This story from the Killeen Daily Herald highlights one of our central Texas police agency's efforts at engaging the community by inviting them to voice their concerns directly to the department at an open forum.
KPD Commander and Chief of Staff Margaret Young said the department reacts to input given by citizens. After a brief presentation by Baldwin, the forum will be opened up to the public's concerns.
"It's kind of led by (attendees) depending on what people ask about. Sometimes it's traffic, sometimes it's burglaries. One time the whole thing was about loud music," Young said.
Often times, the public's perception of what are the problems in their community and law enforcement's perceptions are different. For example, in the sleepy little burg where I work we get many more complaints about traffic problems such as speeders than we do about "real" crimes such as car burglaries or armed robberies.
Much of this difference in perception has to do with the information available. For the citizen, all they see is cars whizzing up and down their street while their children play in the front yard. Even though there are much more serious crimes to attend to, they don't see them for the most part. Because of this, they often fear problems that we don't see as a "big deal".
However, just because we know that there are more serious and often more dangerous crimes to deal with does not mean that it isn't important to address these concerns. Very often, the response a citizen gets to a minor problem will color their whole opinion of a police agency.
Failure to adequately address citizen's problems initially will often times cause you to spend more resources to address the backlash that comes from a flawed initial response to the problem. You could clear every homicide in your city for a year, but if you don't address a citizen's minor traffic problem guess who's likely to show up at the city council meeting to complain?
Does your agency have a mechanism for the community to express their concerns? If not, what would it take to open up a dialog with the residents of the community where you serve?
For more on the public's fear of crime, see this publication over at the Problem Oriented Policing Center.