Community policing

Police officers interact with the public in Des Moines, Iowa, during Police Week 2010.

Community policing, or community-oriented policing (COP), is a strategy of policing that focuses on building ties and working closely with members of the communities. A formal definition states:

Community policing is a philosophy of full service personalized policing, where the same officer patrols and works in the same area on a permanent basis, from a decentralized place, working in a proactive partnership with citizens to identify and solve problems.

—Bertus Ferreira[1]

The central goal of community policing is for the police to build relationships with the community through interactions with local agencies and members of the public, creating partnerships and strategies for reducing crime and disorder.[2][3][4][5][6][7] Although community policing mostly targets low-level crime and disorder, the broken windows theory proposes that this can reduce more serious crime as well.[8]

Community policing is related to problem-oriented policing and intelligence-led policing, and contrasts with reactive policing strategies which were predominant in the late 20th century. It does not eliminate the need for reactive policing, although successful prevention can reduce the need for the latter. Many police forces have teams that focus specifically on community policing, such as Neighbourhood Policing Teams in the United Kingdom, which are separate from the more centralized units that respond to emergencies.

The overall assessment of community-oriented policing is positive, as both officers and community members attest to its effectiveness in reducing crime and raising the sense of security in a community.[9][10]


Robert Peel's ideas about policing are sometimes considered a precursor to modern community policing.

Some authors have traced the core values of community policing to certain original Peelian Principles, most notably John Alderson, the former Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall Police.[11][12] These included the ideas that the police needed to seek "the co-operation of the public" and prioritize crime prevention. The term "community policing" came into use in the late 20th century[13] and, then, only as a response to a preceding philosophy of police organization.[14]

In the early 20th century, the rise of automobiles, telecommunications and suburbanization transformed how the police operated.[15] Police forces moved to using a reactive strategy versus a proactive approach, focusing on answering emergency calls as quickly as possible and relying on motor vehicle patrols to deter crime.[16] Some police forces such as the Chicago Police Department began rotating officers between different neighborhoods as a measure to prevent corruption,[17][18] and, as a result, foot patrols became rare. These changes significantly altered the nature of police presence in many neighborhoods.

By the 1960s, many countries such as the United States were looking for ways to repair relations between police forces and racial minorities. For example, in 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed a Blue Ribbon committee to study the apparent distrust with the police by many community members, especially along racial lines. The resulting report, the President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice suggested the development of a new type of police officer which would act as a community liaison and work to build bridges between law enforcement and minority populations.[19] Furthermore, the Kansas City preventive patrol experiment provided evidence that aimless motor patrols were not an effective deterrent to crime.[20] Similarly, by 1981, a study by the US-based Police Foundation suggested that police officers spent so much time on response duties and in cars that they had become isolated from their communities.[21] In response to some of these problems, many police departments in the United States began experimenting with what would become known as "community policing".[22][23]

Research by Michigan criminal justice academics and practitioners started being published as early as the 1980s.[24][25] As a professor of criminal justice, Bob Trajanowcz in the late 1990s influenced many future law enforcement leaders on how to implement elements of community policing [26][27] One experiment in Flint, Michigan, involved foot patrol officers be assigned to a specific geographic area to help reduce crime in hot spots. Community-oriented policing was promoted by the Clinton Administration. The 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act established the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) within the Justice Department and provided funding to promote community policing.

Kenneth Peak has argued that community policing in the United States has evolved through three generations: innovation (1979 to 1986), diffusion (1987 to 1994) and institutionalization (1995 to present day).[28] The innovation period occurred following the civil unrest of the 1960s, in large part as an attempt to identify alternatives to the reactive methods developed in mid-century. This era was also saw the development of such programs as the broken windows theory and problem-oriented policing. The diffusion era followed, in which larger departments began to integrate aspects of community policing, often through grants that initiated specialized units.[28] Lastly, the institutionalization era introduced mass application of community policing programs, in not only large departments but also smaller and more rural ones.


Police officers and PCSOs of West Midlands Police prepare to go on cycle patrol. Community meetings were used to decide which areas needed patrolling the most.
Police in Strasbourg, France. Community policing movements have led to a revival of foot patrols.

Many community-oriented police structures focus on assigning officers to a specific area called a “beat”, those officers become familiar with that area through a process of “beat profiling.” The officers are then taught how to design specific patrol strategies to deal with the types of crime that are experienced in that beat.[29]

These ideas are implemented in a multi-pronged approach using a variety of aspects, such as broadening the duties of the police officer and individualizing the practices to the community they're policing; refocusing police efforts to face-to-face interactions in smaller patrol areas with an emphasized goal of preventing criminal activity instead of responding to it; solving problems using input from the community they're policing; and, finally, making an effort to increase service-oriented positive interactions with police.[30]

Common methods of community-policing include:[29]

  • Encouraging the community to help prevent crime by providing advice, giving talks at schools, encouraging neighborhood watch groups, and a variety of other techniques.
  • Increased use of foot or bicycle patrols.
  • Increased officer accountability to the communities they are supposed to serve.
  • Creating teams of officers to carry out community policing in designated neighborhoods.
  • Clear communication between the police and the communities about their objectives and strategies.
  • Partnerships with other organizations such as government agencies, community members, nonprofit service providers, private businesses and the media.
  • Decentralizing the police authority, allowing more discretion amongst lower-ranking officers, and more initiative expected from them.

Comparison with traditional policingEdit

Although all societies incorporate some mechanisms of social control,[31] "policing" as we understand it today is a very particular mechanism of control.[32] "Traditional policing" is used to describe policing styles that were predominant before modern community policing movements, or in police forces which have not adopted them. The response-centred style has also been called "fire brigade policing" in the UK.[33] In countries with a tradition of policing by consent, the term "traditional policing" can be misleading. In those cases, community policing could be seen as a restoration of an earlier ideology, which had been overshadowed by reactive policing after the rise of automobiles and telecommunications.[34]

The goal of traditional policing is to protect law-abiding citizens from criminals. As Jauregui argues, it reflects a "popular desire for justice and order through any means necessary."[35] They do this by identifying and apprehending criminals while gathering enough evidence to convict them. Traditional beat officers' focus on duty is to respond to incidents swiftly, and clear emergency calls as quickly as possible. Many officers working busy shifts only have time to respond to and clear emergency calls. This type of policing does not stop or reduce crime significantly; it is simply a temporary fix to a chronic problem where officers are often called to return to the same issue and individuals.[36][22]

In contrast, community policing's main goal is to assist the public in establishing and maintaining a safe, orderly social environment. While apprehending criminals is one important goal of community policing, it is not necessarily the most important goal. Community policing is concerned with solving the crimes that the community is concerned about by working with and gaining support from the community. The most effective solutions include dialogue between police, government resources, citizens, and local business to address the problems affecting the community.[1] Police communicate with the community in variety of ways, including polls or surveys, town meetings, call-in programs, and meetings with interest groups. They use these connections to understand what the community wants out of its police officers and what the community is willing to do to solve its crime problem.

The structure of the community policing organization differs in that police assets are refocused with the goals of specific, written rules to give more creative problem-solving techniques to the police officer to provide alternatives to traditional law enforcement.[30]

Community alienationEdit

The experience of community alienation among police officers is closely tied to the experience of mastery, the state of mind in which an individual feels autonomous and experiences confidence in their ability, skill, and knowledge to control or influence external events.[37] Community policing requires departments to flatten their organizational pyramid and place even more decision-making and discretion in the hands of line officers. As the level of community alienation or isolation that officers experience increases, there will be a corresponding decrease in officers' sense of mastery in carrying out their expanded discretionary role. Second, a strong sense of community integration for police officers would seem to be vital to the core community policing focus of proactive law enforcement. Proactive enforcement is usually defined as the predisposition of police officers to be actively committed to crime prevention, community problem-solving, and a more open, dynamic quality-oriented law enforcement-community partnership.[4][5][38]

A lack of community support resulted in an increased sense of alienation and a greater degree of apathy among police officers.[39][40][41] A lack of community support and working in a larger populated community was associated with an increased sense of alienation and a greater degree of inactivity among police officers.[42] An increased sense of alienation resulted in a greater degree of negative feelings and lethargy among police officers. The more police officers felt socially isolated from the community they served, the more they withdrew and the more negative they felt towards its citizens.[4][43]


Traditionally, determining whether police or policies are effective or not can be done by evaluating the crime rate for a geographic area. A crime rate in the United States is determined using the FBI's "Uniform Crime Reports" (UCR) or "National Incident-Based Reporting System" (NIBRS) as well as the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ "National Crime Victimization Survey" (NCVS).[44][45]

Community policing is more complicated than simply comparing crime rates and there is no universally-accepted criteria for evaluating community policing. However, there are some structures that are commonly used. One possible way to determine whether or not community policing is effective in an area is for officers and key members of the community to set a specific mission and goals when starting out. Once specific goals are set, participation at every level is essential in obtaining commitment and achieving goals. Street-level officers, supervisors, executives, and the entire community should feel the goals represent what they want their police department to accomplish.[29]

The U.S. federal government continues to provide support for incorporating community policing into local law enforcement practices through funding of research such as through the National Center for Community Policing at Michigan State University,[46] small COPS grants to local agencies, and technical assistance.[47]

The Center For Evidence-Based Crime Policy in George Mason University identifies the following randomized controlled trials on community policing as very rigorous.[48]


Criminologists have raised several concerns vis-a-vis community policing and its implementation. On the broadest conceptual level, many legal scholars have highlighted that the term "community," at the heart of "community policing," is in itself ambiguous.[49] Without a universal definition of the word, it is difficult to define what "community policing" should look like.[50][51]

Others have remained skeptical of the political ambition behind community policing initiatives. For example, in 1984 Peter Waddington cautioned that the "largely uncritical acceptance with which [the notion of community policing] has been welcomed is itself a danger. Any proposal, however attractive, should be subjected to careful and skeptical scrutiny."[52] In particular, Waddington voiced concern that community policing was merely a restoration of the "bobby on the beat" concept, which had nostalgic appeal because it was less impersonal than the officer "flashing past" in a police car. He said that the former was a "romantic delusion", because "there was never a time when the police officer was everyone's friend, and there will never be such a time in the future." He also believed that order could only be maintained by the community itself, and not by the police alone. Similarly, C. B. Klockars and David Bayley both argue that community policing is unlikely to bring fundamental change to how police officers work, with Klockars calling it "mainly a rhetorical device".[53][52] Unlike Klockars, Steven Herbert believe that community policing is proposing a fundamental change to policing, but argues that it would be a difficult one to achieve. He argues the progressive and democratic ethos of shared governance inherent in community policing runs counter to central elements in police culture and more widespread understandings of crime and punishment.[54] Charles P. McDowell argued in 1993 that because community policing was a radical departure from existing ideology, implementing it would take time.[52]

Yet another set of criticisms revolves around the potential efficacy of community policing. David Bayley has argued that enacting community policing policies may lead to a reduction in crime control effectiveness, maintenance of order in the face of violence, increase in bureaucratic and governmental power over community affairs, increases in unequal treatment, and an erosion of constitutional rights.[55] According to Stenson,[56] there is a major dilemma within community policing: when practicing community policing, police officers have the tendency of getting too involved with trying to institute "particularistic community normative standards". This in turn could be problematic, in that it could entice corruption or vigilantism.[57]

See alsoEdit


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