As 2019 comes to a close, we find ourselves reflecting on the impact we’ve had throughout the year and contemplating what more we can accomplish in the new year. This year, we were honored to see several of the National Police Foundation’s historic policing experiments highlighted in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know.
In the book, Gladwell describes our efforts to engage with strangers in various contexts in society. As he puts it, “In all of these cases, the parties involved relied on a set of strategies to translate one another’s word and intentions. And, in each case something went very wrong.” Gladwell uses case studies to examine the strategies that motivated or guided each interaction and questions their origins and effectiveness.
A few of Gladwell’s case studies focus on the strategies often relied upon by police to interact with strangers, highlighting tragic cases where these interactions didn’t go as anyone would hope. He references historical studies that are so well-known in our field, led by the likes of legendary criminologists George Kelling, Larry Sherman and David Weisburd. Gladwell points out what we didn’t understand about interacting with strangers through policing and how these studies helped us better understand the dynamics at play. These renowned criminologists and the historical research they each led had something in common that Gladwell didn’t directly mention in his book—they all were affiliated with and conducted research on behalf of the National Police Foundation, including the National Police Foundation’s Kansas City Preventive Patrol Experiment and our Displacement and Diffusion Study.
There are few better ways of understanding the benefits of an organization’s work than having a 5-time bestselling author and one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people highlight its work. But there is also some irony in the fact that he does not mention the National Police Foundation specifically. Ironic yet appropriate, given that, as an independent organization, we don’t seek to represent others, and we often don’t seek the recognition perhaps we should or could. Instead, we seek to leverage science and data to make positive change in the ways in which officers and communities come together to ensure just, fair, and effective outcomes for all—strangers and familiar faces alike.
As you review our 2019 Annual Report, we hope that our work to create this change becomes familiar to you and that we can count on you to join us in our pursuit of a stronger and more just democracy. Together, we can define more effective strategies and translations that can improve trust between police and the communities they serve.
In closing, I’d be honored to ask you for your support of our work—the kind of work that Gladwell points out is critically needed to improve how we engage with each other and to bring about strong and trusting relationships between the police and the communities they serve, as well as to strengthen our faith in and dedication to the rule of law.
—Jim Burch, President, National Police Foundation