Throughout the years experts have struggled to define the term “police culture.” For most this label means a reactive approach to keeping people safe by using punitive consequences to punish or detain the perpetrators. The result: More attention is given to the negative reactive side of policing than a positive proactive approach to preventing crime by cultivating an interdependent culture of residents looking out for the safety, health, and well-being of each other.
We believe police officers can play a critical and integral role in achieving such a community of compassion — an actively-caring for people (AC4P) culture.
What is AC4P Policing?
AC4P Policing is a program of the National Center for the Prevention of Community Violence.
AC4P stands for “Actively Caring for People.”
This process has been researched, implemented and proven successful in various settings across our country and the world, from industry to educational and community settings. AC4P Policing brings this process to police officers around the country.
AC4P Policing hopes to bridge the divide between the community and law enforcement. Training officers on how to deliver positive consequences in ways that help to cultivate interpersonal trust and actively-caring behavior among police officers and the citizens they are hired to serve.
The AC4P Movement
Scott Geller coined the term “actively caring” in 1990 while working with a team of safety leaders at Exxon Chemical in Baytown, Texas. His vision was to cultivate a brother/sister keeper’s culture in which everyone looks out for each other’s safety on a daily basis. This requires people to routinely go above and beyond the call of duty on behalf of the health, safety, and well-being of others. The team agreed “actively caring for people” was an ideal label for this company-wide paradigm shift. Most people do care about the well-being of others, but relatively few individuals “act” on behalf of such caring in the best ways. The challenge was to get everyone to act effectively on their caring—to actively care.
Dr. Geller and his students began systematic research in the Center for Applied Behavior Systems at Virginia Tech (VT) to develop, evaluate, and continuously improve intervention techniques to increase the frequency and improve the quality of interpersonal AC4P behavior throughout a work culture. They have continued this research to the present, broadening applications beyond the business world to educational settings and throughout communities, and targeting a variety of behaviors affecting human welfare.
Following the VT tragedy on April 16, 2007 when an armed student took the lives of 32 students and faculty and injured 17 others, the AC4P concept took on a new focus and prominence for Dr. Geller and his students. In a time of great uncertainty and reflection, those most affected by the tragedy were not thinking about themselves, but rather were acting to help classmates, friends, and even strangers heal. This collective effort was manifested in an AC4P Movement for culture change (see www.ac4p.org), making the belongingness spirit of the Hokie community even stronger. Dr. Geller and his students envisioned applying the principle of positive reinforcement to spread this AC4P Movement beyond VT’s Blacksburg campus.
They took the green silicon wristbands, embossed with “Actively Caring for People,” that Dr. Geller had been distributing at safety conferences for two decades, and added a numbering system to enable computer tracking of the AC4P process: See, Act, Pass, and Share (SAPS). The SAPS process asks individuals and groups to look for AC4P behavior (i.e., See) and reward such AC4P behavior with a green wristband (i.e., Act). Wristband recipients are then requested to look for AC4P behavior from others and pass on the wristband (i.e., Pass). They are asked to document this exchange (including the nature of their AC4P behavior) at the AC4P website (www.ac4p.org), along with the wristband number. In this way, a positive recognition process is tracked worldwide (i.e., Share) as positive AC4P communication.
Let’s consider the profound value of police officers becoming AC4P agents of cultivating cultures of interdependent compassion. Could police implement the AC4P process of SAPS? How might this be accomplished and what would be the outcome? We believe such a proactive AC4P approach would help shift the common perception of the police officer as “one who reacts to criminal activity with negative consequences to the police officer as “a community servant who helps to prevent crime with positive consequences.” Now more than ever this perceptual and protocol shift is needed.