Adam J. McKee, Ph.D.
Section 2.1: Why We Need C.O.P.
An Idea for the Times
There are compelling reasons why law enforcement leaders believe the time has come to alter the policies and practices of their organizations. These reasons are rooted in the history of policing and police research during the last quarter of a century, in the changing nature of communities, and in the shifting characteristics of crime and violence that affect these communities. Policing strategies that worked in the past are not always effective today. The desired goal, an enhanced sense of safety, security, and well-being, has not been achieved.
Practitioners agree that there is a pressing need for innovation to curb the crises in many communities. Both the level and nature of crime in this country and the changing character of American communities are causing police to seek more effective methods. Many urban communities are experiencing serious problems with illegal drugs, gang violence, murders, muggings, and burglaries. Suburban and rural communities have not escaped unscathed. They are also noting increases in crime and disorder. In addition, the social fabric of our country has changed radically. The family unit is not as stable as it once was.
Single working parents find it extremely difficult to spend enough time with their children, and churches and schools have been unable to fill this void. Immigrants, ethnic groups, and minorities, while adding to the diverse nature of American communities, often have different interests and pursue disparate goals. Governments at all levels are having increased difficulty balancing budgets, which frequently forces police departments to allocate dwindling resources to growing problems. In this rapidly changing environment, where police cope with an epidemic drug problem, gang activity, and increased levels of violence, the concept of community policing is taking hold. Police leaders using this commonsense approach to the problems of crime and disorder, an approach that may very well enhance and maximize performance and resources, have struck a responsive chord in both national and local governments and in communities across the Nation.
Government and community leaders are beginning to recognize that they also must accept responsibility for keeping their neighborhoods safe. Communities must take a unified stand against crime, violence, and disregard for the law, and must make a commitment to increasing crime-prevention and intervention activities. Police agencies must help build stronger, more self-sufficient communities—communities in which crime and disorder will not thrive. Community policing is democracy in action. It requires the active participation of local government, civic and business leaders, public and private agencies, residents, churches, schools, and hospitals. All who share a concern for the welfare of the neighborhood should bear responsibility for safeguarding that welfare. Community policing is being advocated by leaders at the highest levels of government—including President Clinton and Attorney General Reno, who describes it as the “changing of policing.”
In addition, it has been suggested that community policing can play a primary role in changing the way all government services are provided at the community level. The implementation of community policing necessitates fundamental changes in the structure and management of police organizations. Community policing differs from traditional policing in how the community is perceived and in its expanded policing goals. While crime control and prevention remain central priorities, community policing strategies use a wide variety of methods to address these goals. The police and the community become partners in addressing problems of disorder and neglect (e.g., gang activity, abandoned cars, and broken windows) that, although perhaps not criminal, can eventually lead to serious crime.
As links between the police and the community are strengthened over time, the ensuing partnership will be better able to pinpoint and mitigate the underlying causes of crime. Police are finding that crime-control tactics need to be augmented with strategies that prevent crime, reduce the fear of crime, and improve the quality of life in neighborhoods. Fear of crime has become a significant problem in itself. A highly visible police presence helps reduce fear within the community, fear which has been found to be “…more closely correlated with disorder than with crime.” However, because fear of crime can limit activity, keep residents in their homes, and contribute to empty streets, this climate of decline can result in even greater numbers of crimes. By getting the community involved, police will have more resources available for crime-prevention activities, instead of being forced into an after-the-fact response to crime.
Analyses of crime statistics show that the current emphasis on crime fighting has had a limited effect on reducing crime. In addition, the concept of centralized management of most police organizations has often served to isolate police from the communities they serve. This isolation hampers crime-fighting efforts. Statistics on unreported crime suggest that in many cases police are not aware of existing problems. Without strong ties to the community, police may not have access to pertinent information from citizens that could help solve or deter crime. Helpful information will be forthcoming from community members when police have established a relationship of trust with the community they serve.
Establishing this trust will take time, particularly in communities where internal conflicts exist or where relations with the police have been severely strained. Community policing offers a way for the police and the community to work together to resolve the serious problems that exist in these neighborhoods. Only when community members believe the police are genuinely interested in community perspectives and problems will they begin to view the police as a part of that community. Experience and research reveal that “community institutions are the first line of defense against disorder and crime…” Thus, it is essential that the police work closely with all facets of the community to identify concerns and to find the most effective solutions. This is the essence of community policing.
Source: Understanding Community Policing: A Framework for Action. p. 3 – 5.
The police function is a complex one, and for many years society did not recognize this complexity. The following quote from the Standards on Urban Police Function of the American Bar Association succinctly describes this complexity.
Standard 1-1.1. Complexity of police task.
(a) Since police, as an agency of the criminal justice system, have a major responsibility for dealing with serious crime, efforts should continually be made to improve the capacity of police to discharge this responsibility effectively. It should also be recognized, however, that police effectiveness in dealing with crime is often largely dependent upon the effectiveness of other agencies both within and outside the criminal justice system. Those in the system must work together through liaison, cooperation, and constructive join effort. This effort is vital to the effective operation of the police and the entire criminal justice system
(b) To achieve optimum police effectiveness, the police should be recognized as having complex and multiple tasks to perform in addition to identifying and apprehending persons committing serious criminal offenses. Such other police tasks include protection of certain rights such as to speak and to assemble, participation either directly or in conjunction with other public and social agencies in the prevention of criminal and delinquent behavior, maintenance of order and control of pedestrian and vehicular traffic, resolution of conflict, and assistance to citizens in need of help such as the person who is mentally ill, the chronic alcoholic, or the drug addict.
(c) Recommendations made in these standards are based on the view that this diversity of responsibility is likely to continue and, more importantly, that police authority and skills are needed to handle appropriately a wide variety of community problems.
Source: Standards on Urban Police Function. The American Bar Association.
Modification History File Created: 08/10/2019 Last Modified: 08/10/2019
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