Officer Tommy Norman calls to a group of boys on the street in Little Rock, Arkansas, addressing some of them by name. “What do y’all want to be when you grow up?” he asks while filming, giving them all fist bumps.
“Police officer,” they say.
And in Wichita, Kansas, activists agreed to turn a planned Black Lives Matter protest into a First Steps Cookout co-hosted with local police. One of the officers joined in a group dance caught on video, earning himself the nickname “Officer Brown with the Get-Down.”
Aaron Moses, Wichita's Dancing Cop Aaron Moses, Wichita's Dancing Cop
These and other scenes popping up on social media, often under the label #communitypolicing, are a heartening counterpoint to so many recent videos and headlines documenting violent tension across the U.S. between police and minority communities.
“I will never know what it’s like to grow up and not trust a police officer,” says Aaron Moses, the white dancing cop at the Wichita barbecue. “Once you realize that, it’s a pretty profound thing that affects the way you do everything.”
Norman, an officer with the North Little Rock Police Department, runs an Instagram account devoted to the neighborhood he polices—he’s accumulated 1.2 million followers. His videos, which are often funny, show him making the rounds, talking to people, and distributing gifts. It’s clear he knows the residents as actual people and loved ones, which is part of a community policing mentality that includes patrolling on foot and developing relationships.
Norman is perhaps the most famous but certainly not the only one trying to heal the fractured relations between police and the public. New Jersey’s Camden County Police department has earned recognition for overhauling its staff and its methods, achieving a 50 percent reduction in homicides. Other city forces are trying to connect too, using everything from pick-up basketball games to lemonade stands to block parties.
The gestures might seem small, but they build badly needed trust. Moses says: “If I need to dance a little goofy and do the Cha Cha Slide to help people see that I’m a real person and that I do care and that I trust you, then that’s what I’m going to do.”