Demonstrators closed a Los Angeles freeway in protest over yet another high-profile death of an African American man, George Floyd, in police custody, this time in Minneapolis. In that city, protests exploded into violence the last two days. Police chiefs from across the country criticized the Minneapolis police action saying it pushes back progress made in creating trust with the police. Indeed, overshadowed by the news is the important small but significant step recently affirmed that community policing in Los Angeles has shown positive signs of developing trust between the police and the minority communities they serve. 

The report from UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs analyzed the LAPD’s Community Safety Partnership.

The program, designed to move away from traditional policing to more interactions and conversations between police and the community so that residents feel safer in public housing projects, showed reductions in murder and other violent crimes.

The idea was to cultivate contact between police and residents so that the community members would be more inclined to talk to the police to help solve crimes. While the trust building took time to develop—in this example, years–the study’s test model, focused on crime-ridden Los Angeles housing developments, found seven fewer homicides, 93 fewer aggravated assaults and 122 fewer robberies. 

While placing hard numbers of perceived crime reduction comes with some speculation in the best of circumstances, the multiple interviews and focus groups done with residents and police showed that bridge building between those communities was succeeding—although it’s fair to say the bridge is far from completed. 

The Community Safety Partnership was conceived in 2010 by civil rights attorneys Connie Rice and Susan Lee with the cooperation of then Los Angeles police chief Charlie Beck. Rice, who worked tirelessly in searching for a solution to gang situations in Los Angeles, often repeated that the first civil right was public safety and she knew the police had to take up the responsibility of providing that safety but needed the trust, respect and cooperation of the residents to do so—all of which were lacking. 

The UCLA report identified the gap that had to be overcome with community members to the LAPD, which the report said, “was rooted in both the ghost and glory of its 150-year history.” Pointing to lavish praise of the LAPD’s reputation cemented in scores of movies and television series, the report also stated, “LAPD’s achievements also stand in contrast to a deeply troubled and often violent history with communities of color, particularly the African American community.” 

Ever since commission reports following the Los Angeles racially sparked riots of 1965 and 1992, there have been calls for a model and a need “to heal old wounds and build new relationships between the police and the community,” according to the UCLA report.

The Community Safety Partnership appears to be a positive start. 

The trust quotient will be tested again as demonstrated by the Los Angeles protests and more negative news about police and minority community interactions in Minnesota and elsewhere. However, it is clear that to achieve some sense of safety the police must be considered partners in the process. For residents to accept them as partners, the police have to earn respect from the residents. 

That’s what the Community Safety Partnership is all about and if it can meet success in many troubled areas it can be expanded. It’s important to stick with the model even when troubling, high profile setbacks such as those we are now witnessing, occur.