Rebuilding Trust Between the Public and Law Enforcement

Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type




First Advisor

Rebecca Overmyer-Velazquez


The relationship between law enforcement and the public can be strained due to many different factors. In recent years, reports of inappropriate conduct and excessive force by police officers have further widened the gap between law enforcement and civilians. This major social issue continues to be a problem, because the community does not trust the officers who are responsible for protecting them, and law enforcement agencies often struggle to find ways to educate the public on their role and responsibility. While research has been conducted to identify reasons the community mistrusts police, data is limited in capturing the perspective of law enforcement agents regarding this issue. Obtaining this information will be helpful in identifying ways to strengthen community relations in a collaborative, co-learning, and long-term approach. This research project seeks to gain a better understanding of specific factors that contribute to the mistrust of police, and the types of activities and programs that can help strengthen the relationship between the two key groups. Through the completion of in-person and phone interviews with 13 active and recently retired law enforcement agents located throughout Southern California, the responses to 10 open-ended questions were collected. The majority of the participants provided details in which social media has contributed to the misrepresentation of interactions with police. In addition, publicized videos and audio recordings often fail to show events in their entirety, which further influences the public's perception of law enforcement and police practices. Participants also stated calls to defund the police will have negative results, such as limiting the amount of resources, personnel, and training opportunities for law enforcement agencies, as well as reducing events and programs meant to educate and collaborate with the public. Participants emphasize that funding is needed to further train officers on de-escalation techniques, while still adhering to policies and procedures meant to protect the public. Recognizing conversations around this social issue often fail to include the perspective of law enforcement, the results of this project can be beneficial to stakeholders including police officers, communities, sociologists, lawmakers, and other key decision-makers.

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