Law Enforcement and Community Engagement: From Talk to Action


Law Enforcement and Community Engagement: From Talk to Action

by Dr. Randy Nelson
Program Director
Bethune-Cookman University
Criminal Justice Administration Graduate Program

Jacksonville, like many other urban cities, has been forced to recognize and address recent, highly publicized events involving law enforcement and some segments of the community. The heightened level of public scrutiny and tensions between law enforcement and some of the communities they serve continues to be a major challenge.  

With the goal of strengthening community-police relations, enhancing public safety, and police and community competence through professional and personal development, Bethune-Cookman University (B-CU) Center for Law & Social Justice led nine (9) individual training workshops with Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office (JSO), community residents, and local stakeholders.

B-CU faculty and associates conducted community engagement training for more than 240 members and representatives of the JSO, including the leadership team, which included Sheriff Mike Williams. The training included elements of procedural justice with emphasis on individual and collective bias, stereotyping, and cultural awareness.  

More than 50 Jacksonville community residents, stakeholders, and youth received training on the roles, responsibilities, and perspectives of law enforcement professionals.  The community residents and stakeholders actively participated in highly-volatile simulated scenarios involving law enforcement encounters (traffic stop, crime in process, etc.) within the community.

In a separate session, local youth were provided a forum to discuss their views and perspectives of law enforcement, as well as, strategies to increase positive interactions between the two groups. The final training workshop included a select group of JSO representatives and community residents/stakeholders that worked collaboratively to develop an action plan aimed at improving the relationship between JSO and the communities they serve, with a specific focus on the Black community.  Many of the strategies and ideas documented during the previous eight (8) training workshops were utilized in the development of the action plan.

The focus of the initial training was on JSO service zones four and five, which represent the highest call volume areas within the city of Jacksonville.  The majority of the law enforcement professionals and community residents, including youth and stakeholders who received training, served or lived in these areas. Providing similar training to JSO law enforcement professionals, community residents, stakeholders, and youth in other service zones is currently being considered.  

According to participant training evaluation responses (200+), approximately 90 percent of the participants rated the training as excellent with respect to usefulness, relevance and overall rating of the trainers.  Although some uncomfortable topics were discussed and there was not always uniform agreement, it is within these uncomfortable spaces and conversations that individual and professional growth occurs.  That was clearly reflected in the law enforcement professionals, community residents and local stakeholders’ training evaluation responses.

B-CU faculty and students are currently in the process of organizing and formatting the information collected for the action plan.  Once this process has been completed, a final action plan will be provided to JSO and the participating community residents and stakeholders.  

The action plan will serve as a roadmap, as well as a tool to ensure all parties are accountable for their role in improving law enforcement and community relations and the safety of the community.  

As a result of the innovative nature of the JSO and B-CU Center of Law and Social Justice partnership, the Florida Office of the Attorney General selected the project as highlighted workshop for the upcoming 33rd National Conference on Preventing Crime in the Black Community to be held in Jacksonville, Florida, on May 31, 2018.

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