Police Use of Force: Community Policing

By Winston Smith

People rescue each other. They build shelters and community kitchens and ways to deal with lost children and eventually rebuild one way or another.

-Rebecca Solnit

 

In the previous installment of this series, we took a look at the use of a special prosecutor. This installment looks at the last policy alternative, community policing.

 

Community policing is a “collaboration between the police and the community that identifies and solves community problems.” This type of policing aims to encourage those who live in a community to become active in the preservation of “law and order” and work with the established police force to enhance the safety and quality of their neighborhood. This allows community members to step up and become active in “the process of problem solving, and the patrol officers’ pivotal role in community policing require[s] profound changes within the police organization.” The ultimate goal of this type of policing is to “deter crime and create more vital neighborhoods” through members of the community voicing concerns, giving advice, and then taking action based on their concerns. Therefore, in theory, this allows for police to interact constructively with the community. This type of policing came out into the national level through Title I of the 1994 Crime Act which “encouraged local and State law enforcement agencies to pursue two objectives simultaneously: increase the number of sworn officers on the street and adopt community policing.” To encourage state and local law enforcement agencies to comply, the legislation “authorized nearly $9 billion over 6 years” to achieve the objectives of the bill.

 

Unfortunately, as with many things, the assessing the effectiveness of community policing is incredibly difficult. As written in The Challenge of Community Policing: Testing the Promises;

Organizing the diverse views on community policing into a coherent whole is a daunting and possibly futile task. So much has been said by so many police officials, policy analysts, researchers, and theoreticians that one sometimes wonders if they are talking about the same thing. So many claims have been made about community policing – with and without evidence – that one wonders if it is possible for community policing to deliver on all or even most of them.

This disconnect may be a result of the various types of community policing that already exist. In addition, these models are not the only ones that exist and police departments are seemingly free to develop their own models. This would, then, create different outcomes which would be even more difficult to analyze.
However, this policy alternative should have strong political feasibility as it is the federal government allocating money to state and local police departments to help improve their policing efforts. This seems to be a very politically feasible policy as giving money to fund improvements, especially at the state and local level, has always proved to be popular across the political spectrum. In fact, “[t]here is plenty of support for community policing, among both the general public and the agencies.” Professor of Political Science at Northwestern University, Dr. Skogan writes that “[i]t is still difficult to find a town that does not claim to be doing community policing; no chief wants to be without some program she can point to. In many communities the voters and taxpayers expect this to be so.” When the National Police Research Platform “surveyed officers in a national sample of 84 police and sheriffs’ offices” the group found that “over 70 percent of the officers surveyed endorsed community policing themselves.” This shows that there is still a large base of political support for this type of policing, and this makes sense as no politician would want to revoke something most “voters and taxpayers” expect to be done. The biggest question that remains is how exactly to implement such programs.

 

Tune in for the final installment where I attempt to solve policing.

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