When I was in New York for Donald Trump’s arraignment last month I was struck by the NYPD’s community police branch managing the crowds of pro- and anti-Trumpers in the park outside the courthouse. They wore royal blue shirts (pictured), engaged in conversation and quietly escorted away anyone causing too much of a ruckus. Armed police stood watch outside the park but didn’t engage.
Mark Stewart, deputy commissioner of community affairs for the NYPD, tells me that studies have found that the lighter shade of blue is deemed less threatening than the navy blue that New York’s police typically wear. Stewart spoke at the Professionalising Law Enforcement Community Engagement Training conference (Plecet for short) in Atlanta last week. The first event of its kind, it happened to come just after a deadly mass shooting in the heart of Atlanta and brought together hundreds of police officers to discuss best practices for serving their communities. It was filled with tips on how to de-escalate situations and reach out even to those who don’t trust you. Speakers stressed that knowing your community is a preventative measure: it helps tackle the root causes of crime and means that the public is more likely to contact police when a crime takes place.
Plecet attendees told me that they’ll take important lessons back to their departments but privately there’s concern about the state of policing in the US. “It’s the worst it’s been in my 35 years in policing,” says one attendee. Another says his greatest fear is being wrongly accused; the struggle to retain good police officers is a common theme. With trust in policing at a low, crime at a high and community and race relations under a microscope, it’s odd that such a national training conference hasn’t taken place until now. Changing the culture of policing and its relationship with communities is cumbersome but central to improving the crucial role that law enforcement plays in our society today – no matter what shade of blue they may be wearing.
Christopher Cermak is Monocle’s Washington’s correspondent. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.