Community Policing Concerns and Issues and Proposed Solutions

Community Policing Background

            Community policing started in the United States and United Kingdom (UK) in the early 1980s. This was followed by the global adoption which was a reflective of a paradigm shift within in many policing organizations from the professional era to the community era (Segrave & Ratcliffe, 2004). Analysis indicated that the shift from the professional policing to community policing was as a result of increased criticism of the existing policing practice and the need to foster willingness to adopt alternative approaches. Research have showed that the shift was caused by both external and internal factors that were common across various police organization and they were related to both environmental and social nature.

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Essentially, community policing was described as police engaging the community in policing by restricting police organization and changing daily activities related to operational police officers. However, currently many studies have defined community policing to mean some arrangements for policing that gives a significant role to the community in defining and guiding the performance of policing in their locality (Myhill, 2012). This definition was based on the democratic principle which states that “that anyone who exercises authority on behalf of the community is accountable to the community for the exercise of that authority.” Some studies have argued that community policing is not a tactical approach rather it is a philosophical approach to policing.

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Therefore, adoption of community policing philosophy means that the law enforcers must be ready and willing to share power, to accept criticism and share responsibilities with the community (Vito, et al., 2005). The community policing intended to address key element which include creation of avenues for the community to give feedback about police operations, active solicitation for public service by the police, deployment of patrol for non-emergency interaction with the community and community crime prevention.

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Concerns and issues about community policing

            There are various concerns about the adoption and implementation of the community policing. These include:

Resistance: Studies have shown that adoption and implementation of the community policing fails to succeed due to resistance. Law enforcers reluctance to abandon set practices and habits is clear reflection of the resistance. As explained earlier, community policing philosophy involves changing the fundamental concept of police professionalism and adopting community approach (Sampson, 2004). This means adopting community policing curtails the police autonomy. Research have shown that police officers perceives community policing as the politicization of the public security functions and vigilantism. As a result of these perceptions, law enforcement agencies tend to be very reluctant to adopt and implement community policing within their jurisdictions.

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Community engagement and trust: Analysis have shown that community policing relies on the assumption that the community wants to partner with the police which is not the case in some instances. For instance, the use of community policing to address abysmal or poor police-community relations requires the law enforcers to demonstrate that it is worth to partner with the community (Myhill, 2012). In the United States, specifically the Baltimore Police Department have adopted strategies such as focusing on small targeted area such as gang problems, increased local hard-core crime fighting and collaborating with other services in order to win community engagement. Further analysis indicated that community policing become successful in a cohesive and well-organized communities. However, it become challenging in communities that are perceived to commit most crime such as the minority groups and the youth because they fall victims of police brutality and abuse in the society.

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Accountability: Initially, the professionalization of the police was to enhance accountability in crime fighting as well as widening the distance between the community leaders and the police. The community policing contrast this since it seeks to bring out accountability in the law enforcement through focusing on the community needs and reducing social distance (Segrave, & Ratcliffe, 2004). Research have showed that community policing has significantly improved the public-police cooperation and relations. However, the new phenomenon in the United States showed that when the activist calls for police to be accountable in their actions, the police responds by initiating community policing programs as oppose to addressing police abuses. This makes it challenging for the community to support the police to fight crime.

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Evaluation: Initially, it was not possible to evaluate the progress of community policing programs due to limited and dispersed comparative evaluations undertaken. Although community policing programs showed a significant improve on fight against in the short-term, comparative evaluation performed by the University of Maryland showed that “there is no evidence that community policing per se reduces crime without a clear focus on a crime risk factor objective.” The study further concluded that “directed patrols and programs targeted on criminogenic substances like guns and alcohol can be effective in attacking crime hot-spots.” (Myhill, 2012) Whereas evaluation of professional policing is straightforward due to availability of a detailed reported crimes, convictions and arrests, community policing is very complex to evaluate since the focus is on the outcome of the program and does not rely on the quantitative analysis of the process. Also, it is important to understand that evaluation process of the community policing must engage the community as a central fashion with citizen survey as the common evaluative tool.

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Proposed solutions

  • Expand the duties of law enforcement officers as way of empowering and encouraging them to think laterally, provide a more personalized service delivery, engage in both follow-up and proactive activities.
  • Redevelop law enforcement operations and activities such as reorienting operations to focus more on local problem solving, developing positive relationships with youth and less on patrol.
  • Focus on long-term benefit, emphasize prevention as well as re-conceptualizing how the impact of police work is measured beyond clearance rate and crime rate such as focusing on community attitude and perception towards law enforcement.
  • Develop a more community-specific and localized focus for officers to generate a sense of responsibility and accountability for specific areas.
  • Establish partnership with the community through Neighborhood Watch, mini-police and shopfront stations and public relations/media campaigns.
  • Develop problem-solving technique that addresses the underlying causes of identified issues, train officers to recognize problems and to be knowledgeable about the possible ways to address them and officers working with the community to identify problem, for example though community meetings
  • Decentralize police operations and empower the law enforcers have autonomy
  • Extend the management duties to include close supervision and mentoring.
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