Community PolicingWhen the Police Become Your Neighbor
Community policing can be difficult to define, as different countries use this term in a variety of ways. In Singapore, community policing is defined as a program that reconnects with communities by increasing foot patrol and attempts to educate the people and local businesses in crime prevention, elimination and control. “By educating the community in these areas, community policing hopes to reduce crime rates and at the same time, stimulate the society to self-police.” Since introducing community policing, Singapore’s crime rate saw a 9 year decline from 1989 to 1997, and still holds an incredibly low crime rate when compared internationally. Overall, “there is ample evidence that the community policing strategy … in Singapore is a success.”
India takes a slightly different approach, defining community policing as building relationships with local communities, but also using the local people to monitor each other. The system works to “help police reach places and problems where they have limited access and be omnipresent with civilians as their eyes and ears.” This idea of self-policing each other holds communities accountable to their own levels of safety. If a community wants to reduce crime in their area, they need to be vigilant about reporting crime to the police and allowing perpetrators to see consequences for breaking the law.
Many countries have adopted different varieties of community policing and have reported great success with it. French President Emmanuel Macron announced in 2017 plans to implement community policing. When commenting on the 2016 attack in Nice, the French President said, “After the attack, police tried to find out about the terrorist and they discovered that people around him knew that he had changed, started drinking and smoking, and things like that. Many people knew, but not the police. Because there was nobody on the street, to watch, to listen, to collect information.”
Community Policing at Home
For North America, the common definition is one where the community and police work together to achieve the same goals. This can be achieved through a variety of ways: police poll communities to allow them to have a vote on what happens in their areas, increase communications with their public via media, social media, patrol work, and overall try to build relationships within the community. This is often achieved by inserting police officers to live and work in a single community section for an extended period of time. That officer becomes known in the community, develops relationships with people and understands the details of the issues the community is experiencing.
The Positive Impacts of Community Policing
There are many positives to community policing, and there is potential for communities to benefit significantly from similar programs if carried out correctly. Often, a neighborhood is chosen for a community policing initiative because the area has a history of crime and issues. The idea here is that a troubled neighborhood will continue to worsen if someone or something does not intervene. When the local police make it clear that they are paying attention and dedicated to an area by initiating community policing efforts, there is the opportunity for the degradation to stop and reverse. Community policing then becomes a great crime deterrent. The constant presence of police officers, and even community members talking to the police officers, can reduce crime and drive criminals out.
Specific Solutions for Specific Communities
Community policing is quite flexible and allows for the community to take charge of their own future. The community collaborates with the police to come up with solutions that work for their specific problems. And this is possible because of the granular focus that community policing programs take to a singular area or neighborhood. Unlike the more common wide-sweeping programs that are often announced to fix entire cities, these solutions can be specific and intricate to the area.
Building Community Trust
Community policing serves to bring a community together and builds trust with law enforcement. Both sides, which previously worked separately, begin to function together to achieve common goals. A study found that “70% of minorities believe that police don’t spend as much time policing their communities.” As a result, community policing is a chance to showcase that the police are dedicated and committed to a community.
“A 2016 survey by Wisconsin Professional Police Association found that a lot of people support community policing.” A clear example of this is when the community policing program was cut in Saint John, New Brunswick due to budget cuts, there was immediate public backlash and the police department was forced to re-examine its decision and eventually bring the program back.
When police choose to implement a community policing program in an area, they are making a statement that that area and its people are important. They are dedicating time, resources, people, and effort to keep an area safe and improve its conditions. For communities that previously felt ignored and abandoned by their local police, these community policing efforts can start to bridge that gap and build a relationship again. In fact, the police presence can be so impactful that, during a panel discussion on community policy hosted at WHYY in Philadelphia, the community’s feedback was that “transitions of officers and leadership should be planned, phased in and gradual. Communities need time and a process to say goodbye to people they have gotten to know, and to be introduced to new officers and district leadership.”
The Potential Downfalls: Building Trust in Communities of Distrust
Like most projects, there are possible downfalls to community policing. Most notably, the community needs to be willing to accept the police and participate in the efforts. “Without the trust and involvement of the community, any attempts at community policing will fail.” This is particularly true for areas that have previously had a negative relationship with police, and who are past the point of accepting them once again. And yet, the neighborhoods that need community policing the most are these exact areas that have high crime and a distrust for law enforcement. Those who are attempting to implement community policing need to understand that their presence may not be immediately welcome, and that there will be a lot of time and work that needs to be put into building foundations with the community again.
Another potential roadblock comes from those in the community that are a bit too willing to welcome community policing and embrace the new efforts of the police. Efforts need to be made that those who are working with the police are not using the program to their personal benefit. The program should not tackle issues that specifically help advance someone’s career or help achieve one-sided political agendas. Again, this can be difficult, as officers may need to turn down personal requests from their few supporters in the beginning, but they must do so understanding that they are not to be used.
A Case from Illinois
In an article published by The New Republic, titled “Peace Officers,” readers are taken through the story of patrol cop Eric Thurmond from Illinois. Thurmond was about to start his journey in a brand new and intense version of community policing program launched in Rockford. Thurmond would not just patrol Rockford to build a relationship in the community; he was moving into the neighborhood full time.
The article describes Thurmond stopping by to look at his new home before the move in date. A inquisitive, grubby neighbor walks over to Thurmond’s patrol car and strikes up a conversation. Thurmond reassures him that no crime has been committed, describes the new police program and that he will be moving in shortly. He adds encouragingly that the house will have cameras as well, allowing Thurmond to have an eye on the neighborhood always.
Come move in day, and that inquisitive neighbor is cleared out of his shabby house. A few neighbors come over to thank Thurmond. Turns out that curious neighbor was operating a drug house that was constantly causing issues in the neighborhood. Just Thurmond’s announcement of his intentions to move next door caused the criminal to pack up his belongings and leave. A clear example of how quickly and greatly community policing programs can impact an area.
This is a Long Commitment
Overall, if done correctly, community policing has a lot of potential. However, police departments who are considering this option need to commit to a long and tough road ahead of them. Building a relationship with a community that has a history of turmoil with police will take time. Officers will need to be patient to see change. The story of Eric Thurmond in Rockford, Illinois is a great example of a police department setting proper expectations. The officers who have chosen to participate in that program, are stated to move into neighborhoods at “a minimum of three years.”
Law enforcement is constantly adapting to the needs of the public. As the idea of community policing has become more and more adopted internationally, more data will become available on what works and what does not work. The commendable aspect is that law enforcement agencies are adapting and trying new methods. The police are truly there for us, and are willing to try new programs to achieve safer, happier communities all around.
Leonard A Sipes Jr.
Ret. Federal Senior Public Affairs Specialist & Social Media Manager
Leonard Sipes has a post-Masters graduate degree from John Hopkins University, is a part-time Associate Professor, and a published author of the incredibly successful book, “Success with the Media.” His extensive knowledge and background allows him to offer insights into media relations that are incredibly valuable and unique . You can find out more about Leonard Sipes on his personal website, or check out his professional website, “Crime in America.”
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