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Building Police-Community Trust Through Reform

This year, tensions between communities of color and law enforcement have escalated to new heights, with a series of tragic incidents across our country. Too many communities have lost trust in police. And this gap in trust makes it even more difficult and dangerous for law enforcement officials to do their jobs.

Like you, we at the Irvine Foundation have been disturbed and deeply saddened by the growing violence and racial tensions. It is enormously painful to see the loss of life – the lives cut short in their interactions with police as well as of law enforcement officials who have become targets, despite risking their lives to navigate tremendously difficult situations.

Long term, the goal of our grantmaking at Irvine is to ensure that all Californians – especially those working but struggling with poverty – have job opportunities and a voice on matters that impact their community. But for Californians to seize opportunity, fundamental prerequisites like community safety and trust in law enforcement must be in place. Sadly, strained police-community relations are a result of a festering, connected set of problems that have been ignored for too long.

Eager to find solutions, we reached out to foundation partners to learn what effective approaches could be expanded to build trust between law enforcement and communities of color. Since this is not Irvine’s area of focus, we were fortunate to be able to tap the expertise of Tim Silard, president of the Rosenberg Foundation. He and his colleagues at the Rosenberg Foundation have done vital criminal justice reform work for years alongside grantees and other funders.

Resulting from those discussions, I am pleased to announce a joint funding effort that will include Irvine, the Rosenberg Foundation, The California Endowment, The California Wellness Foundation, San Francisco Foundation, Weingart Foundation, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. In total, these foundations are committing more than $1.3 million to support the California expansion of initiatives by PICO California, a statewide network of faith-based community organizations, to build trust between police and communities of color.

In partnership with local communities and other efforts across the state, PICO California will build on a program piloted in Oakland that is working to foster trust among law enforcement and communities of color through a shared commitment to reform. The “Building Trust Through Reform” program develops local community leaders to build police/community partnerships, including trainings of (and by) activists and officers on how to better listen, see other’s perspectives, and maintain trust through interactions. You can read more about the effort here.

Reverend Ben McBride, deputy director of PICO California, has already seen strides in police-community relations through his work with the Oakland Police Department. “While there’s much work to do, we’ve seen encouraging results from bringing together community members and law enforcement to increase trust and public safety through honest conversations about history, bias, community voice, and respect,” says McBride. “As we work together to unlock long-term solutions that protect community members and the police officers who serve them, an ecosystem for trust is more accessible for everyone.”

The new funds will allow PICO California to expand on these and other efforts in several California regions, specifically: Sacramento and Stockton; Richmond, Berkeley, and San Francisco; Fresno, Modesto, and Bakersfield; Los Angeles County; San Bernardino and Riverside; and San Diego. The expansion, based on the grants, will begin now and continue over the next two years.

We are grateful to our foundation partners who quickly agreed to join us in funding this opportunity. We also know that many others care about these issues – and hope they’ll also support PICO California and other efforts to bring peace-making, dialogue, and reconciliation to California communities.

Throughout these past months, it has felt like there is no end in sight for the tragic violence in our communities. But, I am heartened to know that our grantees, and so many other nonprofits and community leaders, are taking aim at the root causes – economic and political disparities – that fuel division and despair. That work takes time. In the near term, I believe we can all find hope in the promising efforts of PICO California and others to help create safer communities for all of us.