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Back to Archives | Back to March 2011 Contents 

Building Trust, Driving Relationships with the Dearborn, Michigan, Arab American Community

By Ronald Haddad, Chief of Police, Dearborn, Michigan, Police Department

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Images courtesy of Dearborn, Michigan, Police Department

e the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty . . .”

These words, taken from the preamble to the U.S. Constitution, have rightfully served as the uncontested, timeless cornerstones of many police department mission statements for more than 200 years. The police mission has faced many challenges in meeting the demands of the evolving global perspective, changing the role of law enforcement in modern society. Police departments continually redefine their missions as dictated by the needs of the community they are empowered to serve. The changing faces and cultures that make up the United States of America are vital in defining the police mission.

The city of Dearborn, Michigan, hometown of Ford Motor Company, is a city built on industry and shaped by diversity. Dearborn has a population of approximately 100,000 residents and a 200-officer police force. Like many communities in Michigan, Dearborn is battling through difficult economic times as a result of the serious challenges faced by the American auto industry. During this period defined by unemployment and increasing incidents of foreclosure, crime and the fear of crime have become more disconcerting to Dearborn residents and its diverse community.

The surrounding areas of southeastern Michigan and the city of Dearborn are home to the largest concentrated Arab population (estimated at 380,000) outside of the Middle bEast. Many in this community prefer to be referred to as American Arab, as they believe it is important to represent that they are Americans first and of Arab heritage. The city of Dearborn has been home to Arab American populations for many years. In the early 1900s, people from all over the country and world migrated to Dearborn as a result of the opening of the Ford Rouge Assembly plant, which marked the birth of the American auto industry. Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria were the main countries of origin during that time period. Throughout the 1950s, another large wave of Palestinian and Lebanese immigrants came from the Middle East to the Dearborn area. This population has grown and thrived. Arab American families are now multigenerational; have established deep cultural, political, and religious roots in the Dearborn community; and play a significant role in the Dearborn economy.

The Immigrant Communities

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Dearborn became home to a growing Yemen American population that immigrated to the area largely because of jobs in the auto industry and the established Arab American and Muslim community. The Yemen American community is primarily first- and second-generation immigrants from the country of Yemen. This community started primarily with working-class men settling in to set up a financial base before establishing roots and bringing family members to the area.

While a number of these community members have jobs as professionals, there are also currently members of the Yemen American community who do not speak or write the English language and often rely on school-aged children to translate and communicate with public safety personnel. Communication barriers can create challenges with developing trust, and, as a result, many in the Yemen American community are still relatively reluctant to make contact with police. Being members of their community’s first and second generation to live in the United States, the Yemen American community also is experiencing many of the growing pains that occur when parents are from a traditionally non-Westernized culture and the children tend to be inundated with Western culture. In addition, the country of Yemen is challenged economically and is often associated with militant Muslim ideologies, which have resulted in Yemen being of grave concern to U.S. national security. This broad-based stigma has added stress to the Yemen American community as it struggles to assimilate, grow, and contribute in the American way of life.

Adding to the Arab American mix in Dearborn and metropolitan Detroit is a well-established Chaldean (Iraqi Christian) population. Individuals in the Chaldean community have been joined over the past 18 years by many Iraqi citizens fleeing their homes during the Gulf and Iraq wars. During the past decade, many of the displaced Iraqi refugees landed in Dearborn as they chose to settle in communities with high Arab populations.

In Michigan, the Arab American population is predominately of the Christian faith. In contrast, it is estimated that approximately 80 percent of Dearborn’s Arabic population is Muslim. The Arab American community accounts for more than 30 percent of Dearborn’s residents, or 30,000 residents.

Barriers to Trust

Dearborn strives to provide upscale housing and vibrant business venues in addition to serving as a destination for dining and entertainment. Dearborn is home to several universities, colleges, and institutions for professional career development. The city is known as a regional employment center, center of commerce, and a regional health care destination. The city works hard to offer a welcoming environment that accommodates residents and visitors alike and offers a high quality of life, with well-cared for homes in attractive neighborhoods. Its residents have a sense of purpose and belonging and above all else value the atmosphere of safety and security provided in the community.

The city of Dearborn has a rich history of providing quality public services to its citizens. The Dearborn Police Department continues to follow a philosophy of service that requires it to work in partnership with members of the community to identify common issues and develop common solutions. This has not been without challenges, as the arab American population in Dearborn is often impacted by global events that create barriers to effective communication and trust. Wars in the Middle East, the ongoing Palestinian conflict, terrorist video threats, acts of violence by terrorist organizations, and global heightened security have all had an impact on the Arab American population in Dearborn, often subjecting its members to stereotypical cultural bias created by these global events. Arab American populations, like most Americans, have resigned themselves to certain infringements on freedoms, such as added airport security screening procedures. However, the perception of cultural bias in issues such as unfair national immigration policies, reported recruitment of informants within local mosques, and racial profiling can all elicit a passionate community response. These issues add a continuous burden on the local police department in building trust with the community in areas that were not created by—or in the control of—any police department. These factors cannot be allowed to impede progress. Adhering to a community-oriented policing philosophy continues to be significant in overcoming these obstacles.

Encouraging Community Involvement

The cornerstone of the Dearborn Police Department’s philosophy is communication, education, and mutual respect. Dearborn believes that through effective communication, all segments of a population have a chance to contribute and educate each other in the hopes that they all realize they are of equal importance and with that have equal responsibility in contributing to a successful and safe community.

A defining example of community identity is a section of the city of Dearborn referred to as Altar Road. Located along Altar Road is the Islamic Center of America, the largest mosque in the United States. The Islamic Center of America hosts 350,000 visitors each year and is very involved with the community. It is led by Imam Hassan Qazwini, who has been a communicator, facilitator of education, and a true community partner. Important to note is that also located on Altar Road are Saint Sarkis Armenian Apostolic Church, Saint Clement Orthodox Church, Warrendale Community Church, and Abundant Life Arabic Lutheran Ministry. Adjoining Altar Road is Saint Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church as well. Churches of various religious beliefs seamlessly coexist as peaceful neighbors, working together and all contributing to one community. This is representative of the spirit of Dearborn and why effective communication and education promotes mutual respect.

Cooperative community-based efforts are often the result of elaborate community policing initiatives. The ideals are quite simple: Individuals should become educated about their community and show through action their legitimate concern, ensuring all members of the community have an equal voice and are respected for who they are and what they represent. These actions will result in trust. Trust results in communication. Communication allows police to better deter and solve crime and enlist community support and assistance in providing a safe and secure environment for the entire community.

Before facilitating community outreach initiatives, the Dearborn Police had to clearly define the meaning of community policing. Community policing initiatives can be costly, so they must be results oriented and have a meaningful and measurable outcome. Only through education and positive experience comes the recognition of community policing as a serious facilitator of innovative problem solving and intelligence gathering. Community policing approached this way can positively affect defined crime issues with the byproduct of building relationships and trust in the community.

Mindfulness of Cultural Differences

In Dearborn, the learning process has been extensive. Beyond acknowledgement of the stereotypical cultural bias associated with the Arab American community, it is imperative that police officers recognize that the Arab culture has many nuances. Not understanding some of these nuances can lead certain police officer actions or honest efforts to be misconstrued as being offensive or disrespectful. That can inadvertently result in conflicts and communication breakdowns.

The majority of Arab Americans residing in Dearborn practice Islam, which celebrates religious beliefs and customs that are not well understood by non-Muslim peoples and are often incorrectly correlated and linked to radical portrayals of the religion. The Muslim religion has a great influence in the local Arab American culture, and, therefore, it is very important for police officers to understand many of the core ideologies. It is also important to note that Arab American communities can vary greatly within themselves in cultural traditions, ideologies, and religious beliefs based on their country of origin or religious sect. Established long-term residency that includes jobs, voting, education, civic involvement, and inclusion in a community lends itself to greater community assimilation and assists in developing relationships and trust in any ethnic community. It is imperative to recognize that although communities share a common culture, religion, and language, they do not necessarily have the same needs and concerns, nor will they automatically and harmoniously live together. Each distinct community must have equal voice and input and be an equal contributor to solutions.

A valuable lesson learned in Dearborn is the importance of locating, recognizing, and supporting programs and initiatives already existing within the community. William K. Brehm and the Brehm Scholarship Program is one such program. Brehm, a successful businessman and previous public servant as the assistant secretary of the U.S. Army in both the Nixon and Ford administrations, was a Fordson High School (Dearborn) and University of Michigan graduate. Brehm has established scholarships to encourage accomplished Fordson students to attend the University of Michigan and recently created full-tuition scholarships at the University of Michigan Medical School. The Arab American student population at Fordson is predominant and this generous educational opportunity is highly revered in the Arab American community.

Recognizing initiatives like the Brehm Scholarships is important, but, as Chief Haddad also points out, it is equally important to recognize the efforts of individuals like William Ali, a Yemen American citizen who works as a community liaison/youth intervention counselor at Edsel Ford High School (Dearborn). It is the unofficial daily efforts of William Ali that serve as a community example. Ali resides in the community and has, for more than two decades, worked with the youth in the Yemen American community, keeping them away from gangs and crime by organizing athletic programs, promoting education and language skills, and identifying at-risk youth for mentoring. The police department has been greatly assisted by the efforts initiated by Ali in reaching out to the community, building relationships, identifying at-risk youth, and bringing resources to the area. These are only two examples at each end of the spectrum of community leaders stepping forward to benefit the greater good. There are many more individuals who are also deserving of recognition.

Police Commitment and Interest

The Dearborn Police Department believes partnerships are made one at a time and are often facilitated by the interactions and professional services provided by the patrol officer. The patrol officer sets the tone, which can be positive or negative. This is why patrol officers are essential in the success or failure of any community-oriented police initiative and should be well educated and knowledgeable about the communities in their patrol areas. Members of the Dearborn Police Department benefit from education and training that portrays community policing as a philosophy, not a program. Officers continuously study the effective use of positive communication skills to create relationships, trust, and opportunities to facilitate change. These skills can also be vital in gaining useful information on a daily basis. Community policing philosophies adopted by the Dearborn Police Department are being incorporated in the policies and procedures manuals. These skills are also being incorporated in the field training officers mentoring program and in new-officer, supervisor, and in-service training, as well as in the officer’s goals and objectives. Dearborn police officers are expected to have a commitment and interest in the citizens they are serving. All officers are expected to show empathy and professionalism in all citizen contacts. Most officers continually cultivate relationships with citizens and gain information every day about crime, criminals, and issues that affect the community. It has proven to be beneficial to police and to the community to utilize teaching sources provided by the communities themselves. This allows a better understanding of key components. It is a continuing goal of the Dearborn Police Department to expand its efforts in facilitating relationships in all segments of the community.

Just as it is important to recognize the vital role of the patrol officer in community policing initiatives, law enforcement supervisors and administrators play an equally important role in developing relationships with the Arab American community. The police chief and command staff facilitate and have ongoing dialogue with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Anti-Defamation League, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Advocate and Leaders for Police and Community Trust, the Yemeni American Benevolent Association, and other civil rights–related groups. They actively participate on committees that stem from these interactions. It is important to communicate directly with these leaders to address common issues and develop equal participatory strategies for solving problems.

It is important and beneficial to be involved in these committees, but it is also important that the committees do not over evolve, transforming themselves into police oversight committees where outside committee members feel they are entitled to a policy-making role. The value in committee involvement is in equal sharing, not one-sided complaint receiving. Involvement is crucial so members of the community have the opportunity to become familiar with police and government functions. Trust and respect need to be mutual.

Programs to Instill Community Confidence

The Dearborn Police Department has made a commitment to the School Resource Officer program, assigning a police officer to each public high school and providing services at all the elementary and middle schools. This commitment proves itself valuable especially in the Arab American community, as it allows first- and second-generational youths to see police officers as educators and mentors rather than solely law enforcers, which serves as a foundation for the future.

The police department promotes and supports a solid Reserve Officer program, which has 33 officers, 21 percent of whom are volunteers from the Arab American community. This program allows volunteers from the community to assist and participate in certain police functions, which not only adds great value to the police department, but helps facilitate the police mission through civilian volunteers.

The Dearborn Police Department has a police Explorer program, which has 25 Explorers, 33 percent of whom are youths from the Arab American Community. The purpose of this program is to attract youths to the police department, expose them to the police profession, and facilitate relationships with them with the intent of building inroads and relationships with members of the community in the future.

Another program calls for police interns. Dearborn Mayor John B. O’Reilly Jr. strongly believes in the value of having a paid police intern program. This program currently comprises five interns, 60 percent of whom come from the Arab American community. The intern program offers these youths the opportunity to work side by side with police officers in a supporting role. The program offers college tuition reimbursement as the interns work toward a degree related to law enforcement. Gail Mee, president of Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn, has added her support by allowing the interns to earn six credit hours. The interns serve as ambassadors both in the community and within the police department.

Multidimensional and Information Sharing Policing

Community policing traditionally is thought of as facilitating relationships in one direction: between the police and community. The Dearborn Police Department looks at community policing as a multidimensional philosophy. If communication and trust work well in one direction, then, if properly implemented, they should work in all directions. The police department is perfectly positioned to serve the community, and it is also perfectly positioned to be the facilitator between the community and the government agencies more removed from daily contact.

The Dearborn Police Department believes it is extremely important to also build relationships upward with federal law enforcement partners by facilitating the sharing of information. Violent extremism that emanates out of radical groups concealed or blended into various religions, ethnic groups, special interest groups, bullied teens, and hatred from otherwise disturbed individuals is a concern of every citizen and government agency. It would be naive to believe information that the patrol beat officers recognize through training indicators, traits, and early warning signs could not be of value to the interests of federal law enforcement. It would also be naive to believe that services offered by federal law enforcement could not be of value to the community. Local police officers receive information daily from many street-level sources, but many times are unfamiliar or reluctant to share that information with a federal law enforcement agency because they lack knowledge or trust that the information they have obtained is valuable.

In 2010, both the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice publicly commended, endorsed, and pledged support for community-oriented policing initiatives. The Dearborn Police Department is taking initiatives to facilitate relationships between the local police officers and the federal agents at the investigative level. The police department is making efforts to invite federal law enforcement entities to meet and train local officers in areas of interest and invite federal agents to learn and participate locally, developing relationships between agents and officers. The goal of these initiatives is for the police department to build relationships of trust and common interests with federal law enforcement partners. The goal is also to be a link in the chain that facilitates relationships between federal law enforcement entities and the members of the community.

Communication, education, and mutual respect likely already play an important part in the majority of law enforcement mission statements and philosophies across the United States. Local police departments have the opportunity to be the lead facilitators of change and can be vital in providing the necessary ingredients for safe and secure communities. Legislation will not create public order. Rather, the goodwill of individuals must be relied upon to ensure that the common good of any community will be served. Citizens’ voices must be heard and their treatment must be viewed as equitable. Dialogue on the critical issues of this time can be perplexing. It can also be painful. However, mutual recognition of each other’s perspectives, not intimidation, will go a long way in building respect and trust. There are times when the right decision is clear and it cannot be impacted by political correctness, budgetary constraints, or popular demand. It relies upon the individual courage of the police executive to do what is right to ensure all people enjoy the safeguards and freedoms that are designed and guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. ■

Please cite as:

Ronald Haddad, "Building Trust, Driving Relationships with the Dearborn, Michigan, Arab American Community," The Police Chief 78 (March 2011): 42–47.



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXVII, no. 3, March 2011. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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