With recent events in places like Ferguson, Baltimore, and Cleveland, it is not surprising that the relationship between law enforcement officers and citizens in many urban areas is at a low point. Mistrust, fear, and resentment from all sides have raised tensions, with criminal acts and threats of violence turning neighborhoods into potential war zones.
In Canton, Ohio, police are taking a tried-and-true approach to breaking down barriers between law enforcement and communities—engaging with citizens on a personal level and building a level of trust between officers and residents.
Video from a body camera of officers and kids from a high-crime neighborhood playing basketball has been circulating on Facebook, with an overwhelmingly positive response. It is part of an initiative by the police department to become more visible in the community, and to get to know the people who live there. A special effort is being made to work with youth, neighborhood groups, and leaders of black and Hispanic communities in an attempt to reduce crime.
“If we don’t have respect, people don’t trust us,” says police chief Bruce Lawver. “They’re not going to call us. They’re not going to confide in us, and we’ll never reach any type of potential.”
Since 2012, police officers have been making themselves known in neighborhoods throughout Canton. The results have been impressive. Violent crime is down city-wide, with decreases as large as 41 percent in some of the areas that historically been the most violent. Shooting victims and number of shots fired is also down.
“[The police] are trying to do something in Canton,” says Craig Burnett, an 18 year old who participates in a job-training program for at-risk youth that connects citizens and police officers. “They’re actually trying to, you know, be human.”
Improving relations between citizens and law enforcement is a key component of restoring communities. A restorative justice approach works to reduce crime by strengthening neighborhood relations, seeking the rehabilitation of those committing crimes and their restoration as productive members of the community. To learn more about how Prison Fellowship is working to promote restorative justice principles across the country, visit our advocacy pages.