The Critical Importance of the Police Community
How it works
Undoubtedly, one of the most difficult relationships and dynamics to maintain in the United States today is the one that exists between the police and the communities they serve. This relationship is grounded on the principles of need and respect for the function that the police play, however, this relationship has become tremendously more complex and tense in recent years. The widespread availability of information has brought to light issues within the police force that highlights some of the faults in the relationship they have in dealing with many communities. At the center of debates about how police interact with community members is the issue of police brutality and racial injustice, and the consequences have been tremendous for both police forces and the people they are meant to protect. With confidence in the police steadily eroding, there is a great need for alternative policing strategies to be employed, and I believe that one of the most effective in bridging these divides and ensuring safety is community policing.
Police departments are provided with one of the most unique and powerful opportunities to ensure public safety. Tasked with organizing and mobilizing their department forces, there are several ways that police resources can be used in order to most effectively serve their communities. If I had the opportunity to act as the chief of police, I would organize myself and the direction of my department in a way that prioritizes the resources that are readily available in the community itself. In my opinion, community policing is one of the most valuable tools available to the police force, and it would be the first change that I would implement.
How it works
Community policing is a uniquely valuable and effective tool because it inherently alters the way that police forces operate. It forces the police to reconsider the way that it has operated in order to have necessary impacts. The first of these is a self-evaluation that results in police forces recognizing where they have failed in the past; this may be in the way that they interact with community members, or what elements of crime they choose to focus on. The second effect is a general improvement of community relations. As community members are brought into the process of policing, they gain a better understanding of the value of police themselves, as well as of the difficulties associated with policing. This, in addition to the fact that cooperation with community members greatly increases the manpower and resources that police forces have available, with a specific impact felt on intel gathering.
Understanding the strategy of community policing must begin with a basic exploration of the principles it is grounded on. At its most fundamental, community policing operates on the idea of restructuring the way that police approach and address crime. It forces these changes in order to accommodate the introduction of community members into the policing process, and it does so by creating a direct link between police and their communities (Ward & Rosenblatt, 1994, p. 14). In some cases, police officers are tasked with developing direct communication with community allies in order to learn about the needs and struggles of the community and how to better address them (Walker & Katz, 2011, p. 16). Because community members cannot be asked to carry out police tasks, however, their roles are primarily oriented towards providing police departments with necessary information that can then be used to address any existing or potential issues. Key to this strategy, it should be noted, is the shift in the general approach to crime, which emphasizes prevention.
Considerations must be made when looking to implement the strategy of community policing. Chief among these are the concerns that arise from the weaknesses inherent within community policing, including the informality and loose structure of the strategy itself. Community members involved in community policing regularly lack any form of real training or structure for their policing tactics, and this can result in ineffective tactics or power struggles amongst one another (NLCATP, 2015, p. 4). Some community members also expressed discomfort with the idea of increases in police presences in the community that unavoidably follows the implementation of community policing. These issues, however, are offset by the values of community policing, which notably include changes in public perceptions and attitudes towards policing itself. Community members can learn about the service and function of police, which gives them an appreciation for their work that gradually improves their relationships and public image. Trust can then be built, and police can ultimately be more effective as they establish a dedication to community safety (NLCATP, 2015, p. 2).
The value of community policing in efforts to fight and prevent crime is clear. In looking to implement it I would begin with structural changes to my police department. In order for community policing to work there needs to be a fundamentally sound relationship between the police force and the community. I would work towards fostering that goal by prioritizing training among my officers that teaches them how to build community values and relationships (Lawrence & McCarthy, 2013, p. 12). Community members behave differently than police officers do, and learning how to navigate these differences is essential to successful community policing.
As an extension of this effort to prioritize relationship-building, I believe that community policing can be tremendously beneficial for repairing fractured relationships. Part of the reason that community policing is necessary is that existing relationships between these two entities is tinged with distrust, particularly in low-income or disadvantaged minority communities. One way that this issue can be addressed in order to allow community policing to work is by directly combating the idea of improper policing though full transparency. Approaching community members and leaders with a well-organized and thoughtful plan on how to address crime in the community, can go a long way to showing skeptical community members that there is an active effort to create positive reforms.
While I believe that community policing is one of the most valuable tools that are currently available, I also hold that there are changes that can be introduced to make the strategy more effective. A noticeable problem related to community policing is that the strategy is often very vague after it has been implemented. I believe that community policing overall would benefit from a more formal and structured organization. This would include the introduction of actual community organization strategies such as dedicated foot patrols, and the implementation of a network for community members to interact with one another more quickly and efficiently. The objective with making these changes would be to try and make the community policing strategy more effective, instead of allowing it to exist loosely, as is its tendency.
Ultimately, I believe that my role as a police chief would be to increase productivity and success through the implementation of changes that are more effective. While traditional styles of policing can be effective, I believe that community policing will be a much more effective strategy for policing moving forward. The fundamental point to understand about community policing is that it is largely focused on improving the way the police are able to operate by focusing on the public perception that people have about them. As this perception improves, the police will be able to function more easily in these communities, gaining the support of leaders and community members that will ultimately allow them to better carry out their duties.