It’s common knowledge that you can't simply arrest your way out of a crime problem. Sure, getting the bad folks off the street is a great step toward deterrence (at least while they remain in jail), but that’s not a complete solution. Crime—or rather, the causes of crime—are highly complex, and there isn’t a law enforcement agency around that can fix that solely within the scope of their abilities.
And that’s where collaboration comes in. You may have noticed that a lot of federal grant programs these days include a collaboration component (see COPS below). It may seem like a burden in some ways, but once you see the positive aspects of partnering with an outside agency to make an impact on crime, you'll jump at the chance to collaborate.
When it comes to grants, you're generally expected to coordinate your efforts to deal with crime in cooperation with a variety of social service agencies, local civic and community leaders, or other city departments. The idea is to improve your response to crime by addressing the underlying issues affecting the community that may have exacerbated the crime problem in the first place. Without that focus, whatever actions law enforcement takes (no matter how well-intentioned) won’t have much of an impact on crime reduction.
It has been said that the largest mental health facility in any city is the local jail. Too often, the criminal justice system—police, the courts, and corrections—has to deal with the fallout of a broken mental health process, one that could be helped with better collaboration among every agency that is impacted by this issue. Certainly, getting a person with mental health challenges in the hands of a professional service provider is preferable to putting him in the back of a police car for a trip to jail. Because, without professional help, once the offender is back on the street, the cycle begins again. Developing a comprehensive program with directed response and real solutions means a much more positive outcome for everyone involved. A key component of this collaboration should be police training. Most law enforcement agencies are mandated to be trained in how to handle mentally ill people, so building that training into a comprehensive initiative is an all-around win.
Domestic violence is another area where collaboration can have a positive impact. Many cities have taken advantage of federally funded grant opportunities that include collaboration among law enforcement, domestic violence advocates, the courts, and social services to better address the needs of victims and their children. This is another opportunity to include a valuable training component.
Do you have problems with crime among youth? Work with local agencies that provide after-school programs, out-of-school suspension programs, or other opportunities that engage young people in positive ways. Look to local churches, youth centers, scouting programs, or schools as potential partner agencies. For a lot of troubled teens and even younger children, especially those living in crime-prone neighborhoods, positive interactions with the police are rare occurrences. Change that by becoming an integral part of these influential programs that impact a young person’s life.
Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS)
One good example of a grant opportunity that requires a great deal of collaboration is the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Community Policing Development grant. It’s an opportunity that comes around about once a year with the goal of advancing the practice of community policing. The first of its three key components is partnerships between law enforcement and individuals and organizations to develop solutions to problems and—another very important reason for building these collaborations—increasing trust in the police. The other two components are organizational transformation that supports these community partnerships and problem solving. Basically, it’s putting your community policing efforts where they really belong: in the community.
Other Collaborative Opportunities
In addition to the examples above, there are other reasons to work with outside agencies when developing your initiatives that can actually expand your opportunities for funding. For example, most nonprofits and similar community-based organizations have a wider variety of funding options available to them that are not open to law enforcement or other public agencies. So becoming a vital part of their grant-funded programs is an important step in fully addressing crime. Another good reason is that you will finally have a good answer to the “sustainability” question in the grant application: Developing partnerships gives you a better chance of actually affecting the problem, which means your sustainability will be realized through real change.
Recent events have brought attention to the importance of law enforcement engaging with the communities they serve. If you haven’t achieved this level of collaboration, there isn’t a better time to start than now.