Community policing refers to a departure from traditional policing strategies to one in which the police work closely with the community to define problems and arrive at solutions. A central idea is that the police can best reduce crime by attacking its causes through crime prevention strategies that involve community residents. Community policing recognizes that crime prevention and control must involve a partnership between the police and the community.
Community policing emerged in the 1980s and 1990s as a virtual revolution in American police practice. President Bill Clinton's initiative to put 100,000 more police officers on the street required those officers to engage in community policing. The federal government invested billions of dollars in this new strategy; and by the end of the 20th century, almost all police departments in the country reported they had adopted community policing.
Policing research established that much of the crime problem was beyond the control of traditional policing. Police are dependent on citizens for information about crime, yet citizens were not reporting most crimes. Poor relations between the police and citizens hampered crime prevention and control.
Research into new police tactics, especially foot patrol, revealed that when citizens got to know officers, cooperation increased. More importantly, foot patrol experiments revealed that most citizens wanted closer relationships with police. Researcher Robert Trojanowicz, sometimes called the “father” of community policing, observed that increased contact between officers and citizens led to improved cooperation, better public support of the police, and reductions in citizen fear of crime.
Investigations into the state of police relations with the community also revealed that the police were not focusing on those factors that the public found most important—including order maintenance, tangible service, and fear of crime. Order maintenance and service issues involve minor disturbances that professional police sometimes see as less important than combating violent street crimes and other highly visible disorders. By ignoring these types of incidents, however, the police were missing important opportunities to address community concerns and improve community relations. Similarly, traditional policing did not emphasize or directly address fear of crime. Fear of crime differs from crime rates and is not necessarily addressed when police emphasize law enforcement. The realization of the shortcomings of professional policing and a desire to address other important issues led to the development of community policing.
In community policing, the police focus shifts from reacting to criminal incidents to adopting crime prevention strategies. It also shifts tactics from a reliance on law enforcement to addressing community concerns through attending to order maintenance and service activities. Community policing incorporates citizens and nonpolice services to achieve reductions in crime and improvements in community order. Academics universally agree that community policing involves incorporating the community in crime prevention; however, further agreement is difficult to find. This confusion may have stemmed from the simultaneous development of a separate, but similar, strategy: problem-oriented policing. Some authors have attempted to clarify this problem by providing specific definitions of the two strategies. Gary Cordner provides an example of such an attempt with his classification of three dimensions: philosophical, strategic, and programmatic. Herman Goldstein for his part delivers the most renowned description of problem-oriented policing.
Cordner's description of the philosophical dimension involves the central tenets of community policing. As is the case with all definitions of community policing, he begins with the reorientation of policing to include citizens in the ultimate direction and execution of police strategies. This results in an increased focus on less severe offenses, because they are more likely to occur in view of the public. The strategic dimension contains police operations used to achieve the new objectives of community policing. In particular, officers are permanently assigned to specific geographic areas for longer periods of time so that they can become sufficiently familiar with residents. This increased familiarity allows officers to organize citizens in efforts to curb community problems and be held accountable for the success in eliminating these problems.
The final dimension of Cordner's overview, the programmatic, describes specific tactics used to implement community policing. Officers engaged in community policing are directed to use problem solving to address community problems. This involves responding in an analytic manner to patterns of problems, rather than specific incidents. Possible responses include options beyond traditional law enforcement, but this does not mean the strategy abandons the importance of law enforcement. Rather, patrol officers should implement whatever tactic (or combination of tactics) will best reduce the problems identified by residents.
Problem-oriented policing, as described by Goldstein, proposes the same methods of police interventions, but differs in focusing police efforts on different sorts of incidents. As is the case with community policing, problem-oriented policing advises that the police should target the underlying causes of a crime problem rather than only reacting to criminal events. The focus of what institutes a problem deserving of police attention, however, differs for this strategy. Rather than incorporating community residents into deciding the primary problems faced by the community, it is the police who must identify these problems and attend to them. Avoiding the prejudicial focus of many resident perceptions, patterns of more serious criminal offenses are thus put at the forefront.
Like problem-oriented policing, community policing requires police to take a broader view of their responsibilities. Trojanowicz described community policing as a “philosophy” of policing in which police bear responsibility for community health and welfare. The police, in other words, should work with the community to overcome what the community sees as its most pressing problems. In this synthesis, the police play a central role as the link between the citizens and all types of local, state, and federal government services, whether primarily engaged in crime fighting on the one hand, or in community-building on the other.
See Also Broken Windows Theory; Crime Prevention, Situational; Fear of Crime; Kansas City Preventive Patrol Experiment; Neighborhood Watch; Newark Foot Patrol Experiment; Police (Overview); Policing, Problem-Oriented
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