In 2015, the Decatur Police Department began an effort to reform the way they do policing, dovetailing this work with the Better Together Initiative and work to improve racial equity. The process, which involved extensive community outreach and guidance, has led to community policing being embedded in the Decatur Police department’s culture.
Back in 2006, Mike Booker became Decatur’s Police Chief and implemented a new vision centered around the motto, “Enforcing a Higher Standard” which set departmental expectations of what would and would not be acceptable. However, in 2015 Chief Booker realized that while his vision was a good one, he had decided what the community needed and wanted from its police department rather than asking the community what they wanted. As a result, the community had no buy-in or inherent understanding of the police department culture. Claims of racial profiling had been voiced at City Commission meetings, and neighbors calling to report “suspicious persons” walking down the street simply because they looked different, became more frequent.
As a result of these complaints and community concerns, Chief Booker instead began asking, “Are we meeting the community’s needs? Are we focusing on issues we thought were critical to the community, while the community is focusing on completely different issues?” To answer those questions, they hired a consultant to help with the process of reaching out to a cross section of various stakeholders and held 24 individual focus groups with the intention of gathering information as to the desired vision and direction of the Decatur Police Department.
“We began realizing that we were building trust with the community simply by involving them in the planning process.”- Chief Booker
The resulting 3-year Departmental Strategic Plan outlines an ambitious and challenging strategy to serve the community in the way that best addresses their concerns and needs. The biggest change is reflected in the way police officers now describe their role as “Community Relations Officers Who Enforce the Law.”
“Going out to businesses and residences, making relationships, asking for feedback has made us stronger as a department.” – Chief Booker
Mission: To be open and responsive to the needs of the entire community and solve problems through community relationships, innovative technology, and exceptional service.
Vision: Police and community uniting to make a safe and thriving city.
The core strategies identified in the plan include:
- Enhance the openness and responsiveness of the department to the needs of the community;
- Respond to the needs of our employees;
- Solve problems through innovative technologies; and
- Provide exceptional service.
Implementation of the department’s strategic plan includes the use of social media platforms, including Nextdoor.com and Facebook, as a means of staying in touch with the community. Training is another focus area, with new programs to train police officers in working with people of color, the mentally ill, families in crisis and the general public in a manner that shows understanding and respect. Training programs for the community are also included, with a Citizens Police Academy, self-defense classes, kids’ programs and other activities aimed at improving mutual respect and understanding between residents and the department.
“The efforts of the Decatur Police Department to build the community into the strategic plan and to refocus staff efforts into providing services that the community has identified as important are exceptional. Refining the approach and building a corporate culture where the community is at the core of what you do has always been a goal of the City of Decatur Police Department. The current strategic plan adds structure to the goal and provides accountability for everyone from the Chief to the newest recruit. I am proud of our leadership and staff for their dedication to implementing the strategic plan.” - Peggy Merriss, Decatur City Manager
Visit the City of Decatur’s website to learn more about their community policing approach.
If you are a member, browse the National Civic League’s Promising Practices Database to find additional community-police relations projects.
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