One of my favorite professors, Marty Linsky, once said of leadership that “relationships are primary, everything else is secondary.”
This certainly applies to law enforcement (LE). Our diverse communities of culture, business, faith, LE agencies, and local government must work together under many different, and sometimes challenging circumstances to support each other. Successful interagency and community relationships involve commitment from leadership, a track record of actions over words, listening, mutual understanding, and investing time with respect and honesty. To be truly effective in public safety, we need trusting relationships, developed and tested.
The following highlights three examples of these trusting relationships.
Community Relationships. I first met a leader from a local Mosque on September 12, 2001. Given the previous day’s events in New York and the Pentagon, our two groups agreed it was time to get to know each other and share our concerns about community safety. At the time, I was a Sergeant. Because I was excited about the potential this relationship could have to improve our community knowledge and overall safety, I offered to be the lead from our agency. As with all relationships, it took some time to develop and establish trust. But we stayed-the-course, continued to meet, ask questions, share community goals, attend each other’s community events, meet each other’s families, and over time built an abiding relationship. In 2004, an international incident unrelated to the Mosque brought to them what felt like crushing media attention. We worked with the media to establish ground rules to lower anxiety for everyone and interfaced on each other’s behalf to bring other groups and agencies into our growing discussion and relationship. When a concern or rumor develops about community safety, an interaction, or
an event, we resolve it. When an opportunity to bring us together develops, we make it happen. Sometimes calls are made late at night because the matter feels pressing. But over the 19 years since our first meeting, we’ve grown to better understand each other, be better problem-solvers, and appreciate each other as individuals and community members. We work through challenging times because we know each other, enjoy a mutual understanding, and make generous assumptions because of the trust built up over many years. What started as a purposeful friendship between two individuals has become a purposeful relationship between two organizations. I am proud that members from the Sheriff’s Office and the Mosque act – words alone are insufficient – in ways that continue to grow our relationship.
Interagency Relationships. Long before becoming Sheriff I was working to deepen relationships and partnerships with many area agencies. Our deputies and officers from local police departments rely on each other to cover each other on emergency calls and work together on special teams. Our success, and sometimes survival, depends on our interagency relationships, so I prioritize developing and maintaining meaningful trusting relationships with other LE agencies. Several years ago, I was approached by the local FBI supervisory agent in charge (SAC) who was interested in assigning an agent to a local interagency task force. This interest came because I had previously gotten to know the SAC and developed a relationship, as well as our history for being good partners, doing good work. To keep this relationship strong, I regularly communicate with the local FBI SAC. Benefits of our strong relationship include excellent collaboration. FBI investigators have long partnered with our narcotics taskforce, and we work together on gang investigations and assess a wide range of potential local threats. This partnership adds important capacity to these challenging cases. One example; an investigation three years ago led to the conviction of a local, dangerous bomb-maker. In addition, FBI negotiators also partner with our local crisis negotiations unit. Interagency work at the local level, combined with participation by our federal partners, adds public value, knowledge, and skill to our collective effort to best solve and prevent crime, and peacefully resolve dangerous situations.
Local Government Relationships. Sheriff’s Office deputies provide jail, law enforcement services, and civil enforcement services county-wide. Our primary focus for law enforcement services are to unincorporated areas, though much of our work is also within incorporated cities in partnership with city police departments. City residents have a police department, and their police officers are the city’s primary providers in law enforcement. In my eight years as Sheriff, several cities have expressed interest in exploring partnerships with the Sheriff’s Office to provide their law enforcement services. While our good reputation is enough to begin these discussions, I learned an agreement is simply not possible unless we have trusting relationships with city leaders and the community. That takes effort, time, humility, and a commitment by leaders to put the community first. These discussions turned into policing agreements with two cities, and I am humbled by it because I recognize these are difficult decision for a city to make. I and other leaders strive to ensure our relationships are underpinned by actions that reinforce our role as a trusted partner, working together to align our goals, effective communication, evaluation of our work, and course-correction when needed. While all our professionals do an excellent job in these assignments, we also understand that relationships are primary, both to the policing agreement’s origin, and to its continuation.
While I’ve cited only three relationships, many more exist and are essential to our effectiveness in public safety – Centro Cultural; the U.S. Marshal for Oregon, Russ Berger; the Board of Commissioners; the Muslim Educational Trust; the United States Attorney for Oregon, Billy Williams; Community Corrections – to name just a few. It takes years and a deep commitment to relationship-building with people and communities to develop these relationships.
I’ve spent 31 years building the trusting relationships necessary for us to work effectively with all our partners to do our best work and keep our community safe.
Because relationships are primary.