes courage, leadership, collaboration and innovation on the part of police agencies and citizens. We have a choice, we can work proactively in partnership and use our knowledge and experience to drive real reform, or we can remain on the sidelines, satisfied with the status quo, and reactively implement only those changes that are mandated. At the Columbia Police Department, we will continue to learn from others, share our perspectives and take part in ongoing efforts to advance public and officer safety and increase the effectiveness of our work.
Over the last two years, the Columbia Police Department has made great strides in improving our Department and the services we provide to our citizens. We have been able to do this because of the hard work of our dedicated staff and the partnership and support of the people of Columbia. And while I want us all to make note of the work done and progress made, it’s important to remember that our work in this regard will never be complete. We must continue working together to advance best practices that reflect our core values. And while there is no reform or model that will prevent us from making mistakes, we at the Columbia Police Department will continue our quest to become a model 21st century police agency.
The City of Columbia is a progressive City, deserving of an exemplary, progressive police department. With your continued partnership and support, we will build a foundation for progress within the Department and our community that will serve as an example for others.
Highlights of implementation efforts:
• Established a Community Advisory Council to work with CPD on issues of concern and share insights and recommendations to enhance police-community relationships.
• Joined the White House Police Data Initiative in an effort to make data sets such as calls for service, officer use of force incidents, and assaults on police officers available to the public.
• Increased community outreach activities, i.e. food truck Fridays; CPD manned ice cream truck visits to high crime neighborhoods, to provide more non- enforcement related opportunities for citizens to interact with officers.
• Initiated the “Beyond the Badge” Program through which newly hired officers spend their first week on duty working with community service organizations.
• Partnered with Richland One school district to begin the Young Ambassadors for Justice – Student Roundtable Program to foster relationships between CPD and the City’s high school students.
• Initiated Citizen-Police Encounter Surveys (text message-based) to measure and evaluate citizen-police interactions and increase citizen satisfaction with CPD Officers
• Hired a fitness coordinator to develop a wellness plan, “Fit for Duty,” for CPD staff.
• Acquired and equipped patrol officers with body-worn cameras.
• Deployed lifesaving tactical first aid kits and trained officers to use them
• Refocused our training – recently provided officers training on procedural justice, de-escalation techniques, cultural diversity, etc.
• Implemented Ceasefire Columbia, a focused deterrence strategy, designed to reduce gun violence in the 29203 zip code area of the city.
• Refocused Community Response Teams (CRTs) in each Region to allow officers to develop strong relationships with the citizens and work collaboratively with them to solve crime problems and improve the quality of life in assigned areas.
• Placed the city’s code enforcement unit under CPD’s purview to support a more proactive, coordinated response to blight to reduce crimes of opportunity.
Featured image: Holbrook (second from right) conferring with other law enforcement officers during Sunday night’s protest (photo by Allen Wallace)