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Police: Community Policing

The Theory And Practice Of Community Policing

Community policing promises that closer alliances between the police and the community will help reduce citizen fear of crime, improve police-community relations, and facilitate more effective responses to community problems. But there are also drawbacks associated with community policing: hostility between the police and neighborhood residents can hinder productive partnerships; increases in officers' decisionmaking autonomy can lead to greater opportunities for police corruption; and resistance within the police organization can hamper community policing's successful implementation. Drawing upon empirical research, this section will focus on the merits and problems associated with community policing.

Effect on crime. Evidence that community policing reduces crime is mixed. Early studies showed that crime declined in Flint, Michigan, as a consequence of foot patrol, but in Newark, New Jersey, crime levels remained unaffected. In a detailed examination of the implementation of a community-policing program in Chicago (the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy), the authors concluded that crime went down in those districts exposed to community policing (Skogan and Hartnett, p. 18). Similarly, after nearly two years of community-and problem-oriented policing in Joliet, Illinois, the total number of reported index crimes dropped precipitously (Rosenbaum et al.).

In terms of citizens' fear of crime the evidence is also mixed, but it weighs more heavily in a positive direction. In both Flint and Newark, foot patrol contributed to increased feelings of neighborhood safety, and recent studies generally support this conclusion. In Indianapolis, people felt safer in those neighborhoods where the police and local residents cooperated in problem solving (Mastrofski et al., 1998). Even though the benefit of fear reduction appears widespread, its impact is inconsistent across different groups. For instance, in Chicago, in contrast to whites and African Americans, Hispanics did not appear to experience an increase in perceived public safety (Skogan and Hartnett).

Police-community relations. Under community policing the relationship between citizens and the police is supposed to improve. It does appear that increased cooperation between the police and local residents increases satisfaction with police services on both sides, although this is not universal. In Flint, residents were so pleased with neighborhood foot patrols that they agreed to a tax increase in order that the program might continue, and in St. Petersburg, Florida, 85 percent of those residents who lived in community-policing areas of the city reported being "very" or "somewhat" satisfied with their neighborhood police services (Mastrofski et al., 1999).

However, recent evaluations of community policing suggest that the level of community satisfaction with police services varies according to how it is implemented, and the social characteristics of community members. Even though community policing promises to benefit everyone, specific programs may favor particular community interests (such as those of local business owners) and dominant (white, middle-class) groups (Skogan; Lyons). In poor and high-crime neighborhoods, residents may be distrusting of the police and rates of community participation may be very low. The benefits of community policing may be highest in these areas, but the challenges the police face in convincing citizens that they are committed to the long-term improvement of the local neighborhood, in creating productive partnerships, and in mobilizing citizens to get involved in local organizations, are also greatest.

Goldstein argues that police officers who work more closely with community members and are granted more autonomy in making decisions, experience more positive feelings toward citizens and higher job satisfaction. There is considerable evidence to support this assertion, but it is still unclear whether this effect is long-term, and whether it applies to all officers rather than just those selected for community-policing assignments (Wycoff and Skogan). Even though community policing emphasizes the importance of nonenforcement alternatives, police officers do show some ambivalence toward their increasingly community-oriented role. In one survey of line officers in a police department with community policing, 98 percent of officers agreed that assisting citizens is as important as enforcing the law, but 88 percent also said that enforcing the law was an officer's most important responsibility. Similarly, almost all officers agreed that citizen input about neighborhood problems is important, but 25 percent said they have reason to distrust most citizens (Mastrofski et al., 1998). Researchers and police practitioners are well aware that the police subculture is resistant to innovations that challenge the role of police officers as crime fighters. It is clear that some police officers do label community policing as merely "social work," or an exercise in community relations. One of the crucial challenges community policing faces will be to help officers recognize the benefits of reducing social disorder and encouraging public involvement in neighborhood problems in relation to solving crimes and making arrests.

An additional concern is that an increase in the decision-making autonomy of line officers and closer police-community relations will provide the police with greater opportunities for abusing their authority and corruption. Little work has been done on this, but the high levels of patronage and corruption that plagued the police in the nineteenth century (an era characterized by close ties between the police, community members, and local politicians) is a clear reminder of the danger of implicating the police directly in community life.

Police-community problem solving. One of the promises of community policing is that increased police-community cooperation will facilitate problem solving. Research in this area is still in its infancy, but initial findings are encouraging. A comparison of community policing officers to officers engaged in traditional reactive patrol demonstrated that community-policing officers were substantially more involved in problem-solving activities (Mastrofski et al., 1999). Furthermore, several studies suggest that police officers are willing to explore alternatives to law enforcement in order to tackle the underlying causes of community problems. An important element of this process is that the police work closely with other local government and community organizations. A project funded by the National Institute of Justice on community responses to drug abuse found that the police and local community organizations worked effectively together at both the level of enforcement and youth-oriented prevention (Rosenbaum et al.). In Oakland, California, the police department worked closely with other agencies and used noncriminal justice strategies to tackle drug-related problems in the city. Police officers targeted suspected drug houses and collaborated with city inspectors to cite these houses for breaking building code violations. Police enforcement of building regulations reduced drug activity, and this positive benefit diffused into surrounding areas (Green).

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawPolice: Community Policing - Definition Of Community Policing, Origins And Evolution Of Community Policing, The Theory And Practice Of Community Policing