What's Interesting About a New Push to Build Trust Between Communities and Police

Alyssa Ochs
Inside Philanthropy
September 16, 2016

With racial tensions in the U.S. higher than they’ve been in decades, we've been closely watching to see what new initiatives might emerge from foundations to foster trust between law enforcement officials and communities of color. 

The latest news on this front comes from California, where seven powerful foundations have committed over $1.3 million to a new effort centered on faith-based community organizations.

Many of the biggest names in the California funding world are behind this effort: The California Endowment, the California Wellness Foundation, the San Francisco Foundation, and the Hewlett, Irvine, Rosenberg, and Weingart foundations. This is quite a group to coalesce around one cause, largely based in the Bay Area but extending down to Los Angeles as well.

The new initiative is called Building Trust Through Reform, and it’s led by PICO California, which is a network of over 500 faith-based organizations. 

PICO is already deep into the policing issue. It’s leader, Reverend Ben McBride, trained over 700 officers with the Oakland Community Police Department about understanding different perspectives, listening skills and establishing trust. This much-lauded effort put officers, activists and community members in conversation and at the same table.

Not surprisingly, the Building Trust Through Reform initiative is first being launched on a pilot basis in Oakland. Through honest conversations about history, respect and bias, PICO and the seven funders are looking for long-term solutions to protect both community members of color and police officers. After Oakland, the program will expand over the next two years to Sacramento, Stockton, Richmond, Berkeley, San Francisco, Fresno, Modesto, Bakersfield, Los Angeles County, San Bernardino, Riverside and San Diego. Down the line, it would seem, we're talking about much a larger expenditure of grant dollars than what's been announced so far. 

It's worth noting that public safety isn’t a top grantmaking focus of any of the funders putting up money for this new initiative. Right now, though, a great many major foundations are feeling like they need to be responsive to the highest level of racial unrest in the United Sates since the 1960s. The willingness here of some of these California foundations, like Hewlett, to step outside of familiar program areas and relationships to deal with an urgent issue makes this initiative significant.  

Meanwhile, the approach of the work itself should command some attention at the national level. Maybe its most unique aspect is how it aims to empower community members to teach police officers about unconscious bias. PICO California organize at least 120 meetings to devise improvements for police-community relationships. As well, the faith dimension of this effort is intriguing, especially since we don't see big foundations and faith-based groups working together as often as you might think. It will be interesting to see what emerges here—and what solutions might be exported to other states across the U.S.