The First 365 Days: A Community Policing Plan

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The First 365 Days: A Community Policing Plan

Urban policing offers a series of complex and unique issues that all need to be dealt with in order to effectively keep the residents, visitors and businesses safe. To do this, the head law enforcement officer of the city, the chief in this case, has to ensure that policies are effectual in nature and efficient both on a financial level as well as a personnel level. Success is measured with a reduction of crime and an increase in public support and positive opinions of the police in general. In many situations, though, this has proven to be a difficult task often times resulting in the replacement of the commanding officer or radical changes in policy and procedure. It is for these reasons that a strategic plan needs to be implemented and adhered to as a whole, by all members within the department, in an effort to effect positive change.

Given the expectations of community members and politicians alike, community policing is envisioned to affect the structural environment of the agency by expanding the range of the duties commonly associated with police work that appropriately fall within the span of police responsibility, and maybe even by rearranging the priorities attached to them. This process very well may result in more attention to and recognition of an officers efforts to reduce crime, solve community issues, and build a positive relationship with residents. With these changes, officers might be less inclined to adopt an “us versus them" attitude toward residents and also less likely to define their job in narrow terms that accentuate law enforcement acts. Instead, it could be expected that officers will be more apt to accept a community policing "philosophy" (Paoline, Myers & Worden, 2000).

An effective method to gain positive public support is to establish new and more focused policing practices; these practices are what make up community policing. Community policing can best be described as a philosophy that promotes organizational strategies, which support the systematic use of partnerships and problem-solving techniques, to proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder, and fear of crime (Community oriented policing services, 2012). Examples of this type of enforcement activity include school programs, like D.A.R.E., to get officers to interact with the youth of the city, more foot patrols in problem areas, and even forums open to the community members so they can voice their opinions/concerns regarding the police. With this in mind, a police chief can get a better understanding of where the problems are within the community, what the problems are and even though the responsible parties may or may not be immediately apparent, a strong basis for further investigation.

Community policing is not without its risks and limitations. Increased involvement with police could result in issues within the neighborhoods between resident and suspect. There is also the possibility of either unchanged or an increased fear of crime and its participants. While it is generally accepted that increased police presence will help reduce criminal activity and therefore decrease the number of victims, the increase of visibility may result in negative views of a neighborhood by outsiders. In essence, increased police presence may “label” a neighborhood as bad or high in crime and force business out or even reduce property value or public opinion about an area. It is important to realize that with any risk come consequences, both good and bad.

In order for a new leader to be successful, certain steps need to be taken to ensure a smooth transition especially if change, regardless of how big or how small, is eminent. This transition can be achieved in three steps all with their own purpose. First, the leader must observe how the agency operates to better understand where the changes need to be made. Next, the leader must implement change. This can be done using a multitude of techniques with a variety of tools all designed to aid in correcting problems or to enhance a policy or program. Once the changes have been implemented, there is an evaluation period that must take place to determine the effectiveness of the change and if there needs to be any adjustments, additions or even recreations of the change.

The first and most important step any incoming leader must do is to observe the landscape and make an evaluation as to what is there. What are the strengths of the agency, what are the weaknesses, what areas need to be corrected? These are all questions the new chief officer must ask before effecting any change. This is the time where the new chief can take the time to get to know the members of the agency, community leaders, residents and business owners (otherwise known as stakeholders). This is also the time where the chief can begin to get an idea from these stakeholders what change they want to see in the operation of the police department. In a situation where there is already a plan in mind for change, this is also where the chief could begin to plant seeds of information with stakeholders so when the next phase (implementation) comes along, they are already aware of the impending change.

Once enough time has passed (there is no prescribed timeframe here) and the chief has a command understanding of the workings of the department and where the improvable areas of the community are, then changes can begin to be implemented. In the current situation where a community policing procedure is inevitable, now is the time to begin to introduce some of the changes associated with this style of policing.

A popular method for managing violent crime is aggressive or zero tolerance policing where there is no direct community involvement and police use a stricter enforcement of laws in order to maintain control (MacDonald, 2002). With police agencies increasing patrol officer presence and engaging in aggressive law enforcement practices to reduce violent crime, there has been a noticeable shift among participating police agencies towards the improvement of relationships between the police and the community. It is difficult to gauge the failure or success of community policing because the definitions utilized have varying points. Most scholars seem to agree however, that community policing involves a law enforcement rational and approach that is based on shaping partnerships with the community and its residents to help solve crime. Most community policing programs reorganize the decision making in current police structures and institute programs to enhance community and police affiliations (MacDonald, 2002).

One effective method to introduce community policing to the community is through the children. Start a D.A.R.E. program in the local schools, or a Police Athletic League (P.A.L.) where students can learn that the police are not scary, bad people who cannot be trusted. If the children begin to see the police in a positive light, as they get older they can learn to work with police to better themselves and their community.

Once the community sees how the police are making an effort at a positive co-existence, a formal plan needs to be drafted, finalized and adopted to the agencies dedication to the cause. A strategic plan showing the modernized mission, vision and goals will not only show the community that the police are serious about fighting crime, but that they are serious about including the residents and business owners in the process. This plan needs to include input from the stakeholders described earlier as well as local political organizations, elected officials. These are the people who approve budgets and without proper funding, programs like D.A.R.E. are very difficult to run. Also, the plan will most likely call for an increase of police presence in some neighborhoods which may require an increase in overtime costs or the hiring of new officers. Either way, it does not hurt to have a friend or two on the city council.

The last phase is to evaluate the change and determine if it has been beneficial or not. In order for this phase to at all effective, the chief needs to be able to look at the changes that were made and “objectively” conclude if those changes are working and being accepted by the members of the department as well as the members of the community. Without both entities accepting of the change, there is little hope that this program will have any hope at reducing crime.

With this change can come some obstacle that will need to be overcome. One such obstacle will be the community’s unwillingness to work with police given past experiences. This is going to be one of the most difficult hurdles to conquer. The idea of this program is to help the community by proving to its members that the police are there to help, not hurt. If a member of the community has had a negative experience with police, it makes it that much harder to with that person over. Police generally interact with the public when these individuals are experiencing the worst possible circumstances in their lives. More often than not, these feelings materialize into fear and it may be misplaced.

Over the past three or four decades, the primary police strategy has put an emphasis on three operative components: motorized patrol, rapid response to calls for service, and retrospective investigation of crimes. The strongest intention has been to solve crimes and to take criminals off of the streets rather than reduce fear. It has been assumed that if the number of victims could be reduced, fear, by this rational, would also decrease (Moore & Trojanowicz, 1988). Unfortunately, research has shown that the mere presence of motorized patrol units does little to quash fear. As a matter of fact, in one study done in Kansas City, showed that residents of neighborhoods where increased police presence via motorized patrol was increased were neither less fearful nor comforted by their presence despite the fact that they knew there were increased patrols. If you put an officer on foot in the same area, fear diminishes exponentially, Flint, Michigan showed rates of nearly a 70 percent decrease in fear among residents when foot patrol officers were on duty (Silverman & Della-Giustina, 2001).

Community policing has shown that police agencies may begin the process to promote positive relationships with residents and business owners and further emphasize the necessary role that said residents play in the success of the community policing program itself. By building on the neighborhood’s strengths, the primary goal of the community policing model is to aid those in the neighborhood to take control of the area that they call home away from wrong doers and into their own hands (Velez, 2001). To do this, the new chief officer within a police agency needs to be able to see, firsthand, what the issues are, implement change that is necessary and that will affect the most positive of changes and then be able to, objectively, evaluate the program and make the changes needed to realize success.

References

Community oriented policing services. (2012, August). Retrieved from http://www.cops.usdoj.gov/default.asp?item=36

MacDonald, J. M. (2002). The effectiveness of community policing in reducing urban violence.Crime & Delinquency,48(4), 592-618.

Moore, M. H., & Trojanowicz, R. C. (1988).Policing and the Fear of Crime(Vol. 3, No. 3). Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice.

Paoline III, E. A., Myers, S. M., & Worden, R. E. (2000). Police culture, individualism, and community policing: evidence from two police departments. Justice Quarterly,17(3), 575-605.

Silverman, E. B., & Della-Giustina, J. A. (2001). Urban policing and the fear of crime.Urban Studies,38(5-6), 941-957.

Velez, M. B. (2001). The role of public social control in urban neighborhoods: A multilevel analysis of victimization risk. Criminology,39(4), 837-864.

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