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We are visiting cities across the country to learn about their approaches to police-community engagement, and the challenges and successes they’ve encountered along the way.
It’s not uncommon for police agencies to have dedicated staff leading community engagement efforts. However, there is always the risk that these initiatives will be siloed away from the overall operations of the department, and that patrol officers may come to think of “community engagement” as an extra activity, separate from their day-to-day work.
What does it take to cultivate a department-wide culture that puts community engagement and collaborative problem-solving at the center? The Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) offers a unique answer: hire an outside social worker to run community engagement, and instead of partitioning that individual away from the bread-and-butter of law enforcement operations, elevate the position to virtually the department’s second-in-command.
In 2009, Sheriff Jerry Clayton hired Derrick Jackson, a social worker running the homeless youth shelter Ozone House to be his new Director of Community Engagement. Without a law enforcement background, Jackson had reservations about joining the Sheriff’s Office, but recognized that police interact daily with individuals in need of supportive services. This interdisciplinary approach has led to initiatives one doesn’t ordinarily see in law enforcement, even in places where the importance of “community engagement” is acknowledged.