Police, the Community, and the Local Government Manager

ARTICLE | Oct 15, 2015

A panel of experts focused on enhancing community engagement, transparency, and trust during ICMA Se

Funeral services for Staten Island resident Eric Garner, who died after a scuffle with NYPD officers, were held in Brooklyn, New York, on July 23, 2014.

“Trust between law enforcement agencies and the people they protect and serve is essential, and is the key to the stability of our communities, the integrity of the criminal justice system, and the safe and effective delivery of policing services. Over the past two years, many cities, communities, and law enforcement agencies across the country have faced unprecedented challenges to this trust as a result of officer-involved citizen fatalities, as well as the killing of police officers by civilian suspects.“

So began moderator Tom Bonfield, city manager, Durham, North Carolina, at the start of a telephonic press call hosted by ICMA on September 29, 2015, in conjunction with the organization’s 101st annual conference in Seattle/King County, Washington.

Much attention has focused recently on the underlying factors that have shaped police-community relations, including the need to build law enforcement-resident engagement and trust; institute sustained transparency; and ensure consistency, fairness, and procedural justice. Yet, comparatively less attention has been paid to the role local governments can play in mitigating potential crises and fostering a climate that encourages resident engagement and community oversight of law enforcement. 

During this hour-long call titled “Police, the Community, and the Local Government Manager,” a distinguished panel of local government experts offered their perspectives on the President’s Task Force Report on 21st Century Policing and its potential impact on local governments, as well as ways to enhance community engagement, transparency, and trust while implementing policing technologies, strategies, and tactics.

Download the audio recording of the call or read the call transcript

Panel participants were:

  • Norton Bonaparte, city manager, Sanford, Florida.
  • Thomas Bonfield, city manager, Durham, North Carolina (moderator).
  • J. Thomas Manger, chief of police, Montgomery County, Maryland; and president, Major Cities Police Chiefs Association.
  • Susan Manheimer, chief law enforcement officer, San Mateo, California; past president, California Police Chiefs Association.
  • Antoinette (Toni) Samuel, deputy executive director, National League of Cities.

Discussion Highlights

  • “…Ferguson can happen anywhere,” according to Chief Manger. “Every jurisdiction is only one bad incident away from having to answer questions about their hiring practices, about their training, about the diversity of their police department, their policies, their equipment, and their tactics.”
  • Although not a one-size-fits-all, how-to solution to the challenges of community building and policing, every police chief and sheriff in the country should read the President’s Report, which is organized around “pillars” or areas of consideration.
  • There are 18,000 police departments in the United States, ranging in size from New York City, with 40,000 police officers, to the vast major of departments, which are made up of less than 50 officers. Despite the disparity in size, each of these departments could be vulnerable to an incident that forces police to be put on the defensive about their hiring practices, training, department diversity, policies, equipment, and tactics.
  • Through existing opportunities, such as the Harvard Kennedy School executive sessions and the Department of Justice Bureau of Assistance, police and managers are discussing the struggles and challenges of 21st century policing leadership, as well as ways to build trust among residents.
  • To provide the tools, resources, and technical assistance required to conduct a meaningful community dialogue, the National League of Cities has established a cluster of initiatives under the umbrella of REAL—Race, Equity, and Leadership—which  “coalesce” the expertise and experience of local elected officials in one place.
  • For any police department to be truly effective, it has to have legitimacy and the trust of the people that it is serving. The manager’s role is to be visible and to make sure that every segment of the community knows, particularly neighborhoods of color, that city government cares.
  • Following the rallies and protests the city experienced as a result of the death of Trayvon Martin, Sanford, Florida’s chief of police conducts weekly “walk-and-talks,” through which he and a group of officers go door-to-door each Thursday, knocking on doors and introducing themselves so that residents know who they are and what they are doing.
  • Most police chiefs understand that the majority of resources should be deployed where there is the most crime and a department receives the most calls for service. Those calls for service often occur in neighborhoods where there’s more poverty, unemployment, and a lower percentage of high school graduation rates, among other factors. It is important to understand that while certain strategies and tactics (such as “stop-and-frisk”) may help prevent crime, they may also target neighborhoods that have been challenged for generations.
  • Building communities of trust begins by strengthening community conversations and partnerships and articulating the reasons and tactics behind use-of-force incidences; types of equipment used; and technology, training, and responses used to address situations. Police and managers should not leave it to the media to tell the story and to highlight what they are doing and how. The partnership must engage and increase awareness among residents and ultimately builds support for police tactics and strategies. 
  • It is important for the public and the media to understand that new technologies, such as body-worn cameras, have their limitations, and are not the panacea that some might think. A police officer’s attention, for example, might be diverted, and the officer may not see something that the camera sees. Conversely, the officer might see something but not be pointed in the direction of the camera, so that the camera might miss it.
  • Police in every state and every community that is considering body-worn cameras are also considering the privacy implications of these new technologies. While some residents believe that every police video should be available to the public, there must be ways to protect the privacy of victims of sexual assaults and other crimes. Questions such as who sees what are still being debated and must be resolved.
  • Building trust and policing legitimacy are not the sole province of the police. Often, there are systemic issues at work that local elected and appointed leaders, as well as police chiefs, must address to build partnerships and bring the community together.

Additional Resources

Route 50 Today

Policymakers and law enforcement leaders face a broad and complex set of decisions that must be made before deployment of body-worn cameras and other new policing technologies, according to Route 50. These include

  • The collection and analysis of policing data,
  • Storage (including cloud storage), disclosure, and retention or destruction of policing data, and
  • Secondary use and repurposing of data.


The digital magazine is running a three-part series that examines issues such as video-only vs. video and audio and always-on vs. individual control of data.

PM (Public Management) Magazine
Watch for the November 2015 issue of Public Management (PM) magazine featuring the cover story, “Cops and Body-Worn Cameras.” The article discusses lessons learned from the deployment of body-worn cameras by the city of Phoenix, Arizona. The November issue will be available online beginning October 27.  

You may also be interested in