Reconciliation is a method of facilitating frank engagements between minority communities, police and other authorities that allow them to address historical tensions, grievances, and misconceptions, and reset relationships.

Reconciliation is a method of facilitating frank engagements between minority communities, police and other authorities that allow them to address historical tensions, grievances, and misconceptions, and reset relationships. Respect, collaboration, and effective working relationships between police and the communities they serve are central to both community safety and effective policing. However, in many communities where serious crime is concentrated, mutual mistrust and misunderstanding prevent police and communities from working together.

The reconciliation process recognizes the very real American history of abusive law enforcement practices toward minority communities, beginning with slavery. It also respects—without endorsing—the sometimes damaging narratives each side has about the other. Many people in minority communities affected by high levels of violent crime and disorder genuinely believe that police are using drug laws and other law enforcement as a means to oppress them. Their alienation is fueled by the history of slavery, Jim Crow, and other legal oppression of minorities; high levels of intrusive police tactics like arrest and stop-and-frisk; and disrespectful behavior by police. When these communities are furious with the police, they are not inclined to work with the criminal justice system or speak out publicly against violence and crime. Serious offenders may wrongly believe that their own  communities tolerate or even support their behavior.

Conversely, some in law enforcement genuinely believe that troubled minority communities are broadly tolerant of—and even complicit in—crime and violence. In fact, both research and national field experience clearly show that high-crime minority communities are the least tolerant of crime and disorder,1 and that in the most apparently dangerous communities the overwhelming majority of people do not behave violently.2 However, where police believe otherwise, they are more inclined to treat entire communities as criminal and employ aggressive and intrusive tactics.

The process of racial reconciliation addresses these deeply troubled relationships through engagement between law enforcement and community members about the long American history of legal abuse of minorities; the fact that traditional law enforcement has sometimes been both ineffective and caused unintentional damage to individuals, families, and communities; how police have often treated minority individuals and communities with disrespect; and the sincere desire of law enforcement to act differently and do better. There is, in turn, an engagement about the central importance, if there is to be community safety, of clear and powerful community norms against violence and other serious crime, and an effective working relationship with law enforcement.

The aim of racial reconciliation is that communities and law enforcement come to see that 1) they misunderstand each other in important ways, 2) both have been contributing to harms neither desires, 3) in crucial areas, both want fundamentally the same things, and 4) there is an immediate opportunity for partnership that can concretely benefit both the community and the authorities that serve it. The process reveals real common ground, shows police that communities reject violence and want to work with them in new ways, and facilitates communities in expressing strong and meaningful norms against violence and for good behavior.

This racial reconciliation approach was originally developed as part of the National Network for Safe Communities’ Drug Market Intervention, which has been effective in addressing crime and disorder in particularly troubled neighborhoods nationally.3 Some high-level police executives have been willing to make powerful public statements acknowledging history and seeking to foster reconciliation efforts. Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy has embraced these ideas and is setting a national standard for speaking about them publicly. Said McCarthy in a 2013 interview with WBEZ Chicago:

I understand the historical divide between police and communities of color – it’s rooted in the history of this country. The most visible arm of government is a police force, and the institutionalized governmental programs that promoted racist policies that were enforced by police departments in this country are part of the African American history in this country. And we have to recognize it because recognition is the first step towards finding a cure towards what is ailing us. Over the years we’ve actually done a lot of things wrong and I’m willing to admit that.

The National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice will seek to build on existing reconciliation practices, employ them on a wider geographic scale in cities, and adapt them to different racial and ethnic communities, youth, victims of crime, and the LGBQTI community.


La Vigne, N., Fontaine, J., & Dwivedi, A. 2017. How Do People in High-Crime, Low-Income Communities View the Police?. Urban Institute.

The Sentencing Project. Disproportionate minority contact.

Tyler, T.R. & Jackson, J. (2014). Popular Legitimacy and the Exercise of Legal Authority: Motivating Compliance, Cooperation and Engagement. Psychology, Public Policy and Law, 20, 78-95. 

Kates, Graham (2014, September 6). The crisis of confidence in police-community relations.  The Crime Report.

Tyler, T.R.  (March, 2014).  Legitimacy and procedural justice: A new element of police leadership.  Police Executive Research Forum. (2014). Program Profile: High Point Drum Market Intervention.

Anderson, Elijah (2014, August 13).  What caused the Ferguson riot exists in so many other cities, too.  Washington Post.

La Vigne, N. G., Lachman, P., Rao, S., Matthews, A. (2014). Stop and Frisk: Balancing Crime Control with Community Relations. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. 

Tyler, T.R., Fagan, J. & Geller, A. (2014).  Street stops and police legitimacy: Teachable moments in young urban men’s legal socialization. New Haven: Yale Law School.

Mentel, Z. (2012). Racial Reconciliation, Truth Telling and Police Legitimacy. Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, US Department of Justice.

U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (2012). Strengthening the Relationship Between Law Enforcement and Communities of Color. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.

Tyler, T.R. (2011).  Why people cooperate. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Kennedy, D. M. (2011). Don’t shoot: One man, a street fellowship, and the end of violence in inner-city America. New York, NY: Bloomsbury USA.

Hough, M., Jackson, J., Bradford, B., Myhill, A., & Quinton, P. (2010). Procedural justice, trust, and institutional legitimacyPolicing, 4(3), 203-210.

Kennedy, D. M. (2010). Practice Brief: Norms, Narratives, and Community Engagement for Crime Prevention. New York: John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Alexander, M. (2011). The New Jim Crow. New York: The New Press.

Mazerolle, L., Bennett, S., Davis, J., & Manning, M. (2009). Legitimacy in policing. Research Preview. Brisbane, Queensland: ARC Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security.

Papachristos, A. V. (2009). Murder by Structure: Dominance Relations and the Social Structure of Gang Homicide. American Journal of Sociology, 115(1), 74-128.

Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, US Dept of Justice, & United States of America. (2009). Disproportionate Minority Contact.

Tyler, T.R. & Fagan, J. (2008).  Legitimacy And Cooperation: Why do people help the police fight crime in their communities?  Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, 6, 231-275.

Kennedy, D. M. (2008). Drugs, Race and Common Ground: Reflections on the High Point Intervention. National Institute of Justice Journal, 262, 12-17.

Murphy, K., Hinds, L., & Fleming, J. (2008). Encouraging public cooperation and support for police. Policing & Society, 18(2), 136-155.

Tyler, T. R., & Fagan, J. (2008). Legitimacy and cooperation: Why do people help the police fight crime in their communities. Ohio St. J. Crim. L., 6, 231-275.

Tyler, T. R. (Ed.). (2007). Legitimacy and Criminal Justice: An International Perspective. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Horowitz, J. (2007). Making every encounter count: Building Trust and Confidence in the Police, National Institute of Justice Journal, 256, 8-11.

Cabaniss, E. R., Frabutt, J. M., Kendrick, M. H., & Arbuckle, M. B. (2007). Reducing disproportionate minority contact in the juvenile justice system: Promising practices. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 12(4), 393-401.

Papachristos, A. V., Meares, T. L., & Fagan, J. (2007). Attention Felons: Evaluation Project Safe Neighborhoods in Chicago. Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, 4(2), 223-272.

Tyler, T.R. (2006).  Why people obey the law. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Tyler, T. R. (2006). Psychological perspectives on legitimacy and legitimation. Annu. Rev. Psychol., 57, 375-400.

Tyler, T. R. (2005). Policing in black and white: Ethnic group differences in trust and confidence in the police. Police Quarterly, 8(3), 322-342.

Sunshine, J., & Tyler, T. R. (2003). The role of procedural justice and legitimacy in shaping public support for policingLaw & Society Review, 37(3), 513-548.

Tyler, T.R. & Huo, Y.J. (2002).  Trust in the law. New York: Russell-Sage.

Tyler, T. R., & Huo, Y. (2002). Trust in the Law: Encouraging Public Cooperation with the Police and Courts Through. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Tyler, T. R. (2001). Trust and law abidingness: A proactive model of social regulation. Boston University Law Rev., 81, 361-406.

Sampson, R. J., & Bartusch, D. J. (1998). Legal Cynicism and (Subcultural?) Tolerance of Deviance: The Neighborhood Context of Racial Differences. Law and Society Review, 32(4), 777-804.

Tyler, T. R. (1988). What is procedural justice-criteria used by citizens to assess the fairness of legal procedures. Law & Society Review, 22(1), 103-136.


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