Marquita D. Higgins, Walden University
Community policing exists to enhance public trust in law enforcement officers. In contrast to the focus of traditional policing, community-oriented policing focuses on the community’s involvement in law enforcement’s efforts to prevent crime (Gill, Weisburd, Telep, Vitter, & Bennett, 2017). Community policing policy is always in progress. It was first implemented in the United States in the 1980s, and since then, the policy has changed very little (Adegbile, 2017). The focus remains on strengthening community-policing relationships. Community policing units are designed to respond to minor problems in the community, whereas the patrol officers are free to respond to calls regarding crimes. One of the objectives of the community policing approach is to make neighborhoods safer through cooperation with the public.
While reducing crime is the idea of policing, community policing strategies seem to have a greater impact on reducing the fear of crime rather than crime itself. Reducing fear of crime is an indirect result of law enforcement officers building relationships with the community, which enhances the trust of the citizens. When trust exists between officers and the public, it motivates the community to cooperate with officers in their crime prevention efforts. Another objective of the community policing approach is to increase the flow of information between the police and the public, which may potentially help solve criminal cases rather than deter crime. Community police must be embraced by the community they intend to serve and protect. This is very important, because if the community is unwilling to accept the officers’ strategies and involvement in their neighborhoods, the approach will be void.
The community policing policy will be ever changing to adapt to a variety of situations involving unprofessional interactions with civilians. The policy focuses on solving problems of crime and disorder in the community. One potential approach to problem solving is the ‘broken windows’ strategy. The strategy alerts officers of the disorder that occurs in the area. Law enforcement officers perceived broken windows as a sign of lack of social control, which invites more crime into the area. Police officers’ presence in the community can potentially deter crime. The public needs prevention, rather than just answering and responding to calls about crime. Although there is not much evidence of the COP approach being effective regarding crime reduction, the approach itself may lead to police having the knowledge needed to solve the crimes that occur. Community policing practiced effectively may resemble a mixture of community policing and problem-oriented policing (officers and residents are trained to implement problem-solving strategies).
Choosing a solution for the policing crisis is critical for policy reform. The significance of police legitimacy has led reformers to focus heavily on training officers. Prior incidents that involved the killings of unarmed African Americans by police officers have made it clear that education and training of police officers should include in-depth diversity training. The White House Task Force on 21st Century Policing under the Obama Administration addressed the need for further police training regarding community interaction and use of force (Bell, 2017). Diversity training for officers is very important because of the diversity that exists in society. COP has extended the role of police officers, which demands interaction with people who are from diverse backgrounds. Although there is little evidence supporting the link between officer training and crime reduction, diversity training can increase awareness and knowledge of different cultures.
Community policing can be effective if implemented correctly. One strength of community policing policy is the encouragement of community-police relationships. The relationship between police officers and the public may not be proven effective in crime reduction, but studies have proven it effective in enhancing the public’s trust in law enforcement agencies (Crowl, 2017). Another strength of the policy is the reduction of fear of crime. Frequent police presence in the community shows citizens that officers care about the community being served. People may be more likely to cooperate with law enforcement in making the neighborhood safer including sharing information to assist in resolving crime issues. One of the most important strengths is that the policy allows input on the local level regarding community safety from the citizens in the community.
As with any policy, community policing policy is not without its issues. There are some limitations of the policy. One limitation of the policy that can negatively affect community policing is the lack of trust in law enforcement in communities, especially minority communities. The incidents involving the killings of unarmed black men and women have caused distrust in law enforcement by minority groups. It will be very difficult to recalibrate the trust between police and minority groups, which may lead to lack of cooperation of crime control efforts from minority groups. Another limitation of community policing is that the accomplishments of the officer in the community are not easily measured (Willis, 2011). In contrast, there are records in police departments that show the accomplishments of patrol officers whose responsibilities involve responding to service calls.
Another major limitation is the terminology used in the policies. Common citizens are not knowledgeable of the terminology used by policymakers, thus making it difficult for the public to comprehend the objectives of the policy and the impact the policy will have on communities. Another limitation is community input at the state and federal government level, because some people are not aware of the policies and how they work. The people who reside in poverty- stricken and crime-ridden neighborhoods would have a better idea of problem-solving solutions for their neighborhood than someone who has never been present in their neighborhood. Therefore, policymakers should consider the main issues presented by the community to law enforcement officers. Criminal justice policies are usually created without the input from people who the crime problems affect the most. Policymakers should focus on forming solutions to problems that may arise through limitations.
To resolve existing issues with community policing, policymakers can make changes to the overall criminal justice policy. One recommendation is that policymakers become more involved with law enforcement agencies in their efforts to provide officers with the necessary education and training to perform their tasks. Law enforcement agencies should provide policymakers with the necessary data to determine the most appropriate training methods on community policing. Officers should receive training on how to interact with diverse groups of people and how to communicate with people from all walks of life. Citizens’ attitudes toward the police are critical in the sustainability of the law enforcement agency. The implementation of police policy reform may vary depending on the needs of the location. However, community policing training should be standard among all police departments.
Providing policy directives without effective training will decrease effectiveness of police reform, because officers should be knowledgeable about the tasks they are asked to perform. Community policing training teaches officers to implement responses that do not require them to invoke their coercive authority. Supervisors should be aware of the various forms of training and every aspect of the policy, as well as the officers they supervise. Supervisors of police departments should work closely together with policymakers to use the data in the records to determine the most appropriate training methods for community policing. Establishing a relationship with the community is very important, and all supervisors should be more aware of every strategic element of police reform. Each element of the community policing philosophy is significant to the safety of the citizens and police officers.
There are high crime areas where community policing may seem impossible, but there are citizens in those communities who want to feel safe. Therefore, police officers should understand the diverse and multicultural communities and seek to establish relationships with the public. Citizens’ trust is an important aspect of community policing, which is why community-police relations and diversity training is critical to police reform. Policymakers should seek to amend law enforcement policy to enhance diversity training and use of force training to increase effectiveness. Policymakers’ intent for the policy reform should be to secure the safety of all citizens without compromising their civil liberties. Although community police training emphasizes community-police relations, safety and security is just as critical. Everyone wants to feel safe. Training on de-escalation techniques is important to the safety of police officers and the public. De-escalation training must include strategic and thorough problem-solving techniques. Officers should also be knowledgeable of methods to address the problem and be able to provide reasonable suggestions to resolve the issue. Adequate problem-solving skills may strengthen a law enforcement officer’s ability to de-escalate issues with little to no use of force.
Knowledge of appropriate de-escalation tactics is critical in avoiding police misconduct. Criminal justice stakeholders should thoroughly explain the importance of all law enforcement training and articulate the benefits of effective law enforcement training. First-line supervisors should discuss accountability upon the occurrence of police misconduct. Questions regarding who can be held accountable and the extent of accountability should be asked and answered. Even the police must be policed. It is crucial that police accountability be increased so that the public can feel safe and so that victims and families of victims can receive justice when transparency is not enough. Policymakers must collaborate with law enforcement agencies to discuss approaches to enforce accountability and its impact on various areas of the agency.
Police officers should be aware of the impact police misconduct has on law enforcement agencies and the agencies’ budgets, such as through civil suits. Policymakers must discuss different avenues to increase the city’s budget to allow funds for many different programs that involve community-police interaction. Police departments that have community policing units must demonstrate commitment to the police reform to continue receiving federal funding for the COP units. In addition, during meetings, supervisors should mention any incidents that occurred recently that have affected the budget, because it is important that officers learn from their mistakes and the mistakes of others. Not only does police misconduct (especially police brutality) affect the agency’s budget, but it also has a negative impact on citizen’s trust in law enforcement.
Law enforcement officers do not create police policies; however, they must implement the policies. If the policies are shown to be ineffective, police officers are the ones who must bear the negativity and distrust from minority communities. Public forums set the stage for police-community interaction. Law enforcement members can conduct a public forum with the community, such as a town hall meeting, which will allow immediate feedback for both law enforcement officials and the citizens of the community. Citizens often have questions that they are not able to present to officers, if the officers appear to be too busy with other tasks. Public forums are beneficial, because law enforcement officials and the people in the community introduce themselves to each another, which may be the first step to getting to know one another. Citizens’ perceptions of law enforcement are vital to police reform, because their trust or distrust in police officers can affect law enforcement officers’ job performance. Community policing cannot exist without the community, so community members must trust officers to protect them before they decide to cooperate with law enforcement. The public’s lack of trust may lead to ineffective community policing.
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