Throughout its Final Report, the Presidential Task Force on 21st Century Policing repeatedly called for a new form of civilian oversight: for police departments to involve community members in the process of developing and reviewing department policies on a variety of topics from use of new technologies to police training. The Task Force stressed that this sort of engagement is essential to promoting external legitimacy and building trust between policing agencies and the communities they serve. Yet as a number of police officials have acknowledged, community engagement around matters of policy raises a number of difficult questions—and there are few viable models for how to go about it. This paper will identify some of the challenges to involving community members in the policymaking process—from finding ways to educate the public about the often-complicated mix of legal and policy issues at stake in each department policy, to ensuring that police departments hear from all of the various stakeholders in their communities—and suggest preliminary ideas for how police departments can begin to overcome them. The paper will use as a case study the policymaking process that the authors, under the auspices of the Policing Project at NYU Law, are helping to facilitate in Camden, New Jersey around the department’s new body-worn camera (BWC) program. At the request of the Camden County Police Department (CCPD), we have designed a comprehensive, four-pronged approach to soliciting community input, including an online community survey, a roundtable discussion with community leaders, a town-hall style meeting to the public at large, and interviews with select officers who will be using the cameras during an initial pilot phase. At each stage of the feedback process, we will work to educate community members about the key issues and
tradeoffs involved so as to enable a meaningful discussion and exchange. After this informationgathering process is complete, we will work with the CCPD to revise its policy in light of the comments we receive, and will prepare a report that responds to the comments received, explaining either how each comment is reflected in the policy, or why the CCPD believed it advisable to proceed otherwise. This entire process will take place over the course of a 60-day period beginning February 1, 2016. Camden is of course not the first jurisdiction to try some of these approaches to soliciting community feedback—a number of police departments have experimented with online surveys or town-hall meetings in developing their own BWC policies. But we know little about the outcome of these efforts. This paper will begin to fill in some of the gaps in the literature on police-community engagement and in doing so provide guidance to community members, police departments, and civilian oversight bodies looking to implement the Task Force recommendations and work collaboratively to set policies and priorities for policing.