Enhancing Public Safety through Building Trust

Over 3,200 police officers and community members reached through the Department of Justice Office of Community Policing Services (COPS) Collaborative Reform and Critical Response initiatives.  

What is the Issue?

Police Departments continue to face increasingly complex challenges within their police departments and in their communities.  Issues such as fatal shootings by police officers in the line of duty have created tension and stress for law enforcement agencies, its officers, and the communities they serve[1]. These challenges, if left unresolved, can affect public trust and breakdown the relationship between law enforcement agencies and their communities. Additionally, these challenges can also impact other police departments and communities throughout the country who see the impact of high profile events can have, even if they are not currently experiencing it themselves, through the media and social media coverage.  Law enforcement executives are constantly seeking lessons learned from other agencies to be proactive, and to address underlying issues that impact public safety and quality of life issues. 

What was the Intervention?

To aid police departments in responding to these various challenges, the Department of Justice’s COPS Office developed several technical assistance programs to assist police departments experiencing public safety challenges that impact the trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. The Collaborative Reform through Technical Assistance (CRI-TA) initiative, developed in 2011, is a voluntary initiative to help police departments address long-term, systemic issues by assessing their policies, practices, training, tactics and accountability systems through a DOJ contract with the COPS Office.  DOJ has provided a series of recommendations and technical assistance to help address their critical issues. The Critical Response Technical Assistance Program, developed in 2013, provides rapid response technical assistance to law enforcement agencies dealing with specific short term incidents in their department and community.  Technical assistance services ranging from peer-to-peer exchanges (experienced chiefs providing advice to the chiefs experiencing the issues in real time, such as Ferguson, Standing Rock, etc.), in-depth review and analysis of policies or practices, and facilitated discussions between law enforcement agencies and the community or between responding agencies are among the many tools that can be leveraged to address issues with national implications.


In 2016, the COPS Office offered technical assistance to a diverse range of police departments across the country facing unique challenges.  Through its Critical Response program, the COPS Office conducted focused assessments of the law enforcement response to the mass demonstrations in Ferguson, MO, completed a comprehensive analysis of the Tampa Police Department’s stop and ticketing data, conducted a peer-to-peer exchange with the Orlando Police Department following the Pulse nightclub shooting event, and released timely and critical assessments of the San Bernardino response to the attack on the Inland Regional Center.   


Broad assessments were conducted of several police departments (voluntarily and usually at their request)  and releasing comprehensive reports which included a series of recommendations to help these departments improve their policies, practices, training and accountability systems. These included the police departments in San Francisco, CA; Milwaukee, WI; Fayetteville, NC; Salinas, CA; and Calexico, CA. These reports are publically available on the COPS website and the process is very transparent at the local level. These departments are currently receiving technical assistance to help implement the recommendations that came out of the assessment reports. In addition to these departments, there are several police departments that are close to completing the Collaborative Reform process and implementing the recommendations needed to help their departments improve with the community. These include police departments in Spokane, WA and Philadelphia, PA.  The COPS Office expects to release reports of their final progress before the end of 2016.  The Philadelphia Police Department also increased citizen involvement with the creation of their Police Civilian Oversight Board and significantly lowered Officer Involved Shootings.


Through the DOJ contract, the COPS Office initiated several new Collaborative Reform sites in 2016 to include the Chester, PA; North Charleston, SC; Commerce City, CO; and Memphis, TN. Through these initiatives, the COPS Office is able to engage law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve around a host of critical public safety issues. These opportunities forged a greater sense of partnership between police and citizens and renewed commitment to community policing to address issues that impact the quality of life for many of these communities. One great example of this program’s success occurred in partnership with the Fayetteville Police Department.


The Fayetteville Police Department (FPD) began implementing the recommendations from the assessment team before the assessment report was released. This action spoke volumes in terms of the dedication of the Chief and command staff to the collaborative reform process and their desire to institute real change.  This included increasing the number of community watch groups across the city, building a coalition of clergy and community leaders and holding regular meetings to keep citizens informed and engaged. FPD also established the Chief’s Youth Advisory Council, of which the FPD attributes the success of these initiatives to the fact that there were no student deaths in 2015. These community engagement efforts helped bridge the gap between police and citizens and built a greater sense of trust within the community.  In addition, FPD changed their traffic stop policy so that vehicles would no longer be stopped for issues like broken tail lights or outdated inspection stickers. Instead, vehicles would only be stopped for moving violations – speeding, running a red light, suspected DWI, etc. As a result, discretionary stops have ended. The FPD also experienced a reduction of officer involved shootings and use of force incidents. In 2012 there were a total of 157 use of force incidents, 2013 there were 103 incidents, in 2014 there were 52 incidents, and in 2015 there were a total of 47 Use of Force Incidents recorded. This is a 9.6% decrease between 2014 to 2015. Since 2012 there has been a 70% decrease.

How was performance management useful?

As a result of concern over the relationships between law enforcement agencies and communities, DOJ made Enhancing Public Safety through Building Trust one of its FY 2016-2017 Priority Goals.  As a result, the COPS Office reframed and formalized their data collection process.  The COPS Office also added five additional internal measures in an effort to support the Agency Priority Goal (APG).  Specifically, the COPS Office worked with a variety of stakeholders to determine the appropriate measures that reflected the “enhancing public safety” goal.  The COPS Office also set targets based on historical performance and reported these results quarterly.  As a result, the COPS Office was able to focus its efforts in the technical assistance it delivered to the field by focusing on, but not limited by, these core services, which included interviews, community engagements, stakeholder forums, and peer-to-peer exchanges.  

What was the impact?

During FY 2016, the COPS Office was able to successfully meet annual targets for all five internal measures.  Specifically, the COPS Office experienced 40 percent increases in the number of law enforcement officers and community members engaged in technical assistance, stakeholder forums and training activities supportive of community policing to ensure police reform and produce an informed citizenry.  Additionally, the COPS Office met the APG goal of reaching 12,548 officers and citizens through its technical assistance, stakeholder forums and training activities. 


The COPS Office returns to each site at the six and 12 month timeframe to check to see if the local agency has implemented the many recommendations of the initial assessment. These recommendations are designed to build trust, increase accountability, and improve the relationship between the law enforcement agency and its community.  While difficult to quantify these recommendations, the continued support and participation by law enforcement agencies and communities is a strong indicator of the success of the program.