Since 2009, the Columbia Police Department has developed and expanded its Community Outreach Unit, and this unit has seen remarkable success.
The reports that have haunted Columbia with the specter of rising crime must be set against the empirical data that has been generated around the success of community policing.
A graph in the 2018 Citizen Handbook illustrates tangible success in the areas where community policing was implemented, recording a 47 percent drop in robbery, a 50 percent reduction in aggravated assault, 46 percent drop in burglary and on down the line.
These results came not from equipment or force but through increased trust and authentic relationships. In the handbook, a CPD Community Outreach Unit officer is quoted as saying, “I get to be the guy who is there to help, instead of seen as a uniform who is just going to get them in trouble.”
Reliance on aggressive and hierarchal law enforcement can foster toxicity and mistrust in our social relationships. On the other hand, building trust through long-term, attentive partnership with communities benefits everyone. Community policing starts with the simple premise that law enforcement belongs to the community as a whole and that all citizens are the subjects of law enforcement, not its object.
With this approach, communities can draw on their own knowledge and strengths to help officers anticipate problems before they arise. Such cooperation reinforces communal bonds. Moreover, it works.
We the undersigned write from a faith perspective. This perspective, like many of the faiths that help bind Columbia together, calls us to reach across the divide and love our neighbor.
Our parish anti-racism group embraces our church’s mission to “build community in the Spirit of Jesus.” Our Episcopal Book of Common Prayer calls on us to “seek and serve Christ in all persons,” to “strive for justice among all people” and to “respect the dignity of every human being.”
Columbia is an increasingly diverse community. We need and deserve a mode of policing that builds on the strengths of that diversity and does not foster division.
Community policing moves us ever so gingerly in that direction. It increases the likelihood that all citizens will be treated with dignity and justice in their interactions with law enforcement. And in a small but definable way, it moves us in the direction of Dr. King’s “beloved community.”
The Dismantling Racism Group, Calvary Episcopal Church
Rev. H. Knute Jacobson, Rector
Rev. Janet Schisser, Deacon
Mary Ann Ghosal