The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
August 1, 2016

Using evidence-based solutions to improve police-community relations and reduce violence

August 1, 2016

This post is part of a series from Urban scholars reflecting on recent events involving police use of force and shootings of police. The posts represent the individual thoughts and perspectives of their authors.

The violence between police and communities of color that sparked this blog series has been traumatic for many. As the communities affected by these events grieve, researchers, community activists, and policymakers are working to identify ways to move forward. One group that may find itself particularly in need of strategies for both coping and for change are the community leaders and public officials involved in the My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) initiative.

One MBK goal is to keep boys and young men of color safe from violent crime, both as victims and as perpetrators. Given recent events, this is a formidable challenge for those engaged with local MBK programs. 

The good news is that there is a growing body of federal resources that program operators and public officials can turn to for ideas about how to change the dynamic in police-community relations and provide support to those who have been the victims or observers of citizen- or police-initiated violence. 

These include websites that lay out strategies for modernizing policing and improving community-police relations. Others promote data-driven decisionmaking and profile promising or proven programs for more effective policing. Complementing the policing initiatives are programs that help children and youth deal with trauma, reduce violent behavior, and get youth involved in making change in their community

The federal government is not the only one supporting these efforts. This past week, basketball star and Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan promised $1 million each to two organizations that are promoting change: the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s Institute of Community Relations, which was formed in response to the federal government’s report on 21st-century policing and helps law-enforcement agencies enhance community trust through culture, policies, and practices; and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s program on policing reform, which promotes unbiased and responsible policing policies and practices at the national, state, and local levels.

Many of these resources and programs were informed by research that identified and documented programs that might be effective. The trick in applying these strategies revolves around the need for “balance,” which Akiva Liberman raised in an earlier post.

Those who think only law enforcement must change its behavior are likely to overlook the need for communities to reduce violent behavior among citizens and provide comfort to the victims. Those who see it as all about citizen-initiated violence and crime are likely to be inattentive to the need for the police to alter their behavior and build trust within the community.   

Of course, these research-backed resources aren’t the complete solution; they are only tools to help MBK partners and others identify and implement strategies to achieve dual goals. As researchers, we can only provide evidence—we cannot make the change ourselves. In times like this, that can be frustrating, but it is encouraging that through MBK and other initiatives, change could happen soon. 

Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck chats with event goers outside of Green Memorial AME Zion Church. Portland's community members came together in peace in response to the police shootings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling and the shooting of the police and transit officers in Dallas. Photo by Brianna Soukup/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

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As an organization, the Urban Institute does not take positions on issues. Experts are independent and empowered to share their evidence-based views and recommendations shaped by research.