In an era where law enforcement agencies are continuously seeking innovative ways to bridge the gap between officers and the communities they serve, the emergence of nonprofit police foundations has proven to be a promising avenue.
Nonprofit police foundations date back to 1971. According to a national study of police foundations commissioned by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) Foundation and managed by the research firm IDEA Analytics, there are 300 police foundations that have been launched in the U.S. and Canada.
Foundations have fueled the goal of improving police practices and fostering stronger community relationships, and that’s a growing trend. By focusing on bolstering training, upgrading equipment and fostering community outreach, these nonprofit entities are redefining the landscape of modern policing. Most police foundations avoid sponsoring ongoing, recurring commitments that municipal budgets ought to support.
By focusing on bolstering training, upgrading equipment and fostering community outreach, these nonprofit entities are redefining the landscape of modern policing.
Foundations are not one-size-fits-all
Creating a foundation from scratch is an investment. The Department of Justice published an excellent guide on creating a police foundation in its publication, Investigating in Community Safety: A Practical Guide to Forming and Sustaining Police Foundations (2014).1 Critical steps include defining the mission of the organization, recruiting suitable board members and officers for the initial board and creating articles of incorporation. There are steps to then incorporate as a nonprofit corporation within a state, having bylaws and formally applying to the IRS for tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(3) federally recognized nonprofit organization. There are also annual reporting requirements, meeting agendas and minutes that must be tracked as well.
This process takes time, money and legal assistance. Larger communities can find this process achievable, but smaller communities and agencies may find it to be too challenging of a project.
Setting up a police foundation with assistance is an option that the Baxter County, Arkansas, Sheriff’s Office used under the direction of Sheriff John Montgomery. With a county population of 42,000, the sheriff was looking for a way to stretch available tax dollars. Sheriff Montgomery partnered with a firm that provided a one-stop-shop, creating the Baxter County Sheriff’s Foundation from concept to incorporation, reporting requirements to a full-service website.2
According to Montgomery, “Many people want to give but don’t know how to give and make sure it goes for direct support to the sheriff’s office. Plus, the gift or donation is tax deductible, so it’s a win-win.”
Created in 2012, the Baxter County Sheriff’s Foundation has received widespread support.3 “Whether it’s the lady who bought new tasers for deputies because she was worried about their safety or the man who left part of his estate to the foundation because our deputies would take him to dialysis when the weather was bad. Or the woman who named the sheriff’s foundation as a beneficiary on her IRA because we delivered medications to her in bad weather, and she wanted to give back. Our foundation gives another mechanism for people to help our sheriff’s office,” Montgomery says.
Community trusts and foundations may be another option for smaller agencies. These established nonprofits manage donor-advised funds from family foundations, bequests and other charitable entities in keeping with the wishes of the
donors. A community foundation approach may also make it easier for smaller agencies to operate under their nonprofit umbrella. Partnering with a community foundation provides many of the benefits of a police foundation with much less effort. The arrangement typically involves setting up an independent policing fund under the umbrella of the community foundation. A small group of agency and/or community members oversee the use of the funds and authorize the release of funds. There may be an administrative fee for service to defray the legal fees and administrative expenses incurred by the sponsoring foundation. This is a streamlined and effective option for many agencies to consider.
Cultivating community outreach: Strengthening bonds
In a national survey, approximately 78% of local police foundation respondents supported their respective police department or sheriff’s office engaging in positive community youth programming involving sports, arts, education and recreation activities. Moreover, 65% of these foundations also funded programming supporting essential needs for local youth and their families.
The foundation of effective policing lies in the relationship between officers and the communities they serve. Nonprofit police foundations recognize the importance of building and maintaining these relationships. More than 50% of local police foundations surveyed also supported adult engagement initiatives. Specifically, 41% of police foundation respondents funded community-led safety/crime prevention programming, and nearly 30% supported family programs such as parenting classes. Some foundations also reported funding community-based career initiatives such as general resume and job training programs that focused on public safety career programs.
Many police foundations also support more complex services or community outreach because of economic challenges and victimization rates in their community. For example, several foundations are involved in victim support, homeless outreach, crisis recovery and housing or financial assistance.
Elevating training standards: Knowledge is power
Nonprofit police foundations recognize that a well-trained police force is the cornerstone of effective law enforcement. These organizations often collaborate with law enforcement agencies to provide supplementary training programs that encompass a wide range of topics, from de-escalation techniques to cultural sensitivity and bias reduction. By working closely with experts in various fields, these foundations can deliver
specialized training that equips officers with the skills they need to navigate complex situations with empathy and professionalism.
More than 62% of surveyed police foundations reported that they supported officer wellness programs. In addition, almost one-third also said that they supported behavioral health programming for officers.
Equipping for success: Beyond the basics
Outdated equipment can hinder an officer’s ability to perform their duties efficiently and safely. Non-profit police foundations address this issue by channeling resources to acquire state-of-the-art equipment and technology. Whether it’s body cameras to enhance transparency, advanced communication tools to improve coordination or non-lethal alternatives to traditional weaponry, these foundations play a pivotal role in ensuring that officers are equipped with tools that align with modern policing standards. This not only enhances officer safety but also fosters trust within communities by showcasing a commitment to adopting the latest and most effective practices.
Of the responding police foundations who were surveyed, 79% said they supported technology and equipment, including police uniforms and general equipment (e.g., vehicle maintenance costs, police uniform clothing, community program clothing, police weapons); computers and technology (e.g., radios, automated external defibrillator, hardware or software); and crime prevention and intervention equipment (e.g., public space security equipment like cameras, lighting and license plate readers).
The largest common expenditure by foundations is ongoing support for police animal units such as K-9 or mounted/horse units.
Transparency and accountability: The cornerstones of success
Nonprofit police foundations operate with a transparent and accountable approach. They often work in tandem with local oversight bodies, community leaders and law enforcement agencies to ensure that resources are allocated effectively and ethically. Regular reporting and open communication contribute to the public’s trust in these organizations, solidifying their role as catalysts for positive change within the realm of policing.
In a time when building trust between law enforcement and communities is paramount, nonprofit police foundations offer a beacon of hope. By elevating training standards, providing cutting-edge equipment and facilitating meaningful community engagement, these foundations bridge the gap between officers and the people they serve. As these organizations continue to evolve and expand their impact, the landscape of modern policing is poised to become more transparent, equitable and effective for everyone involved.