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MS in Criminal Justice Course Insight: Why Police-Community Relationships Are Important

Criminal justice master’s students learn five recommendations for building collaborative relationships between police and communities.

To do their jobs well, law enforcement officers must have good relationships with their communities. However, these relationships have been damaged deeply over time in many U.S. cities, creating complex challenges for community members and the police officers who have vowed to protect and serve them.

Criminal justice master’s students at Walden University study this topic in their online class, CRJS 6511: Special Populations. Course materials include the required reading, “Why Police-Community Relationships Are Important,” an article from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Relations Services agency.

MS in Criminal Justice Course Insight: Why Police-Community Relationships Are Important

The article explores the complexities of this relationship in the wake of recent incidents involving police use of force and other issues:1

“Strong relationships of mutual trust between police agencies and the communities they serve are critical to maintaining public safety and effective policing. Police officials rely on the cooperation of community members to provide information about crime in their neighborhoods, and to work with the police to devise solutions to crime and disorder problems.

Similarly, community members’ willingness to trust the police depends on whether they believe that police actions reflect community values and incorporate the principles of procedural justice and legitimacy. In the wake of recent incidents involving police use of force and other issues, the legitimacy of the police has been questioned in many communities …

… It is imperative that police agencies make improving relationships with their local communities a top priority.”

The article outlines five recommendations from police and community leaders on ways to improve this relationship. Read these excerpts along with criminal justice students to learn how law enforcement professionals can build trust and collaborative police-community partnerships:1

  1. Acknowledge and discuss with your communities the challenges you are facing.

    “Controversial uses of force and other incidents can damage relationships between police and their communities. In some cases, a perceived egregious act of misconduct by a single officer in one city not only damages police-community relationships locally; it can gain nationwide attention and reduce trust of the police generally.

    Police should acknowledge the history of racial minorities and others who have faced injustice at the hands of the police. And police should never discount the negative experiences of individuals with the police. African Americans in particular have a history of being marginalized and mistreated by the police, leading to a lack of trust and resentment. This history is reflected in many people’s feelings about the police.”

  2. Be transparent and accountable.

    “Transparency is essential to positive police-community relationships. When a critical incident occurs, agencies should try to release as much information about it as possible, as soon as possible, so the community will not feel that information is being purposefully withheld from them.

    At the same time, it is also important to stress that the first information to emerge following a critical incident is preliminary and may change as more information becomes available. Police leaders should let the news media and the public know that early information may not be correct and should correct any misinformation quickly.

    On a day-to-day level, police departments should post information on their websites detailing policies on use of force, community member complaints, and other issues. This information should be easily accessible to the community.”

  3. Take steps to reduce bias and improve cultural competency.

    “Many civil rights leaders and police executives also recommend that officers at all levels receive training on diversity, implicit bias, and cultural competency. Many cities and towns have communities with a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds and cultures, and it is important for officers to be able to communicate effectively with, and understand the cultural norms of, these different groups.

    This need was also underscored by the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which recommended that police agencies provide recruit training and in-service training on implicit bias and cultural responsiveness. Research shows that individuals who are made aware of their implicit biases are motivated to implement unbiased behaviors.”

  4. Maintain focus on the importance of collaboration and be visible in the community.

    “Finding opportunities to interact with community members in a non-enforcement context helps to reduce bias on the part of community members and police officers. Getting to know community residents helps both groups to break down personal barriers and overcome stereotypes and allows officers to learn which residents of a neighborhood are law-abiding and which ones are not.”

    Some ways to build this collaboration include “adult and youth police academies, sports teams or police athletic leagues, ride-alongs with officers, police involvement in local school activities, and police participation in (or police-led) community events.”

  5. Promote internal diversity and ensure professional growth opportunities.

    “Police agencies need to present policing as a profession. Departments should work to recruit people who want to become officers based on a realistic understanding that the large majority of police officers’ time is spent addressing community requests and that actual law enforcement is a much smaller percentage of the time.

    Police agencies also should step up efforts in recruiting and promotional processes to increase overall diversity in their departments by race and many other demographics. Agencies should provide regular opportunities for career growth and professional development training.”

An Online MS Degree Can Prepare You to Transform Criminal Justice in Your Community

Do you want to build better relationships between police and communities? Earning a degree that prepares you for senior-level law enforcement jobs and other leadership roles in criminal justice could prepare you to make a difference.

Walden University’s MS in Criminal Justice online degree program is a smart next step if you want to advance in any career involving criminal justice. Walden, an accredited university, also offers an online MS in Criminal Justice Leadership and Executive Management for criminal justice professionals who want to advance into higher-level executive positions or transition into education or consultant careers.

With a flexible online learning format, Walden’s criminal justice degree programs make it possible to fit in classes around your schedule. This is a great option if you’re a busy professional who wants to pursue a master’s in criminal justice while still working in your current job.

Whether you want to become a senior-level manager, move up in professional rank, or make a career change, a criminal justice master’s degree can prepare you with the skills to lead positive social change in your community.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering MS in Criminal Justice and MS in Criminal Justice Leadership and Executive Management degree programs online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,