The best cops show up when there is no trouble

“Sometimes communities see us as the enemy,” said Officer Miguel Lugo of the Atlanta Police Department. “But when they get to know the police officers, it changes, and they start seeing us like members of the community — part of their daily lives.”

Lugo’s insight is shared by a lot of good cops and also by neighborhood advocates across the U.S. After recent shootings by police in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and subsequent fatal attacks on police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, police and citizens are taking positive steps to know each other better.

In Wichita, Kansas, the police department organized a cookout with the local Black Lives Matter chapter. Officers and neighbors ate, talked and danced. One mother called it “a bonding moment,” where police and neighborhood youth interacted as regular people.

Another time, responding to a situation involving groups of fighting teenagers, a Washington officer diffused the situation by initiating an impromptu dance-off.

Of course, policing isn’t all dancing. The Atlanta department now has 50 officers working to know their communities and making sure residents know them. They sponsor sporting events and offer free classes on crime prevention. The city’s on-call officers can communicate in 12 languages.

Police officers reading to children sitting on classroom floor (Courtesy of Miguel Lugo)
Atlanta police officers participate in Dr. Seuss Day, reading to children in an Atlanta school. (Courtesy photo)

The effort benefits residents. And it means better working conditions for the cops. “In order for the police to do their job, we have to have the trust of the community,” Lugo said. Communities expect the police to show up when there’s trouble. But to build trust between a community and its police force, that can’t be the only time they show up.

People standing outside with balloons and clapping (© AP Images)
A ribbon-cutting ceremony for an Atlanta initiative to help police officers buy renovated homes and build ties in city neighborhoods. (© AP Images)

After meeting with youth protest leaders in 2014, Obama created the Task Force on 21st Century Policing to “strengthen public trust and foster strong relationships between local law enforcement and the communities that they protect, while also promoting effective crime reduction.” The task force has called for “community policing” initiatives like the ones in Wichita and Atlanta.

At a memorial service for the Dallas police officers, the president said, “We can learn to stand in each other’s shoes and look at the world through each other’s eyes so that maybe the police officer sees his own son in that teenager with a hoodie, who’s kind of goofing off, but not dangerous, and maybe the teenager will see in the police officer the same words and values and authority of his parents.”