Nation's Largest Project to Improve Police-Community Relationships Finds Progress in Perceptions of Bias and Safety

Report gives recommendations for trust-building interventions

NEW YORK — The evaluation of the nation’s largest demonstration project aimed at developing strategies to increase trust between communities and the criminal justice system was released to the public this week. During a period when concerns about police legitimacy and racial bias have escalated considerably, the most noteworthy result of the intervention was the community perceptions of racial bias improved over a three-year period. At the same time, community perceptions of neighborhood safety and police legitimacy improved. This was the case even for Black community members, usually the most distrustful of law enforcement.  

The National Initiative for Building Community Trust & Justice (National Initiative) was designed to improve police-community relationships and advance the public, practitioner, and scholarly understandings of the issues contributing to those relationships.

The U.S. Department of Justice launched the National Initiative in 2014 around three core areas: implicit bias, procedural justice, and reconciliation. Trust-building interventions including officer training, departmental policy changes, and police-community engagement took place in six pilot sites:

  • Birmingham, Alabama
  • Ft. Worth, Texas
  • Gary, Indiana
  • Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Stockton, California

The Center for Policing Equity’s (CPE) role focused on psychological mechanisms of discrimination and the pathways to reducing racial disparity and community distrust. Despite recent concerns that police trainings on bias produces resentment, the psychological foundations of bias training was the most highly rated program across the six cities. Several departments found enough value in it that they requested a community-facing version, which was also well received. These departments have recognized value in addressing the psychological mechanisms of bias through this training format, and CPE is continuing their partnership with these departments to address bias, primarily through data analysis and evaluation.

“Given the national climate around race and policing, these findings are exceptionally encouraging,” said Phillip Atiba Goff, PhD, president of the Center for Policing Equity. “At a time when the country is going the other way, our partners and us were able to work with police to produce better experiences for communities. It feels great when science works in the lab, but it’s infinitely better when it works in the parts of the world where it matters most.”

While all six sites participated in the same methods and approaches, some did so more vigorously than others. Most of this inequity of implementation was the result of police leadership changes during the course of the project, which occurred in four of the six sites. Departments’ data also varied in quality and availability, which complicated data analyses and initiative evaluation.

“This is and always will be legacy work, spanning across multiple turnovers of police leadership, city officials, and presidential administrations,” said Kristen Powell, National Initiative Project Coordinator for CPE. “Community members are the one group static throughout and serve as history keepers, experts by experience, and strategic voices for improving public safety. This work cannot move forward without law enforcement commitment and community members working side-by-side to sustain it.”

The reports outlining the complex, multi-pronged project recommend data collection on arrests and use of force by race and ethnicity a priority, as well as connecting training more directly to behavior change. 

The National Initiative was led by the National Network for Safe Communities at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and in partnership with the Justice Collaboratory at Yale Law School, the Urban Institute, and CPE.

The following final reports are available online at urban.org.

  • The National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice: Key Process and Outcome Evaluation Findings.
  • Community Views of the Police and Neighborhood Conditions: Evidence of Change in Six Cities Participating in the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice.
  • Impact of the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice on Police Administrative Outcomes.
  • Learning to Build Police-Community Trust: Implementation Assessment Findings from the Evaluation of the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice