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Community Capacity Building and Partnerships in Action

By Jo Vitek, Chief of Police (Retired), Watertown Police Department, South Dakota

What is community capacity building and why is it important? Why should a police department concern itself with community capacity building? In the time it takes to read this article, one will walk away, perhaps, even run away, with a better understanding of the concept and how it can be implemented. Community capacity building is a relatively new term to police; however, it is not an unfamiliar concept. Community capacity building (CCB) has been tagged as a 1990s and early 21st century notion and practice.1 Some have described it as “new,” “innovative,” and “empowering.” However, over-use of the term has caused some confusion and frustration as to what it actually means. Most agree CCB entails strengthening skills, competencies, and abilities of people and communities, enabling them to overcome obstacles. In many ways, CCB resembles Community Oriented Policing and Problem Solving (COPPS) and as such, police departments, like no other governmental entity, are in a unique position to take the lead and charge ahead. After all, the police have more than 40 years of experience with community policing initiatives.2

Thanks to the continuous efforts of organizations like the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), police chiefs across the United States know why their organizations exist—to serve mankind; to safeguard lives and property; to protect the innocent against deception, the weak against oppression or intimidation, and the peaceful against violence and disorder; and to respect the constitutional rights of all men to liberty, equality, and justice.3 They know what police work is—judgment, decision-making, and problem solving; and, in turns of tasks, it’s situations, objectives, and goals.4 Finally, police chiefs know how to—prevent crime; reduce the fear of crime; preserve peace and public order; generate and maintain public trust; solve community problems; respect human rights and dignity; and, uphold individuals liberties and constitutional rights.5 However, when the concepts of COPPS first appeared in the 1970s, the cops did not understand it, let alone embrace it. Now, COPPS is widely accepted and an expected way of doing business. Times have changed and the newest “buzz word” around the world is not COPPS but CCB—Community Capacity Building. Instead of police chiefs trying to figure out what CCB is, it is more likely, that mayors, city managers, and their counterparts are the ones trying to gain a better understanding of CCB. Why? It is probably because CCB encompasses many facets of the community and its definition is elusive.

Community Capacity Building
Images courtesy of the Watertown Police Department, South Dakota
Camp Chance kids learning about bicycle safety with Officer Brandon Johnson.
The end of South Dakota day at Joy Ranch.
Presentation of a donation for $7,000 to the Watertown Police Department by Bob Endres and Jan DeBerg of the Watertown Community Foundation. This was during our initial drug dog fundraising campaign in 2007.
A local funeral home donated a custom-made oak casket for Hondo. The community joined the police department for his funeral. Hondo was escorted by wagon to a small church located on Joy Ranch (one of the locations used for Camp Chance). All four police chaplains participated in the service. Every year the Camp Chance kids visit Hondo’s grave. Hondo wasn’t on the earth very long but while here, he made the most of his life by keeping drugs off of the streets of Watertown, South Dakota.
Drug Dog Hondo died of a rare and fatal disease. The entire Watertown Community paid their respects to their four-legged officer. This digital sign is located on SD Highway 212, which is the major thoroughfare in Watertown.

Fundamentally, CCB looks a lot like COPPS except it is much broader and inclusive, as it includes all aspects of the community. Like COPPS, CCB is about forging partnerships. There are three essential legs or ingredients of community capacity: commitment, skills, and resources.6 Community capacity “building” entails close inspection of those elements. Advocates know that CCB does not just happen. Instead, it is developed through effort, will, initiative, and great leadership. Finally, the process entails a sequence of events. Harry Martin, renowned leader of the Community Development Foundation in Tupelo, Mississippi, said, “Community development must precede economic development.” Harry’s basic point was that if Tupelo had not focused on building its community capacity, it would not have succeeded in building its economy. “That, in short, is why it is worth caring about community capacity building.”7

Some police chiefs may have a mentality of “been there, done that” when it comes to CCB because it looks similar to COPPS, but they should not overlook the value of this movement. It is more encompassing and it creates an opportunity for them to lead up and assist their direct report whether he or she is a mayor, a city manager, or an administrator. As part of their community’s leadership team, police chiefs can play an indispensable leadership role in CCB, as they have proven systems and processes, which have been developed over the years by the IACP and COPS Office to include internal and external assessments; ethical and leadership surveys; managerial analysis and strategic plans; and mission and visioning processes. If done properly, police chiefs and their communities will win and reap the benefits of solidified community leaders who share a common vision, purpose, and values. All that is left to do is to send out a massive email and post it on the department’s Facebook page for all to read and digest. Recipients can just read it and get it, right?

Police chiefs, better than anyone else, know and understand that leadership is complex; it is an interdependent process that involves working together and communicating with people. A major part of leadership entails communication and garnering the support and commitment of community members that is no easy endeavor. Yet, engaged police chiefs know how to awaken the community’s consciousness to a new way of thinking. Experienced chiefs know how to purposely sow a seed of inspiration, causing their communities to act. They know a call to action must always serve a higher purpose and be for the betterment of humankind and the community. Chiefs know how to identify priorities. Also, they know the importance of community trust, which is always about doing the right thing, at the right time, for the right reason, even when nobody is watching. Chiefs can model these skills for other leaders in their communities through the “Police Chief’s Fundamentals” or the “3 Cs”—Credibility, Communicate, and Conduit. The 3 Cs are fundamental and needed ingredients to ensure the leaders of COPPS and CCB are successful.

Police Chief Fundamentals—3 Cs

Foremost, community leaders, like police chiefs, must achieve and understand three fundamental, even indispensable, things. First, community leaders and police chiefs must have credibility or believability. Thanks to the work of Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner in Leadership Challenge, police chiefs know that more than anything else, people want to follow leaders who are credible.8 They must have community trust, which is the cornerstone of successful policing. In other words, if people do not believe in a community leader or a police chief, they are not going to listen to what he or she says. Stephen M.R. Covey, in the Speed of Trust, helped chiefs understand that credibility is the product of a person’s character and competency. Credible leaders must have both character and competency.9 One without the other is like rowing a boat with just one oar, going in circles. The importance of the public’s perception of its community leader or police chief and his or her department cannot be overstated. A police chief or community leader can have a timely and important, even urgent, message, but, if the message is not believed because of its source, one is wasting one’s time and energy. The message will not come across as credible, and people will not engage. To be believable and trusted, community leaders and police chiefs must know and believe they serve a higher purpose—larger than themselves or any one person in their organizations or communities. Credibility of the leader becomes most important when discussing quality-of-life issues within a community. Quality-of-life issues cannot be mandated, they must be determined through a democratic and participatory process representative of all community members. Only credible leaders can successfully facilitate this process.

Second, community leaders, like police chiefs, must communicate and pay attention to delivery of their message to achieve the highest level of intimacy possible with community members. A community wants and needs to see and hear their community leaders and their police chief. Do not wait for an emergency to happen—a crisis situation to occur—before the community sees and hears its leaders. If communities do not know their leaders, their police chiefs, or their officers, they are less likely to trust them. Community leaders, including police chiefs, must get up from behind their desks and get out of their offices and into their departments and communities. Just as police officers must stop their cars, get out of them, and walk about their communities, so must the leaders. Leadership is not easy. It is demanding. This is especially true in an organization, which operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year, or in a city, which runs nonstop. Community leaders should flex their time and schedule opportunities to make connections and communicate with people who live and work outside of the normal Monday through Friday, 8-5 work schedule. Communication involves verbal and nonverbal skills and active listening. Effective leaders communicate with their constituents and keep their finger on the pulse of their communities. Finally, they are accessible and approachable.

Third, community leaders, like police chiefs, must understand that the conduit of influence is relationships.10 As such, community leaders, like police chiefs, must establish as many relationships as possible. Make a connection and build a coalition. Some of the best advice a police chief can give to a community leader is to intentionally and regularly designate a portion of their time to walk door-to-door inside their organizations and store-to-store throughout the community to build and foster relationships. There is no better way to create and build relationships. Relationships lead to partnerships, and that is how things are accomplished.

Police chiefs have been in the business of community capacity building for many years. As such, police chiefs are in unique positions to lead the way and to teach other community leaders the fundamentals of CCB and the 3 Cs. Likewise, police chiefs are, by the nature of their positions, entrusted with the overall welfare of their communities. Therefore, they should maximize and build upon this unique position of power and authority to teach, lead, and model the way for other community leaders to emulate. By doing so, chiefs will contribute greatly to the enhancement of the quality of life in their communities. A natural side-product of this level of commitment is the development of a positive legacy. Community members will remember their police chief’s devotion and commitment to the development of community capacity. They will be remembered because they cared.

As conduits of influence, police chiefs and officers make emotional connections every day that inspire the members of their communities. They can show other community leaders how to do the same. They can plant one seed at a time to awaken their community’s consciousness to a new way of thinking. They can use their influence to persuade their communities to take action. They can use the two-way exchange of information to better understand the needs, wants and desires of their communities. If done properly, a community can reap enormous benefits.

Hope and Change

“It is no accident that Hope and Change was the centerpiece of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. It is the centerpiece of every mass movement, be it social, political, or religious.”11 Across the United States and throughout the world, people want and hope for a better tomorrow. Often, police chiefs can earn the trust and support of their community by simply caring and having empathy for its members. “People don’t care what you know until they know how much you care.”12 Collectively, police chiefs and community leaders can engage the community “to reach further” than ever before and to end the status quo. They can create an army of leaders and followers capable of accomplishing any task when working together. This can be done, when leaders create and share a vision—a positive promise of tomorrow, which is just within reach and worth their effort.

Some community members may not always understand what and how police departments or community leaders do what they do, so it is critical that they get the why. To elicit a clear call to action, always start with why they should do something and then explain what they should do. “Inspiring leaders and remarkable companies first share why they do what they do, then share how they do what they do.”13 As police chiefs travel about their communities creating and building partnerships, they ought to take along another community leader and explain why, what, and how they do things. CCB like COPPS is a necessity to improve the quality of life in the community. These kinds of interactions can lead to conversations about what resources are needed to achieve the outcomes the community desires. What can police chiefs and leaders do when resources are limited? Perhaps, they need not look very far to find resources and solutions.

Community Foundations

Throughout the United States, there are over 650 community foundations. The first was established in 1914 in Cleveland, Ohio. Thereafter, community foundations sprang up in cities like Chicago, Boston, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Rhode Island, and Buffalo. Since the inception of community foundations, hundreds of thousands of individuals created charitable funds to meet the needs of their local communities. Community foundations across the United States hold about $31 billion in combined assets. They offer local grants of about $2.6 billion every year. Today, community foundations can be found in 38 countries worldwide.14

Watertown Community Foundation. In Watertown, South Dakota, there is an organization known as the Watertown Community Foundation (WCF). Its motto is “Looking Forward, Giving Back.” The mission of the WCF states, “The Watertown Community Foundation invests in the vitality and future of Watertown by supporting community priorities, responding to human service needs and enhancing recreation, education, arts and culture.” They accomplish their mission by leadership and forward thinking; promoting philanthropy; encouraging, receiving and administering charitable gifts; making grants to local nonprofits; partnering with local organizations; and making strategic investments in the community.15 The Watertown Police Department (WPD) identified a number of community needs that were not funded by tax dollars and turned to the WCF for assistance. Today, the WPD has a Police Fund at the foundation and a number of its community policing initiatives would not be possible without the assistance of the foundation. Two programs worth mentioning are the WPD’s Camp Chance and Drug K-9 Programs.

Camp Chance. In 2005, with no funding sources, the WPD set out on a journey to provide a service to the community that could have significant impacts on quality of life and public safety. The WPD shared its vision with community partners and formulated a steering committee representing 12 entities within Watertown. The initiative was entitled—Camp Chance. A mission statement was developed—“Inspiring our youth to achieve by building rapport and self-esteem through community support.” WPD analyzed youth arrest and self-reporting survey data to identify at-risk behaviors and trends among youth. WPD solicited Camp Chance nominations from elementary school teachers, social workers, and police officers—trusted individuals of authority who have insight and personal knowledge about the children and their families. A three-day curriculum was developed. Day one focuses on making “healthy choices;” day two focuses on “safety and prevention;” and day three focuses on “historical and cultural aspects about South Dakota.” A marketing campaign was launched to garner community support and funding. The police fund specifically for Camp Chance was created at the WCF. Today, over 1,050 kids have graduated from Camp Chance. Numerous community members volunteer their time at camp every year. Is Camp Chance more than just another “warm and fuzzy” community policing initiative? In 2012, total juvenile arrests decreased 31.8 percent from 2005.16 Simultaneously, the student population grew from 3,773 in 2006 to 3,858 in 2012.17 Through these kinds of collaborative activities, the Watertown community is engaged in COPPS and CCB. Camp Chance is one of many initiatives aimed at building rapport and enhancing the quality of life for young community members; a partnership that has paid off for public safety.

Drug K-9 Program. The city of Watertown experienced a significant increase in drug arrests between 2005 and 2007. The need for a drug K-9 unit was apparent. WPD partnered with community businesses, organizations, and individuals to acquire a drug dog. A local radio station launched a media campaign. At the end of the community campaign, the WPD received a total of $46,098 in donations. The WPD was awarded a matching grant for $5,000 and the South Dakota Attorney General’s Office awarded $34,600 to purchase a K-9–equipped patrol vehicle. In all, community partners contributed $85,700 to make the Drug K-9 initiative a reality. A fund specifically for the Drug K-9 program was also established at the WCF. Because of the overwhelming support of the community, the WPD acquired two drug dogs instead of one. The community funding covered the expenses of all start-up costs and first-year operating expenses. The names of the drug dogs, Hondo and Turk, were the result of a contest among elementary students, providing additional connection between the community and this police-driven initiative. Unfortunately, in 2010, Hondo was diagnosed with a fatal disease and he was euthanized. Hondo was buried with full honors and the community actively participated in the funeral service. Within less than one week of Hondo’s funeral, the WCF awarded additional funding to the WPD to purchase a new drug dog and to cover all related expenses for 8 weeks of out-of-state training. Today, the WPD has two drug dogs: Turk and Thera-Dakota and Watertown is safer because they are on-duty.

Camp Chance and the Drug K-9 programs are just two examples of many initiatives funded and supported by the WCF. Having funding and resources are critical. Likewise, police chiefs and community leaders must have systems in place to identify and meet the needs of the community. But how do leaders identify and then address community needs?

Community Capacity Building in Action
Jo and Turk

The WPD utilizes a variety of assessment tools to identify and address the public safety needs of Watertown. One easy tool to implement is known as Stop Walk And Talk (SWAT). It is an excellent way to build community partnerships and simultaneously facilitate communication with community members. From the chief of police to the officers on the beat, all are expected to routinely stop their patrol vehicles and get out, to walk into businesses, and to talk with community members to forge relationships—the conduit of influence. SWATs provide for personal encounters between the police and community members. A code was created in the computer-aided dispatch system to capture the number of SWATs conducted by personnel.

Another assessment tool is the community survey, which should be administered every three years. In an ever-changing environment, it is important to identify and stay in touch with the needs and concerns of community members. How can a police department know what is important to its community members? Ask them! Survey results should be collected and analyzed by a third party, whenever possible, to avoid any appearance of impropriety. Most departments have a college, technical school, or high school within their jurisdictions that will gladly assist with this project. Finally, the results, good, bad or indifferent, must be publicized and acted upon.

Another helpful managerial assessment tool is a SWOT (for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis. Its purpose is to evaluate an organization’s internal strengths and weaknesses and its external opportunities and threats. This tool provides a clear view of an organization’s resource capabilities and deficiencies, as well as external opportunities and threats. Finally, the COPS Office has created a comprehensive self-assessment, which can be used to identify internal community policing strengths and areas in need improvement.

After gathering and assessing information from personal encounters, community surveys, SWOT analysis, and the COPS self-assessment tools, then police chiefs can begin to devise a three-year strategic plan, which will help to identify how to best employ the political, economic, psychological, and physical resources available. A participatory process during the creation of a strategic plan is key to its success. Involving internal and external stakeholders will ensure the organization is focusing its resources on objectives that the community feels are most important. A strategic plan clearly stating long-term goals and objectives will help to guide and direct the department. The WPD’s Strategic Plan for 2013-2015 covers three distinct areas:

  1. Community—To forge collaborative partnerships with individuals and organizations we serve to develop solutions to problems and to increase trust in the police
  2. Problem Solving—To engage in proactive and systematic examinations of identified problems to develop effective responses
  3. Organizational Transformation—To align organizational management, structure, personnel, information systems to support community partnerships and proactive problem solving18

Strategic plans should be tied to the overall budget process to include the long-term capital improvement projects.


Using the aforementioned systems and processes provides clarity and ensures department members know exactly what is expected of them, their units, and the organization as a whole. When the WPD strategic plan is shared outside its organization, it informs the community how the specific goals are tied to the day-to-day operations, as well as a snapshot of the overall challenges facing the department. Hence, COPPS and CCB become an ordinary way of doing extraordinary things to improve the way of life in Watertown. A word about method—at first, they can seem mechanical and awkward. A good analogy is the art and science of sailing a boat. At first, learning to sail the boat is not pleasurable. One must keep a hand on the rudder and another on the boom. One eye must be on the sail and the other on the water. The first couple of times may not seem very enjoyable. But once the method becomes second nature, it serves its purpose well. The same concept applies to CCB. Soon, community leaders and members are free to enjoy the wind in the sails and end up taking the ride of their lifetimes, with their law enforcement partners by their side. ♦

1South Australian Department of Health, Community Capacity Building: A Review of the Literature, by Fiona Verity, for the Department of Health, Health Promotion Branch (2007), (accessed June 18, 2013).
2Anthony J. Vitek, Jr., Retired Major of the Baltimore County Police Department, Baltimore, MD, personal interview with author.
3International Association of Chiefs of Police, Legacy Resource Toolkit (July 2010), CD, which is available from (accessed June 19, 2013).
4Elliot Jaques, Requisite Organization: A Total System for Effective Managerial Organization and Managerial Leadership for the 21st Century (Arlington, Va.: Cason Hall & Co., 1998).
5Michael Josephson, Becoming an Exemplary Peace Officer: The Guide To Ethical Decision Making (Los Angeles, Calif.: Josephson Institute, 2009), 11-12, (accessed August 15, 2013).
6Measuring Community Capacity Building: A Workbook-In-Progress for Rural Communities, version 3/96 (The Aspen Institute, 1996), (accessed June 17, 2013).
7Measuring Community Capacity Building, 3.
8James Kouzes and Barry Posner, The Leadership Challenge (San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, 2007).
9Stephen M.R. Covey, The Speed of Trust (New York: Free Press, 2008).
10Randy Barnes, Retired-Commander of the Richland Police Department, Richland, Washington, email interview with the author, June 24, 2013.
11Jeremy Donovan, How to Deliver a TED Talk: Secrets of the World’s Most Inspiring Presentations (Jeremy Donovan, 2012).
12John C. Maxwell, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You (Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson, 2007).
13Jeremy Donovan, How To Deliver a TED Talk.
14“Community Foundations,” (accessed: June 17, 2013).
15“Watertown Community Foundation,” (accessed: June 19, 2013).
16Ryan Remmers, Captain of the Watertown Police Department, email interview with the author, June 12, 2013.
17Lesli Jutting, Superintendent of Watertown School District, Watertown, South Dakota, email interview with the author, June 13, 2013.
18Watertown Police Department Strategic Plan, 2013-2015, (accessed June 15, 2013).

Joanna (Jo) Vitek is a 36-year law enforcement veteran. She retired on April 1, 2013, as the Chief of Police for the Watertown Police Department. Currently, Jo is an adjunct professor of Criminal Justice at Mount Marty College and Lake Area Technical School in Watertown. She is the immediate past president of the South Dakota Police Chiefs’ Association. Jo has been a law enforcement officer in Georgia, Florida, and South Dakota. She holds a bachelor of science degree and a master of science degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Central Florida, in Orlando, Florida. She is a graduate of the 109th session of the Administrative Officer’s Course of the Southern Police Institute in Louisville, Kentucky, and a graduate of the 8th Session of FDLE’s Senior Leadership Class, in Tallahassee, Florida. Contact Jo Vitek via email at

Please cite as:

Jo Vitek, "Community Capacity Building and Partnerships in Action," The Police Chief 80 (October 2013): 50–58.



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXX, no. 10, October 2013. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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