The phrases “occupying force” and “militarization of the police” have become all too prevalent in community conversations, and a source of frustration for officers and police leaders who take strides every day to emphasize community service, and calm the societal moral panic often attributed to sensationalized media.
Public Safety leadership across the nation is working to identify best practices and innovative ways to engage their communities. The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing identified the use of technology as a pillar for public education and to build trust and legitimacy in our communities.
The Santa Barbara Police Department has developed a product to provide a low cost and effective way for departments to engage community through technology. The Affinity Card project focused on creating a platform to highlight commonalities between officers and the local communities they serve, emphasizing the importance of humanizing police officers.
Affinity is a feeling of closeness and understanding that someone has for another person because of similar qualities, ideas, or interests (Merriam-Webster, 2017).
By officers sharing life experiences with people in the community through stories, rifts between police and community can be diminished, and trust and legitimacy can begin where it has been absent and accelerate it where it has been present. Affinity Cards, borrowing from the traditional trading card concept, provide links to videos of the officer using QR codes or a traditional web browser address. The card itself provides a picture of the officer and some “fun facts” such as their favorite children’s book or superhero for the younger children, and links to videos for older youth and adults to learn about the officer who provides them service in their neighborhood. Affinity cards are a voluntary option for officers, and individual officers decide what information they are comfortable sharing.
Affinity cards are not, in themselves, community engagement, but rather a means to promoting it. They offer police leadership a product that embraces the spirit of community policing by infusing a bond between the officers and the people in their community through the sharing of human experience. The card concept can expand to include public education by recording educational videos related to police policy and procedure to promote transparency.
The PowerPoint and video accompanying this article can provide a model for an agency to adopt an Affinity Card project. Any questions regarding the creation and implementation of this project can be directed to Sergeant Shawn Hill at the Santa Barbara Police Department at email@example.com.