Community Outreach Spotlight
Submitted by Officer Jon Plunkett of the Irving, Texas, Police Department.
In August 2016, following the murder of five Dallas police officers, Officer Jon Plunkett of the Irving, Texas, Police Department (IPD) began working on an outreach initiative to bridge the gap between African Americans and law enforcement. He felt the department’s relationship with minorities could be stronger and that a segment of the community was missing from the agency’s outreach efforts.
Officer Plunkett knew that barbershops would be ideal for connecting with the community because they are places where people feel comfortable and open to sharing their concerns through honest, candid conversations. Barbershops offer a neutral space to relieve the tension that accompanies tough discussions, thereby improving community relations and developing trust. Pairing his personal experiences growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, with his desire to enhance police-community relations, Officer Plunkett started Shop Talk with the support of Irving’s barbershop owners.
Shop Talk typically involves IPD officers making random, impromptu visits to barbershops to greet and interact with the owners and patrons. Topics of discussion range from sports and entertainment to police policies and procedures. Barbershop owners and customers also communicate issues, concerns, and information to officers, allowing IPD to better serve its residents. Currently, over 100 officers — including new recruits — support the program.
One CommunityUSA, the nonprofit that supports Shop Talk, provides manpower and funding to enhance the activities within the shops. Prior to a large event, the organization arrives early to break the ice with customers and lessen any shock of the police arriving.
Quarterly luncheons with shop owners allow them to communicate directly with the IPD chief. Further, because of the department’s commitment to assisting those struggling with mental health, it recently brought in a licensed clinical social worker to help barbers identify patrons on the verge of a mental health crisis and connect them with local service providers.
Shop Talk’s impact has been felt far beyond its initial goal. Participating barbershops have collaborated with IPD to host back-to-school events, providing backpacks, school supplies, and haircuts to students. Partnerships with the Irving Library have placed books in the barbershops to enhance learning.
Shop Talk aligns with a key pillar of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing — building trust and legitimacy.1 Additionally, it was recognized by Attorney General William Barr in 2019 as an exceptional program that creates dialogue between the IPD and the community.2 In June 2022, Shop Talk received a police reform and racial justice grant from the U.S. Conference of Mayors to expand the program to other minority communities and create additional events and enhancements.3
Barbershops are now a positive force within the Irving community, and Shop Talk has become a model for other departments across the nation. Today, the program has expanded to include 55 barbershops, reaching beyond the borders of Irving into other surrounding cities. Recently, salons and Hispanic-owned shops have also joined.
Not only has Shop Talk improved communication and trust between the public and law enforcement but it has also fostered several relationships that extend well beyond a single program or initiative. Further, the Irving Police Department has seen firsthand the benefit of these connections in terms of de-escalation during interactions and/or contacts.
Shop Talk is a true partnership, reminding police officers, residents, and businesses that they are all part of the community and working together.
For more information about the Shop Talk program, contact Officer Plunkett at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing, Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing (Washington, DC: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, 2015), 1, https://cops.usdoj.gov/pdf/taskforce/taskforce_finalreport.pdf.
2 U.S. Department of Justice, “Justice Department Honors Law Enforcement Officers and Deputies in Third Annual Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service in Policing,” Office of Public Affairs, December 3, 2019, https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-department-honors-law-enforcement-officers-and-deputies-third-annual-attorney-general.
3 Sara Durr, “U.S. Conference of Mayors Announces Winners of Police and Racial Justice Grants,” The United States Conference of Mayors, June 4, 2022, https://www.usmayors.org/2022/06/04/u-s-conference-of-mayors-announces-winners-of-police-and-racial-justice-grants/.