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What Is Community Policing?

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 4512 words Published: 21st Apr 2017

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Community policing is probably the most misunderstood and often abused topic in police management during the past years. During the last few years, it has become fashionable for police agencies to create community policing, and very often with little understanding of what that phrase really means. It is true, that any kind of organizational tinkering has been called community policing. But community policing is not a program.

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Instead, community policing is a value system which permeates a police department, in which the primary organizational goal is working cooperatively with individual citizens, groups of citizens, and both public and private organizations to identify and resolve issues which potentially effect the livability of specific neighborhoods, areas, or the city as a whole. Community-based police departments recognize the fact that the police cannot effectively deal with such issues alone, and must partner with others who share a mutual responsibility for resolving problems. Community policing stresses prevention, early identification, and timely intervention to deal with issues before they become unwieldy problems. Individual officers tend to function as general-purpose practitioners who bring together both government and private resources to achieve results. Officers are encouraged to spend considerable time and effort in developing and maintaining personal relationships with citizens, businesses, schools, and community organizations. Here are some other common features of community policing:

Beyond crime fighting a focus on livability

Many police departments and police officers define their role primarily in terms of crime control. The very term law enforcement agency is certainly an indication of this focus. But policing is much more than law enforcement. Many studies have shown that dealing with crime consumes only 10-20% of the police workload. Officers in community-based police departments understand that “crook-catching” is only one part of their job, and a rather small one by comparison to the myriad of issues and problems they deal with each day. Officers freely accept a significant role in issues that might be derisively referred to as “social work” in traditional police departments. Officers understand that resolving a problem with unruly people drinking at a public park, working to reduce truancy at a middle school, marshalling resources to improve lighting in a mobile home park, and removing abandoned vehicles from streets, may all be forms of valid and valuable police work, which affect the livability of a neighborhood. Rather than treating these activities as diversions from “real” police work, officers understand that this is the essence of their work.

Citizen Involvement

The police department strives to actively involve citizens in its operations, through a variety of means. Volunteers are widely used, whether college interns or retired seniors. Citizen patrols and crime prevention initiatives are welcomed and encouraged. Area commanders meet often with members of the public to solicit input and feedback. Many internal committees include public participation. Policy decisions typically involve opportunities for input from citizens, and the department has both formal and informal mechanisms for this purpose. Promotional boards include citizens. The department seeks to educate the general public about police work in various ways, including publications, web sites, public-access television, town hall meetings, citizen police academies. The department accepts and even encourages citizen review of its performance.

Geographic Responsibility

The primary division of labor for the police is geographical. Officers identify with their area of assignment, rather than the work shift or functional division. Commanders are assigned to geographical areas and given wide latitude to deploy their personnel and resources within that area. Individual officers adopt even smaller geographical areas and feel a sense of ownership for that area. Officers commonly know many of the people who live and work in this area, and are intimately familiar with the area’s geography, businesses, schools, and churches. Officers seek out detailed information about police incidents which have occurred in their area of assignment during their off-duty time.

Long-term Assignment

Officers can expect to work in the same geographical area for many years. Officers’ preferences for areas are considered in making assignments. Rotation of geographical assignments is rare. The organization values the expertise and familiarity that comes with long-term assignment to the same area.

Decentralized Decision Making

Most operational decisions are decentralized to the level of execution. Field officers are given broad discretion to manage their own uncommitted time. Operational policies are concise, and serve as general guidelines for professional practice more than detailed rules and regulations. First line supervisors are heavily involved in decisions that are ordinarily reserved for command ranks in traditional police departments.

Participative Management

The department employs numerous methods to involve employees at all levels in decision-making. Staff meetings, committees, task forces, quality circles, and similar groups are impaneled often to address issues of internal management. Many workplace initiatives begin with ideas or concepts brought forward from line employees. Obtaining input from frontline employees is viewed as an essential part of any policy decision. The department has comparatively few levels of rank, and rank is seldom relied upon to settle disagreements. Supervisors view their role primarily in providing support to field personnel by teaching, coaching, obtaining resources, solving problems, and “running interference.”

Generalist Officers

Field officers dominate the sworn work force. Officers are expected to handle a huge variety of police incidents, and to follow through on such incidents from beginning to end. Specialization is limited to those areas where considerable expertise is an absolute necessity. Even when specialists are used, their role is to work cooperatively with field officers, rather than assume responsibility for cases or incidents from field officers. Most specialists view their jobs as offering technical expertise and support to field personnel.

Police Leadership on Community Issues

Senior police managers are deeply involved in community affairs. They speak out frequently and freely on issues of community concern, some of which are only tangentially related to law enforcement per se. Police managers are encouraged to pursue important community issues as a personal cause. Elected officials consult with police managers often. Police representation is obligatory on committees or study groups which are set up to examine significant issues on the public agenda, and it is not uncommon for police officers to serve in leadership positions in community organizations.

Proactive Policing

The police department employs techniques to manage its workload in order to make blocks of time available for police officers to address identified problems. The police response to an emerging problem typically involves significant input and participation from outside the department. The department routinely uses a range of tactics other than responding to individual incidents, such as: targeted saturation patrol, bicycle and foot patrol, undercover/plainclothes/decoy/surveillance operations, educational presentations, coordination of efforts with other government or human service agencies, support to volunteer efforts, initiation of legislative proposals, and so forth.

Rather than merely responding to demands for police services, the department employees a Problem-Oriented Policing (POP) approach: identifying emergent problems, gathering data, bringing together stakeholders, and implementing specific strategies targeting the problem. The police response to an on-going or repetitive problem seldom involves only police resources. The police are concerned not only with high-visibility crimes, but with minor offenses which contribute to fear of crime, and negatively effect public perception of city or neighborhood safety.

Emphasis on Quality

The police define success and accomplishment primarily by the results achieved and the satisfaction of the consumer of services, rather than by strictly internal measures of the amount of work completed. Thus, there may be decreased emphasis on common productivity measures such as clearance rate, numbers of arrests, response time, etc., and increased emphasis on outcomes. Thoroughness and quality are clear emphases, but “doing the right thing” is as important as “doing things right.” The department employs methods to assess public satisfaction with services, and both individual officers and managers think about ways to improve based on this feedback.

Recognition and Professional Development

Officers receive frequent recognition for initiative, innovation, and planning. The department systematically acknowledges problem-oriented policing projects that achieve results. Seasoned field officers are highly valued for their skill and knowledge, and feel little pressure to compete for promotion to supervisory positions in order to advance their career. Commendations and awards go to officers for excellent police work of all kinds, not just crime control. Officers receive the respect and admiration of their colleagues as much for their empathy, compassion, concern for quality, and responsiveness, as for their skill at criminal investigation, interrogation, and zeal in law enforcement.

What Community Policing is not

Despite the claims of some ill-informed critics, community policing is not soft on crime. Quite the contrary, it can significantly improve the ability of the police to discover criminal conduct, clear offenses, and make arrests. Improved communication with citizens and more intimate knowledge of the geography and social milieu of the beat enhances, rather than reduces, the officers’ crime-fighting capability. Moreover, though some of these may be used as specific strategies, community policing is not:

school resource officers

a grant

storefront police substations

a pilot program in a single area of town

foot or bicycle patrols

a specialized unit of neighborhood police officers

a citizen police academy

When an agency claims to have “implemented” community policing last week, that’s a pretty good indication that it has not. Individual programs or projects that form part of this change may be implemented, but community policing is not implemented. You don’t start it at the beginning of the fiscal year. It is a process that evolves, develops, takes root and grows, until it is an integral part of the formal and informal value system of both the police and the community as a whole. It is a gradual change from a style of policing which emphasizes crime control and “crook catching,” to a style of policing which emphasizes citizen interaction and participation in problem solving.

You can’t tell whether community policing exists in a city on the basis of the press release, the organizational chart, or the annual report. Rather, it can best be discerned by observing the daily work of officers. It exists when officers spend a significant amount of their available time out of their patrol cars; when officers are common sight in businesses, schools, PTA meetings, recreation centers; when most want to work the street by choice; when individual officers are often involved in community affairs-cultural events, school events, meetings of service clubs, etc., often as an expected part of their job duties. It exists when most citizens know a few officers by name; when officers know scores of citizens in their area of assignment, and have an intimate knowledge of their area. You can see it plainly when most officers are relaxed and warmly human-not robotic; when any discussion of a significant community issue involves the police; and when few organizations would not think of tackling a significant issue of community concern without involving the police. The community-based police department is open-it has a well-used process for addressing citizen grievances, relates well with the news media, and cultivates positive relationships with elected officials.

The Lincoln Police Department has been “implementing” community-based policing since 1975. Late that year, Chief George K. Hansen announced to the public our first tentative steps into something we called at that time “neighborhood-based team policing.” While similar projects in cities including Los Angeles and Cincinnati came and went, we continued. We are perhaps the only police department in the United States that has been involved so long and so thoroughly in a conscious effort to refine and enhance the community-based approach. Twice (in 1977, 1993, and 2001) we have embarked on comprehensive strategic planning initiatives involving scores of employees and dozens of recommendations for enhancing our efforts. We have done exceedingly well at incorporating certain aspects of community-based policing in the fabric of daily life at LPD. Concerning long-term geographical assignment, or the generalist officer approach, for example, we have a long track record of successful practice. In others, such as problem-oriented policing, we have steadily improved. Our problem-oriented policing projects are becoming both more frequent and more sophisticated. In a few areas, however, such as involvement of citizens in our decision-making process, we have much more to do before we achieve excellence.

Community policing in Lincoln will continue to evolve. We will build on some of our most powerful strengths: a highly educated and capable work force, a respect for research and evaluation, and a willingness to change. We will learn from our setbacks, and be constantly open to innovation as we adapt to a changing city, society, and world. We do not have a self-image of the “thin blue line”, protecting the helpless public from the ravages of predatory criminals. Rather, we live, work, recreate, raise our children, and enjoy our city as citizens first, even though we are citizens who have a special professional responsibility for protecting others and ensuring the livability of our city. We are wholeheartedly committed to policing Lincoln in concert with our fellow citizens.


Community Policing is an organizational wide philosophy and management approach that promotes community, government and police partnerships; proactive problem solving; and community engagement to address the causes of crime, fear of crime and other community quality of life issues. Two of the core components of community policing are: Community Partnerships and Problem Solving. Community Partnerships are joint efforts between law enforcement agencies and their communities to address the significant crime and quality of life issues. Problem Solving is a process for analyzing a problem from several perspectives in order to seek the most thoughtful approach possible, which should also be the solution that is most likely to succeed.

Community policing provides the community with a:

Voice in how it will be policed

Permanent resolution to reoccurring problems

Stronger, safer and friendlier place to live

Better understanding of police capabilities and limitations

Closer working relationships with the police and other governmental agencies

It benefits the Department by providing:

A way to more efficiently and effectively use department resources

A way to be more responsive to the community

Better intelligence about criminals

Better communications

More community support for Department programs


Community-Based Policing as a

Model for Police Reform

Fundamental Principles of Community-Based Policing

1 . Policing by consent, not coercion.

2 . The police as part of the community, not apart from it.

3 . The police and community working together to find out what communities needs are.

4 . The police, public and other agencies working together in partnership.

5 . Tailoring the business of policing to meet community needs.

Community-based policing is both a philosophy (a way of thinking) and an organizational strategy (a means to carry out that philosophy) that allows the police and community to work together in new ways to solve problems of crime, disorder and safety. It rests on two core elements: changing the methods and practice of the police and taking steps to establish a relationship between the police and the public.

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The philosophy is built on the belief that the public deserves an input into policing, and indeed, has a right to it. It also rests on the view that in order to find solutions to community problems, the police and the public must move beyond a narrow focus on individual crimes or incidents, and instead consider innovative ways of addressing community concerns.

At the heart of community-based policing is the recognition that the police are much more than mere crime fighters and can be public servants in other ways. The end goal is the creation of a professional, representative, responsive, and accountable institution that works in partnership with the public. These ‘peace officers’ are a service rather than a force, and an institution that only criminals need rightly fear.

Achieving these goals requires taking action at three levels: individual, institutional, and societal. (L. Lindholt, P. De Mesquita Neto, D. Titus, and E. Alemika, Human Rights and the Police in Transitional Countries, (Leiden: Brill

Academic Pub, 2003), p. 22.) Even as the values of service and competency are imparted at the level of the individual officer, an appropriate management structure, capable of embedding and sustaining these values, must be created as well. Reform to the police alone, however, is insufficient; community support and assistance are also necessary to achieving the basic goals of the police. Community based policing, therefore, also encompasses strategies to reorient the public who, for frequently good reasons, have been leery and distrustful of the police. Building partnerships between the police and communities is a major challenge that confronts aspirant reformers, but thus far, international reform efforts have given little recognition to this challenge – not one of the mandates for UN missions mentions engagement with local communities as a reform priority.

The philosophy of community-based policing asks of both the police and the public a leap of faith and a commitment to effect change. It is a complex process that requires contemporaneous action to be taken at multiple levels meaning that detailed strategic planning necessary to translate philosophy into practice within the police organization and among the public. A detailed plan has often proved lacking in internationally inspired police reform plans however. Beyond a rhetorical commitment to police reform there has been little sense of how to operationalize a reform process to achieve the changes sought.

Community-Based Policing: More Than Just Law and Order

Policing is an activity that is not carried out in isolation. All the disparate aspects of policing that individual officers are called upon – from issuing parking tickets to thwarting crimes – impact and involve other institutions and processes. The workshop discussed how a community-based police reform program fits in with, and can contribute significantly to advancing, a variety of security, social, and developmental objectives and agendas.

Community-based policing and security sector reform

External actors pick and choose which parts of security sector reform (SSR) they carry out without necessarily seeing how these elements are linked and interrelated. Although at a policy level, the police are considered an integral element of the security sector, this synergy between the two is rare at the level of implementation.

For many donors, SSR remains a primarily military concern, deprioritizing policing. Policing is also sometimes in a different institutional ‘silo’, which presents an institutional barrier to actual coordination.

Greater synergy between the reform processes towards the various institutions that make up the security sector would be beneficial.

Community-based policing, the rule of law, good governance, and human rights

To be effective police reform must link other criminal justice institutions. The entry point to the justice

system and the part in closest contact with the public, a fair, competent, non-discriminatory, and respectful

police is integral to upholding the rule of law. Along with courts and the correctional service, the police are

an essential part of the ‘triad’ of institutions needed to make a justice system run effectively (R. Mani, Beyond Retribution: Seeking Justice in the Shadows of War (London: Polity, 2002), pp.56-68.)Experience suggests that positive impacts to one of this triad of institutions will be nullified without similar concentration on other institutions.

Community-based policing, development, and poverty reduction

Community-based police reform can contribute to a wider poverty reduction strategy. Several donor agencies and governments have recognized the links between security, development, and poverty reduction. High levels of crime stifle development in any community – businesses become the victims of crime, commercial activities (including those of the informal sector) are interrupted, and outside investment leaves.

The poor and marginalized also suffer disproportionately from the effects of crime and violence. They lack adequate protection from corrupt or dysfunctional security institutions. The poor are also often marginalized when it comes to political or social structures and are likely to have very little influence over the policies and programs that affect their daily lives.

Community-based policing, through its partnership approach, aims to ensure that the safety and security needs of all groups in a particular community are addressed. In this way, the police can facilitate all people’s access to justice, regardless of their social or economic status. Addressing local needs while effectively combating crime improves safety and security, and with it, strengthens the conditions for development to take place.

Community-based policing and stemming smallarms proliferation

Controlling the availability and circulation of small arms and light weapons (SALW) is vital in the effort to increase community safety, the aim of communitybased policing. However, citizens will only be willing to hand over firearms in their possession if they perceive an improvement in public safety and security and if they have a certain degree of trust in the police and other security agencies. This is where communitybased policing can play an important role in strengthening SALW initiatives. Similarly, if there is a good working relationship between the police and the community, it will be easier for the police to obtain

information about arms caches or transit routes for arms trafficking.

What is Community-Based Policing?

Community-based policing is a partnership between the police and the community in sharing the delivery of police services. Ridge-Meadows detachment is in a process of transition from reactive traditional policing to proactive community based policing. It involves the strategy of problem oriented policing and employs various tactics, depending on the problem being addressed. Some of these tactics are:

Community consultation

Neighbourhood policing


Different types of responses to calls for service

Shared responsibility for community problems

Modern-management concepts

A move away from 9-1-1 service calls and a total reactive policing service

Proactive service delivery

Crime Prevention Programs

Community policing is a philosophy of police service delivery. It does not result from specific initiatives, such as bicycle patrols, crime prevention programs, and community storefronts/offices, or school liaison officers. Though these may be important, they do not represent a philosophically different way of doing business.

Community policing acknowledges that, in addition to responding to emergency calls and apprehending offenders, police have always been involved with service calls of a more general nature. In fact, aside from paperwork and crime investigation, the bulk of a patrol officer’s time is spent responding to service calls. Community policing means a philosophical shift toward dealing with these community problems.

Community-based policing (CBP) is an approach to policing that brings together the police, civil society and local communities to develop local solutions to safety and security concerns. This paper, published by Saferworld, assesses outcomes of and lessons learned from two CBP pilot programmes in Kenya. CBP improves public trust in the police, cooperation between police, citizens and community and stakeholder capacity for security sector reform (SSR).

CBP allows police and community to work together to solve crime, disorder and safety problems. It makes safety and security a shared responsibility, emphasises police-community partnerships and targets policing needs in each community.

What is Community Policing?

There are many definitions of community policing but it is proposed here that the

Queensland Police Service recognise it as ‘an interactive process between the police and the

community to mutually identify and solve policing problems in the community.’

The concept of community policing is based on the unit of communitypersons in

social interaction in a geographical area but which may also include persons in interaction

based on ethnic, business, religious or other grounds.


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