The mission of the Illumination Project was to further strengthen citizen/police relationships grounded in trust and legitimacy. Trust is a vital ingredient in all healthy relationships, especially one with the inherent tension of community safety (taking care of the “whole”) and individual rights (taking care of the “part”). Legitimacy speaks to a core element of the citizen and police relationship – police exercising their authority appropriately and citizens believing they are being treated fairly.
The Illumination Project is founded on the principles and practices of Polarity Thinking™, an approach uniquely designed to positively leverage this tension instead of it devolving into an unproductive debate and potentially, a dangerous situation. This approach enables people to transcend the all-too-typical either/or or win/lose arguments when they are actually dealing with situations in which both parties are right, or what we call both/and situations.
A five-phase process guided decisions and actions throughout the Illumination Project:
- Planning and developing the project: Laying the groundwork for the project’s success.
- Developing the steering and resource groups: Building the steering team leading the effort and the resource group that recruited people to participate in the process.
- Engaging the community: Creating opportunities for the public to contribute their ideas for improving citizen and police relationships.
- Evaluating the project: Measuring results, assessing impact and identifying lessons learned from the effort.
- Making the model available for the rest of the nation: Sharing the methods, tools and processes of the Illumination Project to cities across the country.
The heart of The Illumination Project has been the Listening Sessions, small group both/and conversations between citizens and police. The purpose of these conversations was to gather ideas about what both police and citizens could do to improve their relationship. Active and persistent marketing of the Listening Sessions was a key to their success. Print media, radio interviews, in-person recruiting at city social events and social media all played a part. A “Bringing the Illumination Project to You” approach of holding sessions for any group that would host one is one of many examples of making it easier for people to have their voices heard. This experience, uncommon for citizens when typically dealing with police, led to many more people attending the sessions.
The year–long and counting initiative led to broad-based support and engagement.
The 2017 – 2020 Strategic Plan produced through The Illumination Project has five goals that closely align with recent National Studies in effective policing. Each goal has objectives, strategies and measures of success. Four strategies are already being implemented. The five goals are listed below. Goal 1 | Different Cultures and Backgrounds:
Develop better understanding between citizens and police of different cultures, backgrounds, and experiences to build mutually beneficial relationships. Goal 2 | Respectful, Trusting Relationships:
Build a mutually respectful, trusting relationship between citizens and police. Goal 3 | Training Curriculum:
Develop and implement a training curriculum to enhance citizen and police understanding of each other’s roles, rights and responsibilities. Goal 4 | Policies and Procedures:
Develop and use best practices to improve citizen and police relationships through policies and procedures. Goal 5 | Community Policing*:
Expand the concept of community-oriented policing in all segments of our community.
*Community policing is a philosophy that promotes organizational strategies that support the systematic use of partnerships and problem-solving techniques to proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder, and fear of crime.
C.O.P.S., U.S. Department of Justice
Within these five goals, 86 strategies were identified to improve citizen and police relationships grounded in trust and legitimacy. Of these 86 strategies, 66 came from citizen Listening Sessions, 12 from National Study recommendations and eight from the Charleston police staff. Identifying these strategies began with the 858 citizens participating in Listening Sessions prioritizing their own ideas. From that list the best ideas for police actions and citizen actions that would improve the relationship were suggested as priority ideas to the two leadership groups for the effort, the Citizen Steering Group and Community Resource Group (descriptions of the purpose and role for each group can be found on pages 17-18). Ten of these ideas were translated into strategies and recommended for immediate implementation in 2016. Public written comment sessions refined the highest priority ideas and the leadership groups endorsed these revisions.
Regarding research, community and police surveys were conducted to gather data. The data served as a benchmark for citizen and police attitudes that were used in developing the strategies and measures that have formed the foundation of the Strategic Plan.
We have learned many lessons from our work with The Illumination Project and look forward to sharing these with others.View the complete Charleston Illumination Project Report