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Prevention: Police Role

Community Crime Prevention

Community crime prevention is based upon the premise that private citizens can play a major role in preventing crime in their neighborhoods. Community crime prevention programs focus on "increasing the participation of individual citizens, small groups, and voluntary community organizations in activities designed to reduce crime and to improve the quality of neighborhood life" (Rosenbaum, p. 324).

According to Rosenbaum, community crime prevention has consistently evolved since the 1960s, when most formal crime programs constituted little more than a "public relations tactic" by police to improve their image. In the mid-1970s, police departments began to instruct community members about individual and collective crime prevention techniques. However, police limited the scope of responsibilities they granted to citizens by only allowing them to act as "eyes and ears" for the police. Toward the end of the 1970s, two federal crime prevention initiatives allocated money to community programs rather than to police: the 1977 Community Anti-Crime Program and the 1980 Urban Crime Prevention Program. During the 1980s, many scholars put more faith in community efforts to prevent crime than in law enforcement. According to Rosen-baum, "we have learned since, however, that community groups are quite limited in preventing urban crime without the support of law enforcement, adequate funding, and considerable technical assistance" (p. 325).

Three programs (known as the "Big Three") have played a major role in citizen crime prevention in the United States: crime prevention security surveys, Operation Identification, and Neighborhood Watch. Security surveys have long been utilized as a tool for identifying targets that are vulnerable to crime, whether a poorly lit walkway or an unlocked window. Rosenbaum describes a security survey as "a detailed on-site inspection of the dwelling unit and the surrounding area by a crime prevention expert to identify deficiencies or security risks; to define the protection needs; and, to make recommendations to minimize criminal opportunity" (p. 341). Not surprisingly, local police are often the crime prevention experts called upon to conduct these surveys.

Operation Identification, first initiated in California in 1963, involves engraving and/or marking personal property with a unique code identifiable to the owner. Marking personal property is intended to deter potential burglars by reducing the value of the merchandise (marked property is worth less than unmarked property). An owner will also be able to recognize the marked property, which in turn can sometimes be used to link the burglar to the crime scene and increase the risk of apprehension (Rosenbaum). In 1994, Whitaker found that 25 percent of all U.S. households participated in Operation Identification (Whitaker).

Neighborhood watch programs are intended to reduce the opportunities to commit crime by increasing the guardianship exercised by local residents. Neighborhood watch meetings encourage residents to work together in making neighborhoods safer, watching each others' property, and creating a stronger sense of community. Garafolo and McLeod surveyed 550 Neighborhood Watch programs and found that most included property marking (81 percent), home security surveys (68 percent), meetings to plan and exchange neighborhood information (61 percent), and neighborhood newsletters (54 percent). In addition, more than one-third involved efforts to improve the physical environment (Garafolo and McLeod). Thus, Neighborhood Watch is sometimes a forum for combining separate crime prevention strategies.

Once again, community crime prevention has its own history that is at least partially independent of the police. Yet, as Rosenbaum reports, the community is only one element of the crime prevention equation. Working alone and without funding, citizens are likely to accomplish little. Working together with local police agencies, they have the capacity to prevent crime. That is one of the fundamental elements of community policing. Under a community policing philosophy, police agencies are expected to forge new relationships with the community, consulting, and mobilizing them to take partial responsibility for preventing crime in their own neighborhoods.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawPrevention: Police Role - Environmental Criminology, Community Crime Prevention, Conclusion, Bibliography