Police Reform Would be Meaningless Without Communities Having a Say | Opinion

Residents in cities across the country expect and demand that our law enforcement agencies and police leaders serve them with honor and dignity. However, widespread incidents of police misconduct, often broadcasted and shared instantly by mobile devices on social media has given us a very different picture of reality.

These sometimes tragic and unfortunate events have hurt officers too, whether they serve in a particular city where an incident occurs or not. It's harder for officers to serve their communities when people want nothing to do with their local cops. Protecting the community requires knowing what's going on and having a real relationship with the very people you serve. It means police departments must get better at listening.

Trust is fundamental to every relationship, but too many communities have fraught relationships with those meant to protect and serve them. As more Americans call for policing reform, it's more important than ever that police departments engage their residents in a thoughtful and strategic way. We must give citizens a seat at the table and foster greater government transparency so everyone can shape the city they want.

Police shootings from St. Louis to Florida and recently in South Bend exacerbate long-standing issues between communities and police. That's why taking meaningful actions to build and improve trust before a major incident is so critical. Police are best at their jobs when every resident in every neighborhood sees their local cops as trusted public servants who keep them safe—not a force to be avoided at all costs.

One of the big problems is today many cities make decisions within a vacuum and don't hear from those most impacted by those decisions. This is especially true when it comes to public safety. Residents need more than one way to express what's on their mind to local government. Public hearings alone do not allow enough voices to be heard by city leaders.

We especially need hard data to drive smart decisions. In any other aspect of government, whether it's transit planning or environmental issues, Americans expect that their civic institutions make informed choices. In those cases, it may mean looking at traffic studies, flood maps, or other resources to review all the facts and propose appropriate policies. Policing shouldn't be any different. But without the right data in how we make public safety decisions, we're missing the mark. More insight helps to identify problems before they hit a fever pitch, improve public safety, reduce costs and address inequity.

By collecting information voluntarily shared by residents, police departments can highlight areas that need attention and learn how to better address challenges that impact how safe residents feel in their communities. One new company, Elucd, is working closely with law enforcement leaders to collect and analyze community input to learn more about what's happening in specific neighborhoods. In South Bend, the data research company measured residents' levels of trust in police and perception of safety and found trust in police scores diverged significantly by race and pointed to concrete proposals from residents on how to start building it up. We need to start more conversations like these in cities across the country.

Additionally, collecting consistent data on trust and safety along with crime and giving the public access enhances transparency and demonstrates the tangible steps police are taking to get better, build trust and protect all communities. Accountability helps all parties identify problem areas, highlight successes, and commit to growth.

In the end, we all want the opportunity to thrive and feel heard. We can usher this in by taking it back to square one—establishing trust. Everything else rides on this foundation. The right data, thoughtful listening, and transparency provide the foundation for dialogue about advancing public safety, resource allocation and ensuring a fairer system. With these critical approaches in mind, I'm confident that together, we can strengthen the police-community relationship.

Chief Hassan Aden has nearly three decades of law enforcement service and previously served as the Director of Research and Programs at the International Association of Chiefs of Police and Chief of Police with the Greenville (NC) Police Department.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.