Police chief nominee explains his view of community policing

The term community policing is used a great deal these days, but it's often misunderstood. Community policing is not some "warm and fuzzy" approach to the serious problems of drug dealing, gangs and other predators that prey on law-abiding citizens. It is a smart, collaborative, big-picture approach to tackling crime and the fear of crime. Police officers today cannot simply drive around on patrol and "arrest away" chronic crime and disorder. It's been tried for decades, and it hasn't worked. Crime prevention -- law enforcement's ultimate goal -- can only work through true partnerships between police and the community we serve.

I have a long track record of community policing and have spent many years working with communities setting priorities, developing strategies and implementing ways to make neighborhoods safe for our families. As police chief in Dayton, Ohio, I implemented a community-policing model that helped reduce violent crime 10 percent and property crime 6 percent in just one year. As assistant chief in Washington, D.C., I worked with neighbors to implement strategies to address a chronic prostitution market. The problem was so entrenched in this neighborhood that it required a community-police partnership even stronger than the prostitution problem. We succeeded in all but eliminating the issue in this area.

Reaching out to untraditional communities is an important component of community policing. As a commander and then assistant chief in Washington, D.C., I worked with community leaders and African-American clergy on North Capitol Street to reduce gang-related violence. I also worked with the Downtown Business Improvement District, similar to what's being proposed for downtown Minneapolis, to ensure maximum public safety and ongoing protection for business establishments.

Mutual trust is a key ingredient to building a successful partnership. This works both ways -- police must embrace the communities they serve, and communities must likewise embrace the officers who put their lives on the line every day to keep peace and order. It is critical for both sides to address differences and conflicts that may arise and then work together toward our common goals. Police leaders have the responsibility to bridge differences that may exist between the police culture and community expectations.

Minneapolis' recent mediation agreement was one of the best examples of what can happen when police and community roll up their sleeves and work together to find common ground. Police and the communities they serve both benefit from a team approach. It deepens the connection both groups feel: cops and communities take more ownership, and police aren't seen as an anonymous sea of blue that descends on a neighborhood only to disappear after a few quick arrests. Officers who are more engaged with the community find their jobs more rewarding.

Building strong relationships and good will up front and not waiting until a critical incident occurs is crucial to improving and maintaining a solid police-public partnership. Citizen police academies, the media and consistent communication cascading from the top of the Department are ways to accomplish that goal. This type of approach guarantees a reasonably high level of support for the police and ensures that both police and community are strategically aligned.

Hard-working officers also need support from the entire chain of command. Police managers must provide them with the tools and training they need to do their jobs in an exceptional way. As chief of police in Minneapolis, it will be my duty and responsibility to set the tone, and the tone promises respectful, professional policing, and accountability -- starting at the top.

William P. McManus is Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak's nominee for police chief. The City Council will vote on his confirmation Friday, Jan. 16.