Community Policing Essay Sample

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Community policing is a proven method for lowering the crime rate in the United States. Community policing has been a law enforcement strategy for nearly thirty years. In august of 1994, the United States Department of Justice formed the Community Policing Consortium. The goal of this consortium was to develop a framework for understanding and implementing community policing in neighborhoods across America. The consortium consisted of representatives from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Sheriff’s Association, the Police Executive Research Forum, and the Police Foundation. According to the consortium, community policing consists of two core components, community partnership and problem solving (Gaffigan, 1994, p. 13). Community partnership focuses on a mutual trust between local police departments and their community’s residents. In order to facilitate this mutual trust police should encourage residents to come forth with any information they may have. In turn police departments should send representatives to speak with neighborhood groups, participate in business and civic events, work with social agencies, and take part in educational and recreational programs for school children (Gaffigan, 1994, p.13).

The consortium also encourages police departments to perform duties outside of the normal law enforcement scope. Some of these duties include helping accident or crime victims, providing emergency medical services, helping dissolve domestic and neighborhood conflicts, working with residents and local businesses to improve neighborhood conditions, and providing a model of citizenship (Gaffigan, 1994, p.13). The second core component, problem solving, is the elimination and prevention of crimes. A number of underlying factors affect the way in which this can be accomplished. “These conditions might include the characteristics of the people involved (offenders, potential victims, and others), the social setting in which these people interact, the physical environments, and the way the public deals with these conditions” (Gaffigan, 1994, p. 18). In order for police departments to combat these problems they must look not only at their own concerns but also those of the community.

The Community Policing Consortium states that implementation can occur in a variety of ways. The first step to lowering the crime rate is for elected officials to push for legislation in favor of community policing programs in order for them to be successful and community involvement. “Just as the police need to determine the best ways to respond to and solve problems of crime and violence, political leaders and service providers need to find ways to direct all available resources at these critical social problems” (Gaffigan, 1994, p. 38). The extent of change from the current day-to-day operations of a police department may also hinder or help implementation. If a special community-policing unit is formed it may be more detrimental than beneficial. Officers may become more separated (Gaffigan, 1994, p. 30). Early support is also critical and must come from the top down (Gaffigan, 1994, p. 31). This would be essential due to the fact that each level of supervision looks to the next for guidance. The consortium states that the deployment of personnel is also essential to the success of community policing.

The second step to lowering the crime rate is that officers should be assigned to the same shift and beat in order to develop close community partnerships. “Officers working long-term assignments on the same shift and beat will become familiar figures to community members and will become aware of the day-to-day workings of the community” (Gaffigan, 1994, p. 24). The third step to lowering the crime rate involves supervision and support from the Chief down. “Chiefs who do not invest in assessing and responding to the honest attitudes of managers, who do not invest in defining the new roles managers are expected to play, and who do not provide their managers with the training they need to effectively fill these new roles are likely to” (Gaffigan, 1994, p. 42). Supervisors should also work closely with patrol officers to assess results and to provide feedback on accomplishments and progress in the war against crime (Gaffigan, 1994, p. 36). The fourth step to lowering the crime rate involves Community Policing Training. Training should be taught at the police academy level and be part of yearly in-service training.

The fifth step to lowering the crime rate involves evaluation of community policing programs. In order to lower the crime rate the program must be effective. Employee evaluation as well as a rewards system may encourage patrol officers to value their job more. This would in turn encourage them to be better community-oriented police officers (Gaffigan, 1994 p. 38). In order to assess progress the consortium recommends three criteria; effectiveness, efficiency, and equity. “An effective community policing strategy will reduce neighborhood crime, and enhance the quality of life in the community” (Gaffigan, 1994, p. 45). In order to assess efficiency one must look at the resources available to a police department and measure how well each one is being used. Equity is measured in three dimensions: equal access to police services by all citizens, equal treatment of all individuals under the U.S. Constitution, and equal distribution of police services and resources among communities (Gaffigan, 1994, p. 50). The success of community policing is based on all three. Chicago’s community policing program began in 1993 and was called the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy or CAPS.

Researchers Wesley Skogan, Lynn Steiner, Jill DuBois, Erik Gudell, and Aimee Fagan, from Northwestern University have continually evaluated the program throughout its existence. In the CAPS Program officers were expected to move from a reactive approach to a proactive one (Skogan, Steiner, DuBois, Gudell, and Fagan, 2002, p. 4). “To solve problems using the methods of community policing, Chicago’s police patrols had to become more acclimated to the communities in which they worked. This was accomplished by organizing patrol work into 279 police beats, 270 of which were residential. Nine or 10 officers were assigned to each beat, and a sergeant was named to oversee them and lead quarterly team meetings that involved officers from each shift” (Skogan et al, 2002, p. 9). This shows a combination of both steps two and three to lowering the crime rate. “One strength of CAPS has been a commitment to the program at the political level—from the mayor’s office to the hundreds of groups of residents who assemble each month in support of it.

CAPS has grown to be the city’s program, not just the police department’s program, and this growth provides strong assurance that CAPS will stay the course in the face of future challenges” (Skogan et al, 2002, p. 36). This is an indication of step one of lowering the crime rate. Community involvement is an important implementation factor. “Effective community policing requires responsiveness to citizen input concerning the needs of the community, and it creates new roles for residents to become in securing safe neighborhoods” (Skogan et al, 2002, p. 7). An interagency task force was formed to create links to other city services. Graffiti and abandoned motor vehicles were two issues that many residents complained about. Studies conducted by Northwestern University have shown that car tows and graffiti cleanups were higher in number in the more densely populated beats (Skogan et al, 2002, p. 15). Areas where more residents attended “beat meetings” received higher rates of service. If a particular concern was voiced by a multitude of meeting attendees then it also received a higher rate of service (Skogan et al, 2002, p. 15).

Crime mapping and a non-emergency police service line were new tools for the Chicago Police Department. A city-ordinance task force was created. It focused on drug and gang activity specifically. The task force included representatives from the police, fire, and building departments (Skogan et al, 2002, p. 16). To measure the impact on neighborhood life in Chicago the city conducted annual public opinion surveys. This is step five in lowering the crime rate. Questions about fairness, politeness, and helpfulness were used to form a police demeanor index. Questions about how effective the police were at preventing crime and maintaining order were used to from a task performance index (Skogan et al, 2002, p. 17). Over seven years almost all aspects rose exponentially. In comparison to the other cities surveys found “that awareness of community policing and participation in anticrime meetings were the highest in Chicago, but they did not directly translate into satisfaction with how well the police were doing their job” (Skogan et al, 2002, p. 20).

Robbery and gun related offenses were down over fifty percent during the first ten years of the program (Skolnick Feeley and McCoy, 2005, p. 203). Certain neighborhood problems were also identified differently between different ethnic groups. African Americans reported the most improvement while Latinos reported that conditions were worsening (Skolnick et al, 2005, p. 203). An interesting concept discovered by Northwestern University Researchers was that although Latinos reported worsening neighborhood conditions, official crime figures for Latino neighborhoods did not paint the same picture (Skogan, Steiner, DuBois, Gudell, and Fagan, 2002, p. 27). These researchers attribute this to a more distinct language barrier between officers and residents. One major challenge to the CAPS program was continued implementation.

Personnel at police headquarters and city hall did fully not understand the program (Skogan et al, 2002, p. 28). Manny officers and middle management did not support the program. There was no initial evaluation process for the CAPS program. Changes would be made later to the program selecting key leaders and assigning them with specific tasks (Skogan et al, 2002, p. 28). This has led to the success of the program in later years. Continued immigration continued problems relating to language, culture, and legal status (Skogan et al, 2002, p. 29). Federal grants and a flourishing economy in the 1990’s helped to fuel the CAPS program success. When the city revenue shrank in 2002 so did the CAPS program. Police departments often depend on federal hiring grants as well. These have also slowed down. Leadership is another challenge. Politicians and police management must be on board with each other. Allison Chappell presents a case study of community policing in an unknown Florida city with 100,000 residents and 275 sworn police officers. This study is quite different than many community-policing studies because it does not take place in an extremely large city police department.

Some characteristics of the department’s community policing program were permanent beat assignments (step two in lowering the crime rate), neighborhood crime watch, citizens police academy, foot, bike, and horse patrol, neighborhood sub-stations, and working with social service agencies and schools (step one in lowering the crime rate) (Chappell, 2009, p. 12). This department also had a weekly television show and management that vocally supported the community policing program (step three in lowering the crime rate). This Florida agency lacked an evaluation system for their community policing program and did not train in community policing during their yearly in-service training (steps four and five of lowering the crime rate). Lack of resources was an aspect that many officers from the agency cited as a barrier to implementation of community policing (Chappell, 2009, p. 15).

A lack of manpower meant that officers were assigned to a larger beat than was ideal for community policing. Officers from this specific agency in Florida claimed it would be difficult to develop relationships with community members when you are not in the same community all of the time. Another barrier to implementation would be time. Many officers cited too many calls for service preventing them from practicing community policing (Chappell, 2009, p. 17). Many police officers from this very agency went so far as to dismiss community policing as “crap” (Chappell, 2009, p. 21). The general attitude of organizational resistance is quite clear. This suggests that officer may not have a clear understanding of the philosophy of community policing or its goals (Chappell, 2009, p. 22). Community policing is an effective strategy for lowering the crime rate across America. Community policing as defined by the Community Policing Consortium has two core components, community partnerships and problem solving (Gaffigan, 1994, p. 13).

Effective community policing programs integrate both of these components from the top down. As evidence from the Florida community policing study, a change in management and organization can be necessary for community policing to succeed (steps one and three of lowering the crime rate). “Midlevel management must provide administrative support and believe in the philosophy themselves, so they can model attitudes and behavior for patrol officers themselves” (Chappell, 2009, p. 20). The Chicago Police Department’s CAPS program has proven that if officers are trained properly in community policing there is a better chance of success (step five of lowering the crime rate). Studies conducted by Northwestern University have shown that the largest declines in crime occurred in the highest crime areas of the city (Skogan Steiner DuBois Gudell and Fagan, 2002, p. 21). Gang violence, school disruption, drug activity, and graffiti all declined during the same time period (Skogan et al, 2002, p. 24).

This research was conducted during the first ten years of the CAPS program. The CAPS program has also shown that community policing will be difficult to achieve in all places versus alternatives. Language barriers are cited as the main barrier to community policing in large city police departments. One alternative to this barrier may be to incorporate interpreters into beat meetings, such as those conducted in Chicago during the 1990’s. The size of a police department may limit its ability to fully participate in community policing. “It has been argued that smaller police agencies are better at implementing community policing. This is likely due to the fact that officers in smaller agencies have always been practicing a policing style that is similar to community policing, and that smaller agencies have fewer bureaucratic hurdles to overcome” (Chappell, 2009, p. 17). Funding and costs is another barrier to implementation.

These problems tend to hinder smaller police departments as shown through Chappell’s study. When the economy turns for the worse, police departments no matter their size, suffer. Community policing is an effective operating policy. If a department does not have the proper training or resources then this will affect the way in which community policing is implemented. The United States Department of Justice, as shown through Gaffigan’s monograph (1994), sees mutual trust as key. “They must also learn to trust each other with the understanding that whatever one does will also be in the best interest of the other” (p. 12).


Chappell, A. T. (2009). The philosophical versus actual adoption of community policing: A case study. Criminal Justice Review, 34(1), 5-28. Gaffigan, S. J. (1994). Understanding community policing: A framework for action. National Criminal Justice Reference Service, Skogan, W. G., Steiner, L., DuBois, J., Gudell, E., & Fagan, A. (2002). Taking stock: Community policing in chicago. National Criminal Justice Reference Service, Skolnick, J. H., Feeley, M. M., & McCoy, C. (2005). Criminal Justice Cases and Introductory Materials, 6,

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