Community policing has become everyone's rhetorical solution for policing problems. Federal policies support it; several states are providing funds for communities to implement it; progressive police officials and scholars compete for credit for developing it; and residents of inner city neighborhoods demand that their police adopt it. Even the new president has made it a cornerstone of his urban crime package.
Despite the nearly universal support for this "new" policing approach, few people can provide a clear operational definition of the term. Even fewer can identify significant differences between traditional arrangements and those of community police operations. Some view it as simply a public relations strategy; some see it as involving saturation of high crime neighborhoods with police officers; some think it involves the institution of foot patrols in neighborhoods; some conceive of it as the establishment of offices for police in neighborhoods. Others have the notion it includes all of the above and perhaps anything else which can be defined as having police/community implications. Many people, including some in academia, do not understand community policing for what it is -- a significant crime prevention, community problem-solving, structural and operational alternative to the traditional bureaucratic criminal apprehension arrangements used in urban policing.Community policing is not achieved by simply tinkering with a few operational strategies. It involves fundamental changes in the philosophy of urban police and related modifications in traditional police organizational structure, personnel systems and practices, management and supervisory systems, and the activities performed by police personnel. Its effectiveness can be enhanced by complementary changes in other components of the criminal justice system -- especially prosecution, judicial, and correctional operations -- and in the social service system.
Although it is possible to launch experimental community policing efforts which will reduce the fear of crime and heighten the quality of police efforts in limited geographic areas within short time frames, full conversion of a large police agency to a true community police alternative has yet to be achieved. Lee Brown, as police chief in Houston, established a seven to ten-year timeline for such implementation, but left to assume the New York City Commissioner's job before the implementation was complete. Subsequent changes in Houston's top police management have resulted in the effort being abandoned in all but political rhetoric and police public relations materials. Experiences with implementation across the nation reveal that achievement of full community policing requires complete understanding of the concept and tenacious, long-term commitment by public and police officials.
How do the primary philosophical and administrative tenets of community policing differ from those underlying more traditional policing arrangements? Policing since the mid-1930s has been based on a classic philosophy of crime control: a conspicuous show of police force, crime detection, and criminal apprehension accompanied by vigorous prosecution and "just deserts" sentencing. Because it views police as corruptible, this philosophy requires officers to remain aloof from the citizens they serve. Such a crime control approach is assumed to result in deterrence of criminal behavior and to reduce crime. With low crime, communities are safe and residents feel secure.
In contrast to the classic perspective, community policing is based on an assumption that police can best ensure safe communities through preventing crime by identifying and addressing the problems which cause it. This philosophy requires police to be a part of, rather than apart from, the community. Officers must thoroughly understand their community and its problems, and they must be able to define and implement appropriate actions to correct the problems which affect public safety. Problem-solving actions may entail initiating arrests, but they may also involve organizing recreational opportunities for children, ensuring that zoning conditions are observed, or getting economic or psychological assistance for families who need it.
Organization and Management
The organization and management arrangements of full-service community policing are based on the same research findings which underlie the ongoing restructuring of American industry. They differ substantially from those authoritarian, hierarchical arrangements traditionally used in policing. Community policing reflects a professional model similar to that used by medical or computer engineering teams. A primary structural modification for a community policing arrangement involves decentralization of police service delivery operations along recognized neighborhood lines, and the investment of personnel assigned to these community areas with responsibility and authority for providing all police services in the community area. To further communication and operational flexibility, each community cadre of police consists of approximately 16 to 20 officers for 24-hour, seven-day operations. Each team also has responsibility for working with community residents and organizations in identifying public safety problems and developing methods for addressing them. These duties include ensuring that other governmental and social organizations provide appropriate services in the community.
The individual officer's obligations in community policing entail both job enlargement and job enrichment. Enrichment of the community police officer's job involves a vertical job loading which increases the officer's responsibility for the total job cycle from planning and organizing to evaluating results. Although police managers and staff service units continue to coordinate all teams and to provide statistical data and analysis to the community officers, the community officers collectively have responsibility for many of the functions traditionally performed by managers, including organizing themselves and perhaps scheduling their work hours. Consequently, the police agency needs fewer managers and supervisors under community policing, as the management role moves toward conducting planning, evaluation, and coordination of the community police teams. Police managers' duties also include a greater responsibility than under classical policing for ensuring other social service agencies support their efforts.
Job enlargement or horizontal loading involves expansion of the officer's responsibilities to include many of the functions (such as major traffic accident investigation and follow-up investigative jobs) performed by police specialists in a traditional police agency. If officers are given complete responsibility for cases, inefficiency stemming from communication problems related to passing cases from patrol officers to records to specialists is reduced, and field officers develop a greater commitment to quality performance.
Although implementation of community policing requires an initial investment in planning and restructuring, the approach ultimately provides higher quality police services at lower costs. This increase in cost-effectiveness stems from: 1) shifting police from a concentration on apprehending and prosecuting arrestees to solving community public safety problems in a fashion which reduces crime; 2) increasing the police/community cooperation and quality of officer performance; 3) reducing the number of supervisors and middle managers as the team of field officers assume many self-management responsibilities; and 4) transferring specialist responsibilities to field officers, thereby increasing the number of personnel actually providing police services in the communities of the jurisdiction.
The adoption of community policing has significant implications for other components of the justice system and agencies of government. Managers of these operations must be consulted throughout the planning and implementation process. It may facilitate understanding of the community policing concept to review some possible implications for prosecution, courts and corrections.
Prosecutorial operations cannot avoid being affected by implementation of community policing. The shift of police emphasis to problem solving and crime prevention results in police officers working with community residents to resolve public safety problems. Police referrals to mental health, dispute mediation and social service agencies will be higher. As community policing achieves effectiveness in reducing crime, the cases referred for prosecution should decrease in number.
The prosecutor's case management and training role will become more difficult as the community patrol officers assume full responsibility for the preparation of cases. Rather than having the support of a limited number of investigators, the prosecutors will have to deal directly with all field officers. In jurisdictions where these changes were not addressed during the implementation process, prosecutors often joined police investigators in becoming the most significant group to oppose community policing.
Although courts are more removed from direct impact during the implementation of community policing, they may need to adjust their operations over the long term. They should consider problems associated with the reduction in specialized investigators and the assumption of these duties by neighborhood-based field officers. The scheduling of hearings and trials may require greater effort, and the placement of facilities and lower courts at some community locations may be justified.
The judiciary can also support the community policing emphasis on problem solving by assisting with the organization of support programs such as community mediation and dispute resolution in areas served by community police.
Ultimately, judges may have more options for sentencing and disposing of cases as the community and social service agencies adjust to community-based philosophy for addressing crime and public safety problems.
The potential for improving the effectiveness of corrections is enhanced by the implementation of community policing. The closer police and community arrangements might justify restructuring and decentralization of probation, parole and other community corrections operations to achieve a greater match between the community needs and available correctional services. Stable assignment of probation and parole officers to handle caseloads in specific communities might contribute to developing sounder programs and to enhancing officers' ability to support the rehabilitation of offenders assigned to their custody. It should also enhance their capacity to protect community residents.
Community policing is a substantive alternative to classical policing arrangements. It entails increasing police responsibility for improving the neighborhoods served, increasing public safety, and preventing criminality. It is accomplished by fixing responsibility for policing with generalist police officers who are assigned to police teams to work exclusively in designated communities with the people and organizations of the communities.
Despite the slow progress in achieving widespread understanding and use of the concept and characteristics of community policing, such an approach will ultimately result in more effective policing. Experience in those communities that have experimented with it provides sound evidence of its potential for reducing crime and enhancing the quality of life. The federal government's commitment of substantial funding to stimulate further implementation guarantees a continuation of experimentation with the concept.
John Angell is Director of the Justice Center. Over the past twenty years he has been involved in the implementation of community policing experiments in Holyoke, Massachusetts; Dayton, Ohio; and Portland, Oregon. Roger Miller is an instructor with the Justice Center; he specializes in the area of crime prevention.