Why do major police interest magazines and police-oriented websites still struggle with this important and essential style of policing; an idea that has been with us for the past 50 years?
In the June, 2014 issue of The Police Chief magazine, Yost Zakhary, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), made a strong statement about the Community-Oriented Policing style and how it is tied to police effectiveness:
“Community oriented policing deals with the core issue for police — building a working, trusting relationship with your community. If you don’t have that, your agency and its officers will not be successful in reducing crime (my emphasis)… The IACP, COPS (Office of Community Oriented Police Services, Department of Justice), and each of our 22,000 members must become ‘futurists’ and work to further advance and implement the community oriented policing model.”
In order to be a fair and effective, a police agency it must have the trust and respect of those whom they police. Trust and respect leads to support. And without support, a police agency never will be effective, will never reduce crime, nor will it be seen as fair.
In order to achieve trust, respect and support, the best known method for doing this is Community-Oriented Policing.
But the problem first may be in the definition, then the practice.
Here’s how I define (and continue to define) community-oriented policing:
“Community-oriented policing is the work done by police assigned to a specific neighborhoods or business areas. They become not only community workers, but also organizers. They work collaboratively with citizens preventing, controlling, and eliminating crime and other disorder in their area.”
One of the teaching methods I used when I taught police leaders around the country is called “Is/Is Not.” The idea behind it is to delineate (and separate) the essentials of an idea or concept from what it clearly is not.
- IS… An understanding that the police are the people and the people are the police.
- IS NOT… A governmental agency responsible only for enforcing the law.
- IS… Incorporating a broad problem-solving orientation towards crime and public disorder and the protection of human rights.
- IS NOT Focusing solely on crime.
- IS… A continuous process of developing and improving trust, respect and support among community residents.
- IS NOT… Using reported crime, numbers of arrests, or response times as the only measures of performance.
- IS… Responding to the concerns of the community and the problems they identify.
- IS NOT… Focusing only on reported incidents and calls for service.
- IS… Understanding that policing is personal and involves people and their relationships.
- IS NOT… Choosing technology over people and their rights.
- IS… Understanding the role of police as guardian, community worker, generous listener, rights protector, and problem-solver.
- IS NOT… Having only a warrior orientation.
“Two eras have now gone by our nation’s police: Wickersham and the 1967 President’s Commission. Wickersham addressed the police corruption brought about by Prohibition. The 1967 commission addressed the growing problem of police-community relations in our nation’s cities. We now are in the third era of policing—an era that, so far, is still evolving. It is the era I call community policing. Community policing emphasizes closer relationships between the police, their communities and a response to community-identified problems.[i] It may become another missed opportunity by our nation’s police.
“Yet it remains to be seen whether or not police will take advantage of this opportunity or go to something entirely different. Currently, police have spent over three decades ostensibly doing community-oriented policing; however, there are limited data available to measure the success of their effort.” (From my book, Arrested Development, 2012.)
Whatever you do, whether you call in community-oriented policing or not, it must accomplish the following:
- Practiced in a specific area by one or a small team of police officers.
- Responsibility is for the entire area regardless of time of day.
- They must function as both community workers and organizers.
- They listen to and work collaboratively with the community.
- Their objective is to prevent, control, and eliminate crime and other disorder while keeping the rule of law and the respect of those whom they serve.
- How does your agency meet the above definition and description of Community-Oriented Policing?
- What percentage of your field operations meet this definition?
- As a leader, what would the first steps you could take to increase your department’s practice of Community-Oriented Policing?
- What problems your department currently faces could be addressed using COP?
[i] Herman Goldstein. Problem-Oriented Policing. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. 1990. I need to emphasize the critical connection between Goldstein’s problem-oriented policing and community (or neighborhood) policing. The community looks to police to solve problems; Goldstein’s method most effectively and in the long-run focuses on those community problems. Community, or neighborhood policing, decentralizes police to work in small geographical areas of the city—movement from doing work based on time of day to geographical area. I strongly supported the neighborhood policing concept in my article, “The Delivery of Neighborhood Police Services: A Challenge for Today’s Professional,” in the March 1972 issue of The Police Chief magazine.