The recent community responses to the deaths of unarmed young people in cities like Ferguson and Baltimore reveal something that we have known for far too long here in California: the trust between communities of color and law enforcement is broken.
We realized this early on through our Building Healthy Communities initiative when our partners shared that there was often tension and poor communication between police and students, residents and community advocates. That’s why we have been working closely with community residents, stakeholders, and law enforcement to figure out how we can get smarter on safety.
But our work represents just a small slice of our state.
When President Barack Obama established the White House Task Force on 21st Century Policing, in December 2014, we welcomed his leadership for finding best practices on how law enforcement can effectively partner with local communities to reduce crime and increase trust because, we too, are looking for solutions.
With the release of the Task Force’s final report and recommendations to the administration on May 18th, we’d like to share some of the steps we have taken to improve safety and relationships in some of California’s most challenged communities. Although many of these actions align with the recommendations suggested by the Task Force, we are definitely learning as we go.
Led by our grantees, we embraced a new approach for our community safety work: restorative justice. At the heart of our restorative justice approach is the idea that community stakeholders—especially residents—work together to build and maintain safety and peace. With this approach, community wisdom is part of the problem-solving process and can help inform community-oriented policing strategies.
We also created space for dialogue and understanding in the training room. Recently, we convened law enforcement officials with youth to talk about the experiences, perceptions and challenges young people face with police in their local communities. We also shared concrete skills with the officers, to help improve interactions, and brought community-based organizations in, making it clear to officers that they are not tackling the many community challenges alone. It was clear that more spaces like these are needed so that police and community residents could have a mutual understanding and begin to build trust.
Finally, we turned to data and research to identify best practices. As a health foundation, we recognize that our investments need to be made responsibly—we simply can’t continue funding approaches that don’t yield the results our community residents deserve. While we don’t have all the answers, we are continually turning to research to guide our investments and approach to increasing safety.
It’s rewarding to see that much of what we have learned from the work of our grantees is echoed in the final report released by the Task Force.
The six pillars laid out by the Task Force—building trust and legitimacy, policy and oversight, technology and social media, community policing and crime reduction, officer training and education, and officer safety and wellness—provide the right foundation on which to rebuild our nation’s public safety system. We look forward to what comes next in our collective journey toward safer and healthier communities, across the nation.