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Community policing is not a concept that is new. It has come and go, much like many other policies in the United States. It can be argued that community policing has been around since the birth of policing as a whole. Though this concept was not as well introduced until the 1970’s, policing has always held the community to a standard of protection and service. Yet this method has often been blurred, misconnected, and abused to serve the needs of a few compared to the population as a whole.
Community policing comes with its own distinctive set of challenges. Communities, however, should recognize that several fundamental concepts and core elements are involved in any community policing effort. In short, there must be a community-oriented philosophy that initiates the local government and encourages collaboration and cooperation amongst the public.
A question that is asked in the criminal justice community is, “How can police get involved with the community when they are in fear of the police?” This is a question that can also be reversed to the community because they are also questioning the officers’ trust in them.
The traditional form of policing uses different approach methods as compared to community-policing. Community policing focuses on criminality and social disorder through the delivery of police services that includes characteristics of traditional law enforcement, as well as prevention, problem-solving, community commitment, and partnerships. The community policing model weighs in responses to calls for service with proactive problem-solving centered on the causes of crime and disorder. Community policing requires police and citizens to connect as partners in the course of both identifying and effectively addressing these issues.
There are many ways these core elements can incorporate a community-oriented policing program. Melissa Schaefer Morabito states in Understanding Community Policing as an Innovation: Patterns of Adoption, “These elements are adopting a problem solving orientation, working with key stakeholders in the community, and making changes to the agency organizational structure to facilitate community participation in public safety”.
Consider that community partnerships between law enforcement and citizens rarely occur in isolation from other branches of local government. For such partnerships to grow and evolve, local governments must be willing to reach out to their citizens and actively engage them in the process of local government, whether that is community-oriented policing or economic development or public works or any other program or service a local government provides. In short, there must be a community-oriented philosophy that drives the whole local government and encourages collaboration and cooperation.
Problem-solving is an important element in any community policing approach. This competence must exist at all levels of law enforcement to achieve long-term success. Putting this element in place, however, often involves a fundamental shift in thinking for many law enforcement agencies. Most police departments operate in a paramilitary style with a very structured chain of command exists for most decision making, with official procedures defined for reacting to problems. Allowing law enforcement officers to respond innovatively to problems that come before them and engaging in problem-solving efforts directly with citizens represents a very different, uncomfortable and unfamiliar way of doing things.
Finally, organizational transformation requires experimentation with different organizational structures, perhaps shifting the delivery of patrol services or empowering personnel with decision-making authority. The key to such a revolution, however, may lie in recognizing and attracting a different kind of individual to policing, such as someone who is orienting toward service rather than adventure. Accomplishing this requires developing new recruitment and selection methodologies that are consistent with the goals of community policing.
So, has there been extensive change? Writers Edward R. Maguire, Joseph B. Kuhns, Craig D. Uchida, and Stephen M. Cox argue in Patterns Of Community Policing In Non-urban America, “Although many American police departments say that they already have implemented, or are planning to implement, community policing, critics express concern about the extent to which these agencies have actually made substantive changes”.
The United States is an ever changing country as mentioned in the beginning. With more informed officers, citizens and public officials; change for the greater good is probable. The strongest critique that can come from community policing is the alteration in how officers go about their business. Instead of enforcing the law, methods like the problem-solving method can lead to citizens not respecting the authority of the police. This can lead to increase rates in crime, though this may only be for a short period. The best approach, in my opinion, is a hybrid method and a slow transition to regain the public’s trust.
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