SCI Improves Police – Community Relations and Communication

Police-Community Relations:

The role of police officers in American society has come under particular attention in recent years due to the highly publicized use of force incidents. These incidents have been generalized to represent a broader perspective on police culture. Public perception is a critical factor in the establishment of legitimacy afforded to the police. Since 2020 the public’s rapport with, and trust in, officers has waned as well as trust in other institutions and public servants including medical scientists, the military, and K-12 public school principals. Link to Research Article. This decline in the public’s confidence in law enforcement adversely impacts police and community relations and communication.

Diverse Views on Police-Community Communication

Communication between diverse communities can be challenging, in part, because perspectives can vary widely across groups with respect to how the groups define successful communication. In the context of police traffic stops, our focus-group and interview research has found not only that officers sometimes define successful communication differently than members of the communities they serve, but also that different communities and individuals in the same city vary in their perspectives as well. For example, our interview research revealed that, in the context of a traffic stop, individuals appreciate officers asking, “Do you know why I stopped you?” because it signals that their experience is valid. They report that this question provides an opportunity to explain their behavior and tell their side of the story early in the interaction. In sharp contrast, other respondents in the same city report that they find the question hostile or condescending. They believe that such a question represents an effort by the officer to fish for information and reflects the officer’s suspicion that the driver is guilty of some form of criminal conduct.
The mission of Safe Communities Institute (SCI) is to engage in research, education, and collaboration to advance sustainable public safety strategies, policies, and programs. Its focus includes ameliorating and mitigating police and community conflict. SCI has strategically engaged in programing and research to advance rapport and increase mutual understanding between officers and the community.

SCI Revitalizes Partnership with Game Changer

Game Changer is a program designed to improve police – community relations by fostering contextual and cultural understanding to aid change in perception and behavior among law enforcement and community members. In the program officers, young adults, and content experts participate in a facilitated focus group, structured as an experiential learning exercise. Participants interact with one another in a non confrontational environment and learn to establish common ground and create feasible achievable solutions to individual issues and community problems. The purpose of this experiential learning model is to change perceptions, leading to changes in behavior and eventually an increase in peaceful outcomes when police and community interact. Honest dialog and active listening allow an individual to appreciate another person’s perspective and build understanding and empathy. As a fitting culmination of the experience, participants continue relaxed interaction during dinner followed by a sporting event.

Participants complete an electronic questionnaire prior to participating in the focus group. They complete a second questionnaire approximately five weeks after completion of the program allowing them time to acknowledge, experience and integrate any changes in their perspective, perception, or behavior.
Game Changer trainings are California Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) certified. Law enforcement officers who participate in the events earn four continuing education units in “Community Engagement/Building Trust.”

SCI’s Commitment to Productive Police – Community Relations

In 2019, SCI hosted its first Game Changer event. Sergeant Evan Linney, a student in the master’s program at the Sol Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California (USC), facilitated the connection between SCI and Game Changer. “Historically, the LAPD and the City of L.A. have had a lot of issues with police-community relations, so I thought this model would have a huge impact here and what better venue to bring this model than USC,” Linney said. “We can talk about these things all day long, but without somebody who can legitimately influence policy, it’s all just talk. The reason I wanted to forge this partnership is because I know the Price School has the ability to influence policy and that’s the only way any changes are going to get made.” 

In June of 2023, SCI hosted its second Game Changer event. Approximately 40 Los Angeles-based young adults, young men affiliated with the Brotherhood Crusade, and officers from several Los Angeles County police departments participated in a 3-hour facilitated discussion, followed by dinner and a baseball game at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California. SCI’s Executive Director, Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell, was thrilled to renew SCI’s relationship with Game Changer after a 4-year hiatus. Mr. McDonnell stated, “We had a very productive meeting and enjoyed an exciting game at Angel Stadium for the Game Changer event. Police officers and young men and women from the Los Angeles metropolitan area, some of whom have experienced significant challenges in their lives, engaged in an open and honest dialogue. I look forward to continuing SCI’s partnership with Game Changer and contributing to the success of young people.”

Mr. Sean Sheppard, Game Changer CEO and Founder, shares Sheriff McDonnell’s excitement about the reinstated collaborative partnership. Sheppard said, “We’re extremely happy to resume our partnership with SCI under the new leadership of Sheriff McDonnell and Managing Director, Jessie Redd. Their latest investment in Game Changer, and our mutual desire to combine resources to bring about measurable change, is a win for the community residents and members of law enforcement in Los Angeles County,”  

Game Changer Changes Perspectives

The focus group is designed to provide participants an opportunity to discuss compelling public safety issues that impact their lives and their communities. A typical session starts with an icebreaker that enables participants to get acquainted with one another. Rules of engagement are explained to ensure the environment is conducive for participants to share their personal thoughts, feelings, and concerns. This candid dialog allows exchange and sharing and presents a unique chance for peer-to-peer learning that rarely occurs among officers and civilians.

Data Tells a Story of Hope and Optimism 

The post survey data analysis indicates that the participants’ perception of law enforcement improves and law enforcement’s understanding of community members’ concerns increase after participation in Game Changer. The San Diego State University Institute of Public Health found that Game Changer is highly effective at changing the perceptions and behaviors of law enforcement and community participants. 2018 Data Snapshot & 2020 Data Analysis SnapshotSpecifically, the data of the follow up survey posits the following perspective changes: 

  • 71% of community residents have a more positive view of law enforcement. 
  • 68% of law enforcement have a better understanding of community members of color. 

Equally impressive are the statistics on behavioral change. Members of law enforcement report positive changes in their communication with community members after participation in Game Changer. 

Recognition as a Premier Training Model

In addition to statistics that prove its model enhances interaction between officers and community members, Game Changer has received impressive accreditations, awards, and training grants.

  • 2019: Accreditation by the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) to train members of law enforcement in Community Policing and Interpersonal Communication. 
  • 2020: Receipt of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Michael Shanahan Leadership in Public and Private Cooperation Award. 
  • 2022: Receipt of the Bureau of Justice Assistance National Training and Technical Assistance Center grant to train law enforcement agencies.

Game Changer Fosters Improved Communication between Police and Community Members

Since December 2016, Game Changer has conducted 144 in-person and virtual training events with a total of 2,587 community members and members of law enforcement. This included  1,727 community members from 10 states and Canada, and 860 law enforcement personnel from 57 agencies at the local, state, and federal levels. 

Efforts to Improve Police -Community Communication

Traffic stops are the most common form of police and community interaction as a large amount of police -community communication occurs during a traffic stop.  To learn more about police – community member communication, SCI added two questions about traffic stop communication to the Game Changer June 2023 participant survey. SCI hopes to learn more about the nuances of communication and incorporate the information into its educational curriculum. 

SCI’s Continued Commitment to Public Safety

We look forward to continued partnerships with Game Changer to achieve even greater success in recommending policy and procedures for more effective and positive interaction between law enforcement and the communities it protects and serves.


Safe Communities Institute

The Safe Communities Institute (SCI) at the USC Price School of Public Policy continues a more than 60-year tradition of research, interdisciplinary education, and collaboration to advance sustainable “whole-of-community” public safety strategies, policies, and programs. SCI takes a holistic approach to encouraging and informing public safety efforts through collaboration between all public safety disciplines and the communities they serve.

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