Community Engagement in Policing: As a Dialogic Tool for Combating Racial Profiling

AuthorLorne Foster & Lesley Jacobs
ChAPTeR 12
Community Engagement in Policing
As a Dialogic Tool for
Combating Racial Prof‌iling
 &  *
Racial prof‌iling by police has emerged as one of the most pressing con-
cerns for members of racialized communities across Canada. Police ser-
vices are struggling to respond to these concerns, seeking to balance, on
the one hand, uneasiness about admitting that these concerns are genu-
ine and the culpability implications for their members, and, on the other
hand, taking seriously the rights of racialized Canadians in a context
where the mandate of these services is to serve and protect all citizens.
This chapter advances the idea that community engagement can be
an ef‌fective way to combat racial prof‌iling and promote bias-neutral poli-
cing, both in terms of listening to the concerns of racialized Canadians,
and as a strategy to help police of‌f‌icers better understand those concerns.
Community engagement theory is an approach to public adminis-
tration that places the citizen at the centre of policy-makers’ consider-
ations, not just as a target, but also as an agent. Fundamental to any
consideration of citizen engagement in policy-making and the design of
public services is the recognition that the citizens in a democratic society
have both rights and duties, and that democratic governance provides
opportunities for citizens to participate actively in shaping their world.
Community engagement theory recogniz es the importance of the collab-
orative involvement of all stakeholders, including the margina lized and
* Lorne Foster is a professor of public policy a nd equity studies, as well as co -chair, Race,
Inclusion and Supportive En vironments, York University. Lesley Jacobs is a professor
of law & society and pol itical science, as well as the direc tor of the Institute for Social
Research, York University.
Lorne Foster & Lesley Jacobs
voiceless, to serve as a catalyst for problem solving and progressive social
change.1 This theory presumes a mutualit y of inf‌luence and purpose that
plays a vital role in advancing both the quality of governing practice and
sustainable community development. Concepts such as “co-production”
and “co-creation” have emerged to describe this systematic pursuit of
sustained collaboration between government agencies and state actors
like the police, with communities and individual citizens. Methodologic-
ally this requires a two-way, bidirectional approach to engagement that
validates reciprocity and pluralism, and empowers all cultural voices
within and outside state agencies, including policing, in goal setting,
problem solving, decision making, and community building.
In policing, two-way engagement preserves the public role expect-
ations of modern police as both “crime f‌ighters” and “public servants.”
In this connection, community engagement and collaboration has a role
to play beyond the law enforcement side of the profession. Attention to
the public service values — such as respect for democracy, respect for
diversity, and respect for professional ethics and integrity — is essential
to a high-performing police organization that aspires to be transparent,
accountable, and coherent in its policies and practices.
However, many police agencies have come increasingly to view their
involvement with community engagement in a pragmatic rather than
democratic lens. Community engagement has been predominately de-
veloped and utilized on the “crime f‌ighter” side of policing, as opposed to
the “public servant” side. Here, community engagement and partnerships
aim at conscripting citizens into police enforcement goals and ground rules,
and are considered valuable for prioritizing police administration problems
and deployment planning. The crime f‌ighting values of crime control and
public order maintenance have taken precedence over the public service
values that elevate democratic citizenship rights: respect for multicultural
diversity and professional integrity and excellence (i.e., conducting busi-
ness in a manner that will bear the closest public scrutiny).2 Commu nity
engagement strategies emphasizing the performance goals of public ser-
vice — including the balanced distribution of equitable services to growing
multicultural communities and neutralizing police bias in an env ironment
with multiple publics — has not as readily been embraced.
1 Anantha Kuma r Duraiappah et al, Have Participatory Approaches Improved Capabilities?
(Winnipe g: International Institute for Su stainable Development, 2005), online: w ww. 005/economics_ participatory_ approaches.pdf.
2 Canada, Treasury Boa rd, Values and Ethics Code f or the Public Serv ice (Ottawa: Treasur y
Board of Canada S ecretariat, 2003).

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