New Guide Aids Police in Building Trust With Diverse Communities Post-9/11

NEW YORK – The Vera Institute of Justice announced today the release of a new field guide aimed at helping local law enforcement agencies negotiate the cultural, religious, ethnic, racial, and language barriers that exist between them and Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian (AMEMSA) communities.

Funded by the Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, Uniting Communities Post-9/11 contains recommendations for local police on building trust and mutually beneficial relationships with AMEMSA community members and organizations. These relationships can aid in crime prevention and victim services.

Since 9/11, an extensive array of national and state laws and policies have been enacted to support homeland security, but while these government actions have helped protect our country from violence, many observers have recounted that they have sometimes done so at the expense of the civil liberties and public safety of certain communities. AMEMSA community members, in particular, have had their trustworthiness questioned by some and have been subjected to suspicion, bigotry, and bias crimes. These crimes often go unreported and unaddressed by law enforcement and the public at large.

“Police and community relations should not have an ‘us vs. them’ tone, but rather one that recognizes the shared desire for safe communities and mutual respect,” said Susan Shah, the guide’s co-author and program director in Vera’s Center on Immigration and Justice. “The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which was created to strengthen trust between law enforcement and the people they serve, recently recommended that local agencies prohibit profiling and provide training to officers that covers interaction policies with AMEMSA communities. We believe that this guide can be a valuable component of such training.”  

The guide identifies three major barriers to effective community policing partnerships with AMEMSA communities—the lack of a point or contact person within the various communities, the underreporting of crime, and local law enforcement agencies that need to realign their operations to better support community partnerships and proactive problem solving—the potential consequences of these barriers, and tactics police can use to turn organizational weaknesses into strengths.

It also offers a series of recommendations—from setting up community advisory councils to meeting regularly with faith leaders and educating AMEMSA communities about local laws and the roles of police—designed to enhance police relations with AMEMSA communities.

The guide’s content is distilled from Vera’s work with the local law enforcement agencies and AMEMSA community organizations in Piscataway, New Jersey; Anaheim, California; and Cleveland, Ohio. Vera selected these jurisdictions because they practice community policing—a law enforcement philosophy based on building relationships at the local level to foster an environment of trust between officers and residents—have sizable AMEMSA communities, and have experienced tension with these communities. This guide focuses on the causes, consequences, and potential solutions to key challenges to effective police relations with AMEMSA communities.

Though the guide is based on a range of information gathering, convenings, and training activities in three very different jurisdictions, the recommendations provided can be adapted to serve the needs of any local law enforcement agency committed to proactively and systematically improving its engagement with AMEMSA communities.