Promoting Community Involvement in Law Enforcement: Community Advisory Boards

Promoting Community Involvement in Law Enforcement: Community Advisory Boards

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Strengthening community-police relations requires understanding community dynamics and building individual connections between community members and their law enforcement agency. When police and community members engage with each other, departments receive valuable feedback and assistance, while community members gain insight into how departments function.

One way to engage the community is to form a community advisory board—a volunteer group which meets regularly to provide advice and perspectives to executive staff. A board’s membership should be carefully chosen to represent different voices and needs from the community.

Law enforcement agencies can ask community advisory boards for recommendations and advice on issues related to the community and policing. Advisory boards can assist law enforcement agencies with conducting research, reviewing new policies, providing skilled volunteer services, or supporting community outreach efforts. Many law enforcement agencies, including the Albany (NY) Police Department and the Hennepin County (MN) Sheriff’s Office, have had positive experiences with community advisory boards.

“The key to success is having a partner that provides services to folks in the community we don’t otherwise have contact with, then building from there in order to educate them about how to work with law enforcement…. We are trying to build understanding and partnership across the community to help us stay ahead of the curve with prevention and awareness.”

-Chief Julianne Ortman, Hennepin County (Minnesota) Sheriff’s Office

A successful advisory board demonstrates to the community that its police department is making an effort to listen to them, and that officers care about finding the best way to serve them. By asking for community input via advisory boards, departments demonstrate transparency and commitment to their communities.

To form a lasting and effective community advisory board, law enforcement executives should plan carefully and consider the following suggestions:

  • Plan how to communicate the role of the advisory board with officers, command staff, or elected officials.
  • Advertise the formation of the advisory board widely and appropriately for each population of your city, and notify the community when the department starts accepting applications.
  • Create an inclusive space designed to accommodate the community’s diverse needs, such as accessibility for persons with disabilities, interpretation services, even childcare or meals for children so that parents with various economic backgrounds can participate.
  • Host meetings in different locations so members start to understand the diversity of needs in your city.
  • Select applicants that represent different sectors of the community; together, the board should represent the interests, skills, and experiences of the whole community.
  • Try to acquire between 10 and 20 board members—enough to represent your community, but not enough to stymie discussions.
  • Consider involving a third-party facilitator to help develop the board’s processes, including establishing a clear mission and ground rules and setting up guidelines for members’ interactions with the media.
  • Address potential conflicts among stakeholders early on, and make sure that all participants are willing to work together to identify solutions.
  • Consider employing academics to evaluate recommendations, conduct research for the board, or provide subject matter expertise.
  • Be aware of the time commitment a board requires of its representatives, and make sure all members are able to attend meetings regularly—scheduling meetings outside of regular business hours can help accommodate representatives with full-time or irregular work schedules.
  • Consult your members’ preferences and your department’s needs in deciding whether to establish board term limits and how long those limits should be.
  • Ensure that the advisory board continues to play a meaningful role in the decision-making process.
  • Keep the community informed about developments and achievements made by the board, and look for opportunities for the board to interact with the larger community.
  • Record decisions and deliberations.
  • Be patient. It can take time for the board to come together and achieve meaningful results.

When board members represent a range of experiences, professions, interests, and concerns, their dialogue offers police executives valuable perspectives on the community’s needs. This context can help departments understand how their policies and procedures affect different communities. The more representative an advisory board is, the better it can assist in strengthening community-police relations, improving police legitimacy, and innovating public safety solutions.

Would you like to learn more about increasing community involvement?


This blog post is part of a series highlighting community understanding and respect of law enforcement. This project is funded through the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.


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