Communication Difficulties of Community Members
Law enforcement agencies need to be aware of the impediments to effective communication that the communities that they serve must overcome. Among recent immigrant communities, residents may not report a crime or cooperate with a criminal investigation because they have lingering memories of dealing with corrupt or abusive law enforcement agencies in their native countries. Some community members may also avoid communicating with the police out of fear of revealing their own or another’s undocumented immigration status. Many others, because of their limited English proficiency (LEP), may have to overcome a language barrier when interacting with the police; and most LEP persons are unaware of their right to access interpretation and translation assistance in obtaining police services.
In other communities, a longstanding distrust of a law enforcement agency may be the result of a history of racial discrimination or in response to sensational cases reported widely in the media concerning either real or alleged police misconduct.
Many community residents may not understand the perspective of law enforcement officers engaged in community policing. Community expectations, which may fail to account for officer safety, good police practices, the law, and available staffing and financial resources, may undermine the ability of community representatives to communicate their needs effectively to police agencies.
Mindful of the factors that prevent neighborhood residents from communicating with the police, a law enforcement agency should include in its community policing strategy a component that empowers community leaders. A police agency can commit to training its staff to become better communicators, but this is only one part of the effort to improve the communication process. A police agency can also enhance police-community communication by offering training opportunities to community representatives, so that they can also become more effective communicators. The training process for community leaders also advances the work of community policing by allowing law enforcement agencies to identify key community representatives (or to strengthen ties with already known leaders) to form collaborative teams that address community concerns.